The following review had the potential to be the most pointless thing I’ve ever written. Normally, a review is to help you decide whether or not to buy the game, but let’s be real here; if you’re at The Sonic Stadium, you’ve bought the game. You more than likely love the game. That being the case, I’m going to be more thorough than your typical TSS review, like how I review on Sonic Retro.
We’ve been celebrating Sonic’s 20th anniversary all year with various online and real-life events, contests and videos. It’s only suitable that a game be a part of the festivities. Sonic Generations is an interactive tribute to the series’ longevity and is one of the most fitting anniversary titles ever to be released. Why? It’s not because classic levels are re-imagined in 3D or that Sonic’s previously portly self is present.
Sonic Generations is fitting because in eerie, yet hilariously appropriate fashion, the game starts off incredibly strong, falters hard and shows a glimmer of hope at the end. It sums up the series’ history so perfectly, allowing you to ride the highs and lows of 20 years in one convenient, 4-hour package.
I don’t need to go into detail on the story. You’re at The Sonic Stadium. You know what the story is and it simply serves as a device to get both Sonics logically in the same game. That’s all a Sonic story should be.
The writing is substantially weaker than Sonic Colors. Tails is your source for exposition, Modern Sonic supplies the most groan-inducing quips in series history and Classic Sonic is endearing as ever, saying more than anyone with simple body language. All of the other characters never say anything of worth and gang-bang you with inane “tips” when you battle Time Eater. The highlights are when the game attempts self-deprecation, riffing on bad decisions and rattling off inside jokes.
Due to the writing, Roger Craig Smith doesn’t turn in a good performance, but Kate Higgins does an admirable job doing two, motor-mouth versions of Tails. Mike Pollock… still untouchable. All of the other voices are garbage. There, I’m done talking about the story and voice acting.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Up.
FAVORITE SCENE: “That pink water makes me nervous.”
GAMEPLAY AND DESIGN
Follow me here.
The game begins and you’re thrown into a reimagining of Classic Green Hill. If you were born in the eighties, you’ll immediately feel that something is off at the first jump. Is it better than how Sonic 4 handles? Clearly, but it’s still not ideal. The amazing feeling of being in total control of a seemingly out-of-control character isn’t entirely there and it’s an expected let down at this point, yet not game-breaking. Rolling still is abysmal, a disappointing trend that would be rectified with the proper game engine. Spin-dash is back, but it’s ridiculously over-powered, allowing Sonic Team to propel you to a more-than-fast-enough roll where you don’t notice that the walls and loops are scripted and don’t function well (even when you’re near the game’s speed cap).
If you were born in the nineties, you probably won’t notice and life goes on. Everything is great. Nothing is bad.
If you think it’s super funny that the original Sonic the Hedgehog is included to showcase all of Generations’ faults, you’re not alone. It’s super funny. For all the self-deprecation the game’s cut-scenes lay down on the Sonic franchise, the choice to include Sonic 1 is the crown jewel.
It’s Modern Sonic’s turn now. This time, you’re not looking to 1991 for gameplay, you’re looking all the way back to… 2008 to Sonic Unleashed. Yeah, you thought I would say Sonic Colors, right? Well, unfortunately, Generations’ base is the Unleashed engine, as the welcome, minor improvements made to Modern Sonic in Colors are absent. Platforming at low speeds in 3D is, of course, a mess and doesn’t belong. The amount of moves Modern Sonic has to perform at such an insane speed also muddles the experience. Modern Sonic is at his strongest in 2D or when in an area that focuses on the “quick step.” Those two kinds of sequences are when Modern Sonic is at his absolute best.
Again, if you grew up with Sonic in his current incarnation, you’re none the wiser. It’s another happy day in the park for you.
Now, all of these issues are alleviated with thorough practice. Like, dude, I’m the best Sonic R player around and that game controls like a fresh turd. It’s such a bad game. Why am I so good at it then? The presentation in Sonic R has some strange charm that draws me to replay it and, unlike modern games prior to Colors, Sonic Generations has an appeal that can encourage your perfectionist desires (which I’ll elaborate on later). If you can survive all that frustration and memorization, have at it. You’re the man.
