Every generation has its Sonic games. Sometimes, one game gets every generation.
Every gamer knows about the Sonic Cycle. New Sonic game is announced, developers promise it’ll be a return to form, fans get excited with screens and early video, new gimmick is revealed, fans overlook campy new “feature”, game is released and it sucks, and fans vow to never give in to the hype again.
It happened with Sonic 2006, Secret Rings, Black Knight, Sonic Unleashed and finally culminated with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Oh Sega, you got us good with Sonic 4; no one around but Sonic, side-scrolling gameplay, classic enemies and classic music. Plus, you called it SONIC 4 – how the hell were we supposed to know Sonic Team could POSSIBLY fuck it up so bad and still release it?!
Everyone I know had totally had it. Shit, I paid more attention to the indie Sonic projects than ames produced by Sega. Projects like Sonic 2 HD had me practically foaming at the mouth, cursing at Sega for bastardizing one of my favorite childhood side-scrollers and making me resort to outsourced and unlicensed fan games.
But then, something wonderful happened; something miraculous – Sonic Team started LISTENING to the fans! They realized we don’t want our beloved blue hedgehog turning into a goddamn werewolf, falling in love with a fucking human being or stopping on a dime when we press “down” instead of curling up into a spiky ball!
They finally came to the realization that the Genesis-era Sonic games were more than just speed; they were legit, hardcore platformers! Who among you remembers the Sky Gardens level? It was FUCKING HARD! I was dying every goddamn way I turned – up, down, left and fucking right!
Sonic Team finally realized that our beloved games were more than just running non-stop for two or three hours at a time, and that the best games in the series didn’t need gimmicky bullshit to make them amazing. And that – THAT – is when Sonic Team came up with the idea for the best fucking Sonic Game in the past decade: Sonic Generations.
That being said, even the newer titles have redeeming qualities and game mechanics. For all of the series’ previous faults, Sonic Team took a good look at Sonic and realized he’s seen better days. They took the time to analyze what gamers really loved and wanted from the series, and in doing so took the best parts from every Sonic title and put it into Sonic Generations.
The game is divided into 3 areas, each containing 1 stage from a previous Sonic title; the first three stages come from the 16-bit era, the second three from the Dreamcast era, and the final three from the Modern era. Each stage is split into two acts for two different Sonics; Act 1 is a classic side-scrolling Sonic stage featuring the pudgy and silent Classic Sonic, and Act 2 features Adventure-style platforming and gameplay with the thinner and more agile Modern Sonic. Additionally, within each area are multiple challenges for each Sonic, as well as a “Rival Battle” featuring that era’s major rival. There are also boss battles (duh) but we’ll talk about them later.
Sonic Team did a marvelous job pulling assets from the series and updating them for this game. For example, the game’s second stage is Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2. Act 1 feels like an updated, HD version of the stage from the Genesis/Mega Drive game – it’s different, but it’s perfect! Every element is there, and the attention to detail is strikingly, well, detailed! Playing through as Classic Sonic evokes the feelings of playing the old school games immediately – the controls are quick and responsive, the platforming is pixel perfect, and the fun and excitement of the original games slaps you in the face.
Playing as Modern Sonic combines the mechanics of the Dreamcast Adventure games and the more recent games like Unleashed’s Day levels – and thank you Sonic Team for making sure the “werehog” NEVER shows up. Modern Sonic’s levels make up the last two-thirds of the game’s themed stages, and his acts feel like they’ve been ripped straight away from their respective games. 85% of the time, this is a good thing – City Escape from SA2 feels exactly like it did in SA2. Some might say it feels TOO much like copy and paste, but there’s enough of a noticeable difference to make it unique in its own right.
But Sonic Generations REALLY shines in the 3D to 2D level conversions, and vice versa. Like I said before, each stage has an Act 1 with Classic Sonic and Act 2 with Modern Sonic. Everything feels shockingly correct when Classic Sonic is thrown into the redesigned 2D modern levels – these levels just snap into the 2D plane so perfectly that it just feels RIGHT. It’s so simple yet the levels are so complex; the different routes, the shortcuts; EVERYTHING – it all just fits and it’s damn simple to understand what you need to do next. Not only that, but all of the original level’s quirks and themes are included in the 2D conversion; for example, the giant ass truck chasing Modern Sonic during City Escape 3D chases Classic Sonic on a 2D plane as well.
