Having become SEGA’s leading annual franchise, the fact that the Sonic the Hedgehog series is this year releasing only on Nintendo consoles was met with a muted response. The once great rivalry has unflatteringly been reduced to the need for a symbiotic relationship, and one in which the partnership is far from equal. SEGA clearly need Nintendo more than Nintendo need them, and Sonic: Lost World is nothing short of evidence pertaining to this assertion.
Available on both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, the two videogames are actually very similar experiences. Here on the handheld, Sonic: Lost World loses some of its open visual design and the depth of its sky-soaring aesthetic, but the gameplay remains largely intact. Sadly, this isn’t exactly a good thing, as while Sonic: Lost World is wholly enjoyable in small doses a full videogame it soon becomes tiresome. In truth, Sonic: Lost World would be best presented as a mini-game in a Super Mario Galaxy videogame, nothing more.
The trouble is, as it always has been with 3D Sonic the Hedgehog videogames, translating the protagonist’s greatest assets to a world that offers complete freedom of movement is not an easy task. In order to present a fluid experience hundreds of miles of terrain would have to be created without repetition, so that it looks as good when stood still as it does at high speed. However the cost of the man hours involved in creating the art for such an experience would undoubtedly surpass the revenue that any resulting videogame would bring in, let alone its profit margin. As such Sonic the Hedgehog titles have drifted between half-baked attempts at stalling out hero (Sonic Unleashed) and acceptance that the core principle of the experience has been undermined by doing so (Sonic Generations). Here in Sonic: Lost World we have neither, and yet still we do not find success.
The ultimate premise of the videogame is that the player takes direct control over Sonic as he travels across strips of land and through tunnels that funnel him down a path towards his destination. In a similar fashion to the Wii exclusive Sonic and the Secret Rings, the player is tasked with ensuring the Sonic avoids traps, collects rings and eliminates enemies as necessary on his journey to the end of a level, however here they now also have direct control of his exact position rather than opting for a ‘channel’ for him to travel along. Sadly, Electronic Theatre can’t help but feel that the experience may have been more enjoyable had that more restricted path been explored instead.
As if to hammer a final nail into the coffin of Sonic: Lost World, there is the occasional change in the design template that sees the camera shift from behind Sonic to alongside him and the action revert to a 2D plane. These moments are undoubtedly the most enjoyable that Sonic: Lost World offers: streamlined, clean moments of adrenaline rush gameplay with a positive win/fail remit that encourages you to try again and again until you successfully navigate its challenges. It’s almost as if modern Sonic the Hedghog would fare better as an endless runner than a platform videogame.
Sonic: Lost World also features a multiplayer mode playable locally or online. Here, players compete on the campaign levels to set either the fastest completion time or collect the highest number of rings. A time trial gameplay mode is also included, though given that the core gameplay mode offers a grading system and numerous bonuses for achieving a high rank it’s unlikely you’ll invest much time here.
Despite its poor performance in terms of gameplay, Sonic: Lost World is actually a very well presented videogame. The graphics and sound quality is of a remarkably high standard throughout, and though it does flounder somewhat next to its Wii U sister release, those unknowing of the home console edition are unlikely to spot any weaknesses in the visual design. The cutscenes are far and above what would be expected of the Nintendo 3DS hardware and the stereoscopic 3D capability of the console is obviously put to good use during the core platform experience.
It’s a sad day when SEGA are taking lessons from Nintendo and failing to achieve anything new with their flagship franchise, but this is exactly what Sonic: Lost World represents. To many Sonic the Hedgehog has always been second best to Nintendo’s portly plumber, but in Sonic: Lost World the franchise simply isn’t in the same league as Super Mario Galaxy’s freeform gameplay. SEGA has struggled with where to position Sonic in that third-dimension now for the best part of two decades, and Sonic: Lost World is just one more example of how they should simply start from scratch, or leave the blue wonder to rest where he sits best: in 2D.