You might be asking yourself at this point why I’m focusing so much on flaws. Neither Classic nor Modern Sonic is unplayable. They’re competent, given the series’ history, but I have to highlight the flaws to make the following point: the gameplay of Sonic Generations is not the tale of two hedgehogs. It’s the tale of a developer that understands and then somehow doesn’t understand its own game.[flv]http://media.sonicstadium.org/Video/%5B2011%5D%20Sonic%20Generations/Chemical%20Plant%202.mp4[/flv]
I mentioned earlier that Sonic Generations mirrors the path of the Sonic franchise in terms of quality over time. At the game’s outset, in the Genesis Era of the game, Sonic Team designs its levels in a way that minimizes the amount of times you encounter the game’s shortcomings. If you miss a jump or accidentally fly astray, there are lower paths that catch you that are usually less fun and possess less red rings, but at least you didn’t fall in a pit and die. The levels are wide open and provide enough wiggle-room to accommodate the controls and physics. Green Hill, Chemical Plant and Sky Sanctuary are a blast for both Sonics and feature sprawling paths that require exploration and a bit of screwing around, leaving the player feeling satisfied and wanting to replay them.
In the Dreamcast Era, some things appropriately start to slide, but it remains a fun experience. Bottomless pits, scripted sequences and grind rails start to become a bit more prevalent and the overall pacing of the game is definitely on the fast side of things, as one would expect from the Modern Sonic stages. Hitting all of the highlights, from helicopters to street-boarding, haven’t lost their rush after all these years. Those sequences are as great as you remember them. Seaside Hill has its moments, but it’s kind of forgettable.[flv]http://media.sonicstadium.org/Video/%5B2011%5D%20Sonic%20Generations/City%20Escape%201.mp4[/flv]
But wouldn’t you know it… the Modern Era opens with Sonic 2006’s Crisis City and it’s… terrible? That’s the damndest thing! Ham-fisted platforming meets the dated Sonic model of killing the player for making the slightest mistake. Crisis City Classic is surprisingly neat, but the mixture of gale-force winds and sluggish acceleration will test your patience. Rooftop Run is not memorable at all. I just played the level to specifically insert a moment into this review, but I forgot what it was before sitting back at my computer. Planet Wisp, like Colors to the Sonic series at large, starts to win you back, but it’s somewhat tarnished by its monotonous, near 10-minute length.
The inherent problem with the Modern Sonic stages is that they are just that: Modern Sonic stages. Instead of continuing to design around the limitations in their engine, the designers felt compelled to try and make Modern Sonic levels authentic to their respective source material, where a player’s curiosity will cause Sonic to go flying off into pits or fall through floors. The source material didn’t work in their respective, flawed engines, so why did they think it would work in Generations’ flawed engine? If they would had stuck to simply using a level’s theme and graphics and adapting well to the Generations design, then we would all have less problems.
Even though he’s strictly 2D, Classic Sonic is not immune to issues in the latter half of the game. Modern levels punish the pudgy one for the tiniest misstep, putting crucial platforms just out of horizontal or vertical reach, all above nefarious pits. There are less branching paths and more cheap shots. Again, Sonic Team, your controls aren’t that tight. Design for the engine that you’ve built and not for what you think you have built.[flv]http://media.sonicstadium.org/Video/%5B2011%5D%20Sonic%20Generations/Planet%20Wisp%202.mp4[/flv]
Sonic Generations’ gameplay proves itself to be convoluted through the return of the robot Chao, Omochao. If you need constant text, voice and button prompts during gameplay, that’s bad game design. Video games are best when they illustrate what you have to do through gameplay. If you have to constantly prompt the player to press buttons at all these given times with limited warning, then maybe there are too many actions for the player to handle or you didn’t give them enough time in a controlled environment.
At the main menu, you can turn Omochao and the control tutorials off because we all know he is obnoxious. However, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage during a majority of the boss fights and the modern era stages. You have no idea what to do unless you read a walkthrough or turn Omochao on.
With tutorials/Omochao on, the game is patronizing. Without them, the game doesn’t teach you enough through gameplay. There’s no middle ground. The latter third of the game is one, giant Carnival Night Barrel. Each stage presents its own set of rules and moves, so it’s difficult for a new player to quickly adjust and learn. The biggest offender here is Time Eater. When you approach him, a homing attack reticle appears on his weak spot. Throughout the course of the game, you are taught to press X to attack when you see this reticle. Well, that doesn’t work and the player is left alone in one of the worst boss fights in recent memory.
When you need all of that explanation, you’ve made things too complicated and it noticeably impacts the game’s flow and direction. Maybe that’s why you only lose 25 rings at a time…
JUDGMENT: Thumb Neutral. Like Sonic 4, your mileage may vary depending on your Sonic history and experiences.
