When Sega had revealed the trailer for Sonic Generations, there was an easy divide between the camps of Sonic fans. Those who were unbelievably skeptical, and those who were unbelievably hopeful. Given the Hedgehog’s inconsistent track record for the past decade, it was easy to look back and see that this game, for all intents and purposes, was just an easy cash in on a brand that was in need of some genuine rejuvenation.
The issue that folks had with Sonic is this — it was a far cry from the remembered quality of the Genesis games that many had grown up with. It was a legacy series, one that defined an era, competing with Nintendo’s biggest and best, and, on many levels, pulling ahead in success. When taking the turn into 3D, precision had been lost, but a lot of potential had been gained. Mario’s pacing had slowed in 3D, but Sonic was just as fast. It was easier to tie in all the Sonic characters that had been introduced in previous games, and an even better opportunity to add more. Sadly, many felt that the integrity of a Sonic game was compromised when much of the game had to do with playing as other, slower characters. This lead to a few revisions within the series, but consistently adding certain elements that simply did not cater to what Sonic fans were interested in. However, given sales numbers, it was clear that Sonic games, in whatever form they were in, would sell ridiculously well.
Through a couple outings back to 2D, there were Sonic Advance games on the GBA, the Rush series on the DS, and a proclaimed return to form with the name of Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Ultimately, many still weren’t convinced, and for many, Sonic’s glory days just would never return. The trend was in a glitchy, and standard, 3D series of games that seemed to forget where Sonic had ever started.
But apparently, some hot shot stud up at Sega found out the magic formula for catering to both audiences simultaneously, and it seems like a legendary gap could be properly filled.
Sonic has always had an interesting legacy to live up to, but as long as it was within the confines of a fast game, I think the core idea could be set. Generations takes the best of both 2D and 3D Sonic games and combines them into one very slick package filled with proper fan-service (and a couple injustices, depending on how picky you are), but more importantly, they made the majority of this game fun to play.
Right off the bat, you’ll see that game doesn’t start as immediately as classic Sonics, or Sonic Colors, but instead of a hub world to aimlessly wander around in until you talk to the right Hot Dog merchant to active the first stage, you basically start in front of a colorless Green Hill Zone. Each Zone is divided into two acts, the first being played with Classic Sonic, and the second being Modern Sonic. Once you beat the initial first act of GHZ, you gain access to Modern Sonic, and pressing Y (or Triangle, I imagine) will switch back and forth between them if you’re on the map select screen. To get to the next zone, you simply walk to the right, and each different zone is set up like a small diorama that plays a rendition of the stage’s theme song that flows dynamically, VERY well, into any zone you’re standing in front of.
But the presentation alone doesn’t make it enjoyable — the control does. Having grown up with Classic Sonic, I am accustomed to a very specific feel in the way he should control. A large issue that people had with Sonic’s return in Sonic 4 was that his main control characteristics were definitely off, and I fully agree. This game feels like Sonic through and through, and constantly helps you maintain your momentum throughout the levels, and the designers have very purposely designed each level to help each area flow extremely quickly. His moves are relegated to simply jumping and the spin dash, though extra moves can be unlocked later, which I’ll touch up on.
Modern Sonic also controls extremely well, and it’s worth pointing out that the game doesn’t revolve around much exploration so you’re going to get a 100% useless right analogue stick, since the only real direction to go is forward. But, like more recent iterations such as Unleashed and Colors, Sonic will get the chance not only to run from a behind-the-back third person view for half of the stage, but also to have a side-scrolling area of his own that utilizes Modern-specific features, such as wall jumping in certain areas, and the homing attack that helps you maintain your sense of speed when coming across hoards of enemies.
So, there are a couple things about the game that really enhanced the experience for me, and it has to do with the fact that Sonic games generally have multiple paths to go through, and while I can’t say that this element applies the same for the classics as it does for Generations, there was something that made the level design make a LOT more sense, and thus, increase the overall joy of this game a tremendous amount. For every Zone you complete, you free a classic Sonic character to talk to, and they’ll give you advice and tips, and something that Amy Rose ended up pointing out to me was that the higher you are in a stage, the faster you will go. This means that you will meet far less physical resistance when higher, and this far more momentum. In some areas, taking the bottom route can take you up to 30 seconds while a top path could be less than 5, if you control yourself correctly. This makes a world of difference for those going for the time trial records, which I’ve NEVER been into before, and found myself absolutely in love with them in this game. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that your times are fully leaderboard ranked, but with another great addition I will also get into shortly.
