Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Colours: Ultimate (Xbox Series X)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I have been dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 7 September 2021
Originally Released: 11 November 2010
Developer: Blind Squirrel Games
Original Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S (Remaster); Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS (Original Release)

The Background:
Despite what people would have you to believe, Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 2006) was an absolute travesty and one of the lowest points in the franchise. Sonic Team pulled out all the stops to make up for that dismal failure with Sonic Unleashed (ibid, 2008), which was a commercial success thanks to the speed and exhileration offered by Sonic’s gameplay despite the inclusion of the lengthy and maligned “Werehog” stages. Development of a follow-up title began soon after the release of Sonic Unleashed, and producer Takashi Iizuka aimed to not only create an equal balance between speed and platforming but to appeal to a wider, more casual audience by making Sonic the sole playable character. In lieu of Sonic’s extended cast, the developers introduced the “Wisps” to act as temporary power-ups that expanded on Sonic’s moveset, and took inspiration from Disneyland for the game’s amusement park setting. Originally released for the Nintendo Wii and DS, Sonic Colours was well-received for its gorgeous graphics, exciting gameplay, and was considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise despite some criticisms of the game’s difficulty. After years of being exclusive to Nintendo’s machines, Blind Squirrel Games were drafted to produce a remaster of the title for modern consoles to coincide with Sonic’s 30th anniversary, which included a number of graphical and gameplay updates to the original title. Unfortunately, Sonic Colours: Ultimate was mired by numerous reports of bugs and glitches, especially on the Nintendo Switch version, though the charm and fun of the original was still noted to be present.

The Plot:
After Doctor Eggman builds a gigantic interstellar amusement park in orbit seemingly as penance for his evil deeds, Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower investigate and quickly discover that the evil genius has enslaved several worlds and an alien species known as Wisps in order to harness their energy for a mind-control laser that will allow him to take over the world.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played Sonic Unleashed, or most of the main console Sonic games that came after that title, you’ll be instantly familiar with how Sonic Colours: Ultimate looks, feels, and plays. Like its predecessor, the game is a 3D action/platformer that also switches to a 2.5D perspective and has a heavy emphasis on speed, some extremely minor puzzles (mostly just sliding under walls, hopping over pits and steps, activating switches, and kicking away blocks) and a bit of exploration as you’ll need to search about to find optional items for additional unlocks. Unlike Sonic Unleashed, Sonic is the sole playable character here; there aren’t even sections where you get to control the Tornado, and hub worlds have been excised entirely and replaced with a world map, of sorts, where you can select the planets you visit and which level (referred to as “Act”) you want to play on the world. Sonic’s controls remain largely unchanged from before, however; you can still boost ahead by pressing and holding B, though your boost is limited to a meter than can only be filled by collecting Wisps and can no longer be extended or upgraded using experience points. A allows you to jump and holding it will let you jump higher while pressing it in mid-air gives you a very limited double jump. You can also press A during a jump to fire Sonic at enemies, objects, and springs with his iconic Homing Attack, or press X while jumping to perform a stomp to destroy enemies or break through certain blocks.

While you can blast through 3D sections and hop around in 2.5D, control is often taken away from you.

Quite often, Sonic will be placed in an auto-running segment where he has to quick-step to the left and right to dodge walls, hazards, or smack away Motobugs; sadly, this function is limited to the left analogue stick rather than being mapped to the shoulder buttons, which can make avoiding laser beams or obstacles a little tricky. Sonic can also perform a wall jump to reach higher areas, grind on rails, bounce off springs and balloons and other objects to progress, and players can repeatedly tap A after jumping or passing through a rainbow ring to perform tricks and reach new areas. While the 3D sections emphasise boosting and high-speed action, and often take control out of your hands and require you to do little more than quick-step or jump out of the way of hazards, the 2.5D sections focus on platforming; you’ll jump across gaps, to platforms (both stationary and moving), and use wind tunnels to reach higher paths, which typically hold more rewards and are a faster route to the Goal Ring. As in pretty much every Sonic videogame, Gold Rings are your life support; Sonic will be able to take a hit from enemies and obstacles as long as he’s carrying at least one Ring, and he can reacquire them when hit and suck them towards him while boosting. Sonic can pass through checkpoints to respawn if he falls into a death pit or gets hit without any Rings; however, while the life system has technically been done away with, this isn’t strictly true as you can be saved from a fall by grabbing a Tails pick-up, which will see Tails airlift you back to solid ground without having to go back to a checkpoint.

