Past and present collide this season as Sonic comes face to face with the very past that rightfully earned him a place in gaming history. Whatever you might think of his recent outings, there’s no denying that the hedgehog has had something of a rough time in the transition to the third dimension, though only very rarely have the high-speed hijinks been of poor quality, generally being let down by needless padding and unwanted gameplay mechanics. There are no Werehogs to be seen in Generations, but is this more of a Sonic bust than a Sonic boom?
The irritating friends that we’ve all become so accustomed to take a welcome back seat this time, having been sucked into various time zones courtesy of an inter-dimensional beast known as the Time Eater. It’s up to Sonic to navigate remixes of zones throughout his history in order to rescue them each individually, though he (technically) won’t be doing it alone, thanks to the aid of his earlier self. The story doesn’t necessarily make much sense, but that’s not what this game is about – this is clearly meant as a celebration of what the hedgehog has meant to gamers throughout the years, having been timed to coincide with his twentieth anniversary. Classic Sonic is surprisingly mute, leaving his modern self and both renditions of Tails to carry the dialogue, though cutscenes are thankfully brief and serve only to bookend the sections with minor exposition.
Each zone is made up of two acts; one featuring the side scrolling thrills of Classic Sonic and the other providing the faster antics of Modern Sonic. You’ll likely have your favourite stages as well as a preferred style of play, but if you ever found something to love in the Sonic franchise then it’s more likely than ever that Sega has you covered here. Sonic Generations really does bring back the best aspects of the character and trim off the fat that weighed down past iterations. Classic Sonic favours a more methodical approach, with all the hopping and bouncing complete with Mega Drive/Genesis sound effects. Modern Sonic acts see the hero rail-grinding and boosting with a clear emphasis on high speed, though the pure rush of adrenaline might not quite be up to par with the day levels from Sonic Unleashed, particularly later on as the game alters the pace in its endeavour to ramp up the difficulty with some wicked enemy placements.
Such things do tend to be synonymous with the Sonic name of course, with a certain amount of trial and error to be expected as you attempt to memorise the course and learn from each mistake. The variety of stages is solid, ranging from a recreation of the very first Green Hill right through to a stage from Sonic Colours (though the latter does become bogged down with the overuse of wisp powers). Despite this, there have been a few disappointing omissions and you might find yourself questioning some of the stage choices, even though a couple are sure to send your fanboy senses aflutter with the remixed tunes. You’re awarded a score at the end of each run and given points to spend on customising the hedgehog’s skill set; replay value via grading may be nothing new, but you’ll still want to shoot for that coveted ‘S’ rank, while the skills available in the shop are a nice touch that can offer an edge such as an increase in speed or boost gauge.
Where replayability is concerned, Generations isn’t particularly strong as the main story can be completed in just a few days of casual gaming. If you’re after a title that will last you for months then you’re definitely in the wrong place – this is a popcorn game meant to give you a fantastic thrill ride with a healthy dose of nostalgia to boot. What should extend the play time is the large number of mini-missions placed above each world; there are special types for both modern and classic iterations and these do a solid (if sometimes frustrating) job of keeping you on your toes given their diverse criteria. Some will have Sonic tearing through a stage against a ghostly version of himself in a nail-biting race to the finish, whilst others will see him teaming up with a fellow cast member, completing an act with only a single ring or taking on smashing enemies who can fire at double speed.
It’s unfortunate that the bosses aren’t especially strong, despite being recreations of those seen in previous instalments. One later boss in particular goes on for far longer than necessary, though the final battle isn’t nearly as painful as the travesty found in Sonic Unleashed. Combat has never been a strong point for the series, which has always been about zooming around at truly breakneck speeds, in which case we doubt anyone will be surprised at how forgettable these confrontations really are. To retrieve all the chaos emeralds you’ll have to take part in a few rival fights too, and these do serve as decent (if rather brief) distractions.
Even with a few truly awful missteps, Sonic has been reclaiming his glory one ring at a time and he’s taken yet one more red-booted step in the right direction with Generations. Camera issues and the trial-and-error nature of the gameplay won’t appeal to everyone, plus the release price doesn’t quite fit with the length of the game, but fans will be more than pleased with what’s been accomplished here as it’s almost entirely for the good of the franchise. Sega is celebrating Sonic the Hedgehog’s twentieth birthday and have produced a fitting experience that everyone can be proud of… yet given such stiff competition this holiday season, it may well be worth holding out for that inevitable price reduction.
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