Medieval scholars believed hedgehogs used their spines to collect food, often depicting the critters rolling over fallen grapes and apples to skewer them as snacks for later. It's a barmy notion that befits Sonic's latest adventure and the way it wantonly picks up new ideas as it barrels along. Over the course of eight hours we've bounced off rubbery sheep, slid along rails of strawberry liquorice, hidden from a robo-owl's death glare and escaped tornadoes. Hell, we've even made like the medieval rodent and filched apples, guiding them to giant fans ready to mulch them into foaming cider fountains.
It also appears Sonic Team sent its hedgehog rolling through Nintendo's recycling bin, emerging with Super Mario Galaxy design documents stuck to his spines. As much as it denies the link - the spherical rolling worlds are like Monkey Ball's, according to one fibber - the real debt is clear from the off. The spherical planetoids, the flying animations between them, the world-flipping gravity in the 2D stages, the brassy big band soundtrack... Lost World is about as original as Dolly the Sheep 2. Select the Japanese voice track and Sonic even emits a helium "Waahoo!" as he flies through the air. The brazen git!
Good on him, we say. If you're going to steal - and most games do - make sure it's from the best. In the 3D platforming field, Galaxy is the cream of the crop; a game so far beyond Sonic's own 3D offerings it's not even funny. If anything, it shows us how good a supercharged HD Galaxy could look. Wii U gives us planetoids bigger than some of Mario's Wii stages in their entirety; climbing a tree in the first stage and watching giant windmills grinding away on the horizon is lip-wibblingly lovely. Hopping down from the tree and sprinting over is suitably liberating (as long as you ignore the ugly pop-in that plagues the larger stages).
The most important lesson learned from Mario is, controversially, to slow down. Ever since he entered the third dimension Sonic has struggled to balance his characteristic speed and the control we expect in a platformer. Navigating knotty levels with his natural acceleration was often like trying to perform a three-point turn in a drag racer. Sonic Team's solution? Give Sonic a gas pedal and put us in control of acceleration. They have, in effect, borrowed Mario's run button. Seems so obvious, right?
Sonic's resulting 'slow game' is the best it's been since the Mega Drive days. You're free to potter about environments sniffing out secrets - there are five red coins and various Flickie containers hidden in every stage - and bound around platforms with a responsive double jump. There's none of that awkwardness where he splats snout-first into brick walls, or where doubling back to grab a missed ring is like reversing a juggernaut. For the first time ever, Sonic is... dependable. Squeeze the right trigger, however, and chaos floods back into the world.
Sonic's legs become a figure of eight blur - a cute animation touch - and he develops sudden parkour powers. Running into straight surfaces sprints him up and over, while approaching from an angle launches into a wall run. He's basically the Prince of Persia minus the baggy trousers. You're not as graceful as our Arabian friend, mind, with slightly stilted animations never quite weaving fluidly into one, long natural flow.
Wall running also proves an inexact science, failing regularly enough to dissuade us from obvious vertical shortcuts and tempting ring hauls festooning the higher surfaces.
The Blue Blur
The faster Sonic gets, the wonkier he becomes. Moving left and right (essential for dodging incoming obstacles) decreases his speed just enough to prove jarring, almost punishing you for doing anything other than running in a straight line. The effect is amplified on tubular levels in which the camera rotates in automatic increments, furthering the rigid, digital feel of his movement. We also struggled with his homing attack locking on too late or attacking enemies in awkward sequence. That Sonic still relies on lock-on speaks of Sonic Team's continued failure to get its head around 3D combat.
Many of these are problems associated with previous Sonic games and, to be fair, they are less pronounced here. As with those games, repeat play smooths over many of those rough edges as you adapt to Sonic's weird rhythms and learn levels by rote. Lost World builds this process into its structure with a separate Time Trial mode. Taking Story mode at a leisurely pace, exploring the various crannies for well-hidden secrets, sets you up for the later speedruns, by which point you've learned the lay of the land and need never take a finger off the run trigger.