Sonic can grab Wisps to gain temporary power-ups and new forms that allow him to reach new areas.

As mentioned, Sonic is the only character you get to play as; Tails is relegated to a supporting role and only appears in cutscenes or as a new power-up, and you don’t even get to experience a different style of gameplay with a brawling transformation as in the last game. What you get instead are the Wisps, a series of alien lifeforms that you progressively gain access to as you play through the story. When you pick up a Wisp power-up, you can activate it with the Right Bumper and transform Sonic for a brief period of time, which will greatly expand your moveset and options for exploration and attack. The Cyan Wisp allows you to dart through enemies or bounce off surfaces and between jewels as a laser burst, the Orange Wisp turns you into a rocket and blasts you vertically upwards and allows you to float across distances, and the Yellow Wisp turns you into a drill so you can burrow through the dirt or swim through water (though you have to keep topping up the power meter or you’ll risk getting trapped in the dirt and dying). The Green Wisp allows you to hover by holding A and perform a Light Speed Dash across rows of Rings by pressing B, the Blue Wisp briefly turns you into a cube and changes blue rings into solid cubes so you can progress further, the Purple Wisp turns you into a voracious, frenzied monster that eats anything in its path, and the Pink Wisp lets you cling to any surface using spikes and perform Sonic’s signature Spin Dash to blast along at high speeds. New to the game is the Jade Wisp, which turns you into a floating ghost and allows you to teleport across distances, but the Wisp powers are incredibly limited because your power meter is so small and they essentially act as very brief power-ups to mix things up and let you blast through enemies or reach new areas and, for me, are a poor substitute for playing as Tails or Knuckles the Echidna.

Stages are nice and varied, if a bit short, and there’s a slight difficulty curve in the final area.

I played the original Wii release of Sonic Colours, and still own the Nintendo DS version of the game, but it’s been a while since I sat down with it. I don’t remember it being too difficult to play through, though, and the game is littered with hint orbs, tutorials, and warning signs to help hold your hand if you’re struggling. Luckily, you can turn these off at the main menu, which I’d highly recommend, but the game is mainly just a high-speed action adventure that forces you to get through a bit of platforming here and there to get to the next exciting sequence. Gameplay is pretty standard across the board but there are notable things to mix up each of the game’s worlds; there’s pulleys and switches and temporary stairs in Tropical Resort, popcorn to blast through and huge missiles to dodge in Sweet Mountain, and neon pathways to race across in Starlight Carnival. You’ll be quick-stepping across girders on Planet Wisp, punching your way through the gloopy water maze of Aquarium Park by rapidly tapping A and swallowing air bubbles to stay alive, and hopping between high-speed rollercoasters and Homing Attacking asteroids and springs in Asteroid Coaster. You’ll also encounter sections where gravity is reversed or skewed, parts where you need to continuously bounce on a moving spring to cross a death pit, and watch for huge blocks that will force you off the screen and to your death if you stay in their path. Overall, though, the difficulty is noticeably toned down from Sonic Unleashed; Acts are far shorter and designed to be played in fun, short bursts and there are copious checkpoints and Tails power-ups to keep you going.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Colours was always a very vivid and graphically impressive title, especially for a Wii game, and Sonic Colours: Ultimate is no different. Everything really pops here; the colours, the textures, and the environments are all really vibrant and there’s lots to see in the background and foreground. If anything, the game’s environments are a little too busy at times and it can be a bit disorientating and distracting trying to focus on what you’re doing, where Sonic is, and what can or can’t hurt you in each of the game’s unique areas. Sonic, however, continues to look fantastic; as ever, he comes with some amusing idle animations and it’s fun seeing him transform into his different forms. The switch between 3D and 2.5D continues to be a little clunky when you’re blasting through Acts and I can’t help but feel like things might have been easier if certain Acts were dedicated to each perspective rather than switching between them, but the camera is never an obstacle and platforming sections are never too tricky beyond getting your jump high and timed well enough.

