Game Review: Sonic Generations
Release: November 1st, 2011
Developer: Sonic Team
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Website: Sonic Generations
Sonic the Hedgehog is the fastest thing on two feet, and his war with the evil Dr. Robotnik has only begun. Sonic the Hedgehog is the fastest thing on two feet, and his longstanding nemesis Eggman wants to end it all. A mysterious force has brought together two eras of Sonic the Hedgehog, one being the short, silent, and somewhat pudgy type that premiered twenty years ago, and another being the tall, talkative, and thin hedgehog that’s been running around for the last decade. Sonics and Tailses must team up to face off against the Dr. Robotnik, Metal Sonic, Perfect Chaos, Eggman, Silver the Hedgehog and more if they hope to save time from stopping. If Sonic the Hedgehog hates anything, it’s wasting time. This game won’t waste yours.
Sonic Generations is pretty simple in execution. In theory, there are two tips of Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay. One, pioneered in the original Genesis title, throughout various handheld iterations, and up to Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and some of the Wii titles, features Sonic racing from left to right, acquiring coins, jumping from platform to platform, and generally speeding through levels in a matter of minutes, with only a handful of power ups at his disposal. He used the Spin Dash maneuver learned in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to build up speed in confined areas, and with seven Chaos Emeralds and fifty rings, was able to unleash a Super Sonic form that attacked enemies and granted super speed at the cost of continuous ring usage. In every Zone’s Act 1, this is the gameplay you encounter. Sega has given the game a visual, 2.5D boost as seen in Viewtiful Joe; while gameplay is strictly linear, characters may jump in and out of the main playing field, which itself may bend to the world’s whims. Multiple paths are available, but they all head right to the final goal post.
Modern Sonic goes less for the platformer route and more for the roller coaster route. Starting each stage running, the camera (for the most part) focuses behind the hero as he races down tracks. A boost function lets him fly through enemies and speed up, while a homing jump targets enemies and other items of importance, such as springs. He’s constantly on the move, whether it be grinding rails, fleeing from a giant robotic shark or massive truck, and doesn’t even have time to bust open item packages, with the items loose on the track. Modern Sonic can do flips and tricks in midair at times to refill his boost gauge, and while he is occasionally limited to a 2D plane, he largely can free roam in set areas. Modern Sonic blasts through each Zone’s act 2, and the two shall only meet in cinemas and the final boss battle. Each Zone features both gameplay modes, offering new 3D versions of classics such as Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone, while giving classic Sonic 2D chances to run through Planet Wisp and City Escape.
This is an easy one to say; Sonic Generations is the best Sonic game of this generation. While Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 manages to get the technical accuracy of the original series down for the most part (traction is still a confounding issue), Sonic Generations gets the conceptual feel of the levels and gameplay. Sonic, surprisingly, isn’t all about speed, but more about speed, exploration, and a constant need to either be moving or building up speed. Original Sonic levels are engaging, not incredibly hard, and even keeps underwater segments to a minimum (one Achievement is actually beating a level without entering water). Modern Sonic levels are slightly more fun, because they’re not exactly hampered by exploratory nature of the other levels. While Classic Sonic may fall into a path or be faced with two and can backtrack if he wants, Modern Sonic has to make split-second decisions that largely can’t be backtracked on. It’s an amusement park versus a roller coaster; one can offer tons of diversions but moves at a slower pace, but the other gives you a blast of energy when you take the option out of your hands. When someone plays only a level or two and says “Wow, that was fun.” or are genuinely surprised at some of the changes done to classic levels, SEGA’s done something right. We don’t need gimmick special powers, the deepest story about the nature of humanity, or even grand adventures. We just want fun.
Another element in which Sega surprisingly excels in is self-referential humor towards the series. The lead villain for the franchise is called both Eggman and Dr. Robotnik, much to the disdain of the latter (“Nobody calls me that anymore!”). One level features “Missing” posters for allies an enemies of Sonic that haven’t shown up in years, such as Nack the Wolf, Mighty the Armadillo, and more. For players of all Sonic eras, each level finds out what was iconic or successful about it’s original version, and brings it to a new era. Green Hill Zone, for example, features the traditional loops that defined the game, but also brings in spiral paths from Emerald Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, given the latter’s lack of inclusion. While Sonic CD, Sonic Rivals, and Shadow the Hedgehog are all absent from fully playable levels, battles with stars or co-stars from these games are featured. Still, these nods belay the desire for a sequel to cover elements from other titles; how cool would it be to race through a Palmtree Panic Zone that features Sonic time-traveling from Past to Present to Good Future or Bad Future? What about a Hidden Palace Zone that fully explores the concept, or an Angel Island Zone that burns around you? Sonic Generation‘s successful execution of some thematic elements and branding only encourages more of this interactive retrospective. An amazing soundtrack featuring some of the best Sonic scores marries the retrospective to our ears.
The largest criticism that can be given to the game is that it rarely commits to the Generational aspect of the concept. Modern Sonic all-too often is stuck in a 2D plane, and doesn’t engage in any sort of Adventure elements as he’s wont to do in this era. Meanwhile, Classic Sonic doesn’t retain any traditional boss battles that capped off every Zone in the Genesis era. Green Hill Zone doesn’t end with Eggman swinging his checkered wrecking ball at you, for example. There are only four bosses in the game, and they all end up playing more like mini-games and less like challenging parts of traditional Sonic gameplay. The final boss is supremely disappointing, as it’s the only time the two Sonics battle together, but is poorly controlled, not clear in it’s goals and execution at times, and is altogether hampered by elements not seen in the game beforehand. A final boss is a time for players to completely master and remember all the learned skills and trials the game set them through, not a time to introduce new gameplay elements exclusive to this battle without any clear instructions. The final boss is the weakest challenge; while the other bosses aren’t traditional Sonic by and large, they’re still easy to understand and do successfully come off as the evolution and return to form for their previous battles. Additionally, the Chaos Emeralds appear too easily in the game; it’s impossible to beat it without acquiring all seven, and four of which are in mandated story-progression points, leaving three to be in Rival Challenges that appear in the hub world. While this works and helps everyone become Super Sonic, it eschews the original era’s challenge of Special Stages. Visually, the game is grand beyond Green Hill Zone, which features contrasting colors, a shuddering turn, and deceptive background platforms, but is largely forgivable by the end of the game. The poorly compressed cut-scenes will haunt you until the game is over, though.
Sonic Generations is a rarity in the modern gaming world. It’s easy to pick up and play, it’s a Sonic game that doesn’t fall victim to The Sonic Cycle, and it’s a genuinely fun game. SEGA figured out how to do a Sonic game in the modern era, and it’s key is to effectively take winning points from previous games without adding unnecessary fluff. Sonic fans, you have your true new legend.
- Great soundtrack
- Self-referential humor for the long-standing fans
- Can’t decide how 3D Modern Sonic’s adventure should be
- More bosses would have been nice
Final Score: 8 out of 10