Poor sonic has come in for quite a bit of stick lately, but to be honest he only has himself to blame. During his heyday in the early to mid 90’s, Sonic cornered the market in what could be termed ‘adrenaline platformers’. Whilst the Mario games maintained an aloof sense of fun, fans of Sonic got their kicks cart-wheeling through tropical rainforests and playing giant pinball. Times changed and the market soon grew tired of 2D games and clamored for something using all three dimensions, which was where our old blue hedgehog friend suffered.
While the Dreamcast games had some moments of brilliance they were obscured by tedious role-playing elements and the introduction of more and more of Sonic’s friends and enemies every year just dragged things back further. Now it seems that Sega is here to try and show that old and new can coincide happily together, and it comes pretty close to succeeding.
Sonic Generations is a celebration of 20 years of Sonic the Hedgehog, and it sets out to achieve this by using a combination of 2D and 3D gameplay. The storyline, such that it is, involves Sonic and his various forgettable chums being stolen by a weird clock demon thing, which then kidnaps both a modern and retro version of the ‘hog and deposits them in a strange white void. They both soon realise that they must work together in order to complete levels and obtain chaos emeralds to restore colour to the void, rescue their friends and finally finish off the dastardly time-monster thingy.
The game contains nine separate worlds, in addition to several boss battles and challenges, so it’s a fairly meaty game if you opt to complete all the challenges which isn’t necessary to finish the story mode. If you just do the bare minimum, you’re probably looking at around seven hours playtime.
The worlds are divided into three sections, which correspond to the eras in Sonic’s life. First off we have three levels taken from the 16 bit Genesis/Megadrive, three from the Dreamcast and finally three more from the modern multi-format era. Yeah, I know, boo. But then again I suppose it wouldn’t be a true celebration of the full 20 years if the most modern title represented was from 2001. Besides, the modern levels are still fun, with only the final one of the nine being really disappointing.
The twist comes in the way that each world is laid out, with two ‘acts’ comprising a 2D and 3D level. That’s right, you will get to see a 3D modern sonic version of Chemical Plant Zone, and a 2D platformer based on City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2. This is far and away the best feature of the game and surprisingly both versions of the level are fun to play, with the retro levels appealing more to me probably only due to my appalling old age.
In fact the 3D levels seem to show that at last modern Sonic games have found a format that works in keeping the games separate from everything else on the market whilst also being fun to play. An exciting, adrenaline-pumping section of relatively hands-off play, just using the shoulder buttons to stay on target or jumping between rails whilst something crazy happens in the background is balanced by another section shortly afterwards where Sonic must use his homing dash skill to negotiate a tricky chasm, and then an almost 2D slow platforming area which may then lead to another high-speed chase. The variety works really well in these levels and is certainly something Sega should look to capitalize on if they don’t mix the old and new Sonic styles in a future Generations game. The mixture of styles also allows for some great and unexpected humor. I’m not going to spoil things, but listen out in every cut-scene involving Eggman.
I only have a few niggles with the game. First is probably just me being picky, but I would have loved to have more 16 bit levels included. Nothing is in the game from Sonic 3 for example, and iconic levels like Emerald Hill zone are nowhere to be seen. Five levels from the old days, and five from the newer titles combining the Sonic Adventures with the likes of Sonic Colours etc would have worked better in my opinion.
That old bugbear of 3D Sonic also rears it’s head on a few occasions, a wonky camera. Although not nearly as annoying as in previous titles, it is still another reason why the 2D levels are arguably more successful. Aside from that though, visually the game is a real treat with crisp renditions of locations like Green Hill Zone being a treat for the eyes. There isn’t really a lot of additional content in the game either. You can locate the original version of Sonic the Hedgehog and unlock some artwork and music, but this title could have offered so much more. Having a rare classic Sonic title like Sonic CD or Sonic Fighters as a reward when you finished the game would have been a real incentive.
Despite these small issues, Sonic Generations is a very good game. OK so it’s fairly short (if you aren’t a completionist) and 2D is always going to be the way to go, but as a celebration of all things hedgehog it can only be deemed a success. 8 out of 10 then, but if you can find it cheaply (there are some great deals available at the moment) then make sure you pick it up before it catches fleas.