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Hands On With Sonic Lost World
On the surface, Sonic’s latest adventure might seem more or less like business as usual. Underneath though, SEGA have made some bold and risky changes to Sonic’s gameplay. The boost-based formula utilized in Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, both games that received mostly favorable reviews, has been replaced. It’s worth remembering that this forumla had helped Sonic’s reputation recover from it’s lowest of lows following his current gen debut in 2006 with Sonic the Hedgehog. With this in mind, the decision to not play it safe with this upcoming game is commendable.
The trailers so far have caused many to observe a similarity to a certain plumbers intergalactic travels. This comparison is largely due to the tubular and planetoid structure of the levels, as well as the more cartoony and simplistic visual style. While the similarities are easy to see, these two features also lend themselves to Sonic’s unique attributes in a way that makes me rather excited.
In terms of 3D movement, the tubular structures allows the level design to expand in a way that has been missing in Sonic’s 3D games. It allows for a multitude of routes and variations to be available to the player without causing confusion in terms of direction. This goes hand in hand with Sonic’s new parkour abilities. By holding the right-trigger you send Sonic into a kind of ‘run-mode’. While running you can parkour your way over-objects, Assassin’s Creed style, as well as wall-run. This combination allows for a freedom of movement that is genuinely fresh. The Windy Hill stage in the demo shows off the possibilities well, like all good first levels should, with a variety of routes and different ways to tackle the stage. If later levels can expand on this the potential for exciting level design is very high indeed.
However exciting the freedom of movement may seem though, without good control the whole things falls apart. Sonic’s new control scheme has been designed specifically to give more control to the player, but his movement does take getting used too. Sonic essentially has three tiers of speed now. When moving around normally Sonic moves slower than you might be used too, allowing for more control at the cost of your speed. Holding the right trigger sends sonic into the aforementioned ‘run-mode’, and holding the left trigger charges up Sonic’s spindash, which when released propels Sonic forward at his top speed. The spindash feels great and controls exactly how I would have imagined, just like in Sonic’s 2D days. It’s the running that takes the most getting used too, there’s no real sense of acceleration and Sonic is able to turn just as quickly as he can in his normal mode so it can feel a bit jerky and confusing at first. Ultimately the controls are very good once you adjust, but it may prove off-putting to some players. The unnatural feeling acceleration felt the weirdest to me, but I doubt it will be any kind of deal breaker.
The other aspect to Sonic’s new control scheme is his attacks. In addition to the familiar homing attack, and of course the returning spindash, Sonic has a new kick attack. This means enemies can be designed to be defeated in more different and interesting ways. Essentially, there are some enemies that will repel Sonic’s homing attack and need to be kicked first in order to be made vulnerable. It’s a nice new addition, but most enemies still proved to be not too much of challenge so it remains to be seen if these new attack methods can be implemented in interesting and challenging ways. When not locking onto an enemy, Sonic will instead double-jump or perform a bounce instead of homing or kicking. As you’d expect, the double jump allows for mid-air adjustment and gaining of height, and the bounce propels you higher off the ground allowing your to reach higher objects and platforms. Essentially this just makes traversing the environment an easier thing to do, and the bounce (a returning move from Sonic Adventure 2) in particular feels like a natural extension of Sonic’s moveset.
I mentioned before the games cartoony and more stripped-back visual style, and it seems clear to me that this is more than just a stylistic change. Firstly, it allows the game to play at 60 fps, which just makes the game feel so smooth and good to control. Secondly, it has reduced the screen from clutter, and means that just about everything on screen can be interacted with. This is an extension of Sonic’s parkour abilities, what once was just an obstacle or wall in the way of your progress in now a platform and way of traversing the stage itself. The simplification of the games visual style is one of my favorite changes, everything has been designed with the gameplay in mind and I think the game looks better for it. I believe the immersion is greater because everything you see on screen, you can do something with, it’s not just background visual fluff.
Most of my impressions so far have been from the two full 3D stages in the demo, Windy Hill and the casino themed Frozen Factory. This is simply because they left the most impression, and it seems to me that this is where the games greatest strengths will lie. There are also two other kinds of stages, 2D only stages and 3D auto-run stages. The 2D Desert Ruins level is a candy-themed one, which not only bears a visual resemblance to Sonic Colors’ Sweet Factory stages, but also a gameplay one. This pretty much plays just like the 2D sections in that game, only with Sonic’s new moveset improving the movement through the stage. The honeycomb auto-run Desert Ruins stage feels like an attempt to appease the boost lovers in Sonic’s fan-base. It plays much like the boost heavy, quick-stepping sections in recent Sonic games, but again with a greater sense of control. No complaints from me about either of these stages, which were both fun, they just don’t excite as much as the full 3D stages that I got my hands on.
Sonic Lost World is shaping up very nicely indeed. The changes to the level design, to Sonic’s moves and to the visual style seem to work in conjunction to create a fresh and fun experience. There are some small worries, mostly from the possibly awkward feeling control when Sonic is in right-trigger ‘run-mode’, but I feel pretty confident that it’s just a case of adjusting to the way Sonic new moves. All in all I’m eager to start exploring all of the lost world, as it seems to offer a pure gameplay experience and a continued improvement in form from SEGA’s main hedgehog.