After the faithful but inconsistent first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Colours is a welcome surprise: a fresh-faced 3D Sonic with great looks and breezy action. A handful of flashy new abilities are tossed into the mix, but they don't undermine the essential Sonic formula of bot bopping, ring grabbing, and high-speed platforming. It's not without occasional niggles, but Sonic Colours exhilarates much more often than it frustrates, making it a commendable new entry in a sometimes shaky franchise.
Sonic's new adventure is oh so sweet.
The game takes place in a giant orbital theme park supposedly built by Dr. Robotnik (Dr. Eggman, if you insist) as an interstellar apology for all of his evil deeds. Of course, it turns out that the park is really an instrument for further evil deeds, with Eggman imprisoning its unsuspecting alien visitors, called wisps. And, of course, Sonic and Tails are there to thwart him. The premise of Sonic blasting through the park, liberating wisps as he goes, is all that's needed, but some self-aware winks to the audience nudge the story from perfunctory to likeable. After bragging about how he can't be stopped, Eggman insists, "I know I say that every time, but, really, this time nothing will stop me." ("Who are you calling nothing?" sasses Sonic, ably voiced by Roger Craig "Chris Redfield" Smith.)
The scene is set with six themed worlds, among them the mouth-watering Sweet Mountain, with donut loop-the-loops, and Aquarium Park, a mash-up of an oceanarium and Japanese garden that is patrolled by samurai robots. The levels pop with creativity and colour; their artful designs--beautifully executed--rank the visuals among the best on the Wii. A few aesthetic cues are lifted from Super Mario Galaxy--in the space-themed Asteroid Coaster zone, you even run briefly over the spherical surface of a planetoid between speed-boost strips. In close-up view, Sonic's animations are suitably lively, but you only get a good look at him in cutscenes and while limbering up at the start of levels; much of the time, the camera pulls far back to show you more of the path ahead.
The action segues from platforming in both 3D and side-scrolling pseudo 2D to rail grinding and racing along with the camera at Sonic's back, with the odd bit of skydiving to boot. There's plenty of variety within and between levels, even without the novelty of wisps. These wisps are the colours for which the game is named; when you set them free, wisps confer on Sonic a special ability according to their colours. These abilities include a blimplike flying form, a sharklike berserker form, a rocket form that blasts you high above the level, and a wall-walking pink spike-ball form. As novelties, the wisp powers are amusing enough but still not as much fun as Sonic's essential repertoire of speed boost, double jump, and ground stomp. The levels are engineered to encourage their use, and bonus points are awarded for doing so, but the temptation is to rely on the basic platforming where they aren't required.