I didn’t realize how much I missed the Genesis Sonic until playing Sonic Lost World on the Wii U. Very few characters have earned as many chances at failing in 3D as Sonic, but the series has been moving in a good direction recently and, based on plenty of time with all three levels of the E3 demo, Lost World could nail everything that originally made Sonic great.
Sonic was never about just moving fast. It was an ability he had but the levels were designed around both exploration and speed. If you wanted to blow through a stage in 30 seconds or less, it was something that could be done with a bit of practice, but exploring each area and maxing out the ring count was an equally valid method of play. Sonic Lost Worlds is happy whether you’re running crazy-fast or spending time poking about, and the Mario Galaxy-esque levels had plenty of areas optimized for each gameplay style. In the first level you could shoot through the world (wrapped primarily around the outside of a cylinder) chain-bouncing enemies and hitting the speed gates, or you could run around the level looking for animals to free and extra rings. A little exploration turned up alternate paths, and playing well means you don’t fall off to the lesser rewards of the basic course.
The second level was more of a classic semi-2D affair, with no freedom of movement off the Z axis. The camera cheerfully swoops around during certain on-rails sections, but it was pure side-scrolling platforming even while the level twists and turns. The third demo level was back to more true 3D, but this time with auto-running as Sonic tears straight down the side of a tree, chain-bouncing long rows of insect enemies and racing through every pickup in sight. This had the least exploration of the lot, but there were still a few alternate paths to find if you keep your eyes open.
While the level design was the bit that made me sit up and take notice, there are a few other new goodies in Sonic Lost World to keep track of. Each level has 5 red stars to collect, the game keeps track of how many animals you’ve freed, there are sections that have numbered counters to grab, and probably several more things I didn’t notice at the time, like the touch pad’s Whisp color powers. The important thing was that this felt like Sonic. The level layouts are obviously 3D, of course, but the feel of level flow combined with Sonic’s movement to be a total throwback to the series I enjoyed so much back in the 90s. Even the addition of a Run button didn’t break this feeling, primarily because of how incredibly useful it is. Sonic Lost World should finally be the game we hoped Sonic could be when it was time to make the move to 3D, and the only thing that could have made it better would be the original Sonic design.