Spider-Man web swings. Hulk smashes. Sonic? He runs, born under the idea of speed and marketed under the moniker of Blast Processing. Sonic Lost World necessitates an assigned button for full sprint. This is the equivalent of creating a Superman video game where players frantically mash the R trigger to keep the Kryptonian afloat. It is no longer a natural process and robs the character of inherent value.
Sonic the Hedgehog was a platforming prodigy, a sharpened, attitude driven counter to Nintendo’s portly plumber. The Hedgehog’s voice was one of ’90s indifference. In a weird way he was Nirvana for kids, something which exceeded a cultural norm. He wasn’t a collection of gathered spheres or comforting shapes, but pointy with sharp edges and took an indifferent cross armed stance. Mickey Mouse and Mario were suddenly remnants.
Sega has since struggled with this identity. They have dressed their mascot as a werewolf, sent him into King Arthur’s kingdom, and forced his doppleganger to carry a gun. Mickey Mouse will always be a mouse and Mario–while he may defend other kingdoms or take side trips into sports–is forever a mustached plumber.
There is a timeless quality to certain characters — Superman, Mario, and Mickey among them. Sonic, we have discovered, is not timeless. He was a response to an industry need to progress itself into a teenage phase. The rebellion has grown irrelevant.
Sonic Lost World is draped in metaphors for tattered t-shirts and ripped jeans. It is sloppy and unkempt just as the ’90s generation was as they searched for a voice. Levels introduce nonsensical walled barriers while enacting infuriating lock-on routines to access progression. Lost World is an attempted reach at relevancy with a catch: this character was never meant to move in three dimensions. Sonic has become piteous enough to be told when or how to run. So much for rebellion.
At its best, the Sonic series runs to the right, creating a playable trance where control is often an illusion. The premise is not complex; the execution is. Everything Sega has done–and failed relentlessly to do–has attempted to alleviate that simplicity. Nintendo has never been afraid of simple. It is why their games continually work.
Mario has taken to 3D spaces seamlessly and transforms into wacky things. So should Sonic as the logic goes. It is why Lost World turns the hedgehog into a miniature portable planet via power-up. Sonic’s sense of self has been unequivocally butchered as the stout competitor has become the copier. This mascot is a distressing victim of miscalculated, shadowed design.
Even in-game, Sonic becomes a pinball, bouncing between misshapen ideas of what he should or could be. Not only has the character’s identity been devastated by repeated reinventions, the levels which he inhabits are fragmented. Glimpses of genuine promise sprout from sub-sections of certain levels, splotches of brightness as Sonic jogs across spheres (with excellent 3D effects). Then they stop. The screen fades into black for transition purposes and Sonic appears from nowhere in the proceeding section, as if Lost World is a collection of deleted scenes without the patchwork to sew them together.
Lost World finds itself in an unpleasant mixture of 2D and 3D design. The idea of a pit, some bottomless death trap which serves as a central hazard to any genre entry, has become errant in application. Normal and proper layouts designate these areas naturally in their flow. Players should know what is a danger and what segues into new areas. On Game Boy Advance, portable Sonic efforts began labeling pits with arrows, a remarkable conceit of failure. In Lost World, developers stand at a complete loss as to a fix. They leave pits untouched without arrows, and no physical sense of instantaneously killing gaps.
Credit goes toward Lost World’s apparent happiness with itself. Music is infectiously cheery and color palettes dominate over these familiar themed play scapes. Presentation elements, despite unforgivable low resolution cut scenes, harness the magic of Saturday Morning cartoons. Story and graphical elements represent the high school kid who barely made the freshman team, sidelined each outing yet still cheering his or her squad. Said player is oblivious to the blowout, but at least they have spirit.
Visiting with Sonic has become uncomfortable. There are truths we no longer wish to admit, but need to accept. Exhaustion forms from the realization the character’s best years are 20 years past, locked to the ideals of a game machine mournfully discarded to thrift store shelves. Sonic was a then creation, not a now. Seeing development time spent on patchwork lock-on systems and propping Sonic up on gameplay crutches is painful. He is a wounded animal and unless he is placed in the strict 2D conditions he deserves, it’s time to put him down.
Sonic Lost World is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Cartoon Violence. This game can also be found on: Wii U