Sonic the Hedgehog has been on many different adventures in his illustrious 20-year career as cartoon superhero. Some have been less successful than others, obviously. But we wonít dwell on that, because itís Sonicís anniversary! You wouldnít want to make the blue blur sad on his birthday, would you?
Luckily for him Sonic Team, the mascotís once-abusive father, has come out of rehab a changed developer and has come bearing the gaming gift of Sonic Generations
. And luckily for the rest of us, itís a fantastic trip down memory lane that will warm the hearts of fans old and new.
This grin-inducing nostalgia trip begins the second you load up the title screen and hear an updated mix of Masato Nakamuraís original 1991 theme ring through your TV speakers. In an attempt to satisfy a divided fanbase, the decision was taken by Sonic Team to allow players to control two versions of Sonic - the Classic short pudgy hero from the Mega Drive era and his taller, slender Modern counterpart.
How do Classic and Modern work together at the same time, you ask? Well, in a strange story that sounds a bit like something from Back to the Future
, thatís how. Thankfully nothingís got to be done about anybodyís kids (weíve already had interspecies snogging in the Sonic
series, so itís probably for the best).
A dark monster called the Time Eater is floating through pockets of space and sucking the life out of some of the key locations from Sonicís past. Both old and new forms of the blue blur, along with his friends and foes, all get pulled into the void, and must work together to rebuild the space time continuum.
Itís all presented with the same beautiful flair and character that weíve come to expect from recent Sonic games. You can always count on stunning graphics and engaging music in Sonic Team productions, and Sonic Generations
is no exception. From Green Hillís fantastic recreation of waterfalls and totem poles to Planet Wispís stunning fields and fusion of colour, each level is a great showcase of the eras they represent.
To see these stages played for the very first time as Classic or Modern Sonic is as surprising as it is delightful. Crisis City as Classic sees you fighting billowing winds from an apocalyptic tornado, while City Escapeís urban surfboarding segments are replaced with good old fashioned 1990s skateboarding. Modern Sonic blasts through Chemical Plant by grinding along rails while factories explode in the background, after being flung down a water tube and free-falling down an industrial chimney.
After re-introducing classic style platforming in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
and not quite getting it, Sonic Team went back to the drawing board for Generations
and it clearly shows. Everything about the traditional Ninetiesí hero seems faithfully plucked from the annals of classic SEGA history - his light blue hue, his voiceless mannerisms, and most importantly of all the gameplay physics are as close to the old-school as you could possibly get.
Stages are brilliantly designed and show a real understanding of the Mega Drive classics, even when tackling later stages inspired by more recent Sonic games. Momentum-based platforming is the order of the day here, but itís the level arrangement and branching paths coupled with adequate rewards for wandering off the beaten track that really add depth to the proceedings. Itís when you start hopping from rotating platforms and spinning off of ramps in Speed Highway and realise that this could have been a bona fide stage in a Mega Drive title that you appreciate the effort that Sonic Team has gone into in Generations
Modern Sonic levels have always been a little jarring for the gamers who remember the series in its more traditional format, and in recent games such as Sonic Unleashed
and Sonic 2006
the 3D experience has certainly been less than stellar. But Generations
follows the precedent set in 2010ís Sonic Colours
and improves on it - yes, Iím saying that playing a 3D Sonic game is actually enjoyable.
Itís all in the aforementioned level design. Wide open spaces give the impression of a less narrow platforming experience, while there are multi-tiered failsafes at every turn so that you wonít instantly die if you try to ĎBoost to Winí and miss a jump cue for a grind rail. Not that there are many pits to fall down in the first place - a pleasing feature of Sonic Colours
And thereís a concerted effort by Sonic Team to ensure that players understand everything in the game without it coming across as utterly patronising. Button cues appear whenever a slide, stomp or light speed dash has to be performed. Omochao, in a rare case of not being annoying, assists by giving vocal advice about bosses, and bottomless pits are identified by big orange warning signs.
Sonic Team has clearly tried hard to refine the Sonic Colours
3D gameplay experience, and that should be applauded, but that has come at the tiny price of the dev being somewhat less bold in trying more expansive stages with Modern Sonic. Itís something that I would love to see the developer tackle next, because Sonic Colours
really showed what the team can do when given the chance to get really creative.
And while there are plenty of diversions from the main route in every level of both Modern and Classic stages of Sonic Generations
, some of them are more significant than others. A few of Classic Sonicís upper routes require you to be running at a particular speed and using momentum-based jumping and enemy-bouncing to reach, while one or two Modern Sonic paths still ask you to remember when to press that jump button.
Having said that, there are some excellent and meaningful paths to explore if youíre simply willing to spend some time looking - Sky Sanctuary boasts three distinct routes towards the end of the stage, and Seaside Hill is possibly one of the most open stages in the entire game (and it's beautiful to boot).
For all the sheer fun it provides though, Sonic Generations
is not a game that will last you very long. There are nine full-length zones, with a Classic and Modern stage to each of them, along with seven bosses and a whole host of side missions (each with varying level designs) - but it will still take the experienced Sonic fan a mere few hours to spin through the main storyline. Like most of Sonicís best outings, the arcade platforming bliss comes at the expense of the gameís longevity.
What will keep players locked and replaying well after completion will be the level of fanservice. Expect pumping remixes by Cash Cash, re-interpretations of classic tracks by Jun Senoue, power-ups from Sonic 3 & Knuckles
, collectible concept artwork and a selection of side missions featuring inventive uses of Sonicís usually-annoying friends. And that's not to mention speedrun tactics, online leaderboards and just about the smoothest version of the original Mega Drive Sonic the Hedgehog
that youíll ever get to play.
SPOnG Score: 88%
While the storyline itself doesnít quite reach the climactic highs of past epics such as Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, that doesnít stop Sonic Generations from being both an excellent ĎGreatest Hitsí compilation of the blue blurís past and the best Sonic game of the past decade. This is a must-have for anyone who has ever had a passing interest in SEGAís mascot.