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Sonic Colours Ultimate – PS4 and Xbox One Review

PS4 Review

With the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise turning 30 this year, what better way to celebrate than to remaster a title that fans have been clamouring for a release on other formats since its original Wii incarnation. Sonic Colours Ultimate finally frees Sonic Colours from Wii exclusivity and puts the game on PS4, Switch, Xbox One and PC with a slew of enhancements and additions. Development on Sonic Colours Ultimate has been handled by porting house Blind Squirrel Games who are better known for their ports of the Mass Effect trilogy and the Bioshock collection.

If you’re unfamiliar with the original game, Sonic Colours sees Sonic and Tails travel to Dr. Eggman’s recently completed interstellar amusement park which has been created as an apology for the Doctor’s past transgressions. What soon transpires is that Eggman is using the amusement park as a way to lure the powerful alien beings known as the Wisps into a trap. Eggman wants to capture as many Wisps as possible and use their energy to power some of his most dastardly creations yet and use them to conquer Sonic’s world.

As Sonic, you quickly set about freeing the Wisps who then grant Sonic different abilities to traverse the stages with. White Wisps power Sonic’s boost gauge while the cyan Wisp allows Sonic to turn into a super-fast laser, the orange Wisp allows Sonic to turn into a rocket and reach new heights and the yellow Wisp allows Sonic to drill into select surfaces and explore underground. There are a multitude of different Wisps to experiment with and they truly make Sonic Colours what it is and give the game its own identity. New to Sonic Colours Ultimate is the jade ghost Wisp which allows Sonic to snap between certain points in the stage and pass through walls, which also opens up new routes to explore.

Speaking of additions, Sonic Colours Ultimate features a handful of welcome upgrades compared to the base game. The obvious improvement is a resolution upgrade that pushes everything into high definition, complete with high resolution textures and new in game lighting. There are also higher framerates that try to target 60fps but often fall short on a base PS4, with constant drops and stutters cropping up that sadly spoil an otherwise fantastic visual presentation. It’s not a deal breaker but it certainly cheapens the experience and also makes the game feel less of a definitive Sonic Colours experience.

In addition to the various visual upgrades, the audio has had some tweaks as well. A new remixed soundtrack has been added to the game and it’s a strange addition that largely overhauls the sound to be more synthetic and less dense, creating a mood that sounds somewhat lacking. All the tunes now feel like they are lacking instrumentation which is a bit of a downgrade when compared to the bombastic sound of the original Wii soundtrack. The one thing this does improve is that you can now hear Eggman’s excellent tannoy announcements which were often buried in the mix in the original game. These add some excellent humour to the game and help make the various planets feel more like actual places that people inhabit.

Unfortunately when it comes to the actual in game action, it is identical to its Wii counterpart. Nothing has been done to improve Sonic’s responsiveness or how heavy he feels when platforming. If you didn’t like the way Sonic Colours felt before then you will unfortunately find no improvements in this area and it’s a massive shame. The 3rd person 3D sections are still the highlight of Sonic Colours Ultimate and the control setup favours these stages a lot better than the 2D ones which often feel frustrating and imprecise – a far cry from Sonic’s 16 bit origins. The context sensitive boost button also returns from the Wii game, with the boost button changing to a drift button in certain segments, or Sonic’s movement being limited to moving between 3 lanes in certain areas. It feels unnatural to have to use the same button for boosting and drifting when you could’ve put those controls onto the shoulder buttons like Sonic Unleashed or Sonic Generations. The same goes for the lane switching – it just feels more natural to have those controls on the shoulder buttons.

We do get some small changes when it comes to gameplay and one of them is a new homing attack reticule that glows green for a fraction of a second. When you activate a homing attack when the reticule is green you can score bigger points and rank better at the end of the stage. Unfortunately the sound of a perfectly timed homing attack is one of the shrillest and most abrasive sound effects ever added to a Sonic game. It’s the sort of sound that makes you want to mute all the in game audio which is another mark against a pretty spotty audio presentation.

