Sonic Generations Review
Sonic the Hedgehog holds a special place in my heart as my very first video game memory. My cousins Jason and Scott graciously let five year old me play the 1991 classic on their new Genesis, and then promptly took the controller away when they saw I couldn’t grasp the concept of jumping over the first enemy. Nevertheless, they showed me the stage select cheat and the Final Zone and set me on a decade-long path of being a video game playing shut in. So thanks for that, guys.
Here we are 20 years later and Sonic Generations seeks to celebrate every aspect of the hedgehog’s history, as tumultuous as that history is. So since this is supposed to be a party, is it the kind of party where you show up fashionably late and end up staying out way later than you planned or is it the kind of party where you throw your drink at the TV and take the party back for a full refund at
Gamestop Best Buy?
How Does It Play?
Sonic Generations’ zones are plucked from games spanning the Genesis, Dreamcast, and (ugh) Modern eras, and each zone features a classic 2D side scrolling act and a modern 3D platforming act. Depending on which era the zone is originally from, either the 2D or the 3D version is a re-imagining of what that zone would be like had it been created at a different time. Naturally, zones become more difficult as you progress through the game.
2D Sonic handles pretty much like you would expect him too. His movements are limited to left and right. Sometimes the camera will shift to give a more dramatic shot of the action and the appearance of 3D space, but you can still only move in two directions. You’ve got the classic jumping attack to deal with badniks (enemy robots), and you’ve got the Spin Dash for when you really need that extra burst of speed. And that’s it. It’s beautifully simple. Sure the jumping doesn’t feel exactly the same as it did back in the Genesis days, but it doesn’t need to. The momentum based gameplay is still there (run faster to jump further). If anything, this 2D Sonic runs faster than any 2D Sonic before him. It will definitely take your eyes a little while to get used to keeping up.
3D Sonic is a beast. He can still jump like his 2D self, but he’s also got a homing attack (which is useful in 3D environments where depth is an issue) and a speed boost that lets him tear through zones even faster while also making him a somewhat invincible ring magnet. The boost is tied to a meter that depletes when you use it and is refilled by rings and killing badniks. Blasting through zones with this boost gives a tremendous adrenaline rush. SEGA also seems to have fixed the long-standing problem where if Sonic grazed a wall or even looked at a wall while running at full speed he’d come to a dead stop, meaning that levels with twisting paths (ie: ALL of the levels) have a flow to them that previous 3D Sonic games have lacked.
Both 2D and 3D zones are incredibly well designed for the most part (more on that later). There are multiple branching paths in every act, giving you incentive to explore later on and see what happens when you go a different way. Sometimes 3D Sonic’s stages will shift to 2D and back again, allowing you to use all of his crazy moves in areas that Classic Sonic calls home. Overall the game controls have a level of polish that all other modern Sonic games wish they had.
How Does It Look?
SEGA really hit the nail on the head with this game. Sonic Generations looks amazing. First of all, there are two distinct Sonic character models to go with the two types of game play; the Classic Sonic model (shorter, lighter blue, chubbier) and the Modern Sonic model (taller, sleeker, green eyes, kind of looks like he’s on crack).
Then there are the zones. Most of the zones from every era look spectacular in their HD revisions, but it was especially awesome to see the Genesis levels fully realized on a powerful modern console. The foreground (where you’ll be doing your platforming) is incredibly detailed, but if you decide to let your eyes wander you’ll get to see some impressive vistas that look like they go on forever. Everything is so tastefully done too. There are little graphical embellishments everywhere that just pull you in and surprise you. I think Louis Santiago and I agree that Sky Sanctuary Zone is the most beautiful of the bunch. Seaside Hill and Crisis City are close seconds.
Does It Have Hooks?
If you love Sonic, you will love all of the extras scattered throughout the game. First of all, Sonic Generations has what may be my favorite overworld in any video game. It starts off as a white void with only the vaguest outline of Green Hill Zone in the background. As you beat zones and progress through the game, color gets added to the world and platforms and springs come to life, transforming the overworld into its own stage that you can bounce around in between zones.
Beating zones also unlocks Challenges for each zone—five for Classic Sonic and five completely different ones for Modern Sonic. While they all can be boiled down to “do something before the timer runs out,” what you’re asked to do is varied and (mostly) fun. Sometimes it’s just a simple race against one of Sonic’s friends. Sometimes you need to utilize a specific item to reach the goal. Sometimes you’ll be juggling a Goal Post (a-la the end of any Act 1 in Sonic 3) from one end of the stage to the other. It’s hit or miss, but mostly hit.
