Sonic’s trip down memory lane is a bumpy ride.
It’s no secret that Sonic’s best days are behind him. The general consensus among fans and critics is that Sonic, like Sega’s popularity, peaked during the Genesis/Mega Drive and the blue hedgehog and his parent company have never managed to recapture that magic. I don’t entirely agree with that assessment, as I enjoyed Sonic’s Dreamcast adventures as well as 2009’s Sonic Colors, the latter of which was actually one of the better 3D platformers to come out this generation. Sonic’s handheld outings on the DS have all been pretty great too.
Still, despite having enjoyed a handful of Sonic’s more contemporary releases, there’s no denying he’s starred in his fair share of crap — spin-off Shadow the Hedgehog is both laughable in concept and in execution, ditto Sonic Unleashed, Sonic 4 was uninspired and sloppily executed, and… well, the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog reboot for Xbox 360 and PS3 might just very well be the worst game ever made. While I feel that Sonic’s reputation for being a shovelware star is a little bit unfair, the stereotype is not entirely unwarranted.
Sega knows you think Sonic isn’t as good as he used to be, and with that in mind, they’ve created Sonic Generations, a time-travelling adventure designed to show-off some of modern Sonic’s better traits while also appealing to the nostalgia-tinted love gamers have for Sonic’s Genesis-based glory days. On paper, it sounds like the ideal Sonic game; blend the new elements with the classic, tried-and-true gameplay that everybody loves, and show modern cynics that Sonic still has something to offer. Generations generally succeeds at this, but this trip through Sonic’s past not only manages to recall his greatest moments, but it also serves as an unfortunate reminder about some of his worst (and most persistent) shortcomings.
Generations’ main stages are divided into two acts. The first act of every stage is done in the style of the old Genesis games: you play as the original, stumpier “classic” Sonic, complete with his iconic spin dash, and movement is restricted to a strict 2D plane. The second half of each stage is done in “Modern Sonic” style: the game seamlessly switches from behind the back 3D running segments and 2D, side view platforming, similar to the daytime stages in Sonic Unleashed (a.k.a. the short, fleeting enjoyable moments of that trainwreck of a game,) and Sonic Colors. Like in those games, collecting rings, performing tricks, or defeating enemies allows Sonic to perform a turbo-powered boost that allows him to move even faster than usual.
As I stated earlier, I’ve enjoyed both 2D and 3D Sonic games in the past, so I actually found myself enjoying both halves to the game pretty equally. Old school purists will obviously prefer the “Classic” Sonic style, but some of the modern stages do a good job of managing to recapture the best moments of some of Sonic’s more recent adventures. I suspect a lot of you will only play Generations for the classic style levels, but trust me: if you approach the modern style stages with an open mind, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fun they can be.
There are times when Sonic Generations feels as great as the games it’s paying homage to: there’s a fair amount of 2D platforming sections in the classic Sonic stages that are on par with some of the levels from the peerless Sonic CD, while some of the modern Sonic stages manage to recapture that same sense of awe and excitement that I felt when I first tried out Sonic Adventure on a demo kiosk before the release of the Dreamcast. Both gameplay styles have moments where everything just clicks: you get into the flow of things, and a perfect run through each stage becomes an almost balletic flow of chained homing attacks and perfectly timed boosts or spin-dashes.
Unfortunately, while Generations can be fun, it can also be pretty frustrating at times. Classic Sonic annoyances, like being sent full-speed into a wall of spikes or off into a bottomless pit, continue to pervade Sonic’s levels well into the modern age. While early stages in the game keep these mistakes to a minimum, later stages in the game are filled with cheap deaths as the game makes an inept attempt at trying to ramp up the difficulty.
In addition to the main stages, the game also offers a slew of challenge stages. Designed to both pad out the game’s length and inject it with some variety, a handful of these challenges are unlocked every time you complete one of the main levels, and you have finish at least one of them from every area in order to unlock the next boss battle. Sadly, the challenge levels are all pretty terrible: at their best, the challenges are super-easy and unoffensive (but not very entertaining either,) and at their worst, they’re tedious and often rage-inducing. Aimlessly wandering around stages looking for hidden objects with Knuckles wasn’t fun in Sonic Adventure or Sonic Adventure 2, and it certainly isn’t fun in this game, so I don’t know why they brought it back in the form of a challenge stage. While there’s a wide variety of challenges to be attempted — racing a ghost character, using Tails to fly through an obstacle course, collecting a certain amount of rings within a time limit, etc. — none of them are actually fun, which begs the question: if they’re not entertaining and don’t improve the experience in any manner, why bother putting them in the game? The only saving grace of these challenge trials is that they are (for the most part) optional, and you can (and should) ignore them.
What’s not optional are Sonic Generations’ boss fights, though you’ll wish that they were. While there’s two decent boss battles in the game (against Sonic 2’s iconic Egg Robot and Sonic Adventure’s Perfect Chaos,) the game’s boss encounters are mostly exercises in tedium and trial and error. Some fights simply involve a lot of cheap deaths, while others simply have unclear goals: I spent a good ten minutes on both the fight against Shadow (as if I need another reason to hate that d-bag,) and the last boss before I figured out what obtuse, bizarre method I was supposed to use to attack them.
Then there’s the issue of the game’s length. While Sonic games have never been known for their longevity, Generations is short even by series standards. I managed to beat the main story, S-ranked most of the levels, and completed a good chunk of the game’s optional content in one sitting. I bought this game just after I had lunch and had beaten it well before dinner time. While there’s the usual time trial modes (complete with online leaderboards) to add some replay value, don’t pick up Generations if you’re looking for a lengthy adventure.
Generations isn’t a bad game; like I stated earlier, it’s filled with great moments that will make you remember why you liked Sonic in the first place. Unfortunately, it also has its fair share of flaws, and those flaws make it hard to recommend Generations over other Sonic releases. Sonic CD recently got an HD re-release, and at only $5, it’s both a better nostalgia trip and a more consistently fun game than Generations, and if you’d prefer something a little more modern, the meatier and more polished Sonic Colors is available for Wii at a bargain price as well.
Sonic Generations is akin to looking through an old picture album: You’ll recall good times, you’ll recall bad times, and while you’ll have fun reliving your past, the nostalgia will fade and you’ll ultimately be left wanting something more tangible, with more substance. If you are or ever were a fan of Sega’s lovable hedgehog, Sonic Generations is worth playing, but it’s no substitute for some of Sonic’s original adventures.
Final Score: 7/10