Most of all, these levels FEEL like they belong to their own 2D Sonic game, a game that would rival the original trilogy on Genesis/Mega Drive. Sonic Team FINALLY got it RIGHT, in contrast to how jaunted and broken Sonic 4 felt!
The same goes for the Modern stages set in classic 2D Sonic areas. Green Hill Zone, Chemical Plant and Sky Sanctuary all feel like they belong in a modern Sonic game after playing through them in 3D. Gone is the gimmicky bullshit and shitty load times that plagued games like Sonic 2006 and Unleashed – there’s just a solid combination of what was good in Sonic Adventure and what was good in games like Unleashed and Colors. Case in point: during the Sonic Colors themed level, Wisp aliens are available as powerups, and they don’t feel out of place – it feels like a natural addition to the Sonic formula!
And the MUSIC! OH THE SWEET, SWEET MUSIC. The classic Sonic levels either use classic Sonic tracks from the classic games, or amazing classic-style remixes of the modern tracks; it waxes nostalgia completely. Of course, if you don’t like the initial track offering, you can unlock quite a few classic Sonic tracks from all measure of Sonic’s library of games to use instead. Personally, I use Sonic CD’s “Sonic Boom” for most of my tracks. The collection of unlockable tracks for the game is another common sense addition to such an excellent game.
There’s a word I learned recently that fits so well that I must include it: conveyance. Conveyance in video games is how well a game naturally teaches you what to do without stopping you and telling you what needs to be done. For example, Metal Gear Solid has bad conveyance because it stops you every 5 seconds to explain what is going on.
Well, Sonic Generations’ final boss battle has bad conveyance. The friends you’ve rescued along the way will not shut up and stop telling you what to do, even though it’s damn obvious what needs to be done. In fact, now that I mention it, the entire game has really shitty conveyance; I know what to do, I’ve played the games a million times before! Like in the previous 3D Sonic games, there’s a little Omochao guide that is constantly telling you what is going on. Well Omochao just needs to SHUT THE FUCK UP.
Luckily, the guide can be turned off. But then there’s little points in the game where you’ve not been shown what can enhance the experience, like Sonic’s flourish combos while he’s in the air. Without the guide on, you’d never know you can press a direction to do tricks after a jump to refill your boost bar, and press the shoulder buttons to finish for an even bigger boost. See, Sega? How hard was that? Conveyance.
My final gripe is that Sonic Generations has a pacing issue near the end of the game. Just like the previous titles in the series, the stages get much more difficult the further you progress. The later levels get a little “too” difficult. Disaster City, the first stage of area 3, is a clusterfuck of epic proportions in both the Classic and Modern acts, and the last three stages become much more complex than the rest. Sure, you don’t want the game to hold your hand, but you don’t want it to brutally violate you, either.
Sonic Generations’ greatest weakness, however, is how quickly it’s all over. Most everything about this game leaves you with an insatiable hunger for MORE. The classic levels, the Dreamcast levels, and even the goddamn difficult modern levels; they’re all excellent, and it’s sad to see this game end when so much more could have been done. Granted, I still have a lot to play – there’s 9 challenges per area, plus each rival and boss battle has a hard mode (oh, fucking awesome. They get HARDER?!)
A few years ago, Mario came back from a relative obscurity to surprise everyone and retake the market in a slew of amazing games. Now, it seems like we get too much Mario. My biggest worry is that Sonic Team will do the exact same thing now that they’ve hit the jackpot on Sonic Generations. Oversaturation is what killed games like Guitar Hero and (in my opinion) Call of Duty, let’s hope the same doesn’t happen to everyone’s favorite blue streak.
Sonic the Hedgehog has come a long way from his roots as Sega’s answer to Mickey Mouse (look it up), and Sonic Generations explores all the parallels between the classic and modern gameplay. As good as they are separate, bringing the two together will undoubtedly make the series even better from here on out. Overall, any fan of old-school platforming or any fan of modern action platformers needs to pick this up. That means everyone should, because it’s a crazy awesome blast from the past.