Initially released in 2010, Sonic Colors came out to general praise from critics and fans alike for its refreshing focus on platforming through colorful worlds and a simple, laidback storyline that only featured the more core members of Sonic’s cast. It’s been 11 years since I first played the game and my tastes have changed considerably since then, so does the game still hold up? To put it shortly: it absolutely does, but it’s not as simple as that.
You see, since the initial unveiling of Sonic Colors: Ultimate, the game has been swathed in controversy by hardcore fans of the series such as myself; be it for the remixed music, the visual changes, or the rocky history of the remaster’s developer: Blind Squirrel Games. Remastering games is always a tricky, delicate business, and I don’t envy the developers who are tasked with making them. It’s not an exact science and preserving games is a much more difficult affair than simply slapping the code onto new hardware. It’s all about the precision in which everything about that initial game is preserved, which is easier said than done. With that said and having since 100%ed it, I had my share of fun with Sonic Colors: Ultimate. But it’s not without its issues.
Delights of the Past and Present
Sonic Colors: Ultimate by-and-large preserves the experience of the original Wii release. Sonic Colors follows the “Boost” formula first introduced in 2005’s Sonic Rush. You’re still running through levels, collecting rings, and jumping on enemies, but now you have access to the ‘boost’, letting you dash through enemies and terrain at top speed. You have 6 main zones that feature 6 main acts, as well as 7 bosses and 21 unlockable bonus stages, all taken from the Wii outing. These levels vary in complexity, and difficulty-wise I don’t think they’re very hard at all. They are still very satisfying to run through, however, thanks to the combination of music, aesthetic, focused level design, and control that made Sonic famous 30 years ago.
The biggest addition that Colors brings to the table is, of course, the inclusion of the now iconic Wisps. The Wisps are aliens that are central to both plot and gameplay, allowing Sonic to take on a variety of single-use power-ups in order to platform, solve various puzzles, and take out enemies in a level. While Wisps are more contentious these days due to their lackluster usages in Sonic Lost World and Sonic Forces, I find them to be quite brilliantly utilized in their debut game. Not one of them feels tacked on and they all see persistent usage throughout the experience, especially if you go for full completion. From the Yellow Drill Wisp allowing you to explore underground (or underwater!) playgrounds to the Cyan Laser Wisp rewarding you with shortcuts for precision aiming, there’s always a new challenge to look out for with these guys around. But these are all things that could be experienced more than a decade ago, so Sonic Colors: Ultimate brings in some new things in order to try and sweeten the deal.
Not All That Glitters is Gold
To get the most obvious part out of the way first, the graphics have seen changes and enhancements. Of all the changes present, this part was by far the most controversial and eyebrow-raising. There are lots of touched-up models, redone textures, and much more advanced lighting. The resolution has also been bumped up considerably and the image quality is overall sharper.
I can’t get into all the changes in just this one review due to the totality of them, and while I understand that these artistic changes are not going to gel with everyone, I personally quite liked the grand majority of them. The lighting especially deserves props, as it better sells the mood of each level, in my opinion. Although the graphics do show some faults, mainly in the form of visual bugs not present in the Wii version of the game.
Yes, it’s very well documented how badly botched the Switch version was upon its initial release, and while the downright hazardous-to-health bugs have since been addressed, it’s still far from perfect. From glaring pop-in to missing effects and sound cues, Sonic Colors: Ultimate feels so unstable that it can actively compromise my immersion in the game’s gorgeously detailed levels. The missing effects in particular are quite egregious, as some effects are used for tells for incoming attacks, the removal of these effects makes certain parts of the game more problematic than they were in the Wii version. The game’s final main level actually suffered a pretty significant difficulty spike as a result.
There are also brand new problems related to the game’s physics and collision detection. While it’s better off than Sonic Adventure DX, which introduced infamous glitches like being able to fall right through the floor, Sonic Colors: Ultimate does take on its share of problems that are similar. One big issue introduced in Ultimate is related to enemy fall speed. I’m unsure of whether this change was intentional or not, but it was an ill-conceived change if it was the former. See, in Colors on the Wii, enemies would fall gently and slowly from the top of the screen. This was with the intention of allowing the player to flank them before they could hit the ground and become obstacles, and in one specific instance on Sweet Mountain Zone Act 2, it could actually serve as a makeshift shortcut if you did a homing attack chain on them correctly. In Sonic Colors: Ultimate, however, this shortcut is entirely impossible due to enemies falling far faster than they were ever supposed to. This change in falling speed, perhaps not intentionally, makes certain instances of the game far less fair than they were before. Getting a specific Red Ring in Aquarium Park Zone Act 6 is made far, far less fair since the challenge involved in getting it was made with old, slow fall speed in mind.