Before I get off the subject of level design, they added a whole ton of extra fun crap to do in each modern and classic level, and that is collectibles. In each level, there are 5 red rings to collect that unlock music and artwork. Now, these aren’t necessarily going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but they’re never out of the way so far that you have to end up wandering aimlessly to look for them, they’re simply relegated to paths that are more prudent for you to explore for good times. Instead of going left down the zipline in Sky Sanctuary, you’ll hop off midway and jump onto a secret zipline on the right, shaving 10 seconds off your path time and getting a red medal in the process. It’s more painless that seeking Jimbo-Wubblies in the Banjo-Kazooie games, something I know many aren’t into. When you are finished getting them in a level, you can view your artwork and listen to music in a special room all the way to the left of the level select screen. Even more appropriate is the fact that if you’re missing a medal, the character that stands outside of each area will talk to you about general level tips and give you hints as to where any missing medal may be in reference to a level’s element.
Outside of each world will also be challenge levels, 5 or so little gates with various icons around them, and these contain fun remixes of the levels that you can play in, racing a doppleganger of yourself through the whole stage, or playing only a portion with certain criteria. These are available in both classic and Modern form, and have fully different challenges for each. This is also a good fanservice, as you’ll use them to unlock more art and music by ringing a bell once you’ve completed the level, whereupon you must collect a note that flies out by catching it, or as I’ve discovered, waiting for the note to fly away and then come back to you while you stand there. Handy.
So, while a lot of these little challenge levels are really fun, there are a couple that, I’m not going to lie, can suck some major weenie. You have a few fun ones like a classic Sonic Level where you hit Y to summon Tails. He’ll fly down, then you can jump into his arms and have him fly you around while you play 1/5 of a pre-existing Zone. There is also one where you have to race Knuckles while gigantic versions of enemies block your way, and the core element of Sonic gameplay doesn’t feel compromised, but there are two in particular I remember playing that I absolutely hated. One is a game where you have Rouge the Bat hanging out with you in the Modern Sonic levels, and if you hit Y, she’ll show up and start throwing hearts in the direction you’re facing, to hit invincible robots and turn them into love-sick robots that you can then kill. It’s slow, unnecessary, and not very much fun. When you aim her, she only shoots out hearts for a moment, and sometimes they won’t hit the robots, so you just have to do it over and over until it finally works.
The other one is a minigame where you have to fight Vector the Crocodile while he throws a ‘beat’ at you in the form a note you have to home in on and attack to knock back to him. What makes this difficult is that sometimes, Sonic simply won’t lock onto things, especially this note, and you will just dash forward in the air while the note slams into the ground, and you’re forced to do the whole game again. It’s extremely cumbersome, not very fun, and it doesn’t even make you feel rewarded unless you’re going for all achievements/trophies.
But while those small complaints exist, really, the game as a whole nails exactly what it needs to. Each Zone represents a different Sonic game entirely, so your first zone is from Sonic 1, then Sonic 2, then Sonic & Knuckles, Adventure 1, Adventure 2, 2006, Unleashed, and so on. I don’t want to give them away, even though you can just find countless videos and such online, because I went into this doing very little research to see what I was surprised with. Given that I’ve played only a VERY small portion of recent Sonics, I was happy to find that I recognized a good chunk of the levels, and loved pretty much all the different representations they offered.
In between standard levels, however, there are also Gem battles, in which you fight a rival of Sonic to collect the Chaos Emeralds. Metal Sonic, Shadow, and Silver are represented, and you get to play as Classic Sonic for the Metal Sonic fight, and Modern for the other two. They were pretty fun and end up mixing the worlds together well to keep the consistancy of the game flowing.
Additionally, there are boss battles which take bosses from the games and put you in charge of re-living some of theme, but with more oomph, great musical remixes, and a fantastic visual makeover.
