It’s crazy to think that one of the best Sonic the Hedgehog games has been sat in console purgatory for over ten years, locked to (and in way, limited by) Nintendo’s Wii hardware. As a result, Sonic Colours has been in a strange sphere of existence in the eyes of Sonic fans; a game that many haven’t played, most definitely want to play but at the same time is seen as some sort of aberration in the series – most likely because of its graphical performance compared to competing consoles PS3 and Xbox 360 at the time.
Now, in 2021, SEGA and Blind Squirrel Games have finally dug out this 2010 gem from the archives, given it a new lick of paint and some extra modes and gimmicks, and released it to the world on a whole bunch of modern platforms. And while the base game has lost a bit of its shine since its original release, Sonic Colours Ultimate is a pretty great update to what is pretty much the most underrated 3D Sonic game in the franchise.
Following the fantastic proof of concept laid out by Sonic Unleashed, the original Sonic Colours took the Boost gameplay idea and refined it, adding more thoughtful level design and a vibrant story concept that was both ridiculous (Sonic! In Space!) and yet more faithful to the bright and fascinating worlds we saw in the Mega Drive/Genesis titles. This was, for better or worse, a 3D Sonic that went back to its roots.
Sonic Colours Ultimate essentially presents us with the exact same game with an HD visual upgrade expected of today’s audience – the result is pretty standard fare for SD-to-HD ports, but because the original game’s environments were so full of life and colour in the first place, what we end up seeing is a lot more definition in all of the game’s fantastic set-pieces. From the space armada in the Starlight Carnival to the mechanical planetary rings of Asteroid Coaster, Sonic Colours’ various level transitions were almost ahead of its time, as if they were originally built for HD consoles but hampered by SD hardware until now.
The story amounts to your average Saturday morning cartoon series – which is both charming at first yet ends up becoming a little grating as you progress through the game. Sonic and Tails invite themselves to a new structure that has mysteriously appeared within their planet’s atmosphere. Built by Dr. Eggman, the series villain claims that his Interstellar Amusement Park is a fun space created solely as an apology for his past transgressions, with no evil ulterior motive behind it. Honest. All of a sudden, Sonic runs into a number of strange alien creatures called Wisps, which are imbued with interesting powers. The blue blur and his trusty sidekick decide that something’s up, and vow to rescue these Wisps from whatever scheme Eggman is truly hatching.
It’s honestly a great premise, and the opening cutscenes and camaraderie between Sonic and Tails is a breath of fresh air. Seeing Tails just blithely subdue Sonic’s macho heroism with a few pithy retorts is a great level of character development, and Mike Pollock’s delivery of Eggman’s dialogue is always a treat. But, once the same jokes start repeating and the script starts to get a little too into itself, anyone over the age of 7 years old might find themselves wanting to skip the cutscenes entirely.
In gameplay terms the Wisps provide more than just a narrative purpose – they offer Sonic a range of special moves and abilities that remind us of the elemental shields in classic Mega Drive titles. Grab a Cyan Wisp, for example, and with the press of a trigger you can dart Sonic across the stage and bounce off of specially-designed diamonds that can help you access higher areas. The Yellow Drill can get Sonic underground and underwater at great speeds, vastly opening up the playable area beneath you in a stage. Colour Wisps are unlocked as you proceed through the planets, meaning that you won’t be able to access some Wisps in a stage until later on, adding a bit of replay value that doesn’t feel cheap.
Each stage covers a ‘theme’ in Eggman’s Amusement Park – from the introductory Tropical Resort which is full of palm trees and welcome signs, to the oceanic Aquarium Park which features oriental structures and a range of fish conservation areas. Enemies from Sonic’s past appear in all of these levels – from Burrowbots and Motobugs to Egg Pawns, each with their own themes costumes.
While every area includes seven acts (including a boss stage, which are incredibly easy to defeat), there are only really two in each that feature substantial and interesting level design. The others are short bitesize mini-stages that focus on one particular gimmick. None of these really outstay their welcome, although at times it can be difficult to understand where and how to progress in some of the more esoteric mini-stages.
Sonic himself plays pretty well in 3D, and adequately enough in 2D. Back in 2010, we kind of accepted the rather wooden physics that Sonic Team provided when Sonic was jumping around on a 2D plane, but in Colours Ultimate this hasn’t really been addressed. Blind Squirrel has, generally, opted to stay faithful to the original game’s logic, which can be both a blessing and a curse when viewing this game with modern eyes. It’s not truly a deal-breaker – Sonic still moves pretty decently overall – but just be mindful that we’re not talking about Sonic Mania physics here. A bit disappointing in that sense, since Sonic Colours spends a good amount of time in the 2D space so it would have been good to have that tweaked a little.
Where Blind Squirrel has opted to enhance the game, besides the visuals, is in adding a couple of new customisation modes and replay gimmicks. A new feature can be discovered when collecting special golden Park Tokens in a stage. These can be used to unlock various character customisation features, such as gloves, shoes and boost effects. You can also unlock a range of special avatars that cover a surprisingly large amount of SEGA’s history, from Panzer Dragoon to NiGHTS and Jet Set Radio. Clearly a way to celebrate SEGA’s recent 60th Anniversary as well as Sonic’s 30th.
