With a complete lack of fanfare, the only thing resembling a home console Sonic The Hedgehog game in 2016 was released earlier this month as an additional level pack for Lego Dimensions. It’s not quite what fans would have expected for Sonic’s 25th birthday – but as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts – and if nothing else, a lot of thought has gone into Sonic’s Lego Dimensions debut.
The plot is reminiscent of Sonic Generations, with Dr. Eggman attempting to harness the power of the chaos emeralds whilst simultaneously splitting the Sonic universe into a number of dimensions. A few jokes around Dr. Eggman’s identity are reused, but otherwise Lego Dimensions focuses almost solely on the Mega Drive-era, with plenty of familiarity for fairweather fans in the shape of the Green Hill, Marble, Labyrinth and Metropolis Zones lovingly recreated in Lego bricks – as indeed is the tubular special zone from Sonic 2.
Picking the golden era of Sonic The Hedgehog is one thing, but how does the game play? In a sense Lego Dimensions offers some protection from the pitfalls of recent Sonic outings, owing to the more explorative nature of the games. Sonic retains his homing attack and spin dash, but there’s rarely a time when they need to be employed in the traditional sense because Lego Dimensions requires levels to be played in a certain order. This can feel limiting because the spin dash should allow you more freedom than it does – but at the same time, it also means Sonic isn’t prone to zipping straight off the edge of a level. And even when he does, the instant respawn of the character means it’s far less frustrating than usual. For purists, the Green Hill Zone does offer the chance for Sonic to speed through the level in the ‘traditional’ sense and for the most part it works as well as it has done in any of the better Sonic games of recent times. Additionally, the voice acting is tremendous and frequently entertaining (Sonic’s sarcastic responses to Omochao are a notable highlight in the script).
The hub world outside of the storyline is one of the first times a game has shown how zones might be linked in the Sonic universe – previously stages has been accessed through a central hub (Sonic Adventure) or by spuriously transitioning the character from one area to another (Sonic 3 & Knuckles). But in Lego Dimensions players can traverse a world and see how the Ice Cap Zone melts down into the Green Hill Zone, or how the bright lights of the Carnival Night Zone quickly turn into the glowing heat of Lava Reef Zone. Unfortunately it’s this area of the game where Sonic resorts to his usual 3D problems – haphazard controls and a tendency to dash off of edges to his death. Nonetheless, it’s worth a little perseverance just to see what has clearly been a labour of love for the developers.
Some would say that not releasing a Sonic The Hedgehog game was perhaps the best way that Sega could honour the 25th anniversary of the series given the slew of underwhelming titles recently offered. But Lego Dimensions provides an unexpected little love letter to the series – it doesn’t play perfectly, but it’s never so broken that it will spoil your enjoyment of a game that honours the finer moments of the franchise and gently pokes fun at the those less fondly remembered (let’s face it, there’s plenty of material to work with there).
With a script that pokes fun at Sonic’s failings, it now seems Sega is finally in on the joke. 2017’s highly anticipated Sonic Mania is the most promising sign yet that they are serious about turning things around.
And in the absence of anything else, that is perhaps the best gift Sega could have given Sonic fans in 2016.