The worlds are varied, vibrant, and full of life but sometimes a little too busy and colourful.

The entire game takes place in Dr. Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park, and there’s a definite feeling of being strapped in for a high-speed, high-excitement rollercoaster of an experience. This is literally the case in areas like Asteroid Coaster, where you ride a dragon-themed rollercoaster hopping between seats over the vast cosmic void, and Skylight Carnival, where you race along cyber pathways as huge neon spaceships loom nearby. Tropical Resort is probably the least interesting area of the game, which is somewhat fitting as it’s basically the entrance to the amusement park, and even that is made visually interesting with all the bright signs and rails and little details like potted plants and benches. Planet Wisp is the closest you get to actually having your feet on natural, solid ground and is a fantastic mixture of nature, foliage, and a huge construction site. Sweet Mountain is easily the game’s most bizarre area and is comprised of cakes, sweets, and desserts amidst a missile factory; blasting through popcorn and using rotating sweets to fly above doughnut plants makes this a very surreal but memorable level. There’s also a real scope added to the environments in Aquarium Park, which essentially takes place within a gigantic aquarium and sees you exploring a vast underwater area and locations heavily borrowing from Japanese temples and aesthetics.

While the lack of hub worlds is disappointing, the graphics and presentation are top-notch.

The game’s final area, Terminal Velocity, is simply a race down the huge connecting tube that keeps Dr. Eggman’s amusement part anchored to the planet, and conjures up memories of the final areas in Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog’s stories in Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic Team USA, 2001), and you’ll find a number of pretty basic, almost textureless obstacles courses waiting for you in Game Land. Unfortunately, the game does take a bit of a step backwards as hub worlds are gone entirely, replaced by a world map where you select which planet/location to visit and then pick an Act to play, meaning that the game’s focus is far less on story and exploration outside of the in-Act collectibles. Cutscenes are really well done, however, maintaining the same charming cartoony aesthetic from Sonic Unleashed and featuring some fun, if cringy, jokes and one-liners from Sonic and banter between him and Tails, and Dr. Eggman. Sonic Colours saw Roger Craig Smith take over the role of Sonic, and he’s a far better and more enjoyable voice than Jason Griffith, who I could never stand in the role. Mike Pollock continues to shine as the blustering Dr. Eggman, who’s now joined by Orbot and Cubot for some bungling shenanigans, and the game’s soundtrack is catchy and enjoyable enough. Sonic Colours: Ultimate allows players to select different language options for the dialogue and subtitles, and even switch between the original and the remixed soundtrack, but there’s some jaunty tunes on offer here from Cash Cash and composer Tomoya Ohtani to keep the energy levels high when blasting through enemies.

Enemies and Bosses:
In his quest to free the Wisps from Dr. Eggman, Sonic comes up against many familiar robotic enemies courtesy of the rotund mad scientist; these include Badniks like Motobug, Spiny, Jawz, and Buzzer, and Dr. Eggman’s more military focused creations, like the Egg Pawns and Spinners. Destroying these robots will free the Wisps trapped within, powering up your boost meter and allowing you to plough through them without worry, and you can easily cross chasms and progress further by chaining Homing Attacks of groups of enemies. Probably the most persistent and annoying enemies are Dr. Eggman’s chaser robots, the Aero-Chaser and the Big Chaser. These flying robots will hover in front or behind you, firing lasers and taking swipes at you as you desperately side-step out of the way, and can be a real hassle where you’re also fending off Motobugs or racing towards the camera at high speed with limited visibility. You’ll also face a sub-boss in Asteroid Coaster in the form of a gigantic robotic eye within a shifting gravitational field and protected by some spiked balls; you’ll need to hop between the spiked balls when the gravity field expands outwards to ram into it three times and put Dr. Eggman’s production facility out of commission.