Another minor gameplay change is the addition of the new collectible Tails icons. These add additional in game checkpoints that grant Sonic a respawn if he dies, but without sacrificing any red star rings he may have found during the stage. It’s a largely soulless inclusion that basically allows you to see Tails in game for a moment but you never get to actually control him. Another missed opportunity that fans would have loved.

Thankfully the sheer variety of gameplay styles keeps things fresh, with each planet in the amusement park offering up roughly 6 stages to complete and a boss. The 6 stages are often quite short but consistently change from 3D to 2D action, sometimes even within the same stage and a lot of creativity is on display. The boss battles unfortunately fall a little flat and if you get lucky and find a Wisp early in the battle, you can basically defeat every boss (apart from the final boss) in one hit. The bosses often have the same setup as well, with Sonic navigating his way up to the front of a large enemy vessel before having to attack the robot captain. It’s a huge disappointment for a franchise that has always delivered multiple varied boss battles and it unfortunately adds to an air of inconsequentiality to the game.

The biggest addition to the game and the one that feels the most rewarding to explore are the customisation options. New coins have been scattered throughout the game’s stages and these can be collected and spent in the in game shop to allow you to customise Sonic’s gloves, shoes, aura and boost effect. The customisation options aren’t as rich as Sonic Forces, but fans will love being able to take their own unique Sonic into the various stages and it’s a lovely feature that shows someone on the development team really cared about making this the best version of Sonic Colours. There’s also a raft of profile icons you can buy and they draw from so many different SEGA franchises that it’s actually quite exhausting seeing how much SEGA fan service they’ve added.

Unfortunately, the developers at Blind Squirrel Games decided not to extend your customised Sonic to the in game cut-scenes which have now been rendered as video files instead of playing out in engine like the original game. This is a bizarre design choice because the cut scenes have been re-rendered in HD resolutions anyway, so why not have them play in engine? It’s a real shame that we’re denied the sight of a bizarre-looking Sonic the Hedgehog dressed in tie dye shoes and gloves threatening to destroy Eggman’s creations.

Sonic Colours Ultimate is a real mixed bag of a port that adds some great additions like HD resolutions, improved framerates and customisation options only to have them let down by inconsistent performance, no enhancements to the in game controls and a disappointing audio presentation. The fact of the matter is if you’re porting a game to newer hardware then it simply shouldn’t perform worse than its original version and all Sonic Colours Ultimate does is make me reassess how fantastic the work on the original version of the game really was.

6/10

Written by Lewis “Sonic Yoda” Clark 14/9/2021
A copy of the PS4 game was provided by the publisher for review

Cover Art

Xbox One Review

It’s utterly baffling that SEGA looked at a home run as simple as “port one of the better received 3D Sonic games to modern platforms” and managed to stuff it up, but apparently the Sonic Pillar is built on a cursed burial ground or something. Sonic Colours Ultimate is a botched port, rife with glitches and questionable artistic license that may not be game-breaking, but serve to frequently break immersion and cheapen the presentation.

It’s frustrating, because it’s still Sonic Colours underneath – for better or for worse. The game is still characterised by an abundance of blocky 2D platforming, spread thin across too many stages (a result of a pivot away from a traditional two act structure during the development of the original game). It’s certainly not awful, but never really excels outside of a few standout levels either. Perfectly middle of the road, just as Sonic Colours always was, but it at least makes for a more consistently entertaining game than the likes of Sonic Unleashed. The game’s Wisps and Red Star Rings encourage exploration in a way that shows the true potential of the level design, with alternative paths that serve as nifty shortcuts or simply offer something different to see. I’d never taken the time to collect everything in Colours until now, and I walked away with a greater appreciation for its design as a result. The new Jade Ghost Wisp also mixes up some level design compared to the original, and I thought these sections were well integrated into the original stages. Red Star Ring placements have been tweaked slightly to accommodate the new power, and it manages to fit in without feeling tacked on.

