Lost in the World.
Don't get me wrong. This game is good. But something is lacking within. It's a typical Sonic affair. Eggman's up to no good, and Sonic and Tails set out to stop him. Amy and Knuckles are in the game too, but Knuckles hardly does anything, and Amy is just for contact with the Earth below, and due to a very specific plot point, I can't say more than that. The Lost Hex, where the action takes place, is home of the Zeti, who are under Eggman's control. The story has some interesting twists in it, but the end result can be predicted.
The best part of this story has already been shown to hype up the game, where the Deadly Six take control of Eggman's mechs after Sonic makes a mistake. This doesn't take place until the end of the second world, but the rest of the story follows on from this with Sonic and Eggman teaming up to take back control of the situation. The ending, not to put too fine a point on it, is sort of anti-climatic, leaving out big questions that need answering. But it is a better story than the previous offerings of Colours and Generations, and for the first time in a handheld Sonic game - proper cutscenes.
While the cutscenes themselves only show a glimmer of their beauty, they are considerably compressed so that they hardly shine above those in the WiiU version. And talking of the WiiU version, the 3DS version has less cutscenes included, though none of these are actually vital to the story, as they involve the first encounter with each of the Deadly Six which isn't included in the 3DS version, and are referenced in the second encounter, which are shown in the 3DS version before each boss battle.
This leads us into the gameplay itself. And that first time thing is continued here as well. As for the first time in a handheld Sonic game, we have 3D levels. Seven zones, three acts and a boss fight in each zone. We get a tutorial in Windy Hill, but the controls are simple enough anyway. A and B control jumping, double jumping and homing attack. X and Y control spin dash [in which you'll need to release the button and hold it again to get the unlimited dash, which is sort of like the boost of previous games] and the bounce attack when in the air. The R button makes Sonic run, which is vital for speed, and the L button centers the camera, which seems pointless when it could have been used for Wisp activation instead.
Unlike the WiiU version, no Wisps are controlled with the gimmicks of the console [except quake] but have to be activated by tapping the Wisp icon. The bottom screen holds the Wisp icon, the gadget icon, and the power-up icon, as well as showing how far along the level you actually are. The controls themselves work well enough, with gameplay being smooth if a bit jarring. Running is good enough but does feel a bit of a risk on smaller platforms. Sonic also still has his annoying brake slide, which always feels as though it's on ice. That means if you can't slow down quick enough, it's goodbye to one of your lives. And you can only find the lives within stages, as collecting 100 rings no longer gives you a life.
Parkour is activated if you have enough speed for it, so even if you aren't holding down the R button [which is the only way to activate it in the WiiU version] you'll run up or across a wall. Even when in a spin dash. It isn't much of an issue in the earlier levels, but when you get to the last few zones, it does become a bit of a problem when using parkour, especially when you need to use the sidestep. The jump also feels too floaty to be very effective, although it does the job more often than not. The homing attack now comes fully charged, with a wind kick activated with X or Y when locked on, and a triple tier system which charges depending on how long the lock is left for.
These two moves are vital for most enemies. For example, in the E3 and other demos which showcased Desert Ruins Zone 1, people were stuck on the giant purple worms and couldn't work out how they defeated them [if they ever did]. The trick is to use the wind kick [weirdly classed as the somersault in-game] when locked on, which then reveals the yellow stripe. Wait until the full lock is shown [three yellow rings with the normal red lock] then attack. You'll have to dodge the purple sludge spewed by the worms, but if the lock-on is quick enough, you'll have nothing to worry about. And most of the enemies follow the same sort of format.
And that is Lost World's biggest flaw. Aside from the basic controls and some slight tricks [which can be accessed from the pause menu anyway] it hardly gives any tips whatsoever. And for a game that is meant for newcomers to the series, that is a bad sign. But if even veterans are getting stuck, you know it's a serious flaw. When you work it out though, it does become a lot easier to defeat these types of enemies. The puzzles in this game also suffer from the same fate. They tell you what you need to do, but little beyond. There are many classic references in this game, but the difficulty and hints needn't have been fully referenced as well.
And talking of references, access to special stages is granted by holding onto fifty rings at the end of a level after hitting the button on the Egg Pod [also a reference to the Mega Drive games]. If the access to them is easy though, playing them is a lot harder. If the Wisps hardly use the gyroscope of the 3DS, these special stages test it to the limit. In a SEGA take of Face Raiders, you have to twist and turn to control Sonic through space collecting orbs and plus time while avoiding obstacles and negative time. There are three sets of orbs to collect [except in the seventh stage, where there are four], and then a mad dash to the Emerald itself. Collect all seven, and you get access to Super Sonic. That's if you can, of course. While the first few are easy, later stages get harder, reducing the time and placing more time reducing boxes around the levels.
Other collectables include five Red Star Rings hidden in each level [except bosses], materials [which you get upon completion of a level], and hard mode stages which unlock upon completion of the final boss, then after completing the boss of the hard mode zone. These hard mode stages make slight changes to the levels to make them harder [obviously] but only give you one ring to get the level complete. To add to the hardness of it, the stages are set at night. The effect is slightly ruined though when some assets still look exactly like their daytime counterparts.
This then, brings us to graphical quality. While it does look good, it also looks a little basic. Rings are less flashy than usual, as are the enemies. Objects are blocky, and textures look more flat than usual. Sonic's model, and in-game models of the Deadly Six, look a little blocky, or to use the better term, pixelated. Effects like explosions are also horribly rendered. The background, while good to look at, also looks low-res.
The graphics don't spoil the gameplay though, or in fact, the music. As per Sonic tradition as of late, Tomoya Ohtani and the musicians of Unleashed return, and the first thing you'll notice is how wonderful the music is. The main theme seems to show that, what with it being called Wonder World. That name also means a whole new world to explore. The music is as diverse and varied as the levels themselves, but it still doesn't feature such a varied soundtrack as the Adventure games [and perhaps that's for the better]. What we do get is beautiful to listen to music, all orchestrated. And with earphones in, it sounds even better.
Tail's lab is where you use those collected materials to create gadgets and power-ups to help you on your playthrough of the levels. Upgrading the lab gets you even more to build. These range from stealth jets, fighters, and helicopters. While good in practise, you have no control of them other than to activate them. Which means you can't deactivate them. These can also be transferred to the WiiU version for use in the WiiU co-op mode.
Multiplayer is good fun. There are one custom level of each of the seven zones that up to four people can play on, either online, in local play, or download play. The ranking system returns, giving you points when you win, and taking points off if you lose. It also helps if you come first, as you can attack the pod multiple times to get materials from it. Some of these are harder to get in single player unless you 'aced it' and got an S rank. The frame rate suffers here though, even more so than in the single player, where it only really slows when underwater and you get hit by an enemy.
This is one of the better Sonic games on handhelds, and can even compete with some of the 3D console games, but the flaws of the 3D Sonic games come with it as well, including twitchy controls and camera, though both seem less pronounced here.
+ + One of the better stories in a Sonic game, and arguably the best of recent times.
+ + Diverse levels across seven zones, but some fall a bit flat
+ + + A great soundtrack
- - Controls are troublesome in later stages and sometimes earlier stages
- Final boss fight is a bit underwhelming after a build up of better end of zone boss fights.
- - Good special stages but the gyroscope controls make them fiddly.