Sonic has finally made the transition from 2D to 3D effectively, it just took longer than it did for certain other brand mascots. Sonic Lost World sees developer Sonic Team attempt to tie together a great number of disparate threads: an entertaining story, exquisite aesthetics, and solid platforming. Sometimes it is successful.
A convoluted structure is blessedly absent from this tale of a cobalt hog and his bushy sidekick. Sonic Lost World’s plot is a simplistic iteration of the “hero and villain fight side by side (gasp!)” trope of ‘90s cartoons, and it works remarkably well. After Sonic and Tails crash on a planet called Lost Hex – which happens to be under assault by their nemesis Dr. Eggman – the duo promptly release a group of creatures called “The Deadly Six” from the bad doctor’s control.
To contain the threat, heroes and villain must join forces, and this makes for a fun – if clichéd – character dynamic as Tails grows frustrated at Sonic’s trust of their mustachioed former enemy. There are amusing moments stemming from this, as well as from the characters of the Deadly Six. Though the traits of each member of the sextet could have been accentuated further, the story is well written for a kid’s game, and is unobtrusive.
The narrative might be better than expected, but it hardly carries the game – that job falls to the gameplay and, truthfully, Lost World is often far more fun to observe in media assets or speedruns than it is to actually pilot.
The game is gorgeous, though. Inspired by Mario Galaxy, its free-floating and gravity-independent platforms tap into every player's toddler-like fascination with geometry, vivid colours, and contrasting textures. The shapes are backed by vast, freeing expanses of sky, or by a lush constellations of detailed geometry. Aesthetic variation between levels is huge, and includes but is not limited to classic snow, fire, jungle, and cake-based zones.
Now, it is foolish to count similarities with another title as a con – game design only evolves if developers can shamelessly hijack each others' ideas – but the similarity to Mario Galaxy occasionally becomes uncomfortable, especially during the admittedly delicious-looking sweet-based section. Lost World’s soundtrack also resembles the music behind the Nintendo plumber’s interstellar adventures.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for its gameplay. but while much is attempted, it misses as much as it hits, and that results in a frustratingly uneven experience.
Lost World does not match the sheer speed of past 3D Sonic games. It would be a gross oversimplification to state that velocity equals quality when it comes to the series, but the dizzying, motion-blur laden speeds of something like Sonic: Colours served as a terrific reward for completion of a segment of the game. In Lost World, Sonic would hardly outrun a fast car in a racing title, and it feels muted in comparison. The omission of immense speed, while not a gamebreaker, sees the game fade into the background alongside other more conventional platformers.
Lost World also suffers from a high difficulty and poor pacing. While being presented with a stiff challenge is hardly a negative, Lost World is mostly unrelenting, which is at odds with its kiddy story and cartoonish aesthetic. There’s no gradient that would allow players to learn the game’s mechanics and build up their skills.
The game would be better served by difficult, slow-paced platforming sections that give way to chaotic, speeding rewards. Instead, the platforming sections are a bit too easy, and the fast parts require twitchy and intricate navigation of numerous narrow gaps. When the platforming sections are failed, it is often due an odd presentation of depth or some other fault that makes anticipating the length of Sonic’s jumps too challenging.
Lost World has numerous variations to its gameplay. The strongest of these are the 2D sections, which tend to be the tightest of the game and feel nostalgic. The weakest, perhaps, are the Wisp abilities that return from earlier titles with no explanation in the plot. They feel tokenistic, both as a way to please fans of their implementation in former games and as the product of a misguided obligation to use the unique interface of Nintendo’s controllers.
Multiplayer too is pretty tokenistic. Players cannot really affect each other’s progress through a level, so there is little difference between playing together and simply trying to beat level times.
Lost World has the potential to be incredibly satisfying for the small section of players who either put up with its difficulty, or naturally have a knack for the game. Though the rest of us get numerous glimpses of the speed and fluidity that Sonic is known for, it is too often trapped behind a wall of frustrating gameplay.