The DS version of Sonic Colours shares its plot, locations, and special wisp abilities with the more prominent Wii version, but looks and feels thoroughly different. For the most part, the graphics are true 2D and the action is of the classic side-scrolling variety; the former are pleasing if not outstanding, but the latter delivers a top notch high-speed platforming experience. The novel colour-coded wisp powers are fun additions, nicely integrated into play. The result is a great portable Sonic game, albeit one let down by its length and throwaway side missions.
Colours is set in a giant orbital theme park built by Dr. Robotnik (Dr. Eggman, if you insist) as an interstellar apology for all of his evil deeds. Of course, it turns out the park is really an instrument for further evil deeds, with Eggman imprisoning the park's unsuspecting alien visitors, called wisps. And, of course, Sonic and Tails are there to thwart him. That's the premise for Sonic to go blasting through the park, liberating wisps as he goes. The storytelling is mostly executed in still images and text; these are functional but no more than that--there's little pretense that this is a story-driven game.
There are six themed zones in the park, including the neon Starlight Carnival and Candyland-like Sweet Mountain. The flat, 2D levels look good--a crisp upgrade on old-school 2D Sonic environments--but more on the strength of the visual design than any technical achievement. The action is displayed on both screens, meaning big loop-the-loops stretch across both and Sonic gets flung up onto the upper screen when he hits a spring. The two-screen display works nicely, with the extended vertical range giving advance warning of hazards above or below Sonic. Among these hazards, there are mercifully few cheap instant deaths, with lethal pitfalls kept to a minimum.
It's business as usual for Sonic in each of the main acts; tear through the level from left to right as fast as possible, picking up as many rings and bopping as many robot minions along the way as possible. The classic moving platforms, spike pits, vertical loops, and boost strips are mixed with novel devices in keeping with the zone's themes--among them bouncing jellies, a skeletal rollercoaster, and a whale-shaped parade float. And on top of these come wisp powers: temporary special abilities conferred by the imprisoned wisps Sonic busts free as he goes. Wisps grant powers according to their colours; the yellow wisp turns Sonic into a drill, for example, letting him bore through rock, and the orange wisp turns him into a rocket, blasting him high above the level to waft down again. The DS-exclusive violet wisp, which turns Sonic into a hovering black hole that sucks in rings, enemies, and furniture, is the most amusing. These abilities are fun, handle well, and add variety without breaking Sonic's flow. The controls, which are given over to the D pad and face buttons, work just as they should, and there's the proper sense of flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants momentum at the edge of your ability to follow what's on screen.
Length is the game's most significant letdown. Each of the six main zones has only three acts, one of which is a boss fight, and two side missions. The boss fights, in which Colours makes some of its brief forays into 3D, are by-the-numbers affairs, lacking the ingenuity of the levels that precede them. And, because the acts and boss fights are short and fast, three in each world isn't enough. With a moderate level of skill, you can complete the game in a few hours--if not collect all the stars, rings, wisps, chaos emeralds, and top ranks. Side missions extend the experience, but these time-limited challenges (collect this many rings, destroy this many enemies) feel like busywork. The special stages, on the other hand, add an entertaining dash of 3D between the main levels. These segments take place on a halfpipe track, with Sonic's left and right movement controlled with the stylus. You have to collect coloured orbs scattered along the track; if you beat the target, you pick up the chaos emerald for that zone.
The two-player Versus mode, available as local multiplayer with a single card and online or against an AI opponent, is a substantial bonus. In this mode, you race on one screen against an opponent on the other. This two-screen competitive multiplayer works well and takes place on levels designed in keeping with the single-player mode's themed worlds. The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is also used to hook up to online leaderboards, letting players compete globally for the best times. The solid Versus offering improves the value of the game, offsetting the shortness of its main campaign. It's a testament to how right Sonic Colours gets the free-flowing core action that it leaves you wanting more and wishing the perfunctory side missions could have been fully fledged single-player levels. DS owners who enjoyed the Sonic Classic Collection or who have been waiting on an original side-scrolling Sonic experience since Sonic Rush Adventure, shouldn't miss out on Sonic Colours.