Every Sonic fan, whether 10 or 30, has come to know the Sonic Cycle of optimism, wariness, and disappointment. While a few games, such as Sonic Colors, have come to market relatively unscathed, that can’t be said for the majority, and the blue blur is pretty much the laughing stock of the gaming mascot world because of it.
Suddenly, Sonic Generations is announced and the cycle begins a new. There seems to be an acknowledgement from SEGA of their fractured userbase and the world’s anxieties over their hedgehog’s adventures. But when it comes to raping a childhood legend, anyone with half a brain should, by now, consider SEGA guilty until proven innocent.
And not just a little guilty. Super guilty. Like… in the bathroom with the candlestick guilty. As I sat down to play Sonic Generations on Xbox 360, the SEGA rep asked me if I had any questions. That was his first mistake.
“Sure,” I said with a pleasant smile. “Could you give me an official statement on the future plans for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episodes?”
His face went aghast. This question didn’t have anything to do with rainbows and happiness, after all.
“Well, uh…” he stumbled verbally, “I don’t, I mean, I don’t know if I can… if there’s anything we can say.”
“Was the series discontinued due to poor sales or mediocre critical and fan reception?”
“I mean, I’m not really the person to… who you should…. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone here will. Would you like to try Sonic Generations in 3D?”
Sure, let’s skip the foreplay, darling. He loaded up the system, handed me some 3D glasses and a 360 c0ntroller, and I took a seat. He quickly scuttled away.
Sonic Generations booted up with several nostalgic nods: a familiar logo, the ring of 90s era music, the whole shebang. Immediately I had the option between playing the Green Hill zone either as classic Sonic or modern Sonic. The demo was clearly limited, so it’s not obvious if such decisions will be stage-by-stage or if players will have to play through the entire game as one version at a time. Or, perhaps, there will be a strict narrative that forces the player to switch depending on the events in the story.
Regardless, I had the time to play both Sonic incarnations, so I took the opportunity and jumped into Classic mode first.
Classic Sonic immediately felt familiar, and will likely resonate with devotees of the old franchise. The mechanics, sound effects, and sense of momentum were all good and largely reminiscent of the first four Sonic the Hedgehog games of yore.
Of course, there were changes. Loops and jumps shifted the camera for a more cinematic (but less predictable for timing purposes) effect. Springs activated more easily, and spin dashes were started with a single press of the X button, instead of the ore old school button-spamming.
Overall, the experience was good. I blazed through the level as years of dormant grade school experience relit my muscle memory, finishing the stage with a Grade S ranking. This clearly meant the game was a masterpiece, and is neither indicative of a low skill floor or decades of SEGA-based skill on my behalf. Clearly.
The modern Sonic didn’t fare as well, though that’s not to say it’s bad. Sonic still ran fast, there were still interesting set pieces, and the graphics kept up, but I just don’t like the gameplay. Enemies don’t feel cleverly placed as much as they feel like bowling pins to be knocked over. Sonic moves at a blazing pace most of the time, but when anything is done to rob him of acceleration his feet feel glued to the ground. And while I appreciate the tiered structure of the stage, I didn’t appreciate falling through the ground on two occasions.
All in all, Sonic Generations is easily the best Sonic game I’ve played in years, but that isn’t necessarily a glowing appraisal. The game still has some polish necessary before I can call it a finished product, and I personally believe the entire engine that the last few Sonic games have implemented needs to be rethought a bit.
The retro Sonic sections were strong, but as we know from Sonic Unleashed, half a good game does not a good game make.* As far as I’m concerned, it’s up to SEGA to prove that Generations shouldn’t share the same fate as Sonic 4.
*I’d contend however that Sonic Unleashed contained exactly zero halves of a good game.