New Tails Save tokens can also be found in the game, which allows you to be returned to any bottomless pit you might have fallen down in. This is a rather nice touch, and although Sonic Colours Ultimate’s difficulty isn’t too troubling, this inclusion isn’t so offensive that it makes you feel small for collecting them or using them. The final major feature is in the game’s Rival Rush mode, which sounds bigger than it is – essentially, after collecting a certain amount of Red Star Rings in a given world, Metal Sonic will challenge you to a race in a certain Act. Beat him, and you get Park Tokens as well as the ability to unlock unique customisations.
The extra modes and features are a nice bonus, but generally will do nothing to offset the cheesy story or enhance the level design. The only exception is the inclusion of the Jade Ghost Wisp (which originally featured in Team Sonic Racing), which adds the ability for Sonic to phase through walls – but only when there is a destination that the Ghost can pull itself to. It does add some extra depth to these stages, but not an awful lot – and sometimes it can be difficult to orient yourself if you get stuck in the new area.
One other extra that has been included in this remaster is a remixed soundtrack, with everything from level music to intro and outro themes re-done by Jun Senoue and Tomoya Ohtani. This ‘Sonic Re-Colours’ project is a little hit and miss in all honesty, and your appreciation of this new interpretation of stage themes may vary based on your opinions of the original OST. For our money, the remixes really shine with the rock music tracks (such as Asteroid Coaster and Starlight Carnival) where you can really hear the extra level Senoue-san’s guitar work brings to the atmosphere. For levels like Sweet Mountain and Aquarium Park though, which rely a lot more on Ohtani’s original synths, the remixes run quite flat and lose the punchiness they once had.
While there isn’t an obvious toggle to dynamically change between original and remixed tracks for each stage, the game does include Ohtani’s 2010 work. The first two or three Acts in a world will be remixes, while Acts 4, 5 and 6 will feature the original works. And if you just want to jam to them without playing the game, the whole lot can be listened to in a Sound Test buried within the Options Satellite.
There are a few issues with this new remaster that we hope are addressed in a future patch at launch – we saw a few graphical glitches that weren’t present in the original Wii game (level structures just disappearing and Sonic running on invisible ground to name a few instances) and we experienced a number of audio issues too. Sometimes when activating a Wisp, the music would just cut out altogether. This didn’t happen too often, but enough for us to notice.
Beyond the odd graphical and audio glitches, this is a perfectly faithful port of Sonic Colours – which also means that ultimately, your own impressions of this game will mainly depend on whether you played or enjoyed the Nintendo Wii original. It is, for all intents and purposes, the same 2010 platformer you remember – with all its charm and/or warts included.
From our point of view, that means that playing Sonic Colours Ultimate is like getting reacquainted with a good old friend. We thought the original game was a fantastic example of interesting and engaging 3D Sonic gameplay, only bettered by Sonic Generations a year later. Over the course of the last decade, it remains a decent Sonic game, but one that’s dulled a little by its ageing 2D platform mechanics and over-cooked cartoon script.
All that said, it’s still one of the best 3D Sonic efforts, which unfortunately probably says more about Sonic Team’s last decade of output than it does anything else.
Second Opinion: T-Bird
It’s probably been the better part of a decade since most last ventured into Dr Eggman’s Incredible Interstellar Theme Park and on the face of things not much has changed; if you’re a younger fan however, or you never owned a Wii, Sonic Colors Ultimate is an opportunity to spend some time with a cornerstone in modern Sonic gaming on one of multiple platforms.
The stages look clean and crisp thanks to a graphical polish, and it’s still just as fun to plough through a horde of Eggman robots at top speed. The inclusion of the Jade Wisp adds an extra layer of ingenuity for those looking to shave time off their speed runs or access hidden areas but won’t satisfy those looking for a new experience – the same goes for the customization options.
The cutscenes and story remain relatively untouched, and while not graphically terrible do now look rather dated; unfortunately there has been no revamp of the cringe-inducing dialogue.
Of course, the revamp (or recolour) of the soundtrack cannot go without mention here and is by a country mile the best feature of the remake. Sonic the Hedgehog audiophiles will love the wonderful flourishes added to familiar tunes from Senoue-san and Ohtani-san – particularly the now bombastic Planet Wisp and a rockier version of Rotatatron & Refreshinator.
Sonic Colours Ultimate clearly pitches itself at new fans and super fans; the rest will have to hold on a little longer the offering of 2022.
This review of Sonic Colours Ultimate was based on a review code provided by SEGA to The Sonic Stadium. We played the PlayStation 4 version of the game, on PlayStation 5 hardware, to write this review. We completed the main story and accessed all of the game’s new modes and special features before developing this article.
UPDATE: We have added a couple of paragraphs to the original review covering the remixed soundtrack. This has not changed our original review score.