Review: Sonic Colors Ultimate makes one of the best 3D Sonic games better than ever
Both fans of the Wii original and newcomers will enjoy Sega’s top-notch remaster
- Takashi Iizuka
- Key Credits
- Morio Kishimoto (Director and Lead Game Designer), Haydn Dalton (Creative Director)
It’s generally regarded that Sonic Colors is one of the best 3D Sonic games released to date.
The Nintendo Wii exclusive enjoyed a successful launch back in 2010, selling over 2 million copies to a positive critical reception, a rarity when it comes to Sonic in three dimensions.
11 years later, Sega has decided that it’s worth going back to Sonic Colors with an improved HD version that brings the title to PlayStation, Xbox and PC players for the first time (while ensuring its long-time Nintendo fans get their own Switch version too).
- Further reading: Sonic Origins release date / Sonic Origins level select codes | 2022 games
The result is undoubtedly the best version of the game, one that transforms its colourful stages and makes them look as visually appealing as the art team presumably wanted it to look at the time, but was unable to thanks to the Wii’s 480p resolution.
For those unfamiliar with it, Sonic Colours is essentially the ‘let’s go to space now’ moment that many other franchises eventually reach. In this case, Sonic and Tails have travelled to an interstellar amusement park being run by Dr Eggman.
Eggman is claiming it’s an entirely noble venture, but Sonic isn’t having any of it – sure enough, it soon turns out that Eggman is using a species of colourful aliens called Wisps, and absorbing their energy to not only power the park but also help him build a giant mind control laser to take over the Earth.
It’s up to Sonic to travel through the six different planet-sized attractions in the theme park and destroy the generators at the end of each one, in order to weaken Eggman’s defences and kick his eggy rump in the final showdown.
One of the main issues with most 3D Sonic games is that they have a tendency to try to overwhelm the player with elaborate set pieces, which may look impressive but offer little interaction and occasionally are a breeding point for all manner of glitches and bugs.
Perhaps because its source format was pretty underpowered in the first place, Sonic Colors dials back on a lot of these set pieces and opts for a simple 2D viewpoint as much as (if not more than) it uses a 3D one. While this may seem underwhelming on paper, the result is a game that’s far less frustrating to play.
“Sonic Colors dials back on a lot of set pieces and opts for a simple 2D viewpoint as much as (if not more than) it uses a 3D one. While this may seem underwhelming on paper, the result is a game that’s far less frustrating to play.”
It wouldn’t be a Sonic game without some sort of wacky gimmick, of course, and in this case it’s the Wisps themselves. Sonic encounters a number of differently coloured Wisps throughout his adventure, with each colour giving him a different special power.
The light blue Wisp, for example, lets Sonic fire himself as a laser beam in any direction, while the yellow Wisp turns him into a drill and lets him burrow through the ground (or propel himself through water) at high speed. The orange Wisp turns him into a rocket, that sort of thing.
As far as Sonic gimmicks go the Wisps are among the least contentious, mainly because they essentially act like power-ups that complement the main action instead of completely dominating it (see Werehogs, talking swords and whatever Shadow the Hedgehog was supposed to be).
The Wisps also encourage replay value because any Wisps you encounter for the first time are then unlocked in previous stages. There are five red coins to collect in every level and you can’t unlock Super Sonic and complete the game 100% until you get them all, but you also can’t reach some of them until you’ve unlocked certain Wisps, meaning you need to play each stage at least twice to get everything.
This is actually crucial to the game’s lifespan, because simply playing through the stages won’t take you too long (we beat the game in a little over four hours). Where its real length comes into play is the need to collect all the red coins, unlock Super Sonic and get an S rank on every stage by clearing them quickly with a lot of points and rings under your belt.
None of this will seem particularly new to fans of the original Sonic Colors, and for good reason – 95% of the game is just the Wii version with a significant upgrade to both resolution (up to 4K) and frame rate (60fps on the Xbox, PlayStation and PC versions, while the Switch game runs at the same 30fps as the original).
That’s not to say there aren’t any changes, however, with the most obvious being the way the game handles lives. To be frank, there aren’t any. Sonic now has infinite lives and can die as often as needed to get through a stage.
This may seem like it makes things too easy, but as we’ve already mentioned, half the game involves trying to S-Rank each stage, and dying can pretty much instantly kill that plan because you’ll lose your rings (unless you have one of the new Tails power-ups, in which Tails can rescue Sonic from a deadly fall by carrying him out and dropping him nearby, rings intact).
What we have, then, is a situation where dying still has real risks for completists, but is no longer the frustrating game-killer the Wii version previously was for younger gamers who just want to get to the end.
Another new addition is the Park Tokens, which are dotted around each stage and also awarded for completing levels with a high enough rank.
These can be saved up and spent on cosmetic upgrades in an in-game shop, though (at launch, at least) these are fairly underwhelming, merely letting players change the colour of Sonic’s gloves and shoes, or giving him a different special effect when he runs.
“What we have, then, is a situation where dying still has real risks for completists, but is no longer the frustrating game-killer the Wii version previously was for younger gamers who just want to get to the end.”
The Park Tokens can also be used to unlock player icons, some of which date back to classic games from Sega’s history, including some surprising ones like Panzer Dragoon and Clockwork Knight. But with no online multiplayer option that we can see these seem fairly redundant.
The only other issue we have with the HD remaster is that the cutscenes now look noticeably weaker than the rest of the game. Although it appeared that the Wii version’s cutscenes were rendered in-game, they must have instead been videos created using the in-game models, because they aren’t in-game in this new version.
Instead, they’re now clearly video clips that use the Wii engine, and while attempts have been made to bring them up to scratch by applying some sort of AI upscaling technique to them, it’s still quite jarring to have cutscenes where Sonic looks significantly worse than he does during actual gameplay.
These are fairly minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things, though, and it feels almost wrong to criticise Sonic Colors for other factors when the gameplay is genuinely entertaining (which is far from a given in a 3D Sonic game).
Even if you’re a big fan of the Wii original, the sheer jump in quality here from 480p30 to 4K60 (or HD30 on Switch) is enough to justify a double-dip. This was always a visually impressive game, it just wasn’t really clear how impressive until now.
An impressive remaster of an already entertaining Sonic game, this should keep Sonic fans busy until we get something new (as long as you're happy replaying levels for S-Ranks, because otherwise it's pretty short).
- A significant visual upgrade over the Wii original
- One of the more satisfying 3D Sonic games to play
- The Wisp power-ups lend some welcome variety
- The new lives system makes it more fun for younger players
- Cosmetics are rubbish and cutscenes are ugly