SONIC GENERATIONS (2011) – SONIC TEAM
The Sonic series has always struck me as a curious oddity – I started playing games a bit too late to experience of the glory days of Sega’s famous mascot in the early 90s on the Mega Drive/Genesis, and growing up with a PlayStation meant that I had a litany of other characters to worship instead. Then as time has progressed, Sonic has always been in the background more as a running joke (no pun intended) than a character to take seriously – the likes of Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 and the most recent games, Sonic Boom: Rise Of Lyric & Shattered Crystal, while extreme are also prime examples of a once proud franchise falling on particularly hard times. However, even my unfamiliarity and large indifference with the series didn’t stop me snapping up a bunch of Sonic titles on the cheap during a Humble Bundle sale last year, one of which was Sonic Generations.
The 2011 entry, which combines the gameplay styles of both ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ Sonic into one package, proved to be a handy entry point into everything I’ve missed over the years – both for better and for worse. The scenario for bringing the two hedgehogs together is tenuous at best – modern Sonic finds his friends are sucked away by a mysterious time monster during a birthday celebration (the game was released in the year of the 20th anniversary of the series), causing a rift in time that lets him team up with his plumper older self. It’s a bit silly and serves for nothing apart from to set up this one individual game, by there are some nice comic moments provided by the interactions between the mute older Sonic and Tails and their modern forms. By progressing through areas lifted straight out of Sonic’s history as both classic and modern versions of the blue critter, you can save Sonic’s friends, collect keys to unlock the next set of levels and boss fights and find red rings to unlock various gallery items such as artwork.
There are only nine main levels in Generations; but there is more content than that simple statement may suggest. For each of the nine areas (handpicked to be the best and most nostalgic zones and levels from Sonic’s history from Green Hill Zone through to Planet Wisp) there is both a classic and modern take on the action which plays from a 2D and 3D perspective respectively, as well as 10 challenges per level (requiring you to do several tasks including time trials, getting to the end of a stage with one ring etc.) and a couple of mid-bosses to tackle as well. All the levels are connected through a initially blank hub world with it’s own well implemented platforming sections to get around, which gradually fills up with color and some fabulous lounge music as you save each world.
The ‘classic’ stages in particular are a joy to zip through, capturing a feeling for the old games that Sonic 4 failed to recreate – not only are the controls blissfully simple, but it feels fast and the retention of classic noises for jumping, spin-dashing and collecting rings keeps the charm levels high. In fairness some of the ‘modern’ stages are a blast to play through as well (Chemical Plant Zone and Rooftop Run being highlights) but they are betrayed at times by a lack of control that will have you missing a basic jump or flying off the stage. It’s not too surprising that the overall best experiences are the remade versions of levels from Sonic 1, 2 & 3 as the later stages tend to be drawn out affairs – the boss levels (especially the anticlimatic final boss) are a bit of a letdown as well, but I suspect anyone with fond memories of Sonic CD or Sonic Adventure will enjoy the encounters with Metal Sonic and Perfect Chaos. As for the challenges, they can prove to be a welcome distraction to the main quest by giving you more of a opportunity to utilize Sonic’s expanded skill-set and specialized items from the history of the franchise including elemental shields, but it does mean dragging his ‘friends’ into the action which often proves more of a annoyance then a benefit – there is a specific challenge involving Vector and bouncing back musical notes that will have you ripping your hair out.
Performance wise, Generations is one of the smoother recent efforts from Sonic Team. It’s certainly a very colorful game with the re-imagined versions of the very earliest stages standing out in particular, but even on a high end PC I was noticing signs of lag during particularly intensive sections, as well as glitches on some of the modern levels where Sonic would clip through pieces of scenery or just randomly die during camera transitions. Fortunately these problems were few and far between over 30 hours of gameplay time, but it is indicative of why Sonic has always trailed behind long time rival Mario; a lack of polish on the final product. There are also options to play Generations in 3D, but I never got round to trying this out.
As a celebration of the series, Generations also has one hell of a soundtrack to boast about. In addition to being able to collect over 100 original tracks as rewards for completing challenges (which can be played in a Gallery on the hub screen along with extensive artwork, character profiles and movies – songs representing spin off titles including Sonic The Fighters & Shadow The Hedgehog are also present which is a nice touch) each level has the original theme remixed to be appropriate for both the classic and modern stages, often with superb results. A strong soundtrack has usually been the one consistent element moving from one Sonic game to the next, and it is at its best here.
Considering as previously mentioned that I wasn’t especially taken with Sonic either way before playing Generations, the game did a solid job of winning me over. As a celebration of the franchise, it’s a great revival of all the best elements of the past and an enjoyable history lesson of one of gaming’s elder statesmen. As a platformer, it fails to deceive as a Mario beater, but its easily one of the best big production platformers I’ve played in recent years as the genre becomes almost exclusively the preserve of the indie crowd. Although it appears the success of the game hasn’t been built upon in the short term, it’s a beacon of hope for future Sonic games to aspire to.