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Sonic Generations: A Review
So close and yet so far....
I've just come back from a breath-taking adventure where I ran through the most lush forests, defeated meddlesome robots, being blasted by rockets, drowning in a suspicious rising pink liquid, sprinting up the highest buildings at the speed of light and met an old friend. Yes, I've just played Sonic Generations.
Allow me to remove every doubt in your mind that this review is coming from a Sonic fan, because it isn't. The only times I played Sonic games were when I was a child (but only at a neighbour's house for five minutes) and in my early teens with Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, the time I also discovered my inner furry. So in a way, the rot had set in, but I wasn't fully taken by the Sonic universe and one of the most famous characters in video gaming, especially when future titles just worsened. It was upon the release of Sonic Heroes where I didn't know what to think, and I'd lost faith in the franchise after Sonic Unleashed, alongside the creation of various other titles on the Nintendo DS. It seemed as though a lot of my classic world was crumbling apart; Crash Bandicoot had seen enough blows to the head that he's no longer recognisable; Spyro the Dragon was my arch nemesis when the TLoS trilogy arrived; Super Mario was all over the place and now this....
But there's always a glimmer of hope, and it's always darkest before the dawn. The sun rises and a new day brings us joy, and that joy dear reader, is Sonic Generations. Not only is it the most fascinating 2.5D platform game I've ever seen, it also does a huge amount more than what I'd expected. It's not just a HD remake of the originals and giving you the old Sonic to play as, but gives you enough gameplay activities on the side and collectables to make your head spin! Where do I even begin? Let's start by saying this is how a birthday special is done, and not just a cruddy little port of Super Mario All-Stars (looking at you, Nintendo). Now, let's take things from there.
Sonic Generations doesn't just throw you into a linear level select screen and you take it from there, because there is so much more. Heck, even the story gets high marks because of how funny and well executed it is. Perhaps the meeting of Old and New Sonic could be done better, but I'm still going through the meat of the game and still looking at the wine list. The story goes that Classic Sonic is having a run about before being sucked into some kind of lifeless void, yet Modern Sonic is having a birthday bash (remember that this was made in celebration to the franchise's 20th Birthday), but finds he and his friends are getting drawn into this void too. The main antagonist here is not Doctor Robotnik though he does come into play in both his old and latest forms, but instead we have a villain called the Time Eater, and the main lobby I called the void is actually White Space. It is here where players must play familiar stages that have been heavily revamped yet also stay true to their original designs and looks. It takes some time before new and old Sonic meet, and even the supporting cast cannot tell the difference. My favourite of the two has to be the original character who says very little and is a cheery little fellow!
"It's like Klonoa: Door to Phantomile on crack!"
Unlike most of the games before the Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast, this one has a lobby but is in 2.5D, allowing you to move horizontally but it will require some basic platforming skills and adjusting to the jumping controls to reach other levels. If you're sprinting about this lobby before you start the levels you'll notice it's fairly bland and you might ask yourself "is this it?" Believe it or not, the lobby literally grows up, adding trampolines, bounce pads and elevators for you to access the higher parts and do more challenges when they're unlocked. At the far right you'll also come across a thick purple fog which obscures the rest of the path, and a strange floating device with several keyholes. But I'll explain this later when the rest of the gameplay is covered.
You can choose to play as either Classic Sonic or Modern Sonic, both of which have similar abilities though in cosmetics are quite different. Sometimes you won't tell the difference from behind so in the vertical stages you might have trouble discerning one character from the other. However you can also tell by Classic Sonic's classic jump and spin sounds, and Modern Sonic has a fantastic remix of each of the level's songs. Apart from these minor things, playing as either character doesn't affect your progress or ways of playing, though depending on which Sonic you use to complete the zone entirely will get a different dialogue from the freed character. Each zone you complete (by doing both acts), you 'unfreeze' a character, though they don't do much throughout the game and are just there so Sega can appease those who like them. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, it's just that when you add anyone post-SA2:Battle, I tend to get irked rather easily.
