PAX Prime 2013: Hands-on With ‘Sonic: Lost World’

It’s not easy being a Sonic fan. We all know his glory days are long behind us, that’s just a fact of life. These days, it’s one attempt after another at infusing new life into blue tinted hedgehog with ’tude. Often poorly conceived or poorly executed attempts.

Yet we all play each new installment, hopeful that some of its former glory has finally be recaptured. And unlike many other latter day installments, the most noticeable gimmick of “Sonic: Lost World” looked mighty interesting. First of all, it wasn’t stupid, like him turning into a werewolf (sorry, werehog), like in “Sonic Unleashed.”

Instead, it reminded all hardcore fans of an abandoned Sonic game from the 32-bit era, which many believe is when his legacy first began to crumble. You can catch upon on history here. But yeah, purely for the sake of history, “Lost World” look fairly intriguing, and even legitimately fun to play! Which is quite the achievement at this point. So, is it?

In a word: no.

Okay, maybe it’s not fair to pass judgment on a game that is not the final, complete package. Though the one stage demo I gave a spin was enough to convince me that it’s same old nonsense that has plagued every single Sonic game since “Sonic Adventure 2.” Oh, it definitely looks cool (I still stick to my assertion that Sonic Generations is one of the most flat out beautiful games of this gen, period), but once you pick up the controller, it becomes immediately apparently that something is seriously wrong.

Before I picked up the Wii U pad, I watched the Sega rep zip through a stage that was reminiscent of the iconic Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2, which everyone knows and loves. Meaning that it was all draped in neon, plus assorted bumpers and flippers, to send Sonic bouncing all around the place. There are some enemies, who also harken back to classic 2D Sonics as well, and the entire thing just felt like a much desire return to good old days.

Windy Hill

But then you have the new environmental layout, which was first hinted at in the ill-fated “Sonic X-treme,” and more recently popularized in “Super Mario Galaxy,” which is what Lost World reminds everyone of, at least those who didn’t grow up with the Sega Saturn. Sonic has all his old moves, like spin dashing and homing attacks, mixed with new ones, like the ability to run up walls and double jump. It all looks crazy fun.

To watch that is. But to play? A totally different story. I realize my gaming skills are not what they are used to be, but I am convinced the demo person had memorized every single move to make, without fail, because I found myself sloppily and sluggishly moving about and dying every two seconds. For a kids game… and make no mistake, Sonic is now for kids… I found it incredibly difficult and frustrating.

The main culprit here is controls. One of the key tenants of Sonic was the simplest of interfaces possible, which was just one button. The motivation behind such a decision was, when you’re moving fast, you don’t have time to memorize button combinations. It’s a sound theory.

Well, in “Sonic: Lost World,” there’s a jump button, a homing attack button (they used to be one in the same, but now they’ve been separated, to allow Sonic the aforementioned double jump, which I’m okay with), and ANOTHER attack move, which is more like a dive kick. I tried to see what advantages either arsenal brought to the table, but I could detect none.

Desert Ruins 2

So right there, we have three buttons, but there’s more! Perhaps the most heinous aspect was the run button… yes, a run button. Otherwise, he simply walks around. And I appreciate the chance to allow the player to move around at a careful pace, to avoid obstacles and the like, but Sonic’s entire gimmick is that he’s super fast. Always. So a run button, or the need to do something extra to enable him to do something inherent, just felt wrong.

Though not helping is how you’re either moving too slow or moving too fast. Oh, and there’s some kind of button combination for doing a spin dash that I forget now, after the fact, but even during I couldn’t remember either. All because I had way too much on my plate already.

Past Sonic games could be described as a brainless affair, which is not a knock. Whereas now, Sonic requires a lot of brainpower to play. Way too much, to be blunt. Perhaps the blue blur has passed me by, but this is yet another game in which long time fans of the series will be again annoyed and disgusted. Sorry.

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