Color Commentary

In fiction, to “hang a lampshade” on something means to draw the audience’s attention to a portion of the story that is noticeably weak or unbelievable.  In drawing attention to the flaw, the creator acknowledges that there is a problem, and that the best course of action is to simply accept the problem for what it is and continue with the story.  Metaphorically, the creator is “hanging a lampshade” on an ugly lamp, thus covering up the worst parts while still allowing light to be cast from it.

Sonic Colors is a game that decided to forego all the subtleties and live in the lampshade.

And it worked.

Sonic is an odd sort of video game character, personality-wise.  Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when video games were exploding in popularity, a number of game mascots ended up with their own cartoon shows, complete with horrible 80’s jokes and “cool” 80’s lingo, which was the style at the time.  Sonic was no stranger to this trend, but for one exception:  In the late 90’s when video games became advanced enough to include voice acting, Sonic kept that cool-kid personality from his show, while other characters like Mario or Link went back to their relatively mute roots.  Which would be fine, but for two problems.  One:  80’s cartoons were stupid and cheesy.  Two:  The newer generation of 3D Sonic games weren’t trying to be stupid or cheesy.  This leaves the series with fairly serious plots about worldwide peril, ancient evils, reality-altering physics, and unlimited cosmic power, but enacted by childish and shallow characters who can’t hope to sell it, and the fact that they’re stylized woodland creatures in every color of the rainbow doesn’t help.

And then in a sea of disappointing and convoluted storylines comes Sonic Colors, which does a complete 180 and turns the cheese dial up to eleven-and-a-half.  Rather than attempt to ignore its Saturday morning cartoon roots, or reverse it, Sonic Colors embraces it, with a ridiculous story about an amusement park in space, characters will less depth that a sidewalk puddle, and dialog so clichéd it’d almost feel out of place in a straight parody.  It is by all accounts completely unacceptable, and that’s exactly why it’s so brilliant:  because it’s pure.  It plays to the strengths of the series, and the strengths are located back in its 90’s roots when the simplicities of its premise were less evident and the game focused more on actual gameplay.  Compare a similar character, Mario, who never attempted to go the serious and realistic route of Sonic, was fully content to remain in his colorful world with its cartoon plot that rarely steps past “bad guy kidnaps girl,” and has enjoyed a solid following for years because of it.

When it all comes down to it, video games should be about the player having fun whilst doing something interactive, and it’s honestly not very hard to have fun.  It doesn’t take a deep plot or deep characters, and in fact such things if layered on too heavily can run the risk of being anti-fun by amping up the drama too much and making the player feel like they’re in a soap opera.  Despite what they might outwardly say, adults can have fun with childish cartoon characters as much as children can, because it will remind them of when they were a child and experienced that unadulterated wonderment for themselves.  These childish things can be deep or shallow, as long as they wholeheartedly know what they are.  The success of a company like Pixar or recent shows like Adventure Time is a testament to such, and the failure of Sonic’s mid-2000’s games is a testament to the dangers of the opposite.  In trying to rebrand itself and “get with the times”, the Sonic series lost hold on its childish fun factor, but its reach fell short of the “darker and edgier” aesthetic it grasped for because again, at the end of the day, it’s about a wisecracking blue hedgehog saving the world by collecting gold rings and running really fast.  And in this day and age, the only two ways to make such a fever-dream concept viable is to either play it straight as an arrow made of cheese, or satirize the living daylights out of it a la Conker’s Bad Fur Day.   Sonic Colors takes the path of the former and is all the better for it.

{Gameplay is rock-solid, though I’d have preferred more 3D segments; about 90% of the game is 2D platforming which makes all the beautiful backgrounds feel left out.  The frequent color-based powerups provide a puzzle element to the game which breaks up the “gotta go fast” mentality of classic Sonic levels; this could be good or bad, largely dependent upon the specific player.  Level design is excellent albeit short, but there’s twice as many levels as a usual Sonic game in an attempt to make up for it.  Visuals are astounding, almost too astounding at times, because with all the bright colors it can be hard to see your character on the screen.  Boss fights are disappointingly easy and the latter three are a direct copy-paste of the former three with a few more bells and whistles.  Music is spectacular when it needs to be, and ambient when it needs to be; “Reach For the Stars” is a beautiful main theme and remixed often throughout the game, which is great.  Both final boss themes are wonderful orchestral masterpieces.  Replay is iffy, largely based on replaying levels for better score or speed if you so desire, though there’s an unlockable Super Sonic mode for getting all the collectables; personally I would have liked a secret boss fight instead.  Game length was about 8 hours to beat the final boss for me, then another 12 to get all the collectables.  Overall the negatives are just nitpicks for me, and it’s a great game I really enjoyed.}

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