Thursday, September 16, 2021

Sonic Colors: Ultimate (Multi) Review

Sonic Colors: Ultimate recently released on all major platforms. That notwithstanding, not all ports of Sonic Colors: Ultimate were created equally. The Nintendo Switch version suffered the worst with long load times and various undesirable (sometimes seizure-inducing) bugs and glitches. Regardless, SPC's review of Sonic Colors: Ultimate covers the Xbox version of the game, running on the Series S. Let's check it out.

Color me impressed... all over again!

One of my favorite 3D Sonic games--and yes, smart alecks, there have been good 3D Sonic games (ugh)--has been Sonic Colors. There was a time where Sonic Team showed promise with the Sonic formula, putting out the brilliant Sonic Colors on the Wii and then Sonic Generations on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. As we know, that stretch of great Sonic games turned sour rather fast with future releases, but fortunately, Sonic Team has decided to bring back one of the better modern entries in the Sonic series with Sonic Colors: Ultimate. With a new engine and new upgrades, is this Sonic Colors remake worthy of its "Ultimate" subtitle and moniker?

Sonic Colors' story involves Dr. Eggman who builds an interstellar amusement park to atone for his past sins, plans, and otherwise shenanigans. Sonic arrives at the amusement park believing that Eggman is instead up to no good yet again. As you can expect, Sonic's hunch is correct, as we quickly learn that Eggman has imprisoned colorful creatures known as Wisps to power his amusement park to soon control the entire universe. The story is told through cutscenes, but unlike the rest of Sonic Colors: Ultimate, these have not been remade in the new engine. Instead, what you get is the old Wii cutscenes stretched to fit the screen. Also disappointing is the dialogue, which fails often at its attempts at humor, offering somewhat lame quips by our hero and even lamer "jokes". The humor seems to talk down to players, even the younger audience this particular story seems intended for.

That said, Sonic Colors: Ultimate fares much better when you're actually playing the game. I enjoyed the Wii original over a decade ago as shown in my review from 2010, and Sonic Colors: Ultimate, at least on the Xbox Series S, plays wonderfully all things considered. I did encounter one soft-lock during my 15+ hours of time with the game, but nothing that overly annoyed; just a minor inconvenience instead.

Sonic always likes to start a level on the right foot. On this occasion, he's starting it on his left.

Sonic Colors is comprised of six major areas each with six platforming levels and one boss level. Sonic starts out in the first area, Tropical Resort--welcoming players immediately into Sonic Colors: Ultimate with its first act as soon as the New Game option is pressed. From the introductory but enjoyable all the same Tropical Resort unlocks two new worlds after, Sweet Mountain--containing giant donuts and hamburger towers--and Starlight Carnival--a parade of neon ships in space. From there, the final main three planets open up, Planet Wisp, Aquarium Park, and Asteroid Coaster. 

Mmm.. donuts! But there's no time to stand and stare, Sonic--there are Wisps to save!

Acts or levels within Sonic Colors range from lengthy affairs that can last upwards of 5-10 minutes to much more bite-sized levels, some of these can be completed quite quickly, maybe a minute or two at that. Generally, there are two or three acts in a given zone of Sonic Colors that are these lengthier, more traditional 3D Sonic affairs, while the other acts are the shorter experiences. This makes for a game that isn't too terribly long to beat when it all comes down to it. However, that's only if you consider running through acts and worlds from start to finish with no plan to return to levels to pick up missed collectables and score those elusive S-Ranks. 

Really, if you're just planning to rush through Sonic Colors: Ultimate's levels and be done with the game, you probably won't find that great of an appreciation for the game. Don't get me wrong--the level design is some of the best seen in a 3D Sonic game (I know that's a low bar to some, but it's good in general), and the gameplay is overall tight, especially with the ability to course correct with Sonic's double jump. However, rushing through the game will make you feel like you wasted your money since this is a game you can blow through within five hours. 

Don't be confused. This isn't Star Fox just because Sonic is currently having an on-rails experience.

Assuming you enjoy what you play in that initial playthrough, you might be enticed to return to levels and find each act's five Red Rings, which collecting these unlocks new levels in a Sonic Simulator (which in turn is how you unlock Super Sonic within the game by collecting each Simulator zone's Chaos Emeralds), and getting S-Ranks on each level. Finding and collecting the Red Rings can be quite a challenge, as the level design offers plenty of optional paths and ways to diverge from the main one quite often. 

Like the best 2D Sonic games, each level in Sonic Colors: Ultimate demands you to find the best route to not only collect each Red Ring but also perform well enough to get a high score. If you're the type that loves chasing high scores, you'll love going after S-Ranks in levels. This is all about playing your best, playing with style, doing it fast, and collecting enough rings (and holding them all by the end of the level) to get the best rank. It's a lot of fun to get into a groove and play well enough to master the mechanics found in Sonic Colors: Ultimate. 

