Sonic Generations


Written by Chris Price
14 Monday 14th November 2011

Sonic the Hedgehog was Super Mario Brothers via the school of Futurism. It took Mario’s pinpoint control system and momentum, gave him a dash of youthful Jap-American enthusiasm and dumped him into an abstract, parallax-layered, depth-of-field world. Coins became rings, Bowser became Dr. Robotnik (or Dr. Eggman depending on your region) and Sonic became the pin-up for the persecuted of  the forest, whom he released from their shackles with his revving- or jumping-spins.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the series high, saw the introduction of Sonic’s buddy Miles ‘Tails’ Prower (the puntastic Miles ‘per hour’) which seemed to green-light an influx of Sonic’s acquaintances over the next 10 years – and in turn a shift away from Sonic's unique charm and a decision to shun depth in favour of immediacy.

While Mario flourished in 3D, Sonic floundered. Sonic’s main problem in his 3D iterations was mixing his lightning dash with the pinpoint platform negotiation. The good news is that with Sonic Generations, Sega seem to have come closer than ever before to blending the two. There’s also a sense of Sega visibly going back to their roots to re-establish their mascot.

The first level of Sonic the Hedgehog, 'Green Hill Zone,' is branded onto the eyeballs of a generation with the 8-channel soundtrack popping in their ears. It had unique charm (how much of this was SEGA vs. Nintendo fanboyism will remain unchallenged in this article) – and Sonic Generations plonks the player right into a pitch perfect HD reinterpretation of that classic level. Sonic might have a touch more dropping velocity, but it’s impressive how faithful it remains.

Fogeys placated: it’s time for a blisteringly quick playthrough of an alternate route in full 3D (3D TV compatible) with the leaner, more vocal Sonic mark ii. Where platform negotiation is swapped in favour of SSX-lite boosting, grinding and ‘big-air’ stunts; Sonic goes Shaun White if you will. Boosts and enemies are targeted and require a quick stab of the button to bounce into and off allowing traversal of gaps to bonuses and whatnot.

Once the story of timeshifting-villain-imprisoning-Sonic’s-buddies gets going, Sonic 3D/3D (it’s all very Timecop) navigates a white-washed purgatorial 2D level select, confusing from the start (on selection of a zone, you're then taken to a level select screen that allows you to pick a level). 2D fans will find smacks of lip service with each of the 9 zones requiring completion by both 2D and 3D versions (no pure 2D or 3D run-throughs).

After the likes of Sonic Adventure and Sonic 360, it’s pleasing to report that the 3D sections aren’t unforgiving battles with dodgy camera positioning, but blisteringly quick steeplechases which endeavour to ensure a snappy pace throughout , complemented by a wonderful pressurised ‘dampening’ of music as he accelerates. 3D levels have a guided feel, with spots for deviation being relegated to 2D mode with its sedate pace allowing more thorough exploration. The level design does stumble regularly in 3D mode, with Sonic often being blasted into the air with no definable landing area, or running headlong directly into a wall.

Sonic Generations veers between frustrating and over-simplified but the overwhelming experience is of fun rather than annoyance, with replay value in both a sedate and a speedy completion on learning levels and hitting those split-second jumps. There’s also a wealth of collectible goodies from artwork to statues to original versions of Sonic games, and a series of character specific tasks and challenges to add longevity to a pretty sturdy core, plus a rather lovely little nostalgic jaunt through art and design of the past two decades.  

Ultimately, there is the sense that Sonic will appeal to younger gamers who will largely be more open to his 3D doppelganger than the elder generation. But Sonic has always been a gaming icon, whether through quality or marketing. After several lacklustre performances, Sonic Generations reads predominantly as an apologetic letter to fans who’ve been hoping for a return to 2D for their spiky concubine, but also a particularly enthusiastic outing that should placate youngsters.

It has yet to hit that sweet spot of speed and platforms, but it’s the closest SEGA have come to hitting it. Sonic Generations (thankfully) makes Sonic relevant again as a the central hero, and succeeds in linking old and new in a package that lives up to its titular ambitions. Hopefully the world is now ready for a Mr. Needlemouse game.

Sonic Generations is out now on Playstation 3 (reviewed) and Xbox 360 - PC version arriving on 25 November

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