Sonic Colors: Ultimate
It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since the original release of Sonic Colors on the Wii. It was a bright spot for the system’s library and the finest then-modern era Sonic game released to that point – and remains the best fully 3D Sonic yet. Sonic Colors was a gorgeous-looking game in its time, but felt held back by the Wii’s remote-only controls and 480p output. A game with Colors in its name truly did live up to its name with a vivid color palette, but it looked muddier and more washed out than it should have. Now, with more modern hardware behind it, it can finally look as good as players always envisioned while playing better than ever thanks to a more traditional and organic control scheme.
One thing that helped Colors stand out then and even more now is it subverted some Dr. Eggman tropes by having him do something that could in theory be good with his giant space amusement park – made even better by his announcements over the PA system that he is only doing this as a way to make up for what he’s done before and it’s definitely, absolutely not part of a new evil scheme. Eggman is a far more enjoyable character this time around – with quips that range from asking Sonic to come to the security office to get his keys and definitely not fall into a trap to apologizing for some of the snack world’s areas using day-old pretzels as a cost-cutting measure. There’s a lot of humor in Sonic Colors and unlike most Sonic games – or other projects for that matter – it actually works fairly well.
The core gameplay is far more consistent with the best of the 3D Sonic games as well. Take Sonic Unleashed for example. Its daytime stages were largely quite good and kept a healthy mix of fast action, homing attacks, and grinding in the mix alongside a lot of loop-de-loops – but it was hurt by the werehog stuff. Colors has no werehog gimmick to slow the pace down and the end result is an “all killer, no filler” Sonic experience. Beyond 3D Sonic being done well, there are a lot of 2D sections that blend in aspects of the 3D world to do things that weren’t done in the 2D-only days.
The stage design in Colors is some of the most varied in the history of Sonic and some of that comes down to the Wisp power-ups enabling for some really cool real-time and QTE-style gameplay. The laser wisp is nice when it comes to darting around smaller portions of the stage, while the blue wisp allows Sonic to explore new blue-blocked areas for hidden goodies. The yellow drill wisp is fantastic for finding hidden red rings, massive coin boxes, or just turning Sonic into a Dig Dug-style adventure for a brief window. The white wisp filling up Sonic’s boost gauge right away helps ensure that Sonic can easily zoom around a level and that makes looping sections, or just areas that are in mid-air and benefit from a bit more forward momentum, more fun.
The stage variety itself is aided immensely by the amusement park setting – resulting in the freshest level selection in a Sonic game in many years. It’s also something that helps it stand up nicely in the 11 years since its original release, as so few games have truly tried to mix up the normal stage themes we’ve seen in platformers for 30+ years. It’s cool to see a theme park area lead to so many sub-sections of areas that would make sense in a theme park – like the snack world having destructible areas because the structures are a bit flimsier. The outer space area is also a riot to see in real-time as the stage itself unravels as you run along it. Even areas that do stick within what is thought of as genre convention, like the underwater area, do so with the logic of it being in an aquarium – resulting in some gorgeous water ripples that help the atmosphere a lot.
It’s clear that a lot of care went into the design of Sonic Colors and as a result, the game has aged wonderfully. Ultimate features some nice quality of life improvements, including the platforming debut of the Jade wisp – enabling Sonic to flow through solid matter and then combine it with things like the laser wisp to blast through parts of the stage quickly. It’s a bit odd to use since you’ll just slowly move through things from one jade wisp to the other, but it does work fairly well. Having the Tails Save ability takes away from ring loss if you fall down a bottomless pit – which is a godsend for 2D sections and some 3D ones. There are some areas where it can be easy to lose track of where you should be and that can end a life quickly. The Tails Save has him bring you to safety and prevents the ring loss as well. The controls have been improved a bit and the more traditional controller options available in Ultimate feel natural and everything is responsive.
Visually, Sonic Colors Ultimate is a nice upgrade from the original – which aged nicely anyway thanks to its cartoony art design. Like we’ve seen with minor revisions made to games like Mario Sunshine, when you have a cartoony art style, it doesn’t take a lot to boost the overall presentation when it’s already been done right the first time. The original looked great for a Wii game and now Ultimate just looks great overall. It’s much brighter and more colorful than a lot of 3D platformers and the quick pace keeps it interesting at all times. Character animations both in-game and in cutscenes are great and there is a lot of personality on display thanks to body language. Environmental details are nice and keep all parts of the stage fun to look at.
The soundtrack has been revamped a bit and deluxe edition owners can enjoy it whenever they want, while tokens can be used to do things like unlock other songs in the game or new outfit options for Sonic. The voice work has been retooled a bit as well with new lines added in and the overall sound presentation is great. The sound mixing is something that is so crucial in a game like this too since you have the player’s quips alongside the soundtrack and Eggman’s announcements all at once and yet nothing ever gets lost in the shuffle. Playing with a nice set of spatial gaming headphones helped even more as the PA announcements had a bit of distance to them – as they logically would if you were in an amusement park.
Overall, Sonic Colors Ultimate is a must-buy for anyone who loved the original release – or who missed it and always wanted to try it out. On the PS4 and PS5, it plays wonderfully and our time netted zero issues either visually or with crashes. Some have reported issues on the Switch version and it seems like it would be best to wait for that one to get fixed-up before buying. However, if you’re playing on PlayStation and Xbox hardware, you’re in great shape to enjoy one of Sonic’s finest adventures ever and his best 3D outing in history.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Sonic Colors: Ultimate for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sega.