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Ultimate review — Reaching for the stars

I am what you would call an old-school Sonic fan. Yes, a fan. As often as I have questioned my love of Sonic games since their 3D debut, I always find myself eager to see what the blue blur is up to next. Indeed, despite how often Sega’s mascot franchise has run into the proverbial wall of spikes, ol’ Sonic has a way of bouncing back into my heart. Perhaps that can stand as evidence of an abusive relationship, but let’s not get too dramatic — these are family games. In a history of ups and downs, the 2010 release of Sonic Colors on the Wii stands as a series high point. For the first time, it finally felt like Sega figured out how to get Sonic to work in 3D. Over the last decade, fans have wanted the game to leave the confines of the Wii. And now it has. Sonic Colors: Ultimate remasters the original game, bringing it to the PC at long last. However, there are some speed bumps.

Before diving in fully, let’s address some of the recent concerns following the game’s Early Access launch. Sonic Colors: Ultimate has some bugs. Some players reported issues regarding gameplay bugs and graphical glitches, with the latter possibly able to cause problems for people with epilepsy. Looking through the posts, I gathered that the problems mainly revolved around the Switch version of the game, or perhaps some incompatibility issue with a Switch emulator.

In my six hours with the game, playing it to completion and returning to some levels, I did run into some bugs. Thankfully, they weren’t as egregious as the examples I had seen. I experienced some frame drops starting up the game for the first time, but they smoothed out. Moving from controller to mouse and keyboard caused a noticeable lurch. The game also crashed once. Beyond that, it was mostly a smooth experience, and what issues I came across can be cleaned up with future patches.

A handful of options are what you get

Sonic Colors: Ultimate is a pretty barebones PC port. It’s not too unusual for older console games to offer few options for tweaks, and this one isn’t going to curb the trend. While Sonic Colors: Ultimate allows resolution up to 4K and an uncapped framerate, that’s about your lot. There are no options for antialiasing, textures, or shadows. You get the choice of window type, resolution, brightness, and whether you want V-Sync on or off.

While looking and playing better than ever, there are still aspects that remind you of its origin. Textures and the revamped lighting are superb, but stand still long enough (if you can, since this is a Sonic game) and you’ll notice the low quality of Sonic’s shadow. Cutscenes also appear to still be the same as the Wii version, although I’m not sure if they’re higher resolution versions, as the Wii’s were 480p.

But despite the drawbacks, I can’t deny that Sonic Colors: Ultimate runs great on PC. If you told me last year that I would experience my favorite 3D Sonic game running at 1440p and 144Hz, I would have broken down laughing or crying. Maybe both. Beyond dealing with the aforementioned hiccups, I spent most of my time absorbed by this game, smiling all the way through.

Sonic Colors Ultimate Worth It Preview Impressions Review Settings

Find your own way

Even after 11 years, Sonic Colors stands as the best 3D Sonic game, hands down. Sure, Sonic Generations was also a wonderful celebration of the blue hedgehog. But it was with Sonic Colors that Sega finally started figuring out how to get the speedy little guy to really feel good to play in 3D. Sonic Team experimented with games like Sonic Adventure, but the controls never quite felt right. Oftentimes, just trying to guide Sonic through a loop-de-loop would cause him to bounce around like a ping pong ball.

The solution in Sonic Colors? Take away the control. It sounds antithetical at first, but it worked. The game includes the best of both worlds, swapping from 3D to 2D sections. To prevent gameplay from grinding to a halt when the game changes gears at full speed, Sonic Colors quietly snatches away most movement control, returning it for wide-open running and platforming segments. It’s subtle, almost unnoticeable. But it creates a smooth and uninterrupted experience that’s quite simply damn fun.

Sonic Colors Ultimate Worth It Preview Impressions Review Wisp Power

Bright lights, colors all around

It helps that Sonic Colors: Ultimate includes some of the most varied worlds in a Sonic game to date. Reaching the end of a space elevator, Sonic and Tails once more face off against Dr. Eggman Baldy McNosehair Dr. Robotnik to put a stop to his latest scheme: kidnapping the alien Wisps and harnessing their power for a mind-control beam. To do this, Sonic dashes across multiple areas in an intergalactic theme park, diving through giant donuts in Sweet Mountain or running across water in Aquarium Park. Each level differs greatly from one another, keeping the experience fresh until the end.

