Many would agree that Sonic the Hedgehog hasnít had the best track record when it comes to making great games over the years. Segaís mascot has had his fair share of ups and downs over the course of his career and while he still proves to be popular with the younger generation, many old school fans have been left alienated and ultimately disappointed by his later games.
After a string of critical failures, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 4 in October 2010 which was supposed to signal a turning point for the spiky blue hedgehog; a sign that Sonic was returning to his roots and prove that Sega had not turned their backs on their fans and could deliver a strong classic Sonic game. Unfortunately in many peopleís eyes, Sega failed. Sonic 4 was met with very mixed reactions and so was Sonicís latest 3D outing on the Wii. While Sonic 4 was meant to appeal to the old school crowd, Sonic Colours which was released in November 2010 was made for the younger audience who has grown up with a different kind of Sonic game. Itís no surprise then that older gamers shunned Sonic Colours for not providing the experience theyíve been craving despite the fact that while it is flawed, itís still quite fun.
Both Sonic 4 and Sonic Colours are not bad games; they are merely not what a lot of fans envisioned as classic or great Sonic games. However, they also demonstrate just how fragmented the Sonic fan base truly is and that even the fans themselves are confused by the physiology of a great Sonic game. To mark Sonicís 20th anniversary, Sega have announced a brand new Sonic game to mark the occasion. Sonic Generations is trying to do what Sonic 4 and Sonic Colours arguably didnít; provide a classic old school 2D Sonic game and a 3D Sonic game that lives up to his legacy but this time, on one disk. After seeing his last two efforts, should we really put our faith in Sega and their mascot once more?
In short, the answer is yes.
First of all letís take a closer look at Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and what really makes a great 2D Sonic game. What the majority of people fail to realise is that every 2D Sonic game is different and donít play exactly the same (with the exception of Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles because they were designed to be played as one game). So what makes each title so unique?
Sonic 1 Ė The original is the slowest of all the 2D games and is in fact not that focused on speed at all. Speed of course is important to Sonic 1 and is the most memorable part but what makes it a classic is its focus on precise, imaginative, well designed platforming sections.
Sonic 2 Ė This is where the speed picks up. Sonic 2 features a much faster pace and hosts far more speedy sections like the loop de loops and corkscrews throughout the game without sacrificing the platforming that made Sonic 1 the classic that it is.
Sonic CD Ė Arguably the biggest departure for the 2D Sonic games in terms of level design. This game featured larger levels where you had to locate certain objects to get the proper ending and when you couple that with past and present versions of each level, you have a fair amount of backtracking and exploring to do if you wish to fully complete the game.
Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles Ė The stages were now more expansive and flowed straight from one to another to make you feel like the whole game was one gigantic level rather than a series of broken up stages and acts. The levels were also much longer than previous games and some of the stages now even changed dynamically (for example when Angel Island sets on fire for the second act). The new power-ups also changed the overall feel and pace of the game as each one caused you to mix up your play style slightly.
As you can see, while the core concepts and mechanics of Sonic the Hedgehog remain the same, each game brings something new to the table. Therefore, your favourite game will give you a different perspective as to what makes a good 2D Sonic game when compared to someone who prefers a different title. Unfortunately it seems that thereís a common misconception that all 2D Sonic games play the same, that speed is the most important aspect of all of them and lumping all games together under one banner as one game is fair due to their similarities. This is simply not the case.
So is it really possible to appease all kinds of Sonic fans? Itís a difficult question to truly answer but itís possible for one reason: everyone loves Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and here is where Sega/Dimps went wrong with Sonic 4. Even though a lot of fans will say Sonic 1 is their favourite Sonic game, what they really mean is Sonic 2 is their favourite as itís arguably the most memorable but because they lump all the Sonic games together, they donít realise their mistake. Episodic delivery method aside, Sonic 4 is a good Sonic game but Sega/Dimps made the mistake of using Sonic 1 as their primary template instead of the more popular Sonic 2 which is generally regarded as the best 2D Sonic game. This explains the fan backlash regarding the pace and physics of Sonic 4 as they emulate Sonic 1 incredibly well. If Sega wanted Sonic 4 to be better received then mimicking Sonic 2 would have been the ideal place to start, which seems to be where they have started on the 2D portions of Sonic Generations.
