Published on November 20th, 2013 | by Jeff Derrickson0
Sonic Lost World Review
Summary: A clunky, mediocre platformer that wants to be Super Mario Galaxy.
Contrary to popular belief, not all modern Sonic games suck. The last few have been quite good. In fact, Sonic Generations is one of my favorite platformers of this last generation. I had high hopes for its follow-up. I mean, all Sega had to do was stick to the winning formula they had stumbled upon in Generations. Well, they didn’t do that, and I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.
Sonic Lost World could be the most strangely disappointing game I’ve ever played. It’s a clunky, mediocre platformer that desperately wants to be Super Mario Galaxy instead of a Sonic game. Nearly everything in it is clearly stolen from Mario. The levels, which mix up 2D and 3D gameplay, are mostly cylindrical tubes with multiple paths that you can freely run around. Borrowing that type of level design is not necessarily a bad idea, but Sega was not careful enough to still make it feel like a Sonic game. Except for brief glimpses, Sonic Lost World loses the series’ identity and truly becomes a Mario wannabe. And when you so openly invite comparison to the king of the genre, Sega’s inferior design becomes more obvious.
Sonic no longer even controls like Sonic. Instead of the speedways and roller coaster ride level designs of most 3D Sonic games, Sega built much more intricate levels that require lots of slower, more precise platforming. To accommodate this design, Sonic moves slower than ever. Moving the analog stick will no longer make him run at full speed. Instead, you have to hold down the right trigger to make him run, much like you have to hold a face button to make Mario run. Sonic also has lots of new moves that you’ve seen elsewhere before, including wall runs, ledge grabs, and double jumps. Series veterans will spend a considerable amount of time just getting used to the new controls.
Once you get used to the controls and accept the fact that Sonic Lost World is a misguided Mario rip-off, you will spend the majority of your time screaming and shaking your head at its maddening level design. Everything seems designed, probably by accident, to either annoy or confuse the player. Little things begin to add up. For instance, a mid-level checkpoint with no rings in sight. So if you die, you will be extremely vulnerable until you advance through a considerable portion of the level and find more rings. Frozen Factory Zone literally had me going in circles for 15 minutes before I found a spring hidden in the snow that allowed me to advance. Many of the levels also seem to stretch on forever, much longer than any platforming level should, increasing your chances of running out of lives at some point along the way. Silent Forest Zone 4, which rips off the light/dark levels from Donkey Kong Country, felt like it was never going to end, and as an added bonus, it includes an extremely frustrating section that is frustrating only because you don’t know what to do.
Because if there is one defining quality to Sonic Lost World (other than its desire to be Mario), it is its inability to explain anything properly. Too often you will get stuck and then eventually figure out what the game wants you to do, to which you will say, “How was I supposed to know to do that?” A late-game boss requires you to use a charged up homing attack to hurt him, and I’m nearly positive the game never explains that you can do a charged up homing attack or how to do it, just as it never explains the concept of wisp power-ups, or how you’re supposed to find a spring randomly hidden in the snow, or anything. I don’t need a game to hold my hand, but it would be nice if it didn’t leave me completely in the dark for no reason.
The game also commits the sin of forcing you to replay levels to advance. In every level, there are animals that you can free, just like in most Sonic games. Certain levels require you to have freed a certain number of animals in order to play them. So you have to go back and replay old levels over and over until you have enough animals. Hopefully, you will find at least a couple levels you don’t mind playing a couple dozen times. Why this ever became a popular design choice is beyond me. Artificially extending length is unnecessary. Sonic Generations knew it was okay to be short and sweet. Why did Sega and Sonic Team fall back on this old trick? It’s as baffling as underwater levels in games. Nobody likes them, and developers keep making them.
I think that points to the problem with Sonic. Sega has proven it is capable of making good Sonic games, but I don’t think they are capable of distinguishing between what works and what doesn’t. If a game turns out good, it’s more than likely a happy accident. In other words, they are throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. Unfortunately, Sonic Lost World really is a turd.
If you must play it, you will find brief moments of joy buried under the poor design decisions. The graphics are colorful and often beautiful. While the controls are different and decidedly un-Sonic, they are at least not broken like early 3D Sonic games. Some levels are actually well-designed, such as Des(s)ert Ruins, a candy land that has you riding along licorice and jumping across half-eaten Oreos against a background of floating donuts and ice cream cones. A boss battle in Desert Ruins Zone 2 on top of a rotating cube is genuinely fun and way better than other boss fights, which are generally awful. There are moments when you hope the game will find its way and at least become a decent Sonic-themed imitation of Mario. The further you get in the game, though, that hope fades amid frustratingly vague goals and stupidly long levels.
I’ve long defended this series and loved Sonic Generations. Why did Sega decide to fix what wasn’t broken? They finally figured out how to make Sonic work again and then quickly moved along to this misguided experiment. It’s hard to forgive Sonic Lost World’s missteps in trying something different when its heart isn’t even in the right place.