With the spiky blue one turning twenty (yes, twenty. Feel old yet?) it was inevitable that Sega would once again unleash its most popular mascot into the wild, only this time we don’t get one, but two of the attitude sporting, trailblazing, anthropomorphised critter. But, with a recent track record that’s hardly littered with success, has twenty long years simply been too much for Sonic, and is the series still relevant?
Sonic Generations is, right from the off, a love letter to both the money-spinning mascot, and his army of hardcore fans. Bringing together the classic, younger Sonic we all remember from the Mega Drive originals, and the older, sleeker, incarnation from the more recent 3D outings, Generations, is packed with familiar levels from ages gone by, along with a new HD face job.
The story is as wafer thin and as forgettable as you may think. Sonic’s friends are all taken by some form of evil entity and frozen away within a strange, empty world. Also found in this world are lifeless depictions of various Sonic levels that cover the gamut of his series. By completing these levels, Sonic is able to restore his friends, and work toward fining out what’s going on.
Each level comes in two acts, similar to the classic MD Sonic games, only this time you play act one (usually the easier stage) as the mute, classic Sonic, and the other as the talkative, older ‘hog.
As classic Sonic, barring the occasional 3D camera trickery, levels are 2D platformers in the vein of the original titles. As the older Sonic you play through a mix of 2D and 3D segments that play similarly to recent titles like Sonic Heroes, Unleashed and Colours. Levels vary from sections that duplicate the original outing exactly (albeit better looking), whilst much of the game is all shiny and new.
Fast, fast, fast!
Kicking off things in the famous Green Hill Zone from Sonic the first, you begin your outing as classic Sonic, and immediately the controls and location are familiar. Sonic’s jumps, spins and dashes are as functional as they’ve always been, and returning enemies, in their exact, original placements bestow a real feeling of retro joy. Sadly, though, this doesn’t last as long as you’d like. You see, the game is fast. And by fast, I mean so fast that it can barely keep up with itself. The wonderful, retro, with a touch of modern tech, visuals blast by at such a speed in the 2D sections that your eyes simply can’t keep up with it all. Add to that the fact that, even on a lot of the 2D sections, the game feels a little on rails and out of your control, and you’re left with a little bit of a bitter-sweet taste. Yes, this speed in Sonic’s trademark, and it looks suitably impressive as he streaks along leaving only dust in his wake, but it can be a little much at times.
Sonic of old was all about full player control and tricky (ok, it was Sonic, so not that tricky) platforming. Here, right from the first level, it’s apparent that there’s more than a little hand-holding going on. This is partly to help younger players, which the series obviously cater for these days, and also to enable the variety of set piece chases and escapes dotted around.
This kind of thing is both expected and, to be fair, a little more acceptable in the 3D sections (which feature even more on rails moments), but for pure 2D platforming, I think it’s a little bit ridiculous. It would have been much better to slow things down a little, and give the player more of a feeling of control.
This issue aside though, and what we have here is a Sonic fan’s dream title. Regardless of which particular era of the hedgehog you’re a fan of, there’s something here for you, be it the Mega Drive reincarnations, Dreamcast outings, or the more up to date 3D shenanigans, complete with lock on attacks, rail grinding and frantic chase scenes. What’s more, there’s more to the game than simple level-trudging.
As you progress you’ll unlock challenges for each stage. These challenges include time trails, ghost races and other unique modes, and completing these (as well as collecting items within the main levels) will unlock extra content as well as all-important keys, which are used to unlock the boss areas.
Bosses include some iconic returns from past Sonic titles, and although most are a little on the disappointing side when it comes to raw challenge, it’s fun to play through and relive some of gaming’s classic moments. Plus, with all the unlockable content on offer, there’s always a reason to go back and revisit worlds and challenges, especially if you’re a big Sonic the Hedgehog fan and/or a completionist.
All of this, and an often beautiful visual sheen make for a Sonic game that really does pack in the kudos for Sega’s long-time mascot. And, although I felt that the hand-holding and often on rails segments were a little off-putting, and will certainly alienate some of Sonic’s more hardcore gaming fans, there’s no doubting the effort that’s gone into this anniversary celebration.
It’s by far the best Sonic game that’s been out in quite some time, and once you get used to the sheer speed of it all at times, and start to soak up the memories and new little tricks, you’re left with an enjoyable, if not amazing, experience.
Hopefully, Sega, if this does well enough, will soon release more Sonic titles (let’s face it, it’s a guarantee) and will make a more hands-on, less on rails outing for Sonic. The company just needs to realise that, although people always hanker for classic Sonic, that doesn’t mean re-hashing old titles with a HD makeover all the time. What we really want is a new and unique Sonic adventure that’s simply a good game, has the Sonic feel, and isn’t just an overly easy or gimmick-laden affair.
For now though, Sonic Generations is a quality Sonic game that mixes classic, tried and tested plaftorming with modern series twists, and reads as a big thank you to the fans.