In graphical terms, next-gen consoles have matured to a point where developers are really pushing at the edges of platform capability. It's an arena in which the Wii, with its sub-HD capabilities, was never designed to compete.
It's far from obsolete, though. Sonic Colours is a reminder that visual impact needn't be about bump-mapping and high dynamic-range lighting. One level, aptly named Starlight Carnival, is a textbook example of how to get the most out of a less well-endowed machine.
The level begins and Sonic hurtles out of an airlock, down a twisting, loop-de-looping pathway into the heart of a star fleet, and it's a marvel to behold. Colossal rainbow-coloured ships wheel and turn while the pathway loops manically around them and you bullet along at breakneck speed. It's a riot of neon signage and lambent, Escher-like design, drunk on fizzing, synth-tinged J-Pop. It's stupefyingly fast and utterly thrilling.
Welcome back, Sonic!
After some lacklustre outings in recent years, Sonic Colours feels, alongside the recent Sonic 4, like a return to form. It taps directly into the vein of velocity that helped Sonic The Hedgehog punt SEGA poster-boy Alex Kidd off the podium in 1991 and assume his place as official mascot. It's also a lot of fun.
The plot is all it needs to be: an introduction to the setting in which you do your spiky, speedy thing. Arch-nemesis Dr. Eggman has renounced his evil ways and set up an interstellar amusement park for the benefit of all. Naturally, Sonic and Tails smell a rat, and ride the mag-lev elevator into space to see for themselves. They soon discover Eggman's real plan: to attract a cute species of alien known as wisps which he then harvests for their energies.
Step away from the hub into one of the game's seven areas and you're presented with a sequential series of levels themed around that particular area. Starlight Carnival's levels, for instance, are set in space and aboard ships; Tropical Resort is all palm trees and sand; and Sweet Factory is composed entirely of cake and candy. In a nod to the past, the Game World zone is a non-critical side-area which is unlocked from the start and features old-style side-scrolling levels complete with 8-bit menu music.
It's the wisps that put the colour into Sonic Colours. In each of the main areas you'll free captured wisps, at which point you become infused with their powers. Blue wisps turn Sonic into a lightning bolt, which enables him to zap through large sections of a level and access otherwise-hidden pathways. White wisps endow Sonic with turbo energy for mind-blowing speed. Each area you unlock has its own wisp type, which brings variety, and often a measure of exploration, to the zone.
Your activities generally fall into two categories – platforming and speed-runs – and there's a good mix of the two. Certain levels are gigantic, ceaseless runs which leave you panting and starry-eyed, while others mix side-scrolling platform-work into the fray. The variety of locations and environments all bring their own flavours of challenge, and only rarely do you find yourself hammering repeatedly against a problem.