‘Sonic Colors: Ultimate’ review: sometimes delightful, sometimes infuriating

Far from ultimate and really rather clumsy at times

Do I hate Sonic Colors: Ultimate? Not really. That’s the most frustrating thing about it. Sometimes, it’s wonderful fun and easily one of the better 3D Sonic games out there (not that I’m saying much with that comment but still), other times, it makes me despair and want to retreat to mostly any 2D Sonic game out there. Or a far superior 3D platformer instead. It’s a curious beast. Difficult to recommend yet also difficult to condemn without feeling a teensy bit guilty. Mostly, you just end up wishing it could be more consistent.

A remaster of Sonic Colors, previously seen on the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS back in 2010, Sonic Colors: Ultimate isn’t probably a remaster anyone expected to see but here we are. Sonic Colors: Ultimate is based on the Wii version and it’s clearly aimed at the younger demographic. Sonic games have never been grim in any way but this one is full of energetic music and plenty of cutscenes to tell a flimsy story about good versus evil. It’s nothing revolutionary but it’s fun and there are some entertaining jokes and cheesy exchanges between characters. Honestly, it’s unlikely you’ll pay huge attention to it because it’s fairly throwaway but kids will soak it up.

Sonic Colours: Ultimate
Sonic Colours: Ultimate. Credit: Sega.

The premise places you in outer space with Sonic needing to save an alien race called the Wisps that Doctor Robotnik has enslaved in typical fashion. There’s a hub made up of different parts of his Amusement Park giving each area a different theme. Each area is then broken up into six main levels plus a boss battle. That sounds fairly lengthy but some levels only take 30 seconds or so to complete with the longest only taking a few minutes. This is a game focused on replayability rather than longevity with the whole thing only taking about five hours. Perfecting the levels is where value for money comes into play and there’s a lot to do here.

Upon completion of each level, you’re assigned a grade from S to D with that grade dependent on speed, collecting coins, and sometimes a certain amount of style for point scoring too. The levels start out very easy for anyone who’s played a platformer before but things do get harder, albeit with some caveats. Notably, you can’t die in this game. There’s no Game Over screen and no real punishment to failing as you’re immediately taken back to earlier in the level to try again. The lack of peril is an issue at times because even though you’ll find yourself stuck on certain platforming sequences, it really doesn’t make much difference how many times you try again, other than affecting your final grade.

Sonic Colours: Ultimate
Sonic Colours: Ultimate. Credit: Sega.

That’s probably for the best as did I mention I sometimes hated Sonic Colors: Ultimate? It’s the Wisps’s fault. These little helpless things that need saving can be unlocked and used as power-ups meaning Sonic gains some new abilities. By doing so, he really doesn’t feel like Sonic any more. For instance, a green Wisp allows him to fly through the air (sort of) while a yellow Wisp lets him drill through surfaces and a Blue one lets him smash up some areas. It’s the green Wisp that made me realise I just desperately wanted to be Sonic again. Awkward to control and weirdly floaty, there’s a particular level in Starlight Carnival where you have to do a lot of flying and hovering upwards and it’s incredibly dull and nothing like what you’d expect from a Sonic game.

Some of the Wisps can be satisfying but every time, you feel less part of a Sonic game than before. And when Sonic Colours: Ultimate flows like a ‘proper’ Sonic game, it’s a dream. And that just doesn’t happen often enough while the game keeps throwing quirky new additions at you. You’ll be tempted to cast it aside and then…oh yes, another lovely moment where Sonic feels like Sonic and the rhythm has got you and you’re speeding through a level and all is forgiven. Then another Wisp sequence pops up and all slows down or feels wrong again. So frustrating. Why can’t you be better, Sonic? You’re so close to it!

The Wisps are important too. Really important. You’ll need to go back to earlier stages to use some of them to open up areas you couldn’t access earlier. It’s all in a bid to get better times and ranks or to collect the five red rings scattered around each stage. Those rings open up special stages which lead to Chaos Emeralds which lead to Super Sonic time. You get the idea. It’s those moments that make the Wisps tolerable but still not Sonic-y enough.

Sonic Colours: Ultimate
Sonic Colours: Ultimate. Credit: Sega

Elsewhere, the Ultimate designation comes from some neat tweaks to revamp an old game. It looks great on the PlayStation 5 using backwards-compatible mode with a speedy 60 frames per second at up to 4K resolution if you’re into that kind of thing with your aging games. There’s also a new Wisp in the form of the Jade Ghost one so you can pass through solid objects, plus a Rival Rush mode so players can race against Metal Sonic. Cosmetic options are in there too with some linked to the 2020 movie. All lovely but far from essential or ultimate in nature.

That all sounds so horribly negative but when a good run takes off and everything flows nicely, Sonic Colours: Ultimate is a dream for a brief time. It’s easily one of the better 3D installments. It just needs to keep that pacing up for longer than it does. When it gets too Wisp-focused, you soon find yourself eyeing up other platforms already out there. In a field where there’s so much choice, not least Sonic Mania, Sackboy: A Big Adventure or even Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time if you’re looking for an old-school challenge, Sonic Colours: Ultimate feels tricky to truly recommend.

Sonic Colours: Ultimate is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. We played the PlayStation 4 version on a PlayStation 5.

The Verdict:

When Sonic Colors: Ultimate feels like a Sonic game, it’s tremendously satisfying. When it deviates from the familiar pattern, it all feels a bit too slow and forced, shoving in too many ideas to master any of them.

Pros:

  • Traditional Sonic moments are a delightful joy
  • Soundtrack is fantastic and full of enthusiasm
  • Plenty of replayability

Cons:

  • Wisps are often annoying to control
  • Action slows down fast at times
  • Not much here to make it ‘Ultimate’
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