FAVORITE PART: Breaking a bridge with Modern Sonic’s stomp in GHZ and uncovering a cool, new path to explore.
LEVEL SELECTION AND GAME NAVIGATION
Since I’m reviewing a compilation title of sorts, the level selection and hub world deserve their own section and verdict.
If you’re like me and in your mid-twenties (or older), you probably feel old knowing that it has been 20 years since the original Sonic the Hedgehog crashed into our living rooms. You know what makes you feel older? The fact that Sonic’s ever-changing, inconsistent modern form has been around longer than the often fawned-over classic design.
Taking that fact into consideration, it’s understandable why two-thirds of the game is post-1998. There are more modern games. What doesn’t make sense is repetition of level tropes. The Genesis Era takes you from a lush, green landscape to an intimidating facility to a ruin adrift in the clear, blue skies. The variety opens a vast well of creativity, giving the player something new to see and do as the game progresses.
After that amazing rush, it gradually comes to a halt. The modern stage selection is also a comment on the last 12 years: same old, tired shit. You’re treated to a city at night, a city at day, a second green “hill,” a city under attack, a foreign city and a green landscape tarnished by industry. I know modern Sonic games have mostly taken place in the “real world,” but I know there are more tropes than green lands and cities in those games. There’s only so many times you can run on the sides of buildings or on scaffolding. It gets boring and screams, “lazy.”
The stage selection seems to be based more on the popularity of the stage’s music more than making Sonic Generations a thematically diverse package.
There’s a real missed opportunity here with Sonic Generations. Instead of more levels, you’re left with challenge levels within the set of 9. These challenges are 90% optional and while some of them are fun and clever, most of them are clearly showing the challenge mode’s “filler” nature. In one challenge, you have to stop what you’re doing, call on Rouge and have her shake her tits to distract robots long enough for you to kill them. Some challenges are that absurd.
Challenges feature many level gimmicks not seen in the main acts. Why aren’t they? They would only enhance the experience on the part of the game that is mandatory. As mentioned earlier, Crisis City Classic was cool, but it needed something else to really bring it together. Well, the challenge stages had level gimmicks, like spikey seesaws, that could’ve really diversified the main act and made it memorable.
The way you get to these challenge levels is a great example of how you don’t create a hub world. Navigating the main acts is great, but you have to ascend awkward ramps, platforms and sometimes text in this Sonic purgatory to reach the multiple challenge doorways. Whatever happened to menus? Not only are the challenges filler but also simply getting to them is a time-sink in itself.[flv]http://media.sonicstadium.org/Video/%5B2011%5D%20Sonic%20Generations/Metal%20Sonic.mp4[/flv]
Instead of challenges, Sonic Team could’ve supplied more levels or, better yet, more bosses. There are a pitiful amount of bosses on display here and each one takes very few shots to defeat. Outside of Metal Sonic, the rival battles are confusing without Omochao and only seem to exist to tap into your happy memories for a brief moment. Special Stages are also a huge part of the Sonic legacy and they’re nowhere to be found in Sonic Generations.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Down.
FAVORITE ASPECT: Selecting levels from a list using “Online” mode.
Nobody expects bad presentation from Sonic Team and they continue to deliver with gorgeous graphics and well-produced music.
The graphics are solid, but there’s an iffy texture here and there if you happen to be moving slowly. If you’re playing on the consoles, you’re going to be disappointed at the game’s frame rate. Sonic needs to run at 60 FPS to be successful. At 30, it’s too hard to follow the action and Sonic can become lost in the detailed scenery.
The true champion here is the music. Solid remixes of classic and modern tunes to suit, uh, classic and modern levels ensure that you’re in for an aural treat from start to finish. Each song evokes a past emotion and guarantees that you remember this second visit by adding some additional flair. The option to select from a wide library of other songs is nice (hell yeah, Toxic Caves), but many of the bonus songs sound like MIDI and thrown in without care.
Nostalgia plays a huge role in Generations.
The sheer amount of fan-service in this game is ridiculous. It’s so awesome. Clearly, all of the effort went into this aspect of the game. From the many Easter Eggs, musical cues and classic forms of characters, Sonic Generations might have the most fan-service ever included in a video game.
All of the familiar sights, winks and nods make for one sick nostalgia trip that, upon contact, almost makes you forget all of the game’s flaws. The sense hits some people stronger than others (I mean, look at all those glowing reviews on Metacritic/our forums) and it’s undeniable that most of the game’s appeal lies here. If you’re a die-hard fan of the series, your devotion to useless knowledge will be rewarded here.