A New Pair of Shoes
Not all changes are bad, though. In fact, Sonic Colors: Ultimate brings a few key changes to the table that help the game’s pacing out some. The most notable change and perhaps the most advertised was the addition of a new Wisp: the Jade Ghost Wisp, which first debuted in 2019’s Team Sonic Racing. Jade Ghost allows you to phase through parts of levels, attack enemies, and float to higher platforms, all without taking any damage for a limited time. Pre-release, this was the change I was the most worried about aside from the music (which we’ll get to later), since I thought the designers of Blind Squirrel games wouldn’t be able to do a new, big addition to a pre-existing game much justice.
To my surprise and delight, however, the Jade Wisp was a very well-done inclusion that successfully expands on the design philosophy of Colors while also not getting in the way of what made the game so fun before. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed Jade was always part of Colors, that’s just how naturally it fits. With it, there are new areas, re-arranged Red Ring locations, and even alternate stage goals to encourage its use. I was overjoyed to see all the tweaks Jade Wisp made, keeping things fresh for people who already have a lot of time put into Colors.
Another change that is a constant throughout gameplay is the addition of the Sweet Spot Homing Attack (or Perfect Homing Attack, as some like to call it). When you lock onto an enemy, there’s a timing to it indicated by reticles. Successfully lining up the reticles will result in a Sweet Spot Homing Attack, indicated by fancy new effects. When you do one right, you’re guaranteed to get some energy for Boosting. This has a surprisingly big effect on the game’s overall pacing and flow, and I mean that in a good way. That extra bit of spice to encourage players to pay attention so they can be rewarded with more opportunities to go fast is just the sort of thing that the “Boost” Sonic titles needed more of, and I’m hopeful that this gameplay tweak will make it into future installments.
The Mode That Comes Up Short
Outside of the changes made to the core gameplay, the main addition to Sonic Colors: Ultimate is the new Rival Rush Mode. Rival Rush Mode has the player squaring off against Metal Sonic in a race to see who can reach the goal the fastest. It is essentially a time attack mode with the context of racing against Sonic’s longtime rival. It was the addition I was most looking forward to prior to release, and I was quite pleased by how challenging it was. Even having played the game many times before, it still gave me a lot of trouble in some instances. However, there’s one problem with Rival Rush Mode: there’s only 6 of them throughout the entire game, one for each main zone. So while you may enjoy Rival Rush Mode, don’t get too excited, because that fun won’t last for long. Oh well, at least the new music for it is good.
The Musical Legacy Continues
Oh, right! The music! The original Sonic Colors on the Wii has one of my all-time favorite soundtracks, not just for Sonic, but for gaming as a whole. From the sweeping orchestra of the title theme and map screen, to the inspired guitars, synth, and piano of the main stages, the music of Colors will leave you dazzled from start to credits. Sonic Colors: Ultimate takes this a step further by remixing every stage theme and boss theme, with what I feel are generally good results. Not every remix is better or superior than the original, and while I do still have a slight preference towards the original soundtrack (largely due to nostalgia, I’ll admit), I am very pleased with the new arrangements by and large.
What I am not pleased with, however, is the distribution of said new arrangements. Unless you bought the Deluxe Edition like me, you’ll be coughing up a few extra bucks for the full suite of remixes. For a remastering effort, I find this rather egregious. I don’t care about some cosmetics being DLC since they don’t affect the experience, but Sonic is a series that has been sold on its music since its inception and one of the few parts about it that everyone can agree has been consistently great even 30 years after the fact.
That’s kind of the issue with Sonic Colors: Ultimate as a whole though, there’s always a “catch” to every good thing about it. Updated graphics? Sure, but there are more visual bugs than I can even keep track of. Improved control? Cool, but certain parts of gameplay that were fine before are busted now. A new, fun mode? Yes, but there’s so little of it that it ends up feeling unsubstantial. A lot of these issues stem from the fact that the game was clearly just not finished or given enough time and love before launch, an issue that Sonic as a whole is all too familiar with.
Honestly, you won’t even notice a lot of these issues if Sonic Colors: Ultimate is your first experience with this game. Each issue isn’t that big a deal by itself, but as a big fan of both the original game and the Sonic series at large, Sonic Colors: Ultimate is a case of death by a thousand cuts.
For some reason, though, I still recommend the game. Beneath all the baggage that the Ultimate version introduces, it’s still fantastic after so long. Despite having played the Switch version in particular, which is much worse off than the other versions, I still enjoyed the game enough to 100% in less than half a day. While I don’t regret my time doing so, by the end of it, I was slightly disheartened. Disheartened that, despite all the promises Sega made about ensuring more quality Sonic experiences, these promises end up coming out feeling like half-truths. I can only hope that future Sonic re-releases and remasters, including the upcoming Sonic Origins, have more time and care put into them, as the series truly does deserve better.
SONIC COLORS: ULTIMATE IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks to the wallet of the writer for the copy of this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt