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Sonic Colors: Ultimate feels best when it's focused on going fast

I want whole hog, not half hog

After a half hour hands-on preview with Sonic Colors: Ultimate, I'm reminded of just how fast the world's most famous hedgehog really is. If I'm honest, 30 minutes was nowhere near enough time to get a firm grasp on this garden dweller.

Colors: Ultimate is a remaster of a 2010 platformer originally for the Wii, remastered in time for Sonic's 30th birthday. It was well recieved by fans at the time, so I suppose HD-ifying it now makes sense. But if I pick through the blue dust left in Sonic Colors Ultimate's wake, I'm left with the feeling that I just prefer the going-fast hedgehog when he's focused on going fast.

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11 years ago, Sonic travelled to Doctor Eggman's evil theme-park and stopped him from enslaving an alien race of wisps in Sonic Colors. You'd expect nothing less from a hedgehog with such large feet. You go fast; you collect rings. Sonic. Now Sonic Colors returns, and along with the Ultimate label things look nicer, there's a new mode, and there's a new wisp power-up. In my blitz with the spiny mammal, I didn't get to try out Sonic Colors Ultimate's new mode, or even the new wisp power-up. I did, however, race through a few of the game's earliest levels, which saw me tear through a tropical resort and a pudding-themed world.

And just like in Sonic Colors of old, these levels shift between a side-scrolling and front-facing perspective. In the latter, you speed through winding sections that wouldn't be out of place in Mario Kart - or Team Sonic Racing, I suppose. Occasionally you hop over barricades, or dodge out the way of nasty robots, or grind your sneakers on a long rail. As you barrel through these levels, a boost meter fills up, which lets you go mega-fast and smash through lines of robots.

These bits are pretty fun, as you really get a sense of pace and flow. In the hands on it was rare that I ever stopped to nab a special coin or a canister of trapped wisps, so the momentum was forever pushing forwards. And it all felt wonderfully smooth, chaining together these hops and grinds and boosts as I careered towards the finish line.

Sonic doing a loop the loop in Sonic Colors Ultimate.

Interspersed between these sections are some side-scrolling bits too. You'll elegantly transition from charging forwards to charging sideways. That is, if you aren't doing a touch of platforming or backtracking. Side scrolling is of course a classic Sonic style, comparable to what you find in Sonic Mania, where you're jumping on springs to rocket you upwards, or loop-de-looping back through a hidden tunnel to nab that shiny loot.

The switching in Sonic Colors: Ultimate did change things up fairly nicely, so I wasn't just whizzing through the equivalent of a race track the entire time, but even in half an hour it got a little jarring. I got the sense that I was lurching between two Sonics: one that wished to go fast, and one that wished to stop and rewind from time to time. One whizzes down a track, building up momentum, and then the other steps in and slows to a bit of a crawl (in Sonic terms, at least).

Debating the form of Sonic isn't new. There are constant discussions between fans about which eras of Sonic are the best, and the blue blur has been in a load of different 2D and 3D platformers in his time. I suppose getting a preview of Colors: Ultimate has just emphasised that it's weird for a character who has one of the most simple and iconic statements of intent in all of games can also have such an ongoing indentity crisis.

It's not that this best of both worlds approach doesn't work. This seems like a strong HD remaster, it's one of Sonic's most universally liked games, and it still has everything that was popular with fans on its original release. If you already know about Sonic Colors, you probably already know if you'll like Ultimate. But me? After this preview I can't shake the feeling that Sonic would be better off committing to just one way of going fast.

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