In recent years, there’s been an understandable air of suspicion surrounding Sonic. With the likes of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) ruining childhood memories left, right and centre, even the most optimistic Sonic supporter has turned to cynicism whenever a new title has been mooted.
A similar reaction occurred when Sonic Generations was announced. But much like an abusive relationship, there’s still that glimmer of hope that all has changed and Sonic is back to the loveable spiky rogue we used to adore. Fortunately, this time round, the hedgehog’s done good and there’s a chance our faith in him may yet be rebuilt.
Plots have never been Sonic’s forte but this time it works. Thanks to time being messed up in some utterly unintelligible way, Modern Sonic and Classic Sonic find themselves teaming up in an adventure coinciding with their 20th Birthday. So begins a collusion between the two types of Sonic games, with 2D side scrolling co-existing alongside the more modern 3D pseudo open world format.
Invoking the history of the franchise, Sonic Generations is split up into nine different zones each based upon previous games. These zones are then divided into two acts: one requiring Classic Sonic, the other Modern Sonic. Working chronologically, the game offers three slices of history.
The Mega Drive era includes levels from Sonic 1, Sonic 2 and Sonic & Knuckles while the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 eras see Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes.
This generation’s titles conclude the tri-history format with Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colours. While this makes for a weaker finale, it means that the opening is memorable.
Starting out in Green Hill is a great move but one that carries the risk of peaking too early. As someone who can complete the zone in its original form while sleeping, I was thrilled by the subtle and not so subtle nuances exhibited throughout the level. It felt as comfortable as coming home after a long trip away, yet also excitingly different.
This feeling is consistent throughout, at least until you reach the latter stages of the game. Nostalgia will morph to sadness once you reach Sonic the Hedgehog’s (2006) Crisis City zone – that emotion only briefly dissipating in time for the nod to Sonic Colours with Planet Wisp.
This is far from a challenging game. Leaping around in the 2D levels is typically the most satisfying experience. It’s pure, unadulterated classic Sonic. There’s not even the horror of the homing attack that Sonic 4 offered so readily last year.
Level design throughout is familiar enough to be nostalgic, yet original and fresh enough to feel like a standalone game. As with any classic Sonic game, there are numerous paths to explore and the player is encouraged to do so through a series of Red Star Rings which unlock extras such as artwork, songs or skills.
These skills are purchased with points acquired by simply completing levels. These range from being able to stop much faster to (once you’ve completed the game) unleashing Super Sonic.
Controlling Modern Sonic often feels like you’re playing a racing game; it’s fast and furious with a hint of non-linear level design which opens up the possibility of Red Star Ring collecting. Boosting and homing attacks are near essential to success and the speed allows for some astonishing set pieces.
All is fine with Modern Sonic until you make the mistake of backtracking. It’s here that the previously enjoyable intensity vanishes, transforming into a product that carries a glimmer of the problems exhibited by recent Sonic games.
Fortunately it is just a glimmer. Despite the weaker nature of latter levels, the overall experience still offers plenty of fun.
Presumably in an effort to make up for the relative ease of the main stages, a series of challenge modes have also been included. These are partially mandatory with one from each zone needing to be completed to unlock boss battles and the next part of the game. It’s worth spending the time tackling all of them however, because they open up a bunch of locked extras. Challenges are frequently speed orientated, forcing you to beat time limits or race doppelgangers.
This is where the depth to Sonic Generations comes to the fore. For fans, there’s a lot more fun to be had from the challenges than there is from the five to six hour campaign. It takes some pretty impressive skills to gain the holy grail of an ‘S’ rank across the board, but it gives you all the more reason to keep playing and improving upon past scores.
The only part of Sonic Generations that feels criminally short is the boss battles. Expecting a major fight after each zone as in previous Sonic games, it comes as a bit of a shock to find that boss battles are far and few between. When they do appear, against Dr Eggman, Metal Sonic, Shadow the Hedgehog, Silver the Hedgehog and Time Eater. They’re all too brief and underwhelming. The last fight in particular takes hardly any effort or thought.
This is where I feel woefully predictable in my assessment of Sonic Generations. It is the best Sonic game we’ve had in years – though that’s hardly saying much. Flawed at times, Sonic Generations is an enjoyable game and one that’s easy to like. The failings of Modern Sonic bring the quality down, yet some moments also show what can be done well with a 3D Sonic game.
It’s a conflicting situation but I feel the best compliment I can give it is that, despite having completed it, just writing this has given me a great urge to go back.