Although the six bosses are fun, it’s a bit disappointing that they’re recycled and reskinned.

Dr. Eggman has ensnared six worlds to build his amusement park; six worlds means six bosses to face as you play through the story but don’t get too excited as it’s really three bosses that you simply battle twice, with the difficulty increased for the second bout. The first boss you’ll battle is Rotatatron, a massive Ferris wheel-type robot that has you dodging its huge claws, hopping between platforms, and ramming its big ol’ face while avoiding its buzz saws. This boss returns again on Planet Wisp, albeit reskinned as the Refreshinator and now protected by spinning circles and laser beams, but you can make these bosses (and all the game’s bosses) even easier to bring down by grabbing the Wisps found in the boss arena and dealing additional damage with their power-ups. Captain Jelly awaits you in Sweet Mountain, requiring you to Homing Attack across some cannonballs on the deck of his airship and hit a switch to force him out into the open. You then need to watch for his little minions and attack him when he stops to taunt you after hopping about, and Admiral Jelly is very much the same scenario except this battle takes place underwater and sees you luring homing missiles to the switch and chasing after the boss using the Drill Wisp. You’ll also have to contend with Frigate Orcan and Frigate Skullian, which are boss battles that take place on an endless running path and see you dodging bullets, spiked balls, asteroids, and lasers to chase each ship down and rapidly Homing Attack different parts of it to deal damage.

Go head-to-head in tough races against Metal Sonic and end Dr. Eggman’s plot by using the Wisp’s full power.

Collect enough Red Star Rings and you’ll unlock a new feature to this version of the game as Metal Sonic challenges you to a “Rival Rush”, which is basically a race through one Act of each area; while this sounds exhilarating and fun, it’s actually one of the hardest parts of the game as Metal Sonic is ridiculously quick, easily catches up and overtakes you, and you have to finish the race in one perfect run to succeed. Once you’ve destroyed all of Dr. Eggman’s bosses, however, you’ll finally face the egg-shaped madman himself in his Nega-Wisp Armour. This battle is also on an endless running path and sees you dodging various attacks themed after the game’s Wisp power-ups; you’ll need to side-step past cubes, jump over spikes, and avoid ricocheting lasers, amongst other attacks, while desperately grabbing Rings, then deliver a series of Homing Attacks to damage Dr. Eggman’s craft. You can also hit him with a boost attack and, after dealing enough damage, Wisps will be released and Dr. Eggman’s attacks will become more aggressive, faster, harder to dodge, and he’ll even combine Wisp attacks to really make things frantic and frustrating. Once you’ve freed all the Wisps, though, you can press RB and perform a Homing Attack to finish Dr. Eggman off with with the “Final Colour Blaster”; then it’s simply a case of racing to safety as the umbilical cord breaks away around you and you’ll have saved the Wisps and defeated Dr. Eggman once more.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike the vast majority of Sonic videogames, there are none of the traditional power-ups on offer here; you can collect Rings either one at a time or in increments of ten, but there are no shields, speed-ups, or invincibility power-ups to find during the game. Instead, you need to collect Wisps to fill your boost meter or provide a temporary power-up that lets you burrow through the ground, blast across surfaces, or zip through enemies in a blast of vivid colour. Each of these is timed and lasts only as long as your meter and, often, you’ll need to collect subsequent Wisp capsules to solve puzzles, reveal collectibles, or progress further but, other times, the Wisps will not respawn and you’ll be left with only one shot to bounce between jewels. Although you don’t earn or collect extra lives, you can collect the new Tails power-up to save yourself from a fall, which is essentially the same thing, but this is merely to save you a bit of time as it avoids you having to restart from a checkpoint.

