I shall start this review with a confession: I was always more of a Mario fan as a youngster. This fitted in with the cliché of my having a SNES and my best friend a Mega Drive, so we’d go round to each other’s houses and get the best of both worlds. I could show off Super Mario All-Stars and Nintendo Scope 6, and we could enjoy the classic Sonic trilogy and the cool Sonic And Knuckles cartridge at his.
Since those early, heady days of pop, videogames and children’s television, my experience with Sonic games hasn’t been exactly comprehensive. I played Sonic CD, virtual console versions of the original games, and Sonic Unleashed on the Wii which, though not the world’s greatest game by any standards, wasn’t half bad and enjoyable to play.
Now, it’s been well documented that Sonic games have gone through a tempestuous period, with many attempted advancements in the game formula derided, such as adding in guns, were-hedgehogs and such like. But, like the lauded Sonic Advance games, Sega has gone back to its roots with Sonic Generations, removed any extraneous characters, taken out any gimmicks and delivered some undiluted Sonic action.
Of course, this being Sega, it couldn’t release a game without a bit of a gimmick, and in this version, we get an evil monster messing with time and bringing classic and modern Sonic together in a weird timey-wimey crossover. Basically, each level gets two acts, one in the classic run-quickly-and-don’t-look-back style with old Sonic, and one with the modern bells-and-whistles new Sonic.
Sonic Generations is a game packed to the rafters with features, and one that tips its hat to the lengthy 20-year history of its blue hero. When you slip in the feature-packed cartridge and switch it on, you’re greeted with the classic Sonic music with a modern twist, and a menu with choices of playing the main single-player mode, multiplayer, missions, time-attack, collection and options.
Single-player would naturally be your first port of call, presenting you with the main menu screen. There’s just one level to play at the start -– naturally, Green Hill Zone – with two available acts: the classic level and the modern level.
Classic Sonic is very much limited with his moves. He can jump, run, do the duck-and-spin power move, and that’s about it, though he does learn additional moves throughout the game from modern Sonic which help but will also, I imagine, annoy the purists – they are, however, well integrated. His levels are beautifully reminiscent of the old Mega Drive games, but brought up to date with lush visuals, delivered in perfect 3D, though with the speed the game is famous for, much of this will be lost on you as you speed through the levels.
Modern Sonic has more moves in his armoury. He can do a target jump – as you jump, enemies, platforms or other parts of the scenery will have a target over them. Jump again, and you’ll jump to it. Modern Sonic can also boost using a limited but generous boost meter, and also wall jump, among other moves the hedgehog has discovered over the years. Expect these levels to have more graphic trickery, more multiple routes to the end, added in gimmicks like aquatic mammals destroying platforms and more 3D effects.
Complete each act, and you’ll get a finish time and finish score, and a ranking up to A depending on how well you did, which encourages you to play each level numerous times to improve your score. Complete both acts in each level, and you’ll unlock a special stage, where you go hunting for the Chaos Emerald. Each special stage is a long tunnel, which you run down, collecting orbs and avoiding bombs, with a 90 second limit on the clock. Naturally, as the levels go by, the special stages get harder, with more bombs and obstacles.
Complete the special stage – getting the Chaos emerald isn’t essential – to unlock more levels and, after every few levels, a boss.
Graphically, the game shines, and it’s a great mix of classic sprites, delivered in full 3D, both in the graphic and stereoscopic sense. Classic Sonic is a nice retro trip, while modern Sonic offers blistering levels of grinding on rails, bouncing on dolphins, avoiding rockets and many more additions you didn’t get in the 16-bit era. The sound’s great too, with classic catchy tunes returning in updated form, while the sound effects are as memorable as ever.
The game does, however, fall down with the controls but, as always, it comes down to practice. I had little trouble piloting classic Sonic but found, with his wide range of features and a limited number of buttons to press, modern Sonic to be more fiddly, with controls that I didn’t have the same confidence in as I do the Mario games, due to a mix of speed and unforgiving level designs. During the Radical Highway level, I lost my patience as, for all the bits where I had to jump from platforms and avoid baddies, I often felt I was a mere observer, watching Sonic speed by. The two lives also lead to a very unforgiving game, and though I welcome a challenge, it becomes a little frustrating at times.
It’s also surprising how many times you find yourself stopping as modern Sonic for sliding bits or platforming section. I always thought Sonic was about rush, rush, rush. Though I struggled with modern Sonic, you do become more familiar with the controls over time, naturally, but the flip-flopping between two control schemes every other level can get a tad confusing.
Versus mode allows you to play single card play with other 3DS users in the room and online, as well as seeing a score chart of your successes. Though I didn’t have the opportunity to try the local play, I did have chance to try it online, which is a one-on-one challenge between either a friend on your friend list or anyone around the world, depending on which you pick. I found the matching up of an opponent and the actual game a lag-free, easy and enjoyable experience.
Similar in set-up to the Mario Kart games, you and your opponent pick a course, and one is selected at random which you then play, and the first person to the end wins. You are then given a score based on your performance, which you can then submit to the online ranking boards. You are also given various bonuses as you go along, including points, missions, and extras for your profile card.
The game also includes a comprehensive mission list, with 100 missions for you to unlock as you progress through the game, or buy using 3DS play coins, which is the first in-game usage of those I’ve seen, so thumbs up there to Sega. These missions basically consist of a particular objective – for instance, clear a stage in a certain time without taking a hit, or killing any enemies – which you need to complete. You’ll then get a record for it which you can beat if you so desire.
There is also a time attack mode which, unsurprisingly, is a stripped-down version of the single-player game where you just go for the best time on each level.
Finally, there’s the options menu, where you can control your StreetPass options to receive items from friends, get some help or update your profile card, which is viewed by friends or online opponents, and lists your name, ability, Mii, how many years you’ve been a Sonic fan, favourite title and favourite character, those last options all changeable. And, yes, the favourite title is from a list. Very comprehensive it is, including all sorts of games from the character’s history (Sonic Labyrinth,Tails’ Skypatrol, Sonic Shuffle).
Overall, Sonic Generations is worth picking up if you’ve ever enjoyed either classic or modern Sonic. The graphics are both retro and modern and, if you have the chance to see them during all the running, are beautifully rendered, with the stuff in the background just as interesting as what’s going on around you. Plus, with all the time attack modes, missions and Internet play, there’s a lot to do here, making up for the small number of levels in the main game compared to Sonic’s old nemesis, Mario.
Older and less experienced players like myself, who remember the Sonic of old, may find some of the more modern controls a little weird at first and, compared to Mario, the gameplay at times can seem linear, robotic and almost automatic, but it’s a different feel to the Mario series. I can’t help feeling, however, that what is intended as a challenge often results in frustration, especially when the speed of modern Sonic is unevenly balanced against the slower, platforming elements, with their instant death holes and stingy supply of collectable lives.
Nevertheless, Sonic Generations is a fitting addition to the hedgehog’s collection of games, and a relative return to form for the series after the successful Advance and the recent episodic, download-only titles.