Review: Sonic Generations

With two Sonic incarnations blasting through classic, re-invented Sonic levels in spectacular HD, surely Sonic Generations is the recipe for success?

Good news everyone – Sonic Generations is probably the most decent Sonic game in the modern era. For what seems like eons now we’ve been bogged down by Sonic titles that were just too sub-par or deviated too much from the original Sonic formula in order to satisfy the fans of the series (I’m looking at you, Sonic Unleashed’s werehog) and – I’ll be honest – I thought something would go wrong with Sonic Generations. Thankfully though this title, made for Sonic’s 20th anniversary, is a great celebration of Sonic’s past and present, marrying together classic 2d gameplay with modern Sonic’s breakneck 3D speed sections. It’s not without its issues, but Sonic Generations is at its best when you’re hurtling along at the speed of sound, reminding you of just why you fell in love with Sonic the Hedgehog in the first place.

The plot of the game involves Sonic’s 25th birthday party being crashed by a mysterious flying entity known as the Time Eater, who isn’t the most friendly of chaps. Swooping in on the festivities and causing Sonic to be deprived of his favourite chillidog, the Time Eater kidnaps Sonic’s band of chums (who generally range from annoying to pointless), drains colour from the world and then warps Sonic to a mysterious hub world that is devoid of life but seems to contain a selection of areas that Sonic recognizes from his past. It is within this area Sonic meets this his former, more portly self.

Not seen for absolutely forever unless you’ve been playing some classic Sonic adventures, Sonic’s first incarnation is surprised to meet his future self as he wanders the halls of the hub world and the two soon set off on a mission to kick both Robotnik’s (I still refuse to call him Eggman) and the Time Eaters’ collective backsides back whence they came.

They do this in two seperate ways. Classic Sonic plays just as you’d expect Classic Sonic to; you blast through classic 2D side-scrolling action stages with the goal of reaching the sign post at the end of the stage, spin-dashing, jumping, dodging spikes and collecting rings as you go. It’s a formula that should be instantly familiar to any Sonic fan as Classic Sonic’s physics and general playing style are highly accurate to the original Genesis adventures’ style, helping series veterans to nab better scores and overall times on the various different stages.

Modern Sonic meanwhile blasts through stages in a way that anyone who played Sonic Unleashed will be very familiar with. Thankfully these stages – which take place in both 3D and 2D sections – have been generally tightened up and improved upon since Unleashed, offering a break-neck super-speed run through several well put together stages. Some aren’t as good as others and occasionally throw up obstacles that break up the sense of speed, but for the most part Modern Sonic’s levels are constructed well and will start to challenge you as you near the end of the game. There are however occasional annoying issues with the camera becoming stuck on objects and perspectives changing so quickly you’ll have absolutely no warning that you’re about to leap to your death. The Sky Sanctuary level in particular forces you to be extra careful as you navigate, as boosting as Sonic in order to get your speed up more often than not will result in you falling to the cold, hard, dreary ground. Dead.

Each separate Sonic gets one act on each of the stages, which is actually one of my biggest gripes with the game.  I understand that the title is a celebration of Sonic’s past and the levels are well done, but it would of improved the game greatly to include multiple acts for each Sonic per stage, complete with a resulting boss fight at the end of it. Instead what you get here is a two act trek through a stage from each of the main Sonic games over the past 20 years such as Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant, with modern levels such as the City Escape from Sonic Adventure also being present.  You’re then tasked with collecting three boss keys which unlock the boss fight and then unlock the next three stage area for you to run through. It leaves the title feeling like it’s lacking a certain Sonic style about it; maybe I’m just an old, nostalgia obsessed guy but I would of absolutely loved to see Sega stick more rigidly to classic Sonic formula instead of modernising the game too much. All I want is Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 and a boss fight. That too much to ask?

Going through the stages will cause colour to gradually return to the world around you while also opening up collectibles, challenge missions and new locales to explore. For example completing City Escape will cause the level entrance to appear much more dynamic with moving objects and colour. It’s a novel little idea and works reasonably well, but you’re never really that sure why you’re bothering making everything all colourful again other than the fact that you’re trying to annoy Robotnik and the Time Eater who’ve been trying their hardest to make everything dire and dismal.

