November 11, 2011
The blue blur is back, and we’re not talking about the police lights in your rear view mirror as you try and escape with all those copies of MW3, you naughty scamp. No, we are of course referring to everyone’s favourite porcupine alternative, Sonic the Hedgehog. To say it has been a lean few years for SEGA’s one time poster boy is akin to saying that England are a bit of a disappointment when it comes to pretty much any kind of major sporting event. A bit of an understatement, to say the least. However, with SEGA promising a game that harks back to the good old days and offers plenty of fan service, then maybe things are looking up. Though we do have to sadly report that Tails is back……sigh.
Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost. The story here is pretty much filler material, but then again it always was with Sonic games. In brief then, while modern, chatty, Sonic is celebrating his birthday, a weird time-altering entity turns up and swipes all of his friends into portals. This world-altering event also heralds the arrival of the shorter, chubbier, Sonic who must team up with his future self to rescue all of their friends and put things right. Though considering how fast Sonic moves you have to wonder what he got up to during his down time to have acquired such a paunch back in the day, but we digress.
Obviously the hokum story is merely a means to an end, as it lets you tackle each stage with both characters in a different way. Play Act 1 and you will use old Sonic in purely 2D stages, while Act 2 sees modern Sonic take on a medley of 2D and 3D action. All of the levels are accessed from a drab hub world that is gradually brought to vivid life as you progress. It’s as simple as that and, when you first start the game, that wonderful simplicity can bring back some great memories. Blitzing through Green Hill Zone seems like a step back in time, and for a short while all you will want to do is try and oust your shabby times and set new personal bests.
This is as close to a proper Sonic game as we have seen in some time, though suffice to say that different fans will have their own notions about what makes for a good Sonic game. From our perspective, Sonic has always been about pure speed, and the fact you can complete most levels in a few minutes is part of the appeal as players strive to stick to the high ground and find new routes to the goal. This is where the game excels, when you are dashing through each zone, trying to keep one eye on what comes next in a bid to plot a perfect route through all of the hazards and enemies in your path.
Things become a bit less fun when you're jogging through the 3D stages, though that is only because that sense of timing and control doesn’t feel as immediate. Instead you sometimes find progress coming to a grinding halt if you end up in a dead end, which is exactly what you don’t want, because when Sonic stops, the game becomes pretty terrible. Sonic needs speed to make even the most basic jumps, and if you spend time trying to carefully navigate sections then things feel sluggish and unresponsive. It’s only a slight complaint though, as anyone playing this game carefully is surely missing the point. It’s far better to rush through levels at a hell for leather pace, and risk the odd frustrating plummet into the abyss, than it is to indulge in some stop/start shenanigans.
In both styles of the game, things feel pretty well balanced between outright speed sections and the more traditional platforming. Though the twitch reflexes needed to succeed may prove a little too much for some players, the game never seems too harsh that a bit of time and effort will not reap the rewards. The real problems come from the sections outside of the story missions, namely the boss battles and challenge areas.
After completing all of the main stages in an area, you will unlock a series of challenge levels scattered around the hub world. In order to face a big, bad boss you will have to beat all of these challenges to snag the three keys you need to unlock the door blocking your access to them. At first these levels are a pleasant diversion, as you can team up with rescued friends to tackle certain stages, engage in a mad dash against a doppelganger or even beat up on a rival to grab a Chaos Emerald should you so desire. Unfortunately, some of these stages are also home to some of the most frustrating and needless sections as well. Fights against your rivals are often pretty dull, and become more a case of trial and error. Plus the race events can lead to repeated curse words as you are pipped at the post once again. True, you can cherry pick the events that suit you but it feels like some stages have been given a bit more care and attention than others.
The boss battles follow a similar pattern to the rival fights as well, often involving you going through several stages of repeating the same action until they are defeated. It’s a shame that the areas that should be highlights turn out to be one of the weakest moments, but thankfully they aren’t a large portion of the whole package. Challenges also reward you with new unlockables, and you can replay them or any of the levels to improve your ranking and earn points to buy a few handy skills to make your quest a little easier. You can also tackle beaten stages online to set leaderboard times, or go for a 30-second trail that gives you that amount of time to get as far through a level as you can. Though if you don’t have the patience to tackle each stage over and over again in a bid to blitz your best times, then Sonic probably won't hold your attention for much longer than it takes to complete the main game.
Along the way you will pick up plenty of points for beating levels, drubbing bosses and rescuing all of your friends. Your long term goals will have to be a bit loftier though, especially if you want to snag all of the hidden Red stars, unlock all of the rewards, S-rank every level and basically be the baddest speedster around. While points will come thick and fast at the start, the time and effort required to max this game out may prove to be beyond most non-Sonic fans who aren’t prepared to perfect a single run through for just one perfect ranking. For people who enjoy the thrill of high scores and leaderboard domination though, Sonic offers the chance to do just that on a regular basis.
On the whole, Sonic Generations is game that brings back that feeling of speed and adrenaline that made the original games such a hit, but it also brings with it all of the issues that Sonic has always had too, so your enjoyment will depend on how much of a fan you really are. The game itself is fairly short too, with some annoying challenge and boss stages, and you will only truly get your moneys worth if you're prepared to tinker with each and every level until you’ve mastered it. If you are looking for a solid platformer. then this hits all of the right notes and is a massive step in the right direction for Sonic. It’s not quite there yet though with the 3D sections still trailing behind and the reliance on lightning fast timing being a frustration at times. Strap yourself in, but don’t expect Sonic Generations to dash off with your affections for too long.
A mixture of classic Sonic tunes and some new jingles, though we still cannot get over the fact that Sonic himself has the most annoying voice on planet Earth.
Pretty lush to be honest, with superb environments and characters bursting with life. The game handles flat out speed with nary a hiccup and this is the best Sonic has looked in, well, ever.
A nice chance to play Sonic old-skool, which is both a blessing and a curse, as the high octane speed can be superb when you get it right and downright frustrating when you don’t.
The best Sonic game in years, but still lacking that certain something that could make it a true great. Drab boss battles and a few infuriating moments can potentially drag down your enjoyment, plus unless you have a real interest in setting new times, then it will be over all too soon.
Decent enough, if rather uninspired, but the fact you will have to grind out S ranks on every stage is a major drag as it can require nothing less than perfection.
While Sonic Generations is far and away the best Sonic game in a long time, there are still enough niggles to put off new players who will not have the same love for the hedgehog and his blend of twitch reflexes and level memorisation. As a standalone title Sonic Generations is a fun, if short-lived, platformer that is great while it lasts, but will probably not captivate you in the same way its forebears did.