Ever since his arrival in a blur of blue, Sonic has been a video game A-lister. His spiky locks, red sneakers and pre-teen cool have marked him out as one of gaming’s cartoon character greats – up there with Mario and Pac-Man.
But while his speed-driven debut was a revelation, his more recent appearances have disappointed. So much so that it’s hard not to question the blue hedgehog’s star status.
Sonic Colours – his latest outing – does, however, go some way to reasserting the idea that Sonic deserves his ongoing his popularity.
The story, of course, remains the same: Dr Robotnik is up to something dastardly and Sonic, with Tails in tow, is out to stop him. This time the devilish plan of the man with the bushiest upper lip in gaming involves a orbital theme park built out of planets and the kidnapping of magical aliens.
By sheer coincidence the extraterrestrial theme park is just about the ideal setting for a fast-footed hedgehog and provides the basis for some of Sonic’s most exciting and inventive levels for years.
The Starlight Carnival levels are particularly stunning: a rollercoaster race through a world that could be an Electric Light Orchestra album cover – full of disco-light starships and magical walkways.
The aforementioned aliens, which are the game’s power ups, also feed into Sonic Colours’ imaginative feel. Depending on the colour of the alien you collect, Sonic can – with a shake of a Wiimote – transform himself into a drill or dissolve blocks in order to reach previously inaccessible areas.
But while these moments make Sonic Colours the finest Sonic game for some time, it’s no Super Mario Galaxy. While Nintendo’s polished opus served up more surprises than Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, Sonic Colours too often lifts from Mario and even resorts to an ageing platform cliché: the sweets level.
The game’s enemies also disappoint. Even the bosses, which should be the most impressive of all encounters in the game, are patchy – a few impress, others deliver no more than barely stifled yawns.
And then there’s the perennial double-edged sword of Sonic’s distinguishing trait: speed. It’s what set Sonic apart from Mario and cemented his pixellated celeb status, but it’s also a curse as platforming doesn’t naturally lend itself to high-speed travel. For every moment where the high velocity racing through topsy-turvy worlds thrills, there’s a moment where you crash full pelt into an unforeseeable obstacle.
But speed along Sonic Colours’ more magical levels and all can, at least temporarily, be forgiven. That classic Sonic speed rush, which is complemented here by expertly performed switching between 2D and 3D viewpoints, is still exciting and it’s a long time since there’s been a Sonic title done with such imaginative panache.
But compared to the gold standard set by Super Mario Galaxy, it’s just no match. Good, but at a time when good simply isn’t good enough.
Nevertheless Sonic Colours is a robust response to any who doubt that Sega’s impatient mascot should still be regarded as one of gaming’s foremost celebrities.