You only need to beat a handful of Challenges to advance through the game, but then you’ll be missing out on a large chunk of the hidden bonus content. Clearing Challenges gives you access to concept art from Sonic Generations and earlier Sonic games as well, but most importantly you get access to Sonic music. This includes original and remixed versions of songs spanning literally every console and handheld (except maybe Game Gear) Sonic game, and once a song is unlocked you can play it in ANY stage instead of the default track. You can also find more artwork and music by tracking down special Red Rings in each zone. The replay value of this game is through the roof.
If you know your Sonic history then the cutscenes will give you some genuine laughs. It’s also worth pointing out that all of the regular songs in the game have three different versions (one for Classic Sonic, one for Modern Sonic, and one for the overworld). It’s doubly worth pointing out that there are remixes of even more Sonic songs on various menu screens throughout the game. Your mind will be blown.
Does It Have Issues?
You bet it does. It feels like SEGA dropped the ball later on in the game. The final two boss fights stand out as areas where there was not as much care given compared with the rest of the game. If I was the controller-throwing type of gamer, controllers would have been thrown. Repeatedly. This is especially true for the very final boss, which took me about an hour to finally defeat. The graphics during this fight don’t help matters much. They crossed the line from stunning to visual overkill. It’s hard to figure out attack patterns when you’re busy having a seizure.
The final zone, Planet Wisp, also feels like it was not tested as thoroughly as the rest of the zones were. Both acts of Planet Wisp feel like they go on forever, which is sad because it was one of my favorite zones from Sonic Colors. The color palette of the stage actually bothered my eyes. It just felt too bright to actually focus on the stage. Then again, the design of Planet Wisp’s acts lacked the finesse of the rest of the game and it was so loaded with spikes, obstacles, and badniks that you could barely take a step without taking damage. The music for the 2D version of the stage is also atrocious.
Modern Sonic still isn’t perfect. When you’re zipping along at high speeds and moving in the direction the game wants you to, which is most of the time, then everything about the controls feels fine and dandy. However, try to slow down and do some exploring and the camera will fight you every step of the way. You have absolutely no control over it, so if you’re trying to backtrack and grab that red ring you just passed and you need a better view, well, tough luck. Occasionally you’ll also get stuck in a corner between a rock and a wall while you’re exploring but this is pretty rare.
The Challenges from the later stages are also ridiculous. About those, here’s Louis Santiago to fill you in:
Louis Santiago: I have this crazy condition where I break night to finish all of the challenges/achievements for a game I really love (as per its origins, we call it “coming down with a case of Bioshock”). As a result, I spent the last few days completing all of Generations’ Challenges with S ranks and, oh man, all I can say is, get ready to experience the purest rage if you’re out for 100% completion.
To specify, the game doesn’t ask you to get S on all of the Challenges (and neither does the achievement list). Actually, it doesn’t even ask you to get S rank on any of its challenges. However, the last challenges on Planet Wisp and a few other stages will be more annoying than fun, most often because of small control issues (like Modern Sonic doing his Homing Attack in the wrong direction [after the game auto targets something for you], Modern Sonic suddenly slipping right off of a slanted platform you’re running on when you try to boost the rest of the way over it, Classic Sonic not turning around quickly enough, resulting in you Spin Dashing backwards, etc.). My point here is, you’ll find all of the nasty control SNAFU’s from recent Sonic games if you look under the rug. My suggestion? Don’t.
Although you may have to experience pure frustration once or twice for achievements (particularly those related to bosses [the last boss, as Darth Healthcare already specified, is incredibly annoying, but I feel like the second to the last one is a grand example of the poorly programmed, incredibly confusing and defeating Modern Sonic mess]).
If you don’t care about 100% completion or achievements though, you can still expect to have a really awesome, 95% frustration free experience with Sonic Generations. And now back to Darth Healthcare!
If I had to nitpick two more tiny things it would be that there are no bonus stages for the Chaos Emeralds and that there’s no music for Super Sonic. (Louis Santiago butts in [again]: I just have to add my bit of nit picking: I love that you can choose the music for all acts [and challenges], but there’s not enough music to unlock and a quarter of what you do unlock is chosen not for quality, but nostalgia [nostalgia that ultimately doesn't translate well to an audience who either hasn't played the most recent Sonic games or enjoyed the ones they have]).
Sonic Generations has me wondering if SEGA will continue with this level of quality or if Sonic will once again falter and drop back into obscurity. There are some obvious flaws in the game, but at the same time there’s so much it does right and so many previous flaws that were (mostly) fixed that I have a hard time believing this isn’t the start of a trend of awesome Sonic games. It’s been a long time since I could say there are more things I enjoy in a Sonic game than things I hate, and it’s been an especially long time since the good outnumbered the bad by so wide a margin. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that SEGA continues to build on the amazing foundation they’ve established with this game, and hopefully the next 20 years of Sonic will be delightfully free of Werehogs and other such nonsense. In the meantime, I’m not going to worry about the future so much and just enjoy this fun celebration of all things Sonic.