One way to score big and a mechanic not yet talked about in this review (save for a cursory mention) is that of Wisps. As Sonic enters new levels, he'll come across one of eight or so different Wisp capsules. Breaking these open grants Sonic special temporary powers when activated. For instance, the Drill Wisp allows Sonic to burrow inside soft ground, discovering new underground passages and pathways, while something like the Spike Wisp grants Sonic the ability to turn into a ball of spikes, rolling around on floors, ceilings, walls, and more with an impressive and indestructible spin dash. 

The Purple Wisp activates the invincible Frenzy power,
allowing Sonic to stampede and chomp through obstacles and enemies with ease.

Using Wisps not only opens up new paths in levels for Sonic to explore that he'd otherwise be unable to reach, but it also gives him valuable point bonuses for performing Wisp-related reactions while in that temporary form. Since certain colored Wisps unlock by playing certain levels, it's mandatory to return to past levels to reach new areas and collectables that Sonic previously couldn't access with these Wisp abilities.

For the most part, Sonic Colors: Ultimate plays really well. The 3D sections generally have Sonic on some kind of strict path with a behind-the-back camera view, where Sonic can quick step his way to avoid objects and enemies, grab rings, or boost his way through these corridors. The 2D sections of Sonic Colors: Ultimate are more prominent, but the game cleverly transitions between the two types of sections often during a given act. 

Either way, Sonic controls nicely, but there is an issue with the homing attack, where Sonic can target a foe automatically, roll up into a ball, and slam into an enemy. Now, it works like intended, but because the homing attack button is mapped to the same button as the jump, I had it happen multiple times where I wanted to perform a double jump but instead accidentally locked onto an enemy at the last moment, thus performing a homing attack, and messing me up considerably in the process. Still, it was nothing that overly detracted from my experience with the game despite being a bit annoying to have happen.

Disneyworld, eat your heart out.

Sonic Colors: Ultimate introduces some new things to the game outside of the HD, touched up visuals, new graphics engine, and just beautiful appearance of the game. For one, and definitely a way to make the game less frustrating is that of Tails' assistance in the game. When Sonic falls in a pit that would otherwise make him lose a life, Tails comes to rescue him, dropping Sonic at a point of safety before his point of falling. This only works, however, if Sonic collects icons in the shape of Tails' adorable face. That said, it's quite easy to accumulate a large number of these. What's great about this safety net is that when Sonic falls into a pit and is rescued by Tails, he won't lose his current count of rings. 

Outside of Tails icons to nab, there are park tokens that can be collected in levels as well. These are used as a currency to purchase cosmetics for Sonic in the in-game shop--things like glove and shoe colors, different trails like fire or light, and auras that glow around Sonic. All of these are optional, of course. Finally, there is a new Rival Rush challenge in each world that unlocks after collecting at least 15 Red Rings in a world. Doing this allows Sonic to challenge Metal Sonic in a race through a designated act of the world. Completing these not only rewards the player with park tokens, but it also counts for 100% completion this time around.

Finally, outside of the visual presentation differences, the soundtrack in Sonic Colors: Ultimate has seen a remix as well. There are now six songs in each world of the game: three originals from the Wii game and three remixes. However, there is no option to select between just hearing the original or remixed versions of the music. Instead, each act is a different song, whether that be an original song or a remixed version. That notwithstanding, the remixes sound pretty good, though some are a bit questionable in their execution, particularly the ending credits theme, Speak With Your Heart. That's at least in this listener's opinion.

Some parts of levels play themselves, but it's still a rather nice spectacle all the same.

Sonic Colors: Ultimate takes a great 3D Sonic game from the Wii and makes it marginally better. Not so much better that it makes the Wii version obsolete by any stretch of the imagination--which I could see as a bit disappointing for many--but marginally all the same. With glorious new graphics, mostly lovely new remixes alongside the original musical themes, new additions like Rival Rush, Tails' rescues from bottomless pits, and unlockable cosmetics, Sonic Colors: Ultimate makes a great impression. I loved the Wii original in 2010, and in 2021, I enjoyed revisiting this wonderful Sonic game. 

[SPC Says: B+]

Monday, September 13, 2021

Kitaria Fables (Multi) Review

SPC enters the mid-stretch of September with a new review. Check out Kitaria Fables from developer Twin Hearts and publisher PQube. 

Not a cat-astrophe of a game, but you might not be feline fine with all of the grinding involved.

Kitaria Fables combines two tasty flavors--hack and slash combat with farming and crafting gameplay--to create one meaty adventure, though one not without an excess of grinding and backtracking. These two negatives, however, did not outweigh the fun I had with Kitaria Fables, but they will deter a sizable chunk of potential players from diving into the game.

There once was an event known as the Calamity that occurred in the world of Kitaria. Animals and monsters alike grew ravenous and aggressive, and now, in a more peaceful time in Kitaria, the Calamity threatens to reawaken. You play as a cat soldier who is sent to Paw Village by the Empire for a dual purpose: protect Paw Village's denizens and undergo an investigation as to what is causing the current aggression in surrounding animals.

