The iconic Blue Blur returns in Sonic Generations for a celebration of the Hog’s 20th anniversary.
Sonic the Hedgehog has become one of the most frustrating series in all of gaming. New games in the series always aim to reach the level of joyous platforming once seen in the classic Mega Drive games, but they routinely disappoint fans. The 3D versions of the character have been even worse, providing incredible speed, but none of the precision or quality of level design required for an enjoyable experience. This latest title, Generations, is a celebration of the Hog’s 20th anniversary, but sadly continues to frustrate and sometimes even fails to fulfil its basic purpose of fan service.
The premise for Generations is baffling. A new time-travelling enemy has damaged the space-time continuum, throwing Modern (3D) and Classic (2D) Sonic together, forcing them to explore adventures from their past in order to save the world. The bizarre and instantly forgettable story simply serves as a way to get the two different versions of Sonic to stand side-by-side. The hedgehogs are presented with levels from Sonic’s past which must be played in both 2D and 3D versions in order to unlock new versions of classic boss battles and progress through the game. Each level features just two Acts, one for Modern Sonic and one for Classic. This creates an interesting style of play where Mega Drive era levels can be experienced in 3D for the first time and levels from modern Sonic games can be played in new 2D versions, without any of the more recent additions to Sonic’s move list, such as the homing attack.
To unlock boss battles, such as a new version of Death Egg from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, you must complete additional challenge levels which slightly alter the stage layouts, such as with more enemies and power-ups or different routes, then task you with completing them as fast as you can. Like the main stages, you are ranked at the end of each one, with an S-Rank possible if you complete the level in the fastest time possible without losing a single life. Completionists will find that attempting to S-Rank every level can be incredibly addictive. You can also unlock new skills for each Sonic, such as shorter stopping distances when running, the ability to start each stage with a shield, or better athleticism which helps you to lose less speed when running uphill or in water. You can also unlock new music and concept art. There is a massive amount of content for hardcore Sonic fans to collect.
In the Classic Sonic stages, Sonic Team has come closer than ever to replicating the physics and momentum of the original Mega Drive versions. Sonic loses and gains momentum just as you would expect, though gravity still has too much of an effect of him and you can’t quite jump as high as you might think. The re-imagined Mega Drive stages are gorgeous to look at, with incredibly detailed backgrounds and bright primary colours. Everything from the badnik designs to the newly arranged versions of the timeless music has received great attention, which fans will definitely appreciate.
Unfortunately, for a game which is supposed to celebrate Sonic’s 20th Anniversary, Sonic Team has completely missed the mark on the number of 16 bit era stages which have been included. Of the nine levels in the game, only three come from the Mega Drive games; Green Hill (Sonic 1), Chemical Plant (Sonic 2) and Sky Sanctuary (Sonic & Knuckles). Because of this the game never reaches its promised level of nostalgia as so many fan favourites, which would have looked and sounded beautiful in this game engine, have been ignored. There is no Labyrinth or Star Light from Sonic 1. No Casino Night or Metropolis from Sonic 2. No Ice Cap from Sonic 3 and no Lava Reef from Sonic & Knuckles. The sense of disappointment is made even worse when you realise that one of the game’s later levels has been taken from Sonic Colours which is less than a year old.
Generations also demonstrates just how wide the gap in quality is between the original 2D games and the modern 3D versions. The 3D levels in Generations, particularly the later ones are a design nightmare. Modern Sonic is much faster than his Classic cousin, but the level design regularly fails to recognise this. Enemy placement and the regularity of bottomless pits results in frequent cheap deaths which require tedious trial and error to be avoided. There is far less skill involved in these levels too as Sonic’s movement is much less precise than in the 2D stages. If you can avoid death then getting an S-Rank in Modern Sonic’s levels is very easy thanks to the rollercoaster style design which asks little more of the player than making sure that Sonic hits the appropriate springs and launch pads.
Sonic Generations is a hugely disappointing game. Had it been more focussed on its fascinating HD remakes of 16 bit levels then it would have been very easy to recommend. Instead though, Sonic Team have completely misunderstood their fans and provided yet another game which has too much emphasis on the frustrating and boring 3D levels from the more recent Sonic titles. If you’re looking for a sense of nostalgia to celebrate Sonic’s 20th Anniversary, you won’t find it here. Download the Mega Drive games on Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network instead. They do a much better job of reminding you of Sonic’s best moments.