I mentioned earlier that I became insanely good at a terrible game like Sonic R because it was presented with such charm. Sonic Generations oozes charm. Despite all the bad things I’ve said about it, the presentational aspect draws me back for brief spurts of play.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs WAY Up!
FAVORITE PART: Fighting Silver the Hedgehog with Palmtree Panic music.
Sonic Generations is short, clocking in at 4-5 hours to beat the mandatory sections of the game. Even if you suck at the game during your initial play-through, you’ll probably walk away with B, A and S ranks and a handful of red rings. Deaths are limited to frequent trips to the abyss and that’s all. A level obstacle or enemy will never kill you because you only lose 25 rings at a time. It’s really sad.
Online leaderboards are present, but the real attraction that I don’t see many people mentioning is the “30-Second Trial” mode, where you try and make it as far as you can in 30 seconds. I’ve never experienced a mode in Sonic so addicting. Whoever created this mode deserves a beer or two for actually extending the mileage of a game that was clearly desperate for it. Absolutely genius idea.
But why is there a single save file? Who decided that one save file is a good idea? Fire that person.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Down.
FAVORITE TIME WASTER: 30-second trials, dude!
Everybody is saying that this game “shows great promise for the future” and is “a step in the right direction.” I hate to break it to you, but Sonic Generations is a one-off deal that’ll never be happening again anytime soon. Classic Sonic is going back into the vault and Iizuka is already looking to create a new Modern Sonic. This game only services the present and the past; reminding us of the crazy ride we’ve all been on.
Sonic Team put all of their eggs into the presentation and fan-service baskets to win back the hardcore, yet jaded fans and the fans that haven’t paid attention in years. The marketing for Sonic Generations was nothing like we’ve seen before. It certainly worked. They’re paying attention now.
However, nostalgia is a temporary fix unique to this game, a crutch that Sonic Team has been leaning on for the past few years. Bringing back Classic Sonic, Genesis stages and strictly 2D gameplay does not a good game make. These changes are simply cosmetic. Sonic Generations’ existence is conspicuously born from years of criticism and complaints, but the real ills with Sonic today still weren’t addressed.
The remedy isn’t hermetically sealed in Green Hill Zone and has been apparent for over ten years; Sonic Team has no idea what’s wrong with its games on a fundamental level. Until they realize that tight controls, physics and level design ultimately trump presentation and nostalgia, we’ll continue to be stuck in our own Sonic purgatory.
For having a mostly mediocre existence, Sonic gets an average adventure to celebrate with no indication on where he is headed. Sonic Generations is an inoffensive title that has frequent flashes of brilliance, but is once again hog-tied by legacy issues. Its strongest feature isn’t within the game, but rather, your memories.
See? I told you Sonic Generations was the most appropriate anniversary release.
Sonic Generations is a perfect celebration of Sonic the Hedgehog’s 20th Anniversary and fans of both the classic Sonic titles and the modern titles will be happy with Sonic Team’s Birthday efforts. Classic Sonic’s gameplay handles very close to how it does in the original Mega Drive/Genesis Sonic titles and Modern Sonic has been tweaked with controls even tighter than those in Sonic Colours.
All of the game’s nine stages you revisit have been given fresh redesigns with plenty of routes to explore in multiple playthroughs. Add Red Star Rings to collect, 10 missions for each stage (5 per Sonic), rankings and online leaderboards and you’ve got plenty of replay value. Sonic Generations is one of the best Sonic games of all time.
JUDGMENT: Thumbs Up!
+ Copious amount of fanservice.
+ OMG NOSTALGIA.
+ Amazing graphics.
+ A well-produced soundtrack spanning the series history, even a few of the spin-offs.
+ Layered level design with many alternate paths.
+ The first half of the game.
+ Classic Sonic’s reactions to anything.
+ Great 2D platforming areas for both Sonics.
+ Getting all S-Ranks.
+ 30-Second Trials.
+ Most of the writing.
+ The quality of a few of the alternate music tracks.
+ (Unless you’re a veteran) Convoluted Modern Sonic controls.
+ The hub world.
+ The latter half of the game’s level design.
+ Lack of multiple save files.
+ The meager selection of stages and bosses.
+ Omochao and his unfortunate, occasional necessity.
+ The lack of difficulty, artificially created by bottomless pits.
+ The short length.
Both the main review and second opinion were based on the PS3 version of the game.
Special thanks to Ian (bmn) for providing the HD game footage.