Sonic has had a rough couple of years. Since the original legendary games on the Genesis back in the early 90s, fans of all ages have been begging for a Sonic the Hedgehog game that wasn’t a complete waste of disc space. Since the death of SEGA as a hardware maker with the demise of the Dreamcast, Sonic has never been the same. Several attempts by Sonic Team to rekindle that magic have always fallen just short of the mark, with the lowest point arguably being Sonic 2006, and slowly but surely clawing its way up to the top ranks of video game royalty once more.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Our regular readers and those who know me well enough know that I am absolutely obsessed with all things Sonic. I’ve covered Generations here as long as I’ve been here, owned every Sonic game at some point, and even committed Sonic fan blasphemy by deciding that Sonic Adventure 2 was my favorite Sonic game of all time.
I mention this for two reasons. The first, to make sure everyone knows where my opinion of the series lies, so that any bias or perception may be easier seen. The second is to show that I have incredibly high standards when it comes to my beloved Sonic. I, like many longtime fans, refused to acknowledge many of the Sonic games from the past several years.
With that in mind, Sonic Generations has lived up completely to my expectations.
Sonic Generations is the celebration of 20 years of Sonic. Everyone’s favorite (or perhaps most hated?) hedgehog is celebrating his birthday with all the friends he’s made over the years, annoying and otherwise. During the festivities, a portal opens up and sucks up all of the pastel-colored critters into an unknown dimension between time periods. Sonic is, of course, fine, but must rescue all of his friends and stop whatever evil power is behind this latest adventure.
Now if you had as hard a time taking that seriously while reading it as I had while writing it, that’s exactly what I expect. But look, no one ever played a Sonic game for the story, so we’ll give it a pass here. That’s not what the game is all about anyway.
The big draw to Sonic Generations is the game being split in two. Because of the rift in time, the levels in the game are split into a Genesis-esque side-scrolling level with no real complexity or gimmicks, or a perspective-shifting action-based level centered around speed, not unlike that of Sonic Unleashed or last year’s Wii-exclusive Sonic Colors.
It’s a move that was clearly done to appeal to as many Sonic fans as possible. New and old, 2D or 3D, Genesis or Dreamcast. Both styles have their own fans, and all of them should be pleased with their favorite gameplay style working without so much as a hiccup.
An initial concern before the game was released was length. While playing just enough to finish the story will take only about 3-5 hours, the way the game is structured allows for tons of replay value.
There are nine levels for the game representing each of Sonic’s main releases over the past 20 years. Each level is split into Act 1, which is played with Classic Sonic, and Act 2, which is played with Modern Sonic. That makes for a total of 18 levels, not including the six mandatory boss fights mid-game, and the final boss. Each level can be finished between 30 seconds and 10 minutes depending on the player’s skill level.
In order to unlock the boss for a section (each section is broken up into three levels,) the player must also complete at least one challenge per level, of a possible 10. These might be something like making it through a level with only one ring, trying to beat a certain time, racking up a big score before finishing the level, or using Sonic’s friend’s abilities in order to get past newly implemented obstacles like fire or missing platforms.
This means that players only have to complete nine of these challenges in order to complete the game, but there are a possible 90 challenges. Add that in with the unlockables like classic concept art, soundtrack portions or even the original Sonic the Hedgehog, especially with the always-present drive to get a high-score to put on the online leaderboards, and a determined player could be playing Generations for weeks.
Although, if you’re listening, SEGA, I wouldn’t mind some new levels as DLC.
At the end of each level the player will earn points based on their overall performance which can be spent on bonuses and skills. These skills can come in handy, especially when they do things like give you 10 rings automatically if you fail and start from a checkpoint, or the ability to stop on a dime without worrying about skidding off a cliff.
I know some people will be angry they can’t play as only one form of Sonic throughout the entire game, as finishing Act 1 and 2 of each level is crucial to unlocking more levels. I personally don’t mind this since I love both play styles, but I know some people will hate this. If it’s any consolation, the challenges can be finished entirely in one play style or the other. You aren’t forced to play as both for these.
What’s really cool for a veteran Sonic fan like myself is to see how older levels are made modern, and newer levels are made more retro. While I’ve heard the music for Green Hill Zone done by an entire orchestra before, it’s really cool to be playing through a newly reimagined level from a 20 year old game brought to new life and hear that same song remastered in its own right. Likewise, the retro remix of the music from City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2 might be one of my new favorite songs in the series. This adds of course to all the old greats, like my personal favorite “Open Your Heart” from Sonic Adventure, which plays during the boss fight against Perfect Chaos.
But no matter which play-style you prefer, the levels look universally phenomenal. It’s clear to see why Generations didn’t make it to a non-HD console like the Wii. Colors are vibrant, the backdrops are so stunning it’s almost distracting and all other effects only add to the amount of eye-candy for the game.
Any other problems that brought down previous entries have also been ironed out to near perfection. The camera issues of the Dreamcast games are no where to be found. The momentum glitches of the Genesis games. The overall horribleness of Sonic 2006 has completely vanished.
But while much of the game is very pleasing and has a habit of being awesome, there are some parts that are significantly less awesome. I’ve already mentioned the possible short length, but the final boss is one of the most frustrating bosses I’ve ever dealt with in the series. Although anyone who’s ever played a Sonic game should know the circumstances of the final boss fight, I won’t ruin it. I will only say that the controls are absolutely unbearable. Sonic should probably stick to the ground.
Other than that, Sonic Generations is an extremely enjoyable and competent addition to the Sonic franchise. It’s very clear the game was made to appeal to long time Sonic fans for nostalgia purposes, in addition to finally getting an undeniably good game for once. The game is also perfect for those who have never played a Sonic game before and would love to know what all the fuss is about. Similar to how games like Super Smash Bros. is a celebration of all things Nintendo, Sonic Generations is very much a celebration of everything Sonic the Hedgehog has brought us over the years. Generations is a virtual museum of one of gaming’s most iconic mascots, a museum that should not be missed by anyone.
Sonic Generations has engaging, fun and over-the-top gameplay that pleases Sonic fans both new and old, while doing enough to make veterans forget the mistakes of Hedgehog's past.