Saturday, October 19, 2013

NYCC 2013: Sonic: Lost World

For four days, people came to the Javits Center in New York City to experience one of the largest conventions on the east coast: New York Comic Con 2013!  Fans of comics, movies, television shows, and toys came together to revel in their hobbies, and with them came video game companies to show off their wares for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.  We here at 3RM attended a few of those days, and we have impressions and video to provide from our experience!


Recently, Sega has been on a roll when it comes to Sonic games. Both Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations did a great job being visually appealing and enjoyable to play. Now Sega hopes to continue its winning streak with Sonic Lost World exclusively for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS).  Both versions of the game were playable at Nintendo's Booth this year at New York Comic Con, and I managed to fight the crowds to give each version a spin.

The Wii U version of Sonic Lost World had four playable levels: Windy Hills, Desert Ruins 1+2, and Frozen Factory. With my hands-on, I got to play the Windy Hills and Frozen Factory stages. The first stage’s theme resembled the usual grassy hills stages that tend to start every classic Sonic game, with checkered terrain, totem poles, wooden bridges, and waterfalls. Even the stage’s enemies came from a variety of classic Sonic titles such as the Moto Bug from Sonic 1 and Snail Blaster from Sonic 3. However, where Lost World differed from classic Sonic was the outrageous level design that some may find similar to Super Mario Galaxy. The stage took place high in the air on top of a long cylinder of land; on this planetoid, Sonic could either run straight across or take a multitude of other pathways to get to the next area. At one point, I decided to run under the stage to tackle an area filled with spike balls and moving ground. While one can take an easier path to reach the finish, they will miss out on the hidden Red Rings and Captured Animals, which I was told would help unlock content in the game. With this new freedom to design crazy level layouts, I am interested to see how far Sega takes it. My only concern with this experimental stage design is with the game’s camera, which felt rigid and was forced looking forward. This made going backwards or side to side a little jarring, especially considering Sega is touting the game's ability to explore the levels instead of just rushing through the adventure.

However, not all the stages will be designed that way. Desert Ruins 2 is played as a side-scroller among a lot of candy and Desert Ruins 3 is an auto run stage taking place inside a tree log. The second stage I played, Frozen Factory 2, did not take place in a snow level but rather a casino-themed stage with Poker chip towers and massive dice. This stage was full of Casino Night references, from Sonic’s name in neon lights, to the Crawl badnick from Sonic 2. Even the old slot reels are back, except now they are trying to reel over Sonic. Unlike the first stage, this level didn’t let you rotate underneath but it still kept a curved design. Throughout the level, it continuously offered three different paths to choose from, some filled with bumpers and others filled with painful laser mazes. There were also a lot of silver coins to collect, which at certain parts of the casino could be cashed in to earn Sonic a chance to play some Pinball, just like in the old days.

Overall the game’s visual approach had a Sonic Colors vibe to it but tuned up thanks to the Wii U’s HD power. The vibrant colors, varied environments, and smooth animations where pleasing to look at and had me wanting to see what other environments and worlds Sonic Lost World had to offer.

While visuals get my attention, gameplay keeps me playing, and Sonic Lost World for the Wii U has a bit of a learning curve. First off, Sonic’s double jump as well as the Wisp powers from Sonic Colors return in Lost World. While the jumps felt similar to how they felt in Colors, the only Wisp power I got to use was the Cyan Laser, which had me shoot through a number of crystals to bypass one section of the stage. What differs here from Colors is that the power ups are now used via the Wii U gamepad. I had to touch the screen, angle my direction, and than flick the screen to send Laser Sonic away. As each wisp uses the gamepad differently, I’ll have to play the game more to get a better grasp of these new powers.

There were a few major changes to Sonic himself, this time around. Besides his usual jumping and homing attacks, Sega has added a new kick mechanic where Sonic kicks larger enemies into smaller enemies. While designed to add a new level of strategy to defeating enemies, I felt the homing reticule wasn’t always appearing when I needed to use the kick power. Plus, it wasn’t as fast or as affective as the homing attack, which made it feel very situational. The biggest changes to Sonic were how to control his speed and the new parkour system. In the past Sonic would accelerate quickly and speed through stages, making it rather hard to perform platforming segments. Lost World attempts to fix this by making Sonic’s initial speed a moderately fast run that is easy to maneuver during the crazy platforming segments found within each of the levels. In order to speed Sonic up to the much faster pace that Sonic fans are accustomed to, I had to hold down the RZ button on the gamepad. Not only did this speed Sonic up, it also enabled his new parkour abilities. In previous games when Sonic hit an object running, he stopped dead in his tracks. With this new set up, when Sonic ran into a ledge, a tree, or along a wall, he would pull himself over the ledge, run up the tree, and run along the wall. The whole purpose of this was to keep Sonic moving as well as add some interesting platforming sections. In Windy Hills, I collected hidden items in the trees while climbing and in the casino level, I used wall-running techniques to collect rings and to avoid enemies below. And if that wasn’t fast enough, pressing the LZ preformed a spin dash that sent Sonic zooming even faster. The trick to getting the best time and score is to get well acquainted with this new setup. For someone who has played a lot of Sonic titles, it was definitely a learning curve that will take some time to get a complete grasp of it.  Being able to slow down for platforming has me intrigued; I hope the parkour mechanic is used in interesting ways throughout the game's final product.

With all the hype of the Wii U version, one might forget that the 3DS version of Sonic Lost World was also playable at Nintendo's booth, and I am glad I didn’t miss it! Before playing it, I was not sure about it since I had just played the Wii U game. The stages playable were: Windy Hills 1, Desert Ruins 1, and Desert Ruins 2. For comparison, I played the Windy Hill stage. Much like the Wii U counterpart, the game took place on a floating landmass that Sonic could transverse in 3D for the first time on a handheld. However, unlike the Wii U game, Sonic couldn’t go underneath the stage and was limited to the top half. Graphically, it was definitely not HD and had a really low-resolution backdrop image. Besides that, it still ran smoothly, and the character models looked good for the most part. In order to handle the larger stages, whenever Sonic reached a large spring, he was launched into the air as the game loaded the next area. This was a touch jarring but nothing too harrowing.

The 3DS version of the game seemed to have a more fluid camera compared to its console counterpart, and the controls were much easier to get into initially.  However, there were a number more pits than what I encountered in the Wii U demo, which could be a problem knowing DIMPS' level design in previous Sonic DS titles.  Regardless, I found that the simplicity evoked in the 3DS version made it easier to grab-and-go compared to the Wii U version's demo.  The Wii U version, despite looking better, had a much greater learning curve.

Both games are now out in Europe and should be out in America within the next few weeks.  I enjoyed my time with both demos, even though I can see where the games could be divisive for certain people.  We will have to see when it finally releases stateside how the game progresses, but it has a promising start.

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