It’s Greyish-Greeny Hill Zone

Another gripe I have with Sonic Generations is the selection of levels made. The idea of course is to have one stage per ‘main’ Sonic title, but I really think this game would of been a lot better if it focused on everyone’s favourite stages overall throughout Sonic’s entire history, rather than revisiting levels that came from travesties such as the delightfully terrible 2006 game, Sonic the Hedgehog (which also spawned forth Silver the Hedgehog, who is ridiculously pointless and more than a bit irritating).  I would of absolutely loved to see stages such as Sonic and Knuckles’ Flying Battery Zone, Sonic 3’s Ice Cap and maybe even the Doomsday levels make an appearance, as for me those are some of the defining moments of Sonic’s career. I mean just look at how awesome the Doomsday level was! Who wouldn’t want to fly through space as Super Sonic and chase down Robotnik once more? If you said you wouldn’t, you’re lying.

Don’t get me wrong though. The levels are, as I’ve previously said, well put together. They may not be my personal favourites and I’m more than a bit annoyed to see that Sonic 3 was totally glossed over in favour of Sonic and Knuckles (which is, actually, technically the same game as they were meant originally to be together but released separately, but never mind) but I’m happy enough with the selection of stages and each locale is beautifully rendered and has some fantastic remixes of classic Sonic tracks playing in the background as you speed through the stages. Chemical Plant Zone in particular tugged at my nostalgia strings until I could almost weep with joy to see Sonic once again nearly drowning in the pink mega mack.  Incidentally, that drowning music still fills me with such terror I can’t even describe it. Has the human race ever felt such terror as when Sonic is drowning any other time in existence? I think not.

Sadly, the ride comes to a close far too quickly. Sonic’s problem is that he goes so fast, each stage can be completed within a few minutes if you’re good enough, ultimately resulting in a relatively short adventure. There are various different challenges to be completed within each stage which range from digging up gold medallions with Knuckles to breaking through boxes and falling down a skyscraper, but they just feel like padding designed to counteract the inevitable end rushing forwards towards you so quickly you can’t even see it until it smacks you straight in the mush with a final boss fight.  Again, extra acts and perhaps more than one classic level from each era really would of helped improve the overall package here and offer a true celebration of Sonic’s life, rather than a snippet of levels that really aren’t his defining moments in my humble opinion.

The story is also an absolute joke. It rapidly goes from a relatively interesting time travelling concept into a quest where nothing much seems to happen except restoring colour to worlds and cheesy one liners. I did have a good giggle at Dr Robotnik and Dr Eggman’s admittance that they never win, ever, though. Sonic’s new voice actor sounds incredibly nasal and not quite right as Sonic and – to make matters worse – you’ve got to put up with the huge cast of generally rubbish Sonic characters that have been presented over the years. They’re a part of the Sonic universe and should of been a part of this game, but two versions of Tails, each as annoying as the other, rapidly loses the minuscule charm it had at the start.

Ooo Water Effec….Too Late, It’s Gone

Blink and you’ll miss it. Due to the very nature of Sonic’s gameplay (IE, running very fast), you’ll probably never realise the attention to detail Sega’s poured into the game, but it really is a vibrant mix of diverse worlds filled with plenty to see, some spectacular set-pieces and a great sense of nostalgia. Take the above picture of Green Hill for example: there you can see Green Hill’s trademark trees, the classic checker-board structures, all presented in shiny, spectacular HD. If you remember Sonic as fondly as I do growing up, seeing it all again this time from two perspectives really makes you smile and appreciate Sega’s recreations of the levels.

Overall

Sonic Generations is a good celebration of the Sonic francise, let down by some poor level choices, a few issues with stage layout, a poor storyline and cringey voice acting. It has plenty of fun, re-playability and challenges galore should you choose to indulge it, but the challenges do little to inspire you unless you’re a trophy/achievement obsessive.  It’s also a fantasically well-put together package when it works and recreates that special Sonic magic, but that springle of fast-paced action isn’t always present. Anyway, happy birthday to Sonic, and let’s hope Sega decides to bring back the Doomsday Zone for Sonic 4: Episode 2. *sends mind waves to Sega.*

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