So yes, Colours as it always was. Except now the music will break at random, either cutting out entirely or having all output in one audio channel die off. Sonic himself glows like his jaw is full of lightbulbs and his eyes never move outside of a (slightly broken) blinking animation. The heads-up display can flicker out of existence, and the Pause Menu changes scale and shape between stages. It’s actually difficult to play a stage in Colours Ultimate without running into some kind of bug. People have compared this to Sonic Adventure DX’s butchery of the Dreamcast original, and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

In general, the game can actually look worse than the 10 year old Wii version at times, with bloom often being overdone and visual effects missing on a per-level basis. Even the pre-rendered cut scenes just got shoved through an AI vaseline filter, making them look bumpy and strange – despite the fact the original assets for these cut scenes are in the game’s files, suggesting a re-render at higher resolution could’ve been done. The game running at 60fps is appreciated, but even that has been done badly as Sonic Colours’ game logic was tied to 30fps. Instead of adjusting the things that a quick and dirty 60fps hack would break, Blind Squirrel have opted to just leave those broken aspects intact, or very poorly cover them up. It simply adds to the pile of oddities that this port brings to the table.

The new Rival Rush races against Metal Sonic fare slightly better. They encourage a concentrated speed running approach to the levels that I wasn’t usually interested in pursuing, and as such served to make even levels I’d considered boring beforehand into fast-paced reflex challenges. But there’s only one of these per world, so they’re over and done with before you know it, with not much to gain from replaying them. They also feel somewhat tacked on, with graphic design surrounding them that feels sloppy and amateurish. The general removal of lives is also appreciated, but the new Tails Save feature feels somewhat out-of-place in light of that. There’s already no risk of getting a Game Over, so they basically just serve as more generous checkpoints to make getting S-Ranks easier.

The newly remixed music continues the poor showing. With no means to toggle the original game’s soundtrack, you’re stuck with the new arrangements, and they’re very much hit and miss. The boss tracks stand out, with Jun Senoue bringing his usual A-Game on the guitar work, and Terminal Velocity’s remixes also stand as high-octane improvements over the originals (when you can hear them over the odd sound mixing, that is). But everything else is arguably a downgrade or ill-fitting. Planet Wisp’s beautiful intro, as Sonic dashes through the serene fields towards the factory, is now played to an EDM backing track.

Customisation of Sonic’s gear is something I was very adamant on seeing in future titles, after the fun I had making a daft character in Sonic Forces. While it’s good to see it in here, it does feel like a wasted opportunity. Rather than letting players kit Sonic out in his Sonic Adventure 2 shoes, or giving him a Mega Drive cap or something similar, everything is purely texture-based, and ranges from ‘bland’ to ‘disgusting’. Tie-Dye Shoes are not a good look for you, Sonic. They bothered making a Metal Sonic model, so why not let us use it as a skin?

(As it turns out, there were plans for exactly that – but for whatever reason, they got cut)

These are just a slew of missed opportunities here. I mentioned that Colours’ levels are spread thin due to a change in game structure during development. It would have been fantastic to see a way of playing the originally intended, full-length levels. The game also hasn’t been updated to properly take advantage of the new platform’s controllers. On the Wii it made sense to have moves like the Quick Step and Drift be context-sensitive and use the analog stick or boost button, as certain controller options lacked buttons. But there’s more than enough buttons on an Xbox controller to have the Quick Step back on the shoulder bumpers like literally every other Boost game. Fortunately you can at least remap the controls so that Boost is back on the X Button instead of the B Button, but it’s still not the control overhaul Colours could’ve used for consistency with other Sonic games. They did at least tighten up Sonic’s drift controls (at least, from what I remember), and there’s now a ‘sweet spot homing attack’ that unfortunately does nothing but play an ear-grating ringing sound every time you pull one off.

At the end of the day, Colours Ultimate is saved from disaster by the fact it is, ultimately, still Sonic Colours. While not one of my favourite 3D Sonic titles, it’s consistent and has some great moments. But ironically, Ultimate does not provide the ultimate way to play it, as its additions are too limited to rise above the slew of issues with the port itself. I’ve played Sonic fan projects with more polish than this, and SEGA having the gall to charge for Early Access that feels more like a paid-for Beta Test is disappointing. Its worst issues can be patched and I’d certainly be kinder to this port if they were, but I’m just not holding my breath that they will be.

6/10

Written by Liam “Tracker” Ashcroft 5/9/2021
(Played on Xbox Series X)

Cover Art

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