Sonic Lost World for the 3DS is the latest in a recent trend of handheld Sonic games – while there was a long string of completely original Sonic titles, from many of the Game Gear titles all the way to the Advance and Rush series, the last couple have instead been downscaled versions of their console counterparts: Colors, Generations, and now Lost World. Why this is the case, I don’t know, because it will invariably result in comparing these games to their consistently better big brothers, and in every case they fall short, including this one. Which is tremendously worrisome, considering the Wii U version of the game didn’t exactly set a high bar to begin with.
From a mechanical standpoint, Sonic Lost World comes off as confused. It’s almost like a Mario game that’s trying oh so very hard to be a Sonic game. The controls factor into this feeling heavily; like a Mario game, there’s no acceleration or momentum, you just hold a direction and get instantly propelled forward in that direction, and if you want to go faster, you hold a run button. That’s not to say there aren’t Sonic-y elements, of course. You can spin dash with the X or Y button, which earns you a good bit of speed but at the cost of awkward handling. While jumping, there’s a variety of context-sensitive actions you can do. If there’s no enemies nearby after jumping, pressing jump again double-jumps a la Sonic Colors, and pressing the spin dash button does a stomp. If there’s enemies to lock-on to, however, you’ll get the traditional homing attack by pressing jump again, or a new “somersault” move if you press the spin dash button, which stuns enemies. Somehow.
There is one significant change to the homing attack in this game that I should mention. Sonic will now automatically homing attack groups of enemies, so you only have to press the button once and he will attack several enemies in a row. This sounds like it might be useful in theory, but in practice it’s terrifying. More than once I’ve tried to attack an enemy, and sure, Sonic will attack it, but then he’ll also fly ten yards backwards to attack an enemy offscreen, sometimes across a pit. Gross! Ultimately it’s an addition that, even if it did work less unpredictably, feels kind of useless. There was no harm in just pressing the homing attack button multiple times to hit multiple enemies before.
The somersault also seems a bit tacked-on, and sometimes it’s not entirely clear when you should use it. Mostly you want to use it on enemies that are otherwise protected from attack; for instance, using it on an Orbinaut will cause the Orbinaut to drop its spiky orbs, allowing you to homing attack it without getting hit. It doesn’t really adds any strategy or thought to combat, though, it’s just an extra step and a waste of time.
Also returning from Sonic Colors are Wisps. I really enjoyed Wisps in Colors, personally. I thought it was the first time in a while Sonic Team came up with a new game gimmick that actually meshed well with Sonic gameplay and kept up the pace and flow. In the 3DS version, the only returning Wisps are Laser, Drill, and Burst (from the DS version of Colors). The rest – Lightning, Quake, and Asteroid – are all new. Lightning stands out as the least offensive of the bunch, allowing you to zap around and move between “lightning rods” to access different routes. The other two are frankly painful. Asteroid basically lets you make tremendously long jumps and sort of hover for a bit, the problem being that the jump is disgustingly floaty and it can be difficult to judge where you will land, even with stereoscopic 3D on. Quake relies on the 3DS’s gyroscope controls, requiring you to tilt and turn the 3DS to aim Sonic’s trajectory as he rolls through obstacles. This controls exactly as well as it sounds. The worst part is, it’s not even the most awful use of 3DS gyroscope controls in the game.
One big new feature Sega made a point of hyping up before the game’s release is the new “parkour” system. In truth, this system isn’t terribly new to the Sonic franchise. Shadow the Hedgehog, of all games, implemented the main part of this feature years ago, allowing you to run across walls and jump across to the opposite wall to cross gaps or avoid obstacles below. Lost World takes it one slight step further, allowing you to run up a wall so that you can reach spaces you may not be able to simply jump to. Funnily enough, as you might already notice from the description, this works and controls almost exactly like the cat suit in Super Mario 3D World, which makes me curious exactly how much influence Nintendo had on this game. (Apparently not enough, because 3D World is far and away the better game.) Overall, the implementation of this whole mechanic is… okay. It works! It’s not fundamentally broken! There’s really not much else to say about it, it’s not particularly bothersome or particularly enjoyable.
