Time to catch up with the blue blur.
Recently I have been playing through the latest Sonic game, Sonic Lost World for the Wii U. Leading up to the release one of my concerns was, how well would Sonic control this time around? Thankfully, the answer is, quite well.
Before I get into my thoughts on Lost World, lets wind the clock back to 1994 when I received a Mega Drive for Christmas. One of the games my sister and I received at the time was the original Sonic the Hedgehog. I spent hours playing that game. Zipping across Green Hill Zone was a blast, not to mention finding the little shortcuts and secret off cuts of various levels. Controlling Sonic in the original, and by extension Sonic 2 and 3, was easy. Once you had the feel for the character it was very easy to stop with pin-point precision or jump and move directly into a roll to keep momentum.
Moving forward into the early 2000’s, Sonic’s 3D offerings were received less favorably than his classic 2D outings. Many people complained about imprecise controls and buggy implementation of things like the new homing attack. My first 3D Sonic was on the GameCube with Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. My first impressions of how Sonic controlled were less than favorable. When moving at his max speed Sonic felt quite twitchy. This led to it being harder to make smaller course corrections. Over time I did get used to how the game controlled, and was able to enjoy the game quite a bit, but there were always these underlying annoyances.
The next major Sonic release that mixed it up and refreshed how Sonic controlled was Sonic Unleashed. The game decided to focus even more on Sonic’s super speed and turned the franchise into a racing/platform game. Whilst the game was of a far better quality than the infamous Sonic 2006, I felt that whenever I lost momentum Sonic became unwieldy. He was slippery and did not feel grounded to the level at all. The control felt fine when moving at a decent clip, but any slower platforming sections felt off. It was hard to feel 100% comfortable when jumping between smaller platforms and it was easy to lose control of Sonic if not enough care was taken when moving around on them. This mode of Sonic, while further refined over the next couple of games, still didn’t feel quite right and these slippery controls even invaded the Classic Sonic in Generations to a degree.
Now, Lost World. One of the first things that you feel immediately with Sonic’s controls in Lost World is that he feels grounded at all times. He does not slide around when moving at a slower speed. This is helped by the interesting decision to give him a dedicated run button instead of just using the analog stick. Although, even when running Sonic always feels directly under your control.
Instead of having a simple boost button the Spin Dash has also returned. It can be used as a quick burst of speed, much like the original games, and can even be used to continuously boost. Also once in a continuous Spin Dash, every time you jump and land safely the spin will gain an extra boost. Chaining these together makes it feel that much closer to running and rolling in the old games and with practice will open more possibilities for faster and more elegant level runs.
In a lot of ways this latest game feels like a strange throwback to the original Sonic the Hedgehog. The overall pace of the game is slower, its fun to chain attacks from enemy to enemy, and the game even looks much closer in style to the original games. The biggest thing though is that the control and level designs for Lost World bring back a play style for Sonic that does not focus on pure speed, instead, much like in the old 2D games, speed is earned from becoming competent in the levels. Sonic was never really about making the character go super fast directly out of the gate, it was more about giving the player the ability to make him move fast through the level design. While not 100% perfect, Lost World harkens back to this mentality. Hopefully Sonic Team is allowed to refine and enhance this gameplay further in future games.