Like many fans reading this, when it comes to many of the newer Sonic the Hedgehog games, I’ve done my best to manage expectations, hoping for the best, yet almost always disappointed with the results. From broken controls to sword-wielding hedgehogs, it often felt as if the developers simply didn’t understand what made the original Sonic games so magical, instead imposing ridiculous new elements (werewolves, anyone?) that didn’t belong in a Sonic game. Last year’s Sonic Colors may have come closer than ever to hitting that difficult sweet-spot, but as the series celebrates its 20th Anniversary it’s clear that Sega’s mascot is still searching for his place in a modern gaming world.
I could go on and on about how the appeal of then-rad blue hedgehog has been mishandled throughout the years, but then we come to the history-spanning Sonic Generations. While still not the ultimate return-to-form that we’ve been pining for, unlike many of its predecessors it manages to piece together an experience that even the most jaded followers can enjoy.
The obvious addition (or throwback) is the implementation of old and new, as you have the choice to play as the stylishly-fast and modernized Sonic or iconic equivalent from the 16-bit Genesis days. No matter which version you choose, you’ll essentially be speeding through stages taken from his glory days (as well as a few questionable inclusions), remastered in high-definition visuals and even re-imagined completely, with both traditional 2D and trigger-finger 3D platforming action at the ready. The approach is as straightforward as you might think, as each stage is played in either classic or comtemporary perspective, with mechanics that feel appropriate for each.
Longtime Sonic fans will be (mostly) thrilled at the selection, as Generations collects many of the most familiar stages from a choice selection of his best, like Green Hill Zone from the original game, Chemical Plant from Sonic 2, Sky Sanctuary from Sonic & Knuckles, and Sky Wisp from the more-recent Sonic Colors. The Dreamcast Sonic Adventure games get a nice shout-out as well, though we probably could have done without having to remember that the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog and the werewolf-packing Sonic Unleashed ever existed. Thankfully, the musical selections are as great as ever; a reminder that no matter how forgettable past Sonic games may have been, you can’t argue with some of the most amazing soundtracks in videogame history.
Appealing to nostalgia seems to keep things a lot more focused this time around, as core gameplay mechanics like precise jumping and smooth controls make Generations more enjoyable, and therefore better, than most recent Sonic titles. The wayward camera, typically the biggest offender in the polygonal titles, appears to have been mostly resolved, while the annoyance of using secondary characters like Tails and Knuckles is kept to an absolute minimum. There are still nitpicks, such as random unavoidable death in 3D stages and the game’s somewhat short length (decent players can finish in 5 hours stretched out), but I wouldn’t consider these game-breaking faults by any means.
Sometimes you have to get the formula wrong to know what’s right, and the results of those experiments definitely show in Sonic Generations, which brings many of Sega’s now twenty-year old mascot’s best levels into the modern world of high-definition. It’s good to know the folks at Sonic Team have returned to their roots while avoiding many of the creative errors that made some of their recent Sonic titles less-then-memorable (i.e. bad), with a nice mix of both 2D and 3D perspectives and some of the best music you’ve ever heard. It might not totally innovate the series, but after years of failed experiments and misses, at this point that’s a blessing. Fans should be glad to hear that Generations is a marked improvement over most of the recent games, and there are worse ways to celebrate a 20th Anniversary than that.
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