After a string of poorly received entries, SEGA's mascot was in a bad spot back in 2010. However, the Wii-exclusive Sonic Colors was something of a reset for the franchise, cutting out most of the nonsense and presenting itself as a more straightforward action platformer. It remains one of the more favourably received games in the series due to its back-to-basics approach. Funnily enough, Sonic Colors: Ultimate, a remaster that brings the game to PlayStation for the first time, feels like a refresher once again.
Indeed, one of our favourite things about this title is the scope of the story. It removes superfluous characters and lore to tell a standalone tale with the key characters you care about: Sonic, Tails, and Dr. Eggman. The villain has hatched an outlandish plot for world domination, and the hedgehog and his foxy sidekick are there to thwart his efforts. The writing is a bit all over the place, but some fun jokes and hammy exchanges combine with the simple story for a light-hearted adventure.
An interplanetary amusement park is the source for the action this time; Eggman is using the life force of an alien race known as Wisps to keep his rollercoasters rolling. Fortunately for Sonic, the Wisps are willing to help him put an end to the cruelty, and this manifests itself throughout each of the game's stages. As you play, you'll gradually unlock each of the different Wisps, which will then populate other levels. Acting as power-ups, Sonic's usual abilities are temporarily replaced with brand new ones. The yellow Wisp lets the hedgehog drill through certain surfaces to reach new areas, while the cyan Wisp turns Sonic into a laser that can shoot through badniks and bounce through special crystals. The jade Wisp is new in Ultimate, allowing you to pass through objects via ghostly portals. Some are more fun to use than others — the blocky blue Wisp and the wall-climbing pink Wisp feel rather clumsy — but they add some neat variety to the regular running and jumping.
As mentioned, the Wisps aren't all available from the off; they unlock as you find them throughout the adventure, and they then disperse to stages new and old. It means that there's plenty of replay value in each level, as these Wisps can open up new pathways you couldn't access earlier. If you're struggling to get good times or ranks on a level, come back to it later, as more Wisps mean more opportunities. It's a fun way to extend the game's runtime, as it's otherwise a very short adventure.
Speaking of replay value, there are five red rings to collect in most levels, and gathering them allows you to play special stages. These simple platforming challenges eventually lead to chaos emeralds, which in turn means you'll be able to play as Super Sonic — always a fun reward for dedicated players.
The remaster itself does a pretty good job of revamping a game over a decade old. While you can tell it's an older title in places — the cutscenes are rather smudgy, for example — Sonic Colors looks better than ever here, running at a (mostly) flawless 60 frames-per-second at up to 4K resolution, depending on your hardware. While HDR support would've been nice, the game's vivid and colourful presentation looks great overall.
Unfortunately, while there's no denying this is one of the better 3D Sonic games, it doesn't quite escape the usual traps this franchise keeps falling into. An enduring problem SEGA has yet to solve is the fundamental controls, which are as finicky and haphazard in Ultimate as they are anywhere else. 3D sequences, while not as frequent as you might expect, can feel really good when everything is flowing well, but the game gets in its own way. Using your boost is the same button as for when you need to drift around corners, and you might perform a homing attack when you wanted to do a simple double jump. Moreover, walls you need to slide under and ledges to hop over are hard to anticipate while traveling at speed, interrupting Sonic's momentum. You could take the view that the levels are to be practised and perfected, but they should at least be fun to play through the first time, and not all of them are.
The 2D sections are usually slower paced, but come with their own problems. Sonic's controls are simply too imprecise for some of the platforming you're tasked with performing. It's very easy to overshoot a jump, then overcompensate and undershoot it. The double jump gives you a little more air control, but again, if you're close enough to something Sonic can home in on, he'll prioritise that instead, which isn't always what you want. Thank goodness for the Wisps, which can help you clear levels by effectively skipping trickier sections. However, if you have to rely on that instead of Sonic's fundamental abilities, there's something not quite right.
We don't mean to say the game is some unplayable disaster; when it works as you expect, it can be good fun running through each of the short stages. Each zone has an interesting theme, and while the bosses repeat, they're pretty fun to take down. Ultimate also makes some neat additions that fans of the original will enjoy. A new mode, Rival Rush, has you racing Metal Sonic in a handful of levels in order to earn cosmetic goodies. Speaking of which, the remaster includes a bunch of ways to customise Sonic, allowing you to outfit him in various gloves, shoes, and more.
Sonic Colors: Ultimate is the best version of an okay game. It's certainly among the hedgehog's better outings since his Genesis heyday, but it suffers from typically frustrating controls and level design. The Wisps provide variety and replay value, and the remaster adds some fun new features in addition to the visual enhancements. This 11-year-old Sonic title is one worth experiencing, but just be aware of its rough edges before you spin dash into the action.