You know what? Really, I can’t think of anything about this game that I didn’t like, with the exception of one thing. Only one. The last boss. The story revolves around Robotnik and Eggman meeting the same way the Sonics crossed over to each others generations, and the lass boss is just an absolute mess of game. Again, I won’t give much away, but it involves an alternate dimension, a control scheme that does nothing to match the gameplay of the rest of the game, and all of your rescued friends yelling unhelpful advice through a ‘transdimensional’ transceiver that Tails made the entire time you’re doing it. If you look at my save file, you’ll see I’ve fought the boss once, gotten a single time for it, and it was a little over 20 minutes. I’m never doing that one again, even for the final achievement. Try it and let me know what you think.
With that said, the game was an absolute blast. It has tons to do, lots of reasons to go back and play, and I’ll get into the replay value now. In addition to the red rings I mentioned earlier, you have the opportunity to get ranked on each level, getting up to an S ranking for a perfect level playthrough. Well, not exactly. S ranks are achieved by getting an A ranking in a level without dying, and the S comes from a mandatory rank upgrade you get from that lack of death. Speed is key, and rings are a great bonus in getting a good score, but finding those high-up paths really helps you find your way to a perfect S ranking in the game. What’s especially nice about replaying levels is that you get the opportunity to use that unlocked music in any level you’d like, and can throw Starlight Zone from Sonic 1 into a Sonic Unleashed level, or use ‘Right Here, Ride On’ from Sonic Rush in the Sonic Adventure 2 level and just pump yourself up, or any combination of the 50 unlockable songs you’d like. Playing Modern Green Hill zone with the classic Genesis GH music is a treat, that’s for certain.
Also, as you complete each level and certain challenges, you get to use points that you’ve accumulated throughout the game to buy upgrades and other abilities that can be applied to both versions or a single era Sonic, things that make you more mobile underwater, things that slow down time, or things that increase your acceleration and top speed. Each of these skills costs a certain amount of points to equip, and with 100 points to assign, you can assign a wide variety of skills to a Sonic, and these can be set to several different skill-sets that you can go back and forth with to help explore the game once you’re going to go back through to find secrets. It adds a new dynamic to the game by giving classic Sonic a homing attack, or giving modern Sonic the ability to boost forever. Lots of fun and experimentation to be had with some of these.
I had also mentioned the online portion, which is just time attacks for Classic and Modern, and while those are great, I had a better time doing the 30 second run. These were classic Sonic levels, and you get the chance to get as far as you possibly can in 30 seconds to beat your friends scores, but what’s cool is that because there are so many level paths, if you reached your 30 second limit, you could continue to play in order to find their posts and see their exact distance. Just a fun little meta game to enjoy when you’re sick of looking for rings.
The final goodie I enjoyed going back through was the unlockable Sonic 1 in the game. The only real problem with it is that when playing it, you’ll realize that the games you remember are most certainly much, much slower than you remembered. They’re a great relic and reminder of the past, but the sense of speed is surprisingly dulled as you whiz through all the new stages, but it’s a bonus, and welcome one at that.
Given that I have absolutely no qualms about pouring 25 hours into this game to find everything and find myself 2 achievements shy of all of them (one is a glitch for getting all collectibles, which I did), I can only suggest that this game is what Sonic’s spirit has been missing for all these years. There are many that grew up with Sonic on the Genesis, and plenty that did not. This game truly merges the best of both iterations and has fun while doing so, as the scant story elements will show.
If you’ve ever been a fan of Sonic, I urge you to give this a shot. If you’ve been doubting where he’s been headed, I also suggest trying it. For me, this is the best form Sonic’s been in since Sonic & Knuckles, and I’d do anything to have Sega release a DLC pack with a new level from each game represented, because I wouldn’t think twice about buying it. Dust off the term Blast Processing and re-live the way Sonic appeared in your mind 25 years ago.
Game Completed: Y
Estimated %: 98%
Times Replayed: 12
Time to Completion: 20 hrs
Would play again: Absolutely
Favorite Features: Finally Does Sonic Justice
Least Favorite: Worst Last Boss in the series
First time played: Oct ’11
Most recent play: Nov ’11
Images courtesy of ign.com, gamingirresponsibility.com, g4tv.com
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