Sonic Generations: first impressions

News James Randall
23 Jun 2011 - 16:20

Marking the 20th birthday of Sega's mascot, Sonic Generations is due out later this year. Here's James' hands-on verdict on the first level...

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Sonic’s debut on the Mega Drive, Sonic Generations promises to combine the best of old and new-school Sonic games. The demo, released yesterday on Xbox Live and PSN, provides the first gameplay experience outside of trade shows. So how does it fare?

The demo only contains one level, a reimagined version of the iconic Green Hill Zone stage, playable only with classic Sonic. Straight off the bat, the music, a remastered version of the original stage theme, begins to play, reviving memories of the classic 16-bit games of some 20 years ago.

Should your first action be to perform a spin dash, the speed upon releasing is almost shocking, catapulting Sonic across the ground in a way that even the Mega Drive's blast processing wasn’t capable of. This continues across the rest of the level, with the traditional loops, twisting roads, and springs being barely glimpsed before Sonic barrels headlong into them.

However, the level design doesn’t position enemies and other hazards in such a way that they are impossible to avoid if travelling a full speed. Rather, the sections that require platforming are usually preceded by a low wall or the like, ensuring that frustration is kept at a minimum, with failures being the solely on the behalf of the player.

Taking their cues from older games in the Sonic library, the level features multiple paths to take in your journey to the spinning Robotnik sign at the end, some of which require using enemies as impromptu springboards to reach. While such a design was present in Sonic 4: Episode 1, here it feels more natural and it is much easier to run back and check out a missed path. As well as this, old elements such as powerups hidden in trees and swinging platforms make appearances, contributing to the feel of a classic Sonic game.

In terms of how Sonic controls, those of you who have become accustomed to the homing attack ability will have to deal with Sonic’s limited move set, which is now restricted to jumping and the aforementioned spin dash move. It keeps the gameplay simple, and creates the old sensation of simply holding right on the analog stick and watching sonic plough through the world rather than having to periodically double tap jump in order to hit a spring or enemy. The controls are tight, affording a great deal of precision when jumping or taking out enemies, and allowing sonic to brake at any time during his runs.

The presentation of the game is simply marvellous for those of us who played the original games in the series. The level looks like its assets were ripped straight from the Mega Drive cartridge and given a makeover in HD, with the colours remaining bright and cheerful. Even enemy designs remain consistent from the older games, but again, given a 3D polish.

In keeping with the music, classic sound effects return providing a great deal of unexpected nostalgia every time an enemy is jumped on. They blend well with the overall package, creating a feeling that the game has simply been lying in wait since the 90s for consoles that can run it.

As previously mentioned, the demo only allows this level to be played as classic Sonic, and as such there is no way of knowing how the other half of the game (played as modern Sonic on a 3D plane) will shape up. However, if the rest of the classic Sonic levels maintain the standard set in the Green Hill Zone, then it looks to be well worth at least a rental when it is releases in November of this year.

Sonic Generations is due out on 22 November for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS and PC.

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