Levels are split up into two acts, both having different ways of being played. The main objective as always has been to reach the end of each stage and eventually beat the boss, though the original formula has received a few tweaks to prevent the experience feeling samey. The first act of each stage is always in sidescroller format, so those who prefer that kind of platforming can fully enjoy the experience, whereas the second act consists of both running vertically and horizontally, making great use of 2.5D at the same time of being awfully similar to Crash Bandicoot.
The most notable element of any Sonic the Hedgehog platform game is the speed, and while this truly is the fastest game I've ever played (let alone being of this series), you still have to take things rather carefully. It's quite evident that even though the developers want you zooming off as much as possible (proven by Modern Sonic's boost opposed to the spin dash), they still want to remind you of the dangers. Yes, speeding kills, and if you're not careful you will constantly - note I said 'constantly' and not 'occasionally' - get hit by monsters in your way as well as die a lot. Whilst taking things slow is a lot safer and reduces your chance of being killed, the game doesn't feel the same and the platforming can feel a lot weaker. In fact, most of the gameplay relies on speed to remain above average. Still, whenever you're zooming around it's like Klonoa: Door to Phantomile on crack!
You'll also be working for points, something that has been in Sonic games since their dawn on the Mega Drive, though the ratings system is both iffy and rewarding. It's hard to tell what contributes to your score apart from time and the amount of rings you collected, and I'm not sure if any you hold until the end really matter. But I can't complain because all scores I've received are A's or S' (meaning Special), though that's mostly due to something called the 'Perfect Bonus', giving you a single rank up if you don't lose any lives.
"When it comes down to this game's technical side, it is most certainly not faster than the speed of light."
Your main collectable is rings, which help preserve your limited lives upon being hit. In the likely event that you take damage, you lose all your rings and have to pick them up again before they expire. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos had a similar system, though there weren't any upgrades you could buy from the lobby's store to extend their lifespan on the ground (more on this later). Rings are mostly found loose in a line and by collecting 100 you gain an extra life. I needn't tell Sonic players how that's easier said than done. If you get hit without any rings, you die. The exception is when you're underwater, and no matter how many rings you have if you drown you die instantly.
There are crates around the environment but they're nowhere near as common as previous Sonic titles. These crates contain rings, speed boosts, mostly extra lives and shields, but it's once in a blue moon if you find them. You can also find five red star coins in each zone, separated by the acts of the level. These coins don't do much but add far more replay value and lifespan for those who want to 100% the game, and unlock character bios, artwork and more music. Not a bad addition, in my honest opinion, and gives me reason to go over older levels to discover their locations. However if you die and you've collected one before a checkpoint, it returns to its original place so you have to get it again. They're not compulsory though they add optional challenge and reflex testing opportunities in levels for parties interested in something a little more difficult.
You might think the lobby just contains a lot of busywork and overly complicated designs, but there are reasons for this and in my opinion, it's better than menus and panels. If I wanted those I'd play World of Warcraft, you know what I'm saying? When you think you've completed both acts 1 & 2 for each available zone, you think you'd be ready for the boss, right? Wrong. You need to complete at least one challenge from each of the zones (either Act 1 or Act 2 challenge, depending on your preference), which will then unlock a Challenge Bell and a Boss Key. This is why the complex lobby design is here, so Sonic Team could fit all these challenge gateways into the nearby levels. These challenges vary depending on which act you choose, requiring you to hunt for treasure with Knuckles, use enemies in the environment to make it to the end goal and use Amy's hammer to blast you upwards to perform a super jump. There's many more involving races, ring collection, speed increases and so on, giving players more reason to continue playing the game after completion.
This never feels like the game being dragged out and even with these 1-2 minute challenges Sonic Generations still feels short in total lifespan. There's so much to do but in so little time before you face the end boss, and such a feat tempts you to trade the game in as soon as possible without being grateful for the amount of work and extra content thrown in. When you've done a challenge a boss key appears, comparable to the way Crash Team Racing works to unlock new sub-lobbies, however the entire process is muddled up. I mentioned earlier a "challenge bell", and upon hitting this above the challenge door (when you complete the level), a musical note tries to escape. It gives you 20 seconds to catch it before you have to restart the challenge, but it's one of the easiest things in the game. Should you manage that, it gives you a new track to play in any level you wish!