Additional Features:
There are forty-six Achievements to earn in Sonic Colours: Ultimate, with the majority of them being awarded for completing each of the game’s worlds. You’ll also pop some G for defeating a certain number of enemies in certain ways, achieving an S-rank, destroying the score tally at the end of each Act, and playing/waiting through the game’s obnoxiously long end credits. Achievements can also be earned for defeating bosses in two hits instead of three using the Wisps or getting an S-rank against them, collecting every Red Star Ring, and for getting S-ranks on every single Act in the game for 100% completion.

Take on additional challenges, find the Red Star Rings, become Super Sonic, and customise Sonic’s gear!

Five Red Star Rings are hidden in each Act; the game helpfully keeps track of how many you’ve collected and in which order, which makes searching them out a little easier, and collecting them unlocks additional challenges in Game Land. Game Land sees you take control of a recoloured Sonic robot and completing short tasks that basically amount to platforming and gameplay challenges; there are no lives or time limits here, so it’s a good way to kill some time, and you can even play against a friend in this mode. You’ll need all 180 Red Star Rings to unlock every Act in this mode, however, and to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds to play as Super Sonic. You can challenge yourself further by taking on the Egg Shuttle, which forces you to play every single Act of the game on a handful of lives, and you can also collect Park Tokens in each Act or from besting Metal Sonic to purchase skins that change Sonic’s gloves, shoes, aura, boost effect, and your gamer icon. Unfortunately, this is an extremely limited mode and doesn’t allow you to apply other skins to Sonic, but you can acquire components to have him resemble his Hollywood counterpart, so that’s something.

The Summary:
I remember really enjoying Sonic Colours when I first played it on the Wii; sure, I haven’t revisited it since finishing it years ago, but that’s more due to my dislike of the Wii than of the game. When it was announced to be coming to modern consoles at last, I was more than happy to get my hands on it again, bad press and bugs be damned. Personally, I consider Sonic Colours to be one of the most fun entries in Sonic’s modern era for its focus on action and it’s a blast to play in short bursts, with a difficulty curve that’s perfectly manageable until you hit Terminal Velocity (and that’s just because I struggled with timing my quick-steps). I never encountered any graphical or gameplay glitches on my playthrough, and the only negative I had about the presentation was some lag in the menus and the lack of any kind of additional cutscenes when encountering Metal Sonic. As enjoyable as the game is, though, it is a bit of a step back; using world maps and menus in place of hub worlds is a bit of a disappointment and, while the Wisp power-ups are great, it annoys me how prominent they are here and have become since as an excuse to not include a playable Tails or Knuckles. It also can’t be denied that the game is a bit too easy at times; I enjoy how every other Act is basically like a little challenge for you, but it’s laborious having to collect every single Red Star Ring, the lack of skins or in-depth customisation is a missed opportunity, and the recycling of the game’s few bosses is really disappointing. Still, it’s a super fun time for the few hours it’ll take you to blast through it and absolutely gorgeous to look at and listen to; Sonic Colours: Ultimate shows the potential a big, triple-A Sonic game has but could have benefitted from just a few more tweaks and additional modes and such to make the package all the sweeter.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What do you think to Sonic Colours: Ultimate? How do you think it compares to the original Wii version and what did you think to the new features included? Did you enjoy the focus on short, action-packed gameplay or did you feel the game was a bit too simplified? What did you think to the Wisps and which of these power-ups was your favourite? Would you have liked to see other characters included to play or race against? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Sonic Colours: Ultimate down below, or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content later in the year!

3 thoughts on “Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Colours: Ultimate (Xbox Series X)

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