Sonic Colors Ultimate game review — Has Sega reached for the stars?

Sonic Colors Ultimate is a re-release and remaster of Sonic Colors, which first appeared on the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS back in 2010. Ultimate is strictly a re-release of the Wii version, which is a 2.5D platformer that continues the boost gameplay formula first established in the divisive Sonic Unleashed. It was developed by Black Squirrel Entertainment in association with Sega.

Colors tells the story of Sonic, Tails and a population of aliens called The Wisps, as they face off against Dr. Eggman, who is building a theme park on top of the floating aliens’ home planets and using the natives as organic batteries. I’ve had the remaster for quite some time now, and I think it’s time that I finally tell you what I think about it. 

Sonic Colors Ultimate performance

One of the reasons people enjoyed Sonic Colors so much was it’s moment-to-moment action gameplay, and the fun of that is still very much intact here. The remastered version also runs at 60FPS on current generation machines and looks very slick, except for on the Switch, where it runs at 30FPS. 

This is of course the same as the Wii original, but it’s less than ideal for a high-speed platformer in 2021. Ultimate has redone graphics and lighting in just about every location, thanks to the increased horsepower of the newer consoles it is running on. It is technically improved, but those technical improvements definitely also give most stages a different atmosphere. 

While different, it is very pretty. I think that the game is helped by the new HD graphics overall, particularly when the camera pulls out into the distance and Sonic is small and moving quickly. I do still think the Switch version should’ve had an option to keep the Wii graphics and run at 60FPS instead. If it had, I’d have picked the game up there, too.

Sonic Colors Ultimate gameplay

Every stage in Doctor Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park has multiple routes, and sometimes there are multiple end of level goal rings to get to, although they never really alter your progression through the overall game. If playing well, you’ll find yourself going into a flow state, and while it’s a bit mindless, much of the enjoyment of the game will be found in replaying levels to master that flow and get faster times. This is similar to the Mega Drive originals, except with less rolling around.

Unlike the Mega Drive originals, we found that Sonic Colors has kind of a bad flow in it’s 2D moments. 2D sections have sluggish, heavy controls and the levels themselves are made mostly of flat square block platforms instead of slopes and loops. These sections are generally not very satisfying to play, regardless of Sonic’s current momentum. Later games in the series like Sonic Generations and Sonic Forces also had 2D sections that were like this for the most part, so we’re not sure that Sega even sees the problem. 

This occasionally annoying level design is exacerbated by the fact Sega have very obviously cut up longer levels into shorter levels to make the game seem longer. Sometimes you play a really short level designed around an odd gimmick, and the only saving grace is that those stages never actually last very long. 

Sega’s odd decision to chop up Sonic Colors is something that was confirmed about the game years ago and was even fixed in a fan mod for the Wii version. I wish they’d undone it for the Sonic Colors Ultimate version. Cutting the stages in half doesn’t actually make the game longer, it really just adds more loading between half-stages. Or it would have, if not for the help of the newfangled SSD in my Xbox Series X.

Sonic Colors is also famous for adding The Wisps to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise for the first time, and I remember liking the Wisps when they were first introduced. Now that they’re a bit of a staple of the series, they don’t feel as special, and I realise they’ve always been a bit tacked on in retrospect. They feel a bit like the new types of levels in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. They introduce lots of new stuff to do, but throughout all of it you’re not playing as the titular character doing titular character stuff. Some people probably appreciate the variety. In the end I’m not mad that they’re here, but I’m not exactly pleased. 

Sonic Colors Ultimate character customization

You can customize Sonic the Hedgehog’s look for the first time in Sonic Colors Ultimate, swapping out his gloves, power sneakers and boost particle effects for different ones. While customising Sonic is a cool idea that fits seamlessly into the framework of the classic Wii game, it still just feels like there’s something lacking about the effort behind the implementation overall. 

The outfit changes all end up being base-level retextures of the normal stuff, and there’s nothing extra-cool like the Soap Shoes from Sonic Adventure 2, despite their appearance in Sonic Forces character creator. If they’d wanted to make this feature really special, they should’ve included his alternate appearances from Sonic Riders or Sonic Boom. Heck, I’d even have taken his metal knight glove from the often maligned Sonic and the Black Knight! 

I was excited about the movie-related bonus items that came with the Digital Deluxe copy I had purchased, and while I used them for the whole game, I sort of wish they’d gone even further and put in the full character design if you equipped the entire set at once, instead of leaving it at the cosmetic nod. Perhaps that could be how the feature works in a future game, should they stick with the idea.

Sonic Colors Ultimate music

Despite mixed opinions from fandom on the boost gameplay, I think that the one place where everyone agrees the original Sonic Colors excelled was the soundtrack. It had now iconic songs that provided upbeat adventure vibes to the Wii classic throughout its entire runtime. 

Sonic Colors Ultimate has ignored the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and the Colors soundtrack has been remixed by series veteran composers Tomoya Ohtani, Jun Senoue and the Sega sound team. 

Sadly, just about every remix is inferior to the original version, with a strange focus on fast-paced percussion and jarring piano additions to a lot of the tracks. If I could ask for one addition to Sonic Colors Ultimate in a future patch, it would be an option to swap back to the old soundtrack.  

In conclusion

While it feels like I’ve complained a lot throughout my review, Sonic Colors Ultimate is still a pretty good time, and I don’t want it to seem like the re-release is no fun to play. I was even  fortunate enough to have avoided the awful graphics and save data glitches that had plagued some users, particularly those playing on the Nintendo Switch. 

They could have done more with the Sonic Simulator multiplayer mode, which is the same as it was on Wii. It doesn’t have any online functionality in the remaster, so it will continue to go mostly unplayed even by fans.

Sega and Black Squirrel have generally done a good job of making Sonic Colors accessible, both in terms of bringing it to new consoles and adding small quality of life improvements to the new version, like removing annoying arcade style lives from the experience altogether.

It’s just a shame that most of the other things added to the game are half-baked or just plain worse than on Wii, as it makes this version hard to suggest over the original. You can buy the disc for the game on Wii and then play it on the Dolphin Emulator in HD and you’ll probably have a better time. If you just want to play the new version on a new console system, then Sonic Colors Ultimate is fine. While Sega might think it’s the ultimate version, I don’t think so.

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