So the core mechanics of the game are reasonably sound, if not particularly compelling, but that’s not enough to immediately discourage anyone from giving it a try. But, well, you might notice there was a pretty substantial gap between the Retro Review of the Wii U version and this one. The reason is because this game is so unbearable it took me this long to force myself to finish it, and primarily at fault is the level design. The game starts out well enough, with Windy Hill serving as a typical, simple level with open spaces and plenty of tutorial spots to help you learn the ropes. The problem is that once you leave Windy Hill, everything goes to hell. Desert Ruins starts off the Cirque du Merde by introducing the Asteroid wisp and asking you to cross giant, empty chasms with it’s floaty-ass jump and immense momentum. Yes, momentum! They decided it was a good idea to make the Asteroid Wisp incredibly difficult to stop, so you will frequently barely make a jump only to fall off the platform a second later because the god damned thing just keeps moving. And good luck trying to change directions with it.
One wonderful (did I say wonderful, whoops, meant “miserable”, the keys are like right next to each other) mechanic Sega likes to reuse in Lost World’s levels is pushing balls around. One act of Tropical Coast involves filling up a room with water to raise a platform higher and higher by going to separate areas and pushing fruit onto switches to raise the water level. Over and over and over. Because, really, that’s what people enjoy about Sonic games, the parts where you slowly push stuff around to get it onto a switch. This mechanic is brought to its most absurd extremes in Frozen Factory, where an entire fifteen-minute act consists of doing this, the second half of which has you followed by a giant sentient snowball that you can’t kill, only stun, and that will freeze you if you touch it and bring the ball you’re pushing back to its starting point if it comes in contact. Someone was paid to create this. Someone else was paid to go “yes, that’s a good idea, ship it.” Consider this for a moment.
At the end of each “zone”, you of course fight a boss, one of the Deadly Six. I don’t think I have anything worth saying about these. They’re simple and boring and typically have you use some Wisp power against them. The last world, Lava Mountain, is basically a giant boss rush where you fight all these dudes again with nothing in between. Whatever. Utterly forgettable.
This game also has special stages, because for some reason (with the sole exception of Sonic Heroes) Sonic Team has decided special stages are only a thing in their handheld titles. In this instance, they are a terrible, terrible thing. The basic concept is that Sonic is floating in what I assume is space, and you have to fly him around the great empty void collecting spheres and avoiding obstacles. Sounds simple enough, right? But, no, no, no, this is Sonic Team, we have a very strict rule against making sense. Let’s make Sonic controlled by the 3DS gyroscope. And let’s make the sensitivity so low you have to play in a god damned swivel chair to actually move around. (I’m not exaggerating. I literally sat in a swivel chair and spun around so I could navigate these.) I honestly don’t know why they even bothered with special stages when they could’ve just done without them.
So that’s the game, basically. Let’s talk graphics! I’ll admit, the game actually looks pretty decent for a 3DS game. There’s antialiasing when you have 3D off, and with it on there’s a nice sense of depth to the environment. Either way, you’re playing with a fairly stable thirty frames per second. You can see how they cheated just a bit in some cases – rings are sprites, for instance, not 3D models – but you’ll hardly notice in normal gameplay. The soundtrack is done almost entirely by Tomoya Ohtani, director on Sonic 2006 and Sonic Unleashed and composer on Sonic Colors. Ohtani possesses incredible talent, but I can’t help but feel like he was stretched a bit thin on this soundtrack. There’s some standout tracks, absolutely, but a bit too many unmemorable ones. Sonic soundtracks are great for their variety – some tracks from Wave Master’s other greats like Fumie Kumatani or Kenichi Tokoi would’ve really helped liven it up.
So, Sonic Lost World for the 3DS isn’t great. It’s mediocre even at its high points, and straight-up garbage at its worst. I know, I know, oh, look at me, I’m reviewing a Sonic game and calling it trash, what an incredibly new and interesting viewpoint. But honestly, it’s kind of painful for me. Sonic Colors was so good! It was like a magical wave of purity that washed over me and gave me hope and made me believe in love again. Or at the very least, it was a flawed but still incredibly fun game with a lot of new ideas and great presentation. Generations was a very strong follow-up that made huge improvements on Unleashed’s gameplay with tighter controls and more elaborate (albeit less challenging) level design. But Lost World? Lost World just abandons all the progress the series has made over the past few years and makes changes for the sake of making changes. It’s starting to feel like we’re back to that aimless Sonic Team of years gone by that doesn’t really know how to make a great Sonic game and, even worse, doesn’t really care that much. And I think that’s the most worrying, but also most important thing to take away from Sonic Lost World. Here’s to hoping there’s someone over there that can see what a misstep they’ve taken and can get the series back on track.
Sonic Lost World was reviewed via a copy provided by SEGA of America.