It’s been years since I could honestly say that I’ve felt a Sonic game has nailed everything it’s set out to do – even last year’s Sonic Colors, while brilliant in its own way, felt like it was missing a small something. This something comes in the form of a pudgy, short hedgehog we all fell in love with 20 years ago – Classic Sonic. Generation’s inclusion of the classic Hedgehog gameplay is a masterstroke and is a perfect compliment for Modern Sonic’s almost-racing game style.
The game’s plot, while not deep by any means, is passable and puts the focus where it needs to be – on our two favorite hedgehogs. A mysterious force captures Sonic’s friends and dumps Sonic off in limbo, so it’s up to the Blue Blur (and his past self) to figure out what happened and save his friends. There's no soppy hedgehog/human love stories, no talking swords, and no ridiculous premise. It's just Sonic saving the universe by doing what he does best – running really, really fast. It helps that the only other speaking roles in the game are (as they were in last year’s Colors) Tails and Dr. Robotnik/Eggman. Not to spoil anything, but the game’s ending reveals an interesting paradox concerning Sonic 4. See if you can spot it!
The game’s environments look smooth and make the transition to HD rather well – in fact, that was the major draw to me as I continued through the game: how levels that existed in the Genesis era would play as Modern Sonic, and more importantly, how Modern levels would’ve played back in the day –if back in the day had 1080P graphics. That being said, most of the textures in the Modern Sonic levels are designed to be raced by, and you can notice the occasional lazy texture work if you are forced to slow down for platforming, or slip up and lose momentum.
Sonic Generations’ difficulty is about on par for the series – not overly difficult, but there can be some cheap deaths if you aren’t paying close attention while zipping through stages. Many of the obstacles require precise timing to overcome, and as such, achieving Perfect finishes to get code S status on all missions will take a few playthroughs. This is fine, because the levels are a treat to play. Control is tight and responsive, and the physics feel perfect for both forms of Sonic – though, the drift mechanic takes a moment to start up (unlike the instantaneous version in Sonic Unleashed), so that was a little jarring at first.
The game is loaded with extra features including concept art from the series’ past, music from stages not used in the game that can be used in any level that you wish, character bios, and way too much more to list. Even the game’s overworld is a tribute to earlier compilation games (such as Sonic Jam), playing as a virtual playground for Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic to zip through while hunting for extra challenges. Furthermore, the game is filled with nods at fans, such as using old menu music for the game’s shop, or even in Sonic’s interaction with his other friends (minus Tails). Sonic and I shared a facepalm over a few lines by some of his more recent friends.
The game’s main campaign can be played through in just over five hours, but the extra challenge missions, ranging from racing a doppelganger to surviving a level with only one ring to your name, more than make up for it. The only challenge levels that aren’t fun are, unsurprisingly, those that star Sonic’s friends to accomplish a goal. That being said, only one challenge level per zone is required for advancement of the game’s plot, so these are entirely optional. Annoying for completionists, but an acceptable nod at gameplay from the Dreamcast era, specifically Sonic Adventure.
That’s not to say the game is without flaws. For a tribute game to Sonic’s earlier years, I expected some form of Chaos Emerald bonus stage to appear, rather than just being granted them through the plot. In addition, some of the level choices that the developers made seemed a little off. (Seaside Hill, the first level of Sonic Heroes? Really Sega? You could’ve done so much with a Casino level…no, the pinball DLC doesn't count)
Generations also has a surprising lack of boss battles – there are seven in total, though three of them are just forms of races against rivals Shadow, Metal Sonic, and Silver. These are honestly the worst of the problems in the game, and the inclusion of a toggable Hard Mode for repeat attempts on these bosses makes up for it – mostly just the nitpicking of a diehard hedgehog fan.
So in summary, Sonic Generations feels like a love / apology letter from Sega to the fans, and a gigantic thank you for sticking with Sonic all these years. The game’s attention to detail in bringing back nostalgic levels and moments from the series show that Sega is listening to fans after all. Maybe I’ll be able to forgive them for all those terrible Werehog levels now… maybe. To quote Modern Sonic: "Enjoy your future Sonic! It's going to be great!" Especially if Sega can keep up the trend of quality Sonic games!
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]