The animal denizens of Paw Village welcome you with open arms,
hooves, paws, and whatever else they might have!

Kitaria Fables is a game of two parts. One is more enjoyable than the other, and that would be trekking and gallivanting around Kitaria, exploring areas, defeating enemies, and picking up their drops and loot. The other is taking care of a laundry list of tasks and quests that mostly require crafting to complete. 

Your character doesn't level up or gain experience from defeating enemies. Instead, your only reward is craftable materials and goods dropped by defeated foes. You use these materials to craft a litany of items, such as equipment like swords and bows as well as armor and accessories to boost your kitty's attack and defense respectively, and quest goods. Whether it's new equipment or quest-related goods, you're going to be doing a ton of combat to take down enemies, take their loot, and then make the appropriate goods to make any kind of headway in Kitaria Fables.

From colorful forests to grassy plains, oh, the places your cat will go!

For some, this will be an enjoyable process, even with the insane grind in play. For others (and I suspect most potential players), they will be easily and quickly put off by how much of the aforementioned grind is necessary just to make progress. This is compounded by there being no universal item storage. Instead, each chest you store goods in is separate from the rest. With multiple chests around the world of Kitaria, that means a lot of traveling. Forget where you put an item you need? Well, then you unfortunately have to do even more traveling just to remember which chest has the item in it that you want. 

You're also given very limited pocket space to carry around items with you. Just two rows with two more that are unlockable through a nighttime seller in Paw Village. Therefore, storage becomes dicey relatively quickly in the game. 

You can also farm in Kitaria Fables, and this is incredibly simplistic. You till the soil, you plant crops, you remember to water daily, and in a few in-game days, the crops are ready to be harvested, either to be sold for money or delivered to complete the conditions of a given quest. Really, farming is nice as an option to have as an alternate way to earn money, but by an early point in the game I was better served to simply sell the loot I received from monsters rather than farm at all. It quickly became redundant and pointless to bother farming at all, unlike in a game like Rune Factory that blends combat, gathering materials, and farming in a much better way.

You have plenty of room to farm, but whether you'll actually need to use it is another thing.

Combat is a strong suit for Kitaria Fables, and is indeed my favorite part of the game. You start out with a simple sword, but you can eventually acquire a bow to use instead. I stuck with my trusty blade and upgraded it to the point where I would cleave enemies into submission quite quickly, save for boss-type foes. Enemies have tells, and this is similar to the Trials of Mana remake, where a red zone will appear to show where an enemy's attack will land. It's as simple as moving out of the red zone or better yet, rolling out of the way (since the invincibility frames for this evasion maneuver is tremendously generous), to avoid the attack.

You can set a special move or magical ability to each of the shoulder buttons,
 and a consumable dish or item to each direction on the D-Pad.

Still, that's not to say Kitaria Fables is an easy game. It's quite difficult starting out. As you grind money and materials to make better equipment, the game becomes much easier. Understandably so, of course! I eventually earned a pair of wings that granted me a 10% lifesteal ability, meaning that for every physical attack I did, I got 10% of whatever damage I delivered to a foe restored to me. This made me borderline invincible, rolling or not! 

I enjoyed how equipping weapons and armor didn't just serve as a noticeable upgrade to my cat's stats, but it was also noticeable in appearance. Equipping a new sword, wearing a new piece of armor, headgear, or accessory would show on my cat soldier as being worn in all of its lovely glory. I adore touches like that, and that certainly made the grind more worth it for me, other than utterly decimating enemies by the endgame. 

Be extra careful around enemies with an aura like this one. They're quite powerful foes,
but the rewards for beating them are rather worth the effort!

Kitaria Fables is a bit of a lengthy adventure, taking me around 20 hours to fully complete, or at least earning all of the achievements from completing every quest within the game. That understandably took a lot of grinding, crafting, backtracking (and unfortunately, the fast travel mechanic still leaves a lot of running around to be found), and countless hours beating down the same enemy over and over hoping for enough drops of what I needed. Many will call this busywork or just work in general, but I found it oddly therapeutic and enjoyable. 

"Snow" time like the present to make your way through this frosty mountain!

At the end of my 20 hours with Kitaria Fables, I found myself having played some marathon sessions of over five hours at times. There's certainly a "let's do one more day" or "let's do one more quest" type feeling I got from this game. There is definitely no shortage of things to do to preoccupy yourself in Kitaria's whimsical world, whether that be monsters to slay, materials to craft, treasure chests to open, bosses to battle, dungeon-like areas to explore, and quests to complete. You'll be doing all of this with a hefty focus on grinding and backtracking, too, so if you're not of the right mind for an experience like this, you need not accept your invite to Paw Village. Sure, you'll probably be put on the Empire's bad side, but at least you won't have to do busywork--whether enjoyable (like it was for me) or not.

[SPC Says: B-]

A code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.