In the eternal battle of Mario versus Sonic, consider Sonic Lost World a notch in the Italian plumber’s win column. The game is a blatant rip-off of the Super Mario Galaxy series, unsuccessfully transporting the high-speed antics of Sega’s famous blue hedgehog, who’s been pretty down on his luck lately, to the planet-vaulting environs of Nintendo’s Wii-era masterpieces. There’s not much notable innovation in the game to speak of; its visuals, while quite varied in color palettes and sans any significant texture tears or framerate issues, simply reformat the standard Sonic level designs to perform in a 3D arena without adding modern flourishes or unique gameplay mechanics. From the typical Green Hill Zone-style starting point (rebranded as Windy Hill) to the obstacle-heavy factory and forest areas, not to mention the unimaginative boss encounters, the bulk of the package feels like Sonic Team phoned it in, similar to their recent lackluster efforts starring their zippy azure namesake.
Sonic Lost World’s bland central storyline is a good indicator of how gratifying the remainder of the experience will be. Sonic and Tails are in pursuit of Dr. Eggman, per usual, when they crash-land on a strange floating continent called Lost Hex. Eggman uses a mysterious shell to control the local inhabitants, but when Sonic kicks him to the curb, the hostile beings, known as Zeti, turn on Sonic. So initiates a tedious, awkwardly composed trek across the spherical expanses of Lost Hex. Handling Sonic is a mixture of hands-off autopilot and ungainly platforming that fails to adequately balance the freewheeling nature of manipulating the fleet-footed critter. The game mistakenly tries to allow for precision pacing, using a slight forward motion of the control stick to create a moderate sprint, while holding a trigger button sparks a quicker clip, giving Sonic the necessary miles per hour to slide into parkour-inspired techniques that really serve no purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Returning from 2010’s Sonic Colors is the useful double-jump, which makes particularly frustrating gaps a breeze to cross, but the attached homing mechanism is rather faulty; targeting numerous enemies often results in a broken attack chain, spilling out amassed golden rings like gleaming circular innards in the process. The once easy-to-operate Wisp abilities are carried over as well, but here they’re manipulated with the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen, and utilize the controller’s gyroscopic capabilities to ill effect. Debuting Wisps like the soaring Eagle, the music note-oriented Rhythm, and the destructive Asteroid all seem half-developed, as if the general idea was instantly written as the final code without appropriately tweaking the key coordination aspects beforehand. Surprisingly, the 2D segments, which could have delivered some necessary classic Sonic the Hedgehog loopty-looping, don’t fare much better, replacing the satisfying breakneck momentum of Sonic’s finest hours with a slow side-scrolling endeavor that’s more Super Mario Bros. than Sonic & Knuckles.
Tacked-on multiplayer elements involving a co-op companion following in an RC vehicle or racing competitively, and the inclusion of Miiverse functionality don’t make up for the obvious bungling of Sonic Lost World’s main campaign. While its graphics are unmistakably Wii U-caliber, and possibly suggestive of a superior next-gen Sonic chapter yet to come, it reminds the gaming community at large that Sonic’s sole purpose is to run extremely fast down predetermined pathways and stylishly bounce off propulsive springs, not to navigate tricky platforms and pummel patrolling baddies like a certain overalls-wearing pipe specialist.