Sonic Generations Review
Game: Sonic Generations
Developer: Sonic Team
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC & Nintendo Wii (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
While Sonic The Hedgehog is undoubtedly an iconic character in the history of videogaming, one that even your old nan would probably recognise, his twenty-year path through our gaming consciousness has been tarnished somewhat by a lack of quality control. Compared to his arch nemesis Mario, poor old Sonic has starred in some right old tripe, particularly in the last decade. You can bet your bottom dollar that every time the moustachioed plumber dons his red overalls for a starring role, you are in for a treat. The same cannot be said of the Blue Blur, who has been in some proper clunkers.
There is no denying that the first clutch of 2D platformers starring the whirlwind of spines were (and still are) cast in stone classics. From 1991 to 1996, Sonic games set the standard for platforming across the SEGA formats of the time. Although it does have its detractors, Sonic’s first foray into a fully formed 3D world (Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast) was and still is an excellent game.
Sadly, the ensuing decade and a bit have failed to re-ignite the franchise, with a few above average exceptions like Sonic Rush and Sonic Colours slipping through in an era where the blue fella and a bunch of unlikeable hangers-on lent their likeness to lesser titles like Sonic Heroes, Shadow The Hedgehog and the catastrophic, circa 2006 Sonic The Hedgehog debacle. Save for some cool retro compilations that trotted out emulation of his earlier brilliance, the Noughties were a lean period for SEGA’s mascot.
There was a glimmer of hope last year with the episodically-released Sonic 4, which went down reasonably well as a canonical sequel that garnered some decent reviews. With 2011 marking the twentieth anniversary of the series, developer Sonic Team has promised a return to form that respectfully revisits and borrows from some of the finest games and most memorable moments in the history of their iconic ‘hog. Can Sonic Generations really provide us with a suitable homage to the high octane platforming thrills we fell in love with back in the day?
STORY: Does anyone really care about the story in these games? Nobody is going to become emotionally involved in a Sonic adventure, or invest any time in worrying about a plot, as long as the platforming fun is up to scratch. But as incidental as it may be, Sonic Generations does have a plot holding the action together. Whilst celebrating his birthday with a bunch of mates, Sonic is rudely interrupted by a malevolent new enemy known as the Time Eater, who rather annoyingly kidnaps all of the partygoers and banishes them to a variety of different locales, throughout several different periods in history. Being the heroic chap that he is, Sonic decides to go and rescue his homies, and whilst doing so bumps into an older version of himself – henceforth known as Classic Sonic. Between the pair of them, and over a selection of Classic and Modern style levels, the duo endeavour to rescue the good guys and unlock the secret of the mysterious Time Eater.
GRAPHICS: Best looking Sonic game ever? Oh, indeed. Sonic Generations is a beautifully rendered delight that looks sublime, whether running through the wonderful, multi-parallaxed 2D-style platforming sections or the shit-off-a-shovel topsy-turvy 3D stages that you hurtle through as Modern Sonic. The locations are instantly recognisable from the historic instalments in the Sonic back catalogue – Green Hill Zone is given a terrific makeover, Speed Highway is as slick and, well, speedy as ever, and the industrial Chemical Plant as grim and obstacle laden as you remembered it.
The main difference is how bloody quick everything moves. To begin with I actually felt slightly overwhelmed by the speed, and was kind of glad I was not playing using the optional 3D support. But after a little while I became used to the ferocity of it all and was able to appreciate just what an excellent job SEGA have done, not only with how beautiful the characters and backdrops look, but also how solid the camera behaves and how things don’t fall to bits when Sonic is travelling quicker than he has ever done before.
SOUND: Not only does Sonic Generations successfully mix up the characters and stages from retro Sonic fare, it also does a spanking job of spritzing up well-known tunes that have appeared in the games it pinches bits from. Of course, the classic ring sound effects are also present, along with the familiar “boing” noises that accompany hedgehog-against-springy things. The voice acting is pretty dull and what you would expect from a character who, like Tom & Jerry, has always been way cooler when he says nothing.
GAMEPLAY: Sonic diehards of little faith will rejoice at the excellent level design and all-round quality of the gameplay on offer here. The game is split between two different styles of play – Classic and Modern Sonic. Each Act features a corresponding version for the respective Sonic type. In Classic form, the stages are more traditional left-to-right 2D Sonic style platforming, using the basic arsenal of moves available to back-in-the-day Sonic such as Spin Attack and Dash. Modern Sonic features a mixture of 2D and 3D gameplay that sometimes reverts to an almost on-rails style and is far more reminiscent of latter era Sonic. Modern Sonic has a wider array of moves, such as sliding, grinding, speed boosts, homing attacks and sidesteps. He does all of this at a truly breakneck pace.
Credit to Sonic Team here – I entered the Modern levels initially with a bit of trepidation, given how pleasingly faithful to the Sonic of yore that the initial 2D-style level was – but by squeezing all of the quality out of the recent entries in the series, they have created an appetising whole that feels fresh, fun and highly playable.
Along the way you can collect Red Star Rings which unlock additional game content such as artwork and music, as well as earning grades for each stage and points that can be used to unlock new abilities and skills. In order to progress past each stage you will need to complete a set number of challenges and defeat a boss.
As nice as it is to see a next-gen version of Sonic playing this well, there are a few minor criticisms. The varied challenge stages can sometimes be slightly jarring when up against the hugely enjoyable standard levels – one minute you are hell for leather down a zipwire leaping through hoops, the next you are digging things up with Tails, or racing against some animal or other. There are also instances where the camera can be slightly unforgiving during the 3D sections, leading to unwanted falls into the abyss. Thankfully these little slips are few and far between, and on the whole there are very little complaints, especially when you consider how fast things move along at.
LONGEVITY: Sonic has never been a series famed for its longevity, and as much as I didn’t want it to end, the core gameplay here is going to last you about five hours, tops. Collecting all of the hidden items will take a great deal longer, and it is this, as well as improving your grades and unlocking all of the extras and items in the in-game shop that will hold your attention. There are a decent set of achievements to work through too. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish there were a few more stages on offer, especially when you see that the 3DS version has almost entirely different content stage wise, making me fiend for some Casino Night Zone thrills. But you can only review what is in front of you – and while it lasts, Sonic Generations is of decent enough value.
VERDICT: They finally did it! After plenty of unnecessary reinventions, and without having to revert to guns and emo, RPG elements or stupid new characters, Sonic Team have finally crafted an original game that is enjoyable to play whilst retaining a sense of what made us fall in love with their most famous creation. A breath of fresh air, this is the best game Sonic has appeared in since Sonic CD. That should provide you with more than enough encouragement to give it a whirl.