Sonic the Hedgehog has been through a rough patch recently, with few quality games and a general air of stagnation. "Sonic: Lost World" looks to reverse that trend with a new approach to everyone's favorite azure insectivore in 3D.
Tom's Guide had a chance to go hands-on with the upcoming Wii U game at New York Comic Con, and Sonic fans can rest a little easier. We played through two levels that displayed how "Lost World" combines the speed-freak Sonic of the '90s with the 3D explorer Sonic of the 2000s.
Our hands-on began in Zone 1 of Windy Hill, a lush, green world reminiscent of the easygoing early levels of previous Sonic titles. Here, "Lost World" demonstrated how it took inspiration from a relatively new genre of game: the endless runner.
Although endless runners like "Temple Run" have taken the mobile world absolutely by storm, they have yet to penetrate very far into traditional console and PC space.
In these games, you take control of a character whom you view from over the shoulder and guide him or her through a series of obstacles that necessitate quick turns and precise jumps.
Although you can control Sonic's speed in "Lost World," the fundamental mechanics are very similar. The game is a behind-the-shoulder 3D action game where you'll spend most of your time running, avoiding obstacles, and fighting simple enemies.
Previous 2D Sonic games have generally been about clearing a level as quickly as possible; 3D ones generally required Sonic to take his time and explore levels, looking for items and paths to the next area. "Lost World" caters to both play styles.
Holding down the right trigger allows Sonic to take off at a brisk clip while running; the left trigger lets him curl into a ball, charge up and let fly at top speed.
Each level has multiple paths, full of bumpers, springboards and straightaways for speed freaks, and hidden items and collectibles for those who slow down and seek alternate paths.
Windy Hill went by quickly, as Sonic vaulted forward at full tilt, collecting his iconic rings (which double as health) and bopping enemies as he went. The level had sharp turns, loop-de-loops and rapidly crumbling platforms: all old hat for Sonic fans, but the well-worn mechanics still feel fun.
The Desert Ruins, Zone 3 level was much more dynamic and showed off some of Sonic's new tricks. Rather than standard bricks and grass, the level was made up entirely of food. Sonic could jump across enormous, rotating cupcakes and bound up creampuffs as mountainous pancakes loomed in the background.
Here, Sonic encountered much tougher enemies: giant robotic birds that would self-destruct if he assaulted them with a standard homing attack. Instead of using that trick, Sonic could dip into his new arsenal of parkour moves.
By jumping and timing the attack just right, Sonic could attack the enemies head-on rather than from above, setting off a chain reaction that left the birds defeated and the hedgehog unharmed.
Old-school Sonic fans can also rest easy: the Desert Ruins level was almost entirely a 2D side-scrolling affair. The game will split its time more or less evenly between 2D and 3D stages, which should allow the game to keep the strong points of both approaches.
Sega did not reveal much information about the story, save for the fact that it would focus on Sonic and longtime foe Dr. Robotnik working together to take on six brand-new bosses. Sonic's perennial sidekick Tails will also show up as a partner (or friendly rival) for 2-player co-op.
Sonic fans have been burned so many times before that a little skepticism toward "Lost World" is understandable, and even healthy. However, if the whole game plays out like the NYCC demo, fans have every reason to be cautiously optimistic.
"Lost World" may not propel Sonic back to video game stardom, but the little blue creature certainly still has a few new ideas left.
"Sonic: Lost World" will debut on October 29 for the Wii U.