Sonic Colors is one of the best bad games I’ve played in a long time. This game does a variety of things wrong, but every sin it commits is nullified by another, more positive design choice. The result is a game that is more-or-less fun to play, start to finish, but never really strikes the same chords as an actually-good game would.
As an example: the visuals in this game are astounding. Every zone is gorgeous, and has its own unique sense of personality. Whereas the old Sonic games were largely just piles of thematic blocks, the stages in Sonic Colors are constructed as real places. Sonic zips through buildings and along roller coasters, climbs construction sites and dives through undersea grottoes. The sense of place in Sonic Colors is very strong… but this also means that every level is exceedingly busy, visually speaking. It can be almost impossible, at a moment’s notice, to tell which objects are important and which are background scenery. Since everything looks so impressive and important, it’s easy for Sonic to get lost in the muddle, which means lots of cheap deaths.
In fact, except against some of the bosses, I can’t honestly say I felt any of my deaths were “my fault”. They pretty much always happened as a result of me not being able to tell a pit was a pit, or an enemy was an enemy, or because I was moving too fast to notice some onscreen cue. Upon respawning and trying again, though, I’d know right where the pit or the enemy or the cue was, and be able to jump it/destroy it/respond to it in kind.
Sonic has essentially infinite lives, and respawning only takes a second. So when the game kills you with stupid unfair bullshit you almost never have time to really dwell on that fact. You learn where the hole is by falling into it. The whole game is structured like this.
As a result, the levels really have the feel of colorful roller coaster rides. You blaze through the first time, bumping your head on everything, until you figure stuff out well enough to win. Rinse and repeat for the next level. You could go back later to find the hidden stuff and to rack up enough points to earn S-rankings, and no doubt a lot of players will do exactly this… but that requires you to really learn the individual levels. Really knocking these levels over would mean knowing when to take every individual action ahead of time, and I bet we’re going to see some really impressive looking YouTube videos of players doing it. I suspect, though, that because the levels are so short, no stage will require more than a few dozen such actions. This means any player can reasonably S-rank the entire game, if they were of a mind to do it, not just the reflex-king superstars who are able to speedrun the old Sonic games.
Another area where the game really falters is Sonic’s range of action. Sonic has a lot of different things he can do, but he never has access to his entire moveset at once. Most of the stages take place on a standard side-scrolling 2d plane, but sometimes the camera moves behind Sonic instead. Some of these sections are standard “run forward really fast” sections, where Sonic can run anywhere he wants and steers like normal. Some are “sidestep” sections, where Sonic can only run on one of three pre-determined tracks at a time, and tapping the control stick sideways will automatically snap him to the next track over. Still others are “drifting” sections, where Sonic skids around turns as though he were sliding on a sheet of ice. What sort of section you’re in is never clear based on graphical cues alone, and seems to be chosen completely arbitrarily.
The duct tape they slapped on to make this work is twofold. First, there are big cartoon icons that pop up saying “this is a drift section” or “this is a sidestep section”. These are ugly, but informative; you always know exactly what you’re getting into. And second, if you try to guess what type of level you’re in, and are wrong, you will probably die. But that’s no big deal, because you get another chance a second later.
I think what happened was: Sonic Team made a fundamentally broken game, and instead of fixing anything they simply spackled over the whole shebang so well that nobody noticed it was broken. (Or, if they did notice, they wouldn’t care.) Then, as a consolation prize, they included one of the most pleasing soundtracks in recent memory and cutscenes just cheesy enough to remind the player what Saturday morning cartoons used to be like.
That way, nobody has a bad time playing… even though the game is pretty bad.
I recommend buying this. You’ll have fun.