The best stages play to the strengths of Sonic's tiered speed. A desert level gives Sonic wide plains of sand to tear up, leaping gaping sink-holes in a single bound, before entering a tomb where precision jumping is required to dodge the snapping mouths of Dune-like worms. If a level suddenly places a tornado on his tail, you've got a run trigger. If it then asks him to jump between tiny clouds, you need only let go. Controls are conducive to a vast range of play styles, enabling Sonic Team to adopt its cheery, pic 'n' mix approach to level design.
Like the pic 'n' mix stand itself, the game presents a wall of garish candy coloured vistas. It looks and sounds like videogames should, those brilliant-blue Sega skies dotted with tangibly solid toy blocks to play upon, supported by an orchestral sweep that reminds us of - you guessed it - Mario's jubilant Gusty Garden theme. Throw in level artists' apparently wilful disregard for coherence and you'll push through just to see where each new level ends up taking you. Giant billiard balls in space? Why, of course. Mountainous stacks of syrupy pancakes? Naturally. Cyborg oranges? Go on, then.
Looks aside, levels mimic Galaxy's trick of taking a single idea, exhausting it and moving on. Some are spent before they've even begun - the flying stages are horribly imprecise takes on Rayman's hovering - but many hit the mark. There's a cool riff on Monkey Ball that embeds Sonic inside a giant snowball, a deadly network of grinding rails channels the spirit of Donkey Kong Country Returns's mine carts and boss fights regularly interrupt the action in fun and surprising ways (although, without wishing to sound like a broken record, some are blatant Galaxy rip-offs). All are delivered with a nice bite: this game is no pushover.
A Sweet Treat?
Of course, the risk of a pic 'n' mix approach is that it's easy to fill the bag with bad 'pics'. For every fizzy cola bottle of an idea there's the risk of a foam banana. Bananas come none foamier than Sonic's transformative Wisp powers. They aim to offer Mario-like costumes, but instead weigh down fleet-footed action with fiddly GamePad implementation and no space to see them bloom. After appearing at the heart of Sonic Colours, in which you were encouraged to backtrack with new powers to expose secrets, the same abilities feel like a wasted opportunity here.
Multiplayer options are also poorly handled. Two-player races would be a cool addition were it not for the horrible framerate issues that come from splitting the action between GamePad and TV. The supporting co-op play, which sees a second player steer various R/C vehicles to shoot down enemies, need not exist, such is the difficulty of hitting anything when the level is being taken at speed. If anything, the co-op player needs a co-op player to help them enjoy the game. The best 'multiplayer' experience is enjoyed at a distance: trying to beat times on the online leaderboards.
While Lost World hits more than it misses, it remains plagued by the general lack of polish that defines many of Sonic's 3D games. That said, the hog himself is more well-rounded (especially during a spin dash) compared to his previous incarnations, a reliable presence that anchors the game on the right side of playable.
So it is we return to our medieval hedgehog: Lost World bears a similar bounty of juicy treats, as long as you're willing to risk the awkward spines that lie beneath.