Sonic: The Hedgehog’s handheld outings have had a peculiar relation to his console based AAA titles these past few years. While mainline Sonic titles have almost been universally panned as eccentric over experimental misuses of Sega’s most powerful IP, handheld Sonic titles have always stuck to the 2D formula that Sonic worked best in. Even the worst handheld Sonic title outshined the best Sonic console title, mostly because Sonic Team had to work within the boundaries of limited technology which flat out forced them to stick to the 2D formula. However, the 3DS is very powerful, more powerful than Nintendo’s old Gamecube console, and the Gamecube had plenty of 3D Sonic titles on it which means… oh, no…
Yes, the newest Sonic handheld release, Sonic: Lost World, is yet another 3D Sonic title that tries to needlessly re-invent the formula. A sister release to the Wii U version of the same name, the 3DS version of Sonic: Lost World is actually a completely separate game with unique levels and challenges to conquer. In general, the 3DS version is better than the Wii U version, continuing the trend of Sonic games doing better on handhelds, but poor level design, frustrating controls, and a needless desire to copy Super Mario Galaxy makes Sonic: Lost World fall far behind other great handheld Sonic titles like Sonic Advance or Sonic Rush.
Let’s start with the problems that the 3DS version shares with the Wii U version -- the story is horrible. Sonic stumbles upon the land of Hex, which looks like a broken Heroscape board, and has to battle against Robotnik/Eggman and his new partners in crime: The Deadly Six, a band of Skylanders rejects that are all supposed to be really powerful and threatening or something. As you can expect, the voice acting is terrible, the plot itself is paper thin, and nothing about the writing is clever. It’s not like Sonic Generations which riffed on traditional Sonic game concepts, or even Sonic Colors which had a cartoony plot that at least kept you interested. You’ll simply ignore Sonic: Lost World’s plot from beginning to end.
The gameplay is fairly standard 3D Sonic faire. Your main goal is to run forward and a slew of enemies and instant death traps bar your progress. You’ll run on walls, grind on rails, and homing attack your way through these levels, but it all basically boils down to trial and error. On the upside, it actually feels good when you are speeding down a straight away, blowing through enemies that block your path. On the downside, there are some areas that stop Sonic’s momentum for some reason. You’ll frequently be asked to kill enemies or solve puzzles before you can move on, which might work fine in other puzzle platformers, but Sonic doesn’t do well when standing still. There are also stages that sprawl out into maze-like corridors filled with traps and bumpers that send you off in the wrong direction. You have to tiptoe your way through these stages, which is exactly what you don’t want to be doing in a Sonic game.
Sonic’s control scheme is flawed but workable. He controls better here than he does on the Wii U version at least, but he still feels like he moves slower and stiffer than he has in past games. His homing attack operates in a more traditional manner in the 3DS version, but it will frequently target off screen enemies or bumpers sending you to your doom. Sonic is the hardest to control from a dead stop, which makes platforming incredibly frustrating. However, as long a Sonic is moving it’s not that bad.
Sonic has a slew of power-ups in the form of “wisps” to take advantage of, and unlike the Wii U version, these power-ups actually feel useful in standard gameplay as opposed to scripted mini-game events. There are also plenty of rings to pick up, and unless you fall into an insta-death pitfall (which there are a lot of), you will likely never die from taking a 0-ring hit. Heck, even if you do die repeatedly the game spawns an RC unit which will help you through difficult sections, a lot like Luigi Mode or the Super Guide in Super Mario Galaxy.
Sonic: Lost World borrows a lot from Super Mario Galaxy, to be honest. Many of the levels consist of floating planetoids and random platforms hovering above the landscape below. As much as it worked for Mario, it doesn’t work for Sonic at all. It feels like you constantly have to make leaps of faith beyond where the camera is showing and hitting the platform you want turns out to be more luck than skill.
Sonic: Lost World is actually best when its levels shift to a classic 2D point of view. Sonic still has more than a couple of control issues when navigating the second dimension, but they don’t result in insta-death nearly as much. Not to mention you aren’t fighting against the camera, navigating mazes, solving puzzles, or mindlessly killing enemies just to move forward. It once again proves that the Sonic formula doesn’t need to be tweaked. Just give us some of that 2D blast processing we know and love and we will be fine.
At least Sonic: Lost World does excel at its presentation. Levels are absolutely gorgeous, with vast landscapes stretching below. The soundtrack is phenomenal, fitting the high-speed gameplay quite well. The voice acting is… passable, but still quite good when compared to other Sonic titles. It’s certainly one of the best looking and sounding games on the 3DS, but that doesn’t really cover up the flaws inherit in the gameplay.
Sonic: Lost World is a Sonic game that is only mediocre. While it outpaces the Wii U version and its strange desire to slow Sonic down, it still doesn’t feel like prime Sonic material. The stages are frustrating and derivative, the new villains are stupid, and many of the key 3D Sonic mechanics that we have come to know and love, like boosting, have been ditched for no good reason. It’s not bad all the time, but its highs aren’t that high and its lows will make you chuck your 3DS out the window. If you absolutely need to pick up a version of Sonic: Lost World, pick up this one. It’s the better of the two versions released, but it’s still one of Sonic’s less competent titles.
This review was based on a retail version of Sonic: Lost World for the 3DS