The boss battles are the final thing to cover, as well as the Chaos Emerald (Never go full Chaos Control) they award to players who complete them. The first boss battle with the Death Egg ought to set the scene for most of the boss battles you'll come across, requiring far more strategy and thought than bosses we've seen before, and even I had to go beyond the usual Sonic tactic of 'wear it down and smack it on the head'. It doesn't help when the jump control is weighted so if you do need to jump, and you will for the most part, so boss battles can be dragged out because of a single thing.
All the colours of the Emeralds
The game's visuals are stunning, easily getting the "Painting in Motion" accolade in my final verdict, and Green Hills Zone is the only example SEGA need to say "this is high definition". I've been saying this a lot, but never in a platform game have I been so impressed, only this time I mean it with everything I've got. Not only are the environments and the lobby well coloured and reshaped, they're also well designed and add far more to what the original zones were. Note that these levels don't copy Sonic the Hedgehog all the way to Sonic Colours word for word, but instead add and remove things that Sonic Team felt as though were or weren't necessary. Here there's multiple paths to take in level completion and you don't need to spent too much time choosing because they come and go with each pitfall or extended jump. The characters are superbly animated and once again I have to congratulate Sonic Team on reviving the original character model of Classic Sonic and co.
The soundtrack is just as good with its revamped and classic versions, both of which are memorable and - if the game's OST is on a CD - worth the purchase. If you loved the old stuff I can guarantee you'll become obsessive over the genius that is the orchestral work done here.
And with that it's time to conclude with the negatives of this game, but this list only consists of two complaints. One is the loading times for the PS3 (I've not played the Wii or 360 versions), and how shocking they are. Everything, and I mean everything in this game has to load - want to change a character? Loading screen. Want to enter the shop? Loading screen. Died? Loading screen. The save process isn't much of an improvement either, which takes over 10 seconds before actually saving your work. That's on top of watching the zone you've just done an act for "colour itself in" when you're in the lobby (you'll understand if you see for yourself). My second and final complaint is the jump control and how weighted it feels. Now if it was like this on the original console, I can understand that. But surely you could make Classic Sonic's jump weighted, whilst giving Modern Sonic more flexible control? It may seem like a small gripe, but for someone who doesn't feel the nostalgia to hide such heavy jumping mechanics, it's quite a big one. For a platform game, I would very much like to be able to platform.
Sonic Generations gets an 8 out of 9 as well as the "Painting in Motion" accolade. It's a fantastic game that provides huge amounts of entertainment in the maximum of 9 hours it'd take you to get to the very end of the game. You can also find tonnes of replayability and if you're in the mood to 100% complete this title, there's plenty of things to keep you busy and from getting there. What stops it from being a 9 is its horrendous loading times and somewhat stiff control when the gameplay goes from zooming at the speed of sound to snail pace. However it is a Greasy Gamer MUST BUY, and it's 100% recommended for the Sonic fans out there, especially those who couldn't stand anything past the Dreamcast!
Until the next time I give you my thanks for reading, and wish you all a pleasant day!
Sonic Team have done a great job bringing back classic levels from the most famous Sonic games, as well as allowing players to take control of Classic and Modern Sonic. Not only this but there's plenty to be doing on your quest to defeat the Time Eater!
Brilliant when speeding but unacceptable when being careful, the latter being quite common here. It tries too desperately to be Classic Sonic in today's gaming, and simply doesn't catch on with me.
The game is short only if you're unappreciative of what the developers have included. It can take up to six hours before reaching the final boss, but there's so much to be doing in between the beginning and the end of the game such as challenges and getting the 'S' score on all courses.
Not much to say other than superb; SEGA have brought back the 16-bit classic to its former glory, as well as given it a modern fluffing up.
Sonic Team have done a cracking job of the soundtrack, bringing all kinds of genres to do the remixes of the older games of this amazing franchise!