The game is also gorgeous, and the graphical updates with the remaster have it shining brighter than ever. Planet Wisp, with its rolling fields of grass and flowers, is a beautiful sight. Starlight Carnival, though it leans more toward an autoscroller, is still a spectacle to see — especially during the parts where a massive armada of ships warps into view. The game was never a visual slouch, even on the Wii. But remastered, the sights, sounds, and, well, colors have never been so good. Combined with one of the best soundtracks in the series (remixed for the remaster), Sonic Colors: Ultimate is above its peers.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect game, however. As mentioned, Sonic Colors: Ultimate does have some levels that feel like autoscrollers. Perhaps they stand as the rare examples of the game pushing its control removal system too far in one direction. Also, despite the franchise’s penchant for incredible boss battles, Sonic Colors: Ultimate does repeat some boss fights with minor tweaks. The issues are minor when taking in the game as a whole, but they are still issues.

Sonic Colors Ultimate Worth It Preview Impressions Review Boss 2

Close encounters

Sonic Colors introduced a new gameplay feature in the form of Wisps. Acting as temporary power-ups, Wisps allow you to take out enemies or explore levels. The common White Wisps add a charge to Sonic’s boost, for example, while the Orange Wisp transforms him into a rocket to reach greater heights.

Like the colored switches in Super Mario World, you unlock more Wisps as you progress. You can go back to levels you’ve already completed and use the unlocked Wisps to investigate the areas top to bottom. They’re fun to use; transforming into a drill to dig through layers of a giant cake while hunting down secrets just doesn’t get old. After Colors, Wisps have become something of a staple for subsequent Sonic games. But they’re used to their greatest potential here in Sonic Colors.

Generally speaking, using Wisps is the best, sometimes only, way of finding the five Red Star Rings hidden in each of the stages. In Sonic Colors, collecting all 180 Red Star Rings unlocks every special stage. Completing them rewards you with one of the Chaos Emeralds, eventually allowing you to play as Super Sonic. However, some of the stages are massive, making the journey to phenomenal cosmic power feel far grindier than in other Sonic games. It might be worth the struggle, but don’t feel ashamed to look up some guides.

Sonic Colors Ultimate Worth It Preview Impressions Review Drill

Something old, something new

Sonic Colors: Ultimate does include some things for returning fans. Developer Blind Squirrel Games added Park Tokens, which are scattered throughout every stage. You can take them to a store to spend on cosmetics, such as gloves, shoes, auras, boosts, and profile pictures. The remaster also includes the Jade Wisp, which was introduced in Team Sonic Racing. Using the Jade Wisp, Sonic becomes a ‘ghost’ that allows him to pass through walls so long as they have a special marker on the other side. Frankly, I didn’t find the Jade Wisp all that useful. I also didn’t care much for the new Tails Save, an item you can gather that causes Tails to swoop down and rescue Sonic if he falls into the void. It acts as a secondary checkpoint of sorts, effectively removing the lives system. I never needed it until I had more than a dozen stockpiled.

Finally, Sonic Colors: Ultimate features a new Rival Rush mode. After collecting 15 Red Star Rings in a level, you unlock a Rival Rush, which pits Sonic against Metal Sonic in a race to the checkered flag. This mode harkens back to games like Sonic CD, and I felt it was fine. Just fine, really. It’s not too tough to ditch your metallic doppelgänger. Your rewards for your efforts are exclusive, dark purple cosmetics.

Sonic Colors Ultimate Worth It Preview Impressions Review Store

Keep on runnin’

Despite some rough edges, both from the remaster treatment and what is baked in, Sonic Colors: Ultimate is an incredible game — but not quite an incredible port. It may have taken more than a decade, but the wait has been worth it. Sonic Colors: Ultimate is a worthwhile revisit to one of the series’ greatest 3D adventures, and stands heads and Tails above many other 3D Sonic games. This is Sonic done right, and having it modernized and on PC at last is a treat for fans and newcomers alike.

Sonic Colors Ultimate Worth It Preview Impressions Review Grind

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