Platforms – 360 | PS3 | PC (Steam) (reviewed)
Developed and Published by Seeeeeegaaaaa!
I need to get this out of the way. ‘Sonic Boom’ playing to any boss fight may be one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of my life. The song is so cheesy, with lyrics absurdly uplifting, but it manages to straddle that line of silly/awesome that gives you that encouragement to beat the ever loving crap out of whatever Robotnik’s next match-up is. And that, dear readers, is why Sonic Generations will be one of this year’s underrated releases. It is actually a fantastic game with an overwhelming amount of love thrown into it.
Let’s have some context though. Sonic Generations marks the 20th anniversary of the Sonic franchise. More personally, it marks about 16 since I rushed home from school and played Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive (aka Genesis) every day and 14 since I first tried Sonic 3 and gave it up at the red barrel of doom. Some hurdles have been overcome though, from my personal defeat of the barrel to the franchises’ declining quality (Hi Shadow!). Nevertheless, the game celebrates 20 years of a legendary franchise, extracting a ‘best’ level from each of the main games in the series, no matter how well liked that game may have been (Hi Sonic 2006!). It’s all tied together with a throw-away plot that unfortunately was both unnecessary and under-utilised; it could have simply been a load of levels in order, but the fact it did exist meant a bit more effort would’ve been nice. The gimmick, such as it is, is that this time each level has two acts, but one is done with Classic style Sonic in 2D, with the second in Modern Sonic’s 3D and 2D mixture. This works surprisingly well.
The game plays off your nostalgia hard, hence the majority of the previous paragraphs, as old levels are brought back in a glorious array of colours and remixed themes. The neat twist is that whilst they could easily have remade the levels in a new lick of paint (something done in the handheld version of Generations), they’re all new. It’s done in a very clever way though, with iconic elements of each zone mixed in to remind you that you are playing Green Hill Zone, but that it is a new level. In fact, taking GHZ, the first few seconds are pretty much the same, with the same land and item placement. Later on you have the rolling S-tube that launches you into a load of rings. At the same time, the new parts fit in seamlessly and give you something new to admire about a zone. This is pushed even further with elements of unused levels getting in somewhere; the homage to Emerald Hill Zone in GHZ is fairly obvious, but you may have to do a little bit of searching to find Hydrocity’s in the roster.
The result is nine zones that play similarly, but with a fresh twist, to how you remember. More so between the different Sonics too. It’s very cool to play GHZ in 3D, where you can see where they tried to establish how it meets up with the original incarnation. The same is applied when using 2D Sonic in new levels. The level choices certainly help, being varied in how you tackle them anyhow, although I would say it’s unfortunate that so many fulfil the ‘city’ trope. That being said, Sonic Team did their best to change them in certain ways, but visually at least the game feels more appealing when in the more fantasy orientated environments. There’s also a very notable difficulty curve, with the final set of levels being actually quite hard, possibly due to their extended length. Still, there’s a satisfaction for clearing them and obtaining the highest rank, so there’s something to be said for a good challenge.
In terms of actual feel, another flaw is the fact they brought back Classic Sonic, but didn’t absolutely nail the physics. I don’t know why they chose to go so far as bring him back, create purposefully 2D levels designed for him and then not utilise the best physics, but they are good enough. Modern Sonic has the tightest controls of any of the 3D aventures yet, with changes between 3D and 2D perspectives being seamless. Altogether, it plays very well and cherishes the idea of the best-get-rewarded. As true to old Sonic, getting the best routes is hard, but very rewarding with great short-cuts and engaging platforming.
Along with the main levels, unlocked in sets of eras, are periodic bosses. Even with ‘rival’ bosses where you fight other characters relevant to that era of Sonic, there aren’t too many, which is a shame. That being said, they too are generally very enjoyable, although like the main levels, the final two bosses go on for perhaps a bit too long, whilst the final boss in particular doesn’t have clear directions creating something of an anti-climax. All bosses have a ‘hard’ mode, definitely there for the seasoned player, which either makes them last longer or mixes up the tactics slightly and adds to the game’s already massive replayability.
Further still, completing an era’s set of main levels unlocks ten side-missions for each level, split between five for each Sonic. They range from simple time-attacks to a slightly altered level with a well-used mechanic, such as calling in Tails to lift you to safety, or completing a danger filled level with constant invincibility. Overall, they’re very enjoyable with only a few frustrating duds. Upon completion, you unlock either art work or music (which you can also do by finding collectible red rings in the main levels). The best part of the music is that you can play any collected music on any level. Think about that. You can have the most up-beat music to a magnificent Robotnik boss battle, or even Sonic 4’s dirge for Splash Hill Zone replacing GHZ’s theme. Whatever, it’s a fantastic addition, with around 50 tracks to choose from over the entire franchise.
Special note for the presentation actually. Whilst I would say that something like Battlefield 3 is absolutely amazing looking, it goes without saying as it pushes the technology we have to the brink, but I find it mostly boring. It’s all grey. Generations is bursting with colour and life, from cute animations of the mute Classic Sonic, to one of my favourite moments in gaming (pictured below) this year. The spectacle is amazing and so welcome in an industry that seems to think that HD graphics means gritty brown. Sure, Sonic isn’t exactly true to life, but it’s almost bewildering at first being reminded that there are more colours available. Eclipsing even this is the sound track which is hands down the best I’ve heard for too bloody long. Even last year’s Super Meat Boy is out-done by this. Remixes are amazing and fit perfectly. Perhaps it’s cheating, considering there’s music 20 years old, but dammit, it is wonderful. This game hits all the right notes, from the title screen homage to the original Sonic’s sheer fun and replayability.
It is with this note I leave you. Sonic Generations is not a perfect game, but it’s a bloody good one. Whilst it may be there for the nostalgia, it doesn’t forget that it’s still a platforming title that’s worth playing if you like Sonic or not. Sure, there’s more to get excited about if you do, but it’s just such pure fun and like the original titles, it screams to be replayed with a smile on your face. It is not a long game, but I have put over 20 hours in it and a good few has been simply replaying levels to get better times or hell because I want to. As a milestone celebration, Generations eclipses the efforts of others, but as a game on its own, it’s still fun and it begs you to come back and to keep on playing it. The mark of a good game? You’re DAMN right it is.
Boring stuff: Played on the PC at highest settings on 1080 resolution, with a 360 controller. Technically, the game runs fine, although there is some slow-down in the second zone for no well explored reason. It is not enough to make the game less fun. At time of writing, I have all but the final achievement in terms of ‘100%ing’ the game. The [HD] part of the title denotes the difference between the ‘console’ version and the handheld version for the 3DS, which features a different level set and ostensibly is a different game.
I strongly recommend playing Savannah Citadel to Sky Sanctuary, Sonic 2’s Special Stage to any doppelganger race and Sonic Boom to the final boss. I leave the rest of the awesome music and level combinations to you, dear Boring stuff reader.
Boring Stuff 2012 (September) Update – I have put in around 40 hours at time of writing this update. Since the game’s release on the PC, various modding projects have been initiated, including an utterly fantastic aim of copying the levels from the console-only release of Sonic Unleashed into Generations. The game remains supremely fun.