Also available on: N/A
Developer: Sonic Team
Sonic the Hedgehog is arguably one of gaming's most important icons. As Sega's long-serving mascot, the spiky speedster helped shape the platform genre during the 16-bit era and went on to earn a place in the pop culture hall of fame. But it hasn't all been success and glory for the anthropomorphic mammal. With a few notable exceptions, his 3D outings have failed to live up to their classic Mega Drive predecessors, with sections of the fan base suggesting it may be time for him to hang up those sneakers.
If nothing else, Sonic Generations is evidence that those calls for retirement were premature. Sega's latest is a celebration of its flagship franchise, released to mark their mascot's 20th anniversary. Not only does it provide classic 2D platforming reminiscent of the hedgehog's early outings, it also proves that Sonic and 3D don't have to be uneasy bedfellows.
Sonic Generations is a time-hopping adventure that takes the player on a nostalgic trip across Sonic history. The plot sees the modern incarnation of our hero and his Mega Drive-era forbear thrown into the mix together when an evil force infiltrates the space time continuum and imprisons Sonic's friends in various time periods. The player controls both Sonics throughout the game, taking them through each level separately. You'll tackle stages from the classic 2D perspective when playing as the original Sonic, while his modern counterpart's outings are predominantly shown from the 3D viewpoint used in the likes of Sonic Unleashed.
The 2D segments are a joy to play through. Not only do they capture the essence of Sonic's 16-bit adventures, they improve on them in some respects. Developer Sonic Team has cherry picked the best ingredients from the early games, given them several coats of polish and amped up the speed and intensity. There's a hint of a lag with the jump mechanic, but it's barely noticeable and rarely the difference between life and death.
It's a similar story where the 3D segments are concerned. They aren't quite the resounding success that the classic Sonic sections are, but they're a welcome improvement on most of the character's recent titles. Taking what worked from Unleashed and the enjoyable Sonic Colours, modern Sonic's outings are blistering roller coaster rides peppered with ephemeral thrills. One minute you're desperately trying to outrun a speeding juggernaut, the next you're hitching a ride on the side of a helicopter. You never know what's coming next, and it's these thrilling set pieces that give these sections their energy.
Each Sonic has a different skill set. Classic is limited to standard jumps and ground spins, while modern can perform wall jumps, homing attacks and boosts. One of the biggest problems with the game is the sense of imbalance. With more complexity to your repertoire, the 3D levels are significantly more challenging than those in 2D, and you'll sorely miss that homing attack when you revert to the classic gameplay.
Perhaps more significantly, the 3D stages are let down by numerous design flaws. The camera is constantly shifting and will hit you with awkward and obstructed angles on occasion. These incidents are rare, but when they crop up they nearly always result in a cheap death.
Speaking of cheap deaths, modern Sonic's stages are littered with them. The level design layout makes it all to tempting to hit that boost button, only to find there's hazard for you to plough into around the next corner. The homing mechanic can be temperamental too. You'll ricochet off two enemies but fall to your doom when the targeting system fails to lock on to the third. Like we said earlier, the 3D stages are much tougher, but often for the wrong reasons.
The level layouts are otherwise impressive takes on worlds the fans know and love from games gone by (as well as Crisis City from Sonic the Hedgehog 2006). From Green Hill and Chemical Plant Zone from the early games, to City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2, these levels have been built from the ground up and are by no means rehashes. Although you have to play each zone twice from alternate perspectives, the level design has been tailored so it plays to the strengths of each Sonic, so it doesn't feel like you are repeating the stage from a different camera angle.
Outside of the core zones there are scores of challenges to take part in. Many of these are optional, but you are required to complete at least a few of them to obtain the keys to access the boss battles. Quests range from time challenges to contests against rival characters, such as Metal Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog. They pad the game out nicely and ensure some extra longevity, since players are unlikely to complete all of the optional missions the first time around.
Boss battles are few and far between, and when they do crop up they can be something of a mixed bag. It just wouldn't be a Sonic game without a few encounters against Dr Eggman, who appears in the game despite the addition of a new primary antagonist. These are enjoyable, but tough enough to feel like a jarring difficulty spike. The same goes for the final confrontation, which is incredibly challenging (and frustrating) because the player is given no hints about how to tackle the final boss.
You'll also accumulate points when you complete both core levels and optional challenges, which can be spent in an upgrades store. Very few of the add-ons are game-changers, the majority being subtle tweaks to things like speed and offensive capabilities, but there are some novelty inclusions, like the option to unlock the original Sonic the Hedgehog.
The Sonic franchise has been gradually moving in the right direction for some time now. Sonic Colours was one of his better 3D offerings, and last year's Sonic the Hedgehog 4 marked a return to the 2D gameplay fans had been crying out for. It feels like what Sega was building towards with these titles has come together with Sonic Generations, a game that captures all of the high points of the long-running series, and only one or two of the lows.
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