Most hardcore Sonic fans would testify that Sega have failed to deliver a great 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game. Sonic Adventure 1 & 2 were promising starts but the series has steadily deteriorated after their release in the eyes of many. As time went on, many believed that Sega had forsaken them but the truth is that Sega simply turned towards a new generation of gamers with their mascot. With each new release it became more apparent that the 3D Sonic games were not made for old school fans and were tailored for a new audience with different expectations. Gone are the traditional imaginative platforming elements and bursts of speed in favour of twitch, reactionary gameplay and nonstop, full throttle high octane thrill rides; something young gamers seek and enjoy. With each new iteration it seemed that the chances for a critically acclaimed 3D Sonic game were getting slimmer. Each one had its moments but overall Sonic became synonymous with mediocrity.
Sadly, Sonic Colours shared this fate despite being good fun. It failed to capture the imagination of older fans and remained one for the younger crowd. Itís a shame because even the most stubborn old school Sonic fan can see elements of brilliance in Sonicís 3D outings; however, Segaís insistence of trying to add something new each time, whether it be special colour powers or a werehog transformation do nothing but muddy these brilliant moments. So if Sega plan on making a 3D Sonic game to appeal to their hardcore fans, the best thing to do is simply strip it bare of any new gameplay mechanics and keep it simple. The problem here though is that the audience for 3D Sonic games crave new and outlandish features in all their Sonic games. To change that direction would be a disservice to those fans despite the fact that a more hardcore 3D Sonic game would arguably provide a better experience for them.
Sonic 4 was supposed to be the game for the hardcore and with its release Sega had fulfilled their obligations to make a Sonic game for everyone. They may not be what the fans had envisioned but Sega delivered on their promise and now theyíre trying again, except this time on one disk with Sonic Generations. This may seem like a moot point but it could actually hold the key to making the Sonic game that hardcore fans have been waiting for all these years.
To celebrate Sonicís 20th anniversary, Sega announced Sonic Generations; a game that promises a mixture of classic 2D and modern 3D Sonic gameplay. So what makes this game a Sonic game we should believe in?
Letís start with the 2D portion of Generations. The initial trailer shows the classic Green Hill Zone, updated with 3D visuals but the most important thing to note is how fast Sonic runs. Already itís apparent that he runs much faster than in the original Sonic the Hedgehog which suggests that Sega have realised their mistake with Sonic 4 and focused on making the classic Sonic in Generations to move like Sonic 2 era Sonic (or perhaps even slightly faster). It doesnít take him too long to reach maximum velocity, the signature platforming is still intact and even the music is unchanged, simply updated in quality.
The 3D portion of Generations is also worth analysing. The trailer again shows the classic Green Hill Zone but adapted to fit the 3D style of modern Sonic games together with familiar, remixed music. Gone are the gimmicky powers and abilities, the superfluous characters and all thatís left is the frantic pace and twitchy gameplay that is at the core of current 3D Sonic games. Stripped down to its bare essentials, itís easy to see why modern 3D Sonic games are popular. They may lack the finesse of the classic 2D games but make up for it in raw adrenaline. The big problem with these games though is that without the additional features such as the extra characters or powers, itís difficult to see a game like this hold your attention for an entire disks worth of content. However, this is no longer a problem when coupled together with slower, more precise 2D platforming to counter balance it and therein lays the secret of Sonic Generations. Neither the 2D or 3D portion of the game could stand on its own but when bundled together, you achieve a harmony worthy of a full retail priced game.
There are other reasons to be excited for Sonic Generations and these mostly revolve around the timing of the game. 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog and Generations has been created to celebrate this. The cynic in you may believe that this is simply an excuse to cash in on the event but it actually has a deeper meaning and it can be seen in the name of the game: Sonic Generations.
This Sonic game is not a true brand new iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog and neither is it a sequel; itís a homage to his history and his fans; itís a celebration of Sonic and not a reinvention. Elements of the best parts of multiple Sonic games can be seen in the short trailer. Classic Sonic moves like Sonic 2 era Sonic, his cheeky attitude and round belly is straight from Sonic 1, the camera shift of perspective is a nod to Sonic CD and of course the music and stage is almost a carbon copy for those seen in Sonic 1. Modern Sonic is based off Sonic from Unleashed and Colours, the boost bar mechanic is lifted from Unleashed and the giant fish in the underground cavern is a nod to the killer whale in Sonic Adventure. This can all simply be seen as added fan service but it highlights the minor details that make this an open love letter to fans.
The mere inclusion of these elements and the overall look of the game, especially classic Sonic should be proof enough that Sega intend Sonic Generations to be a reminder of why Sonic the Hedgehog is so revered instead of being an attempt to prove that Sonic is still relevant. Itís a game for the dedicated Sonic fan; the 2D part of the game is similar to a HD remake while the 3D sections is what every old school Sonic fan has been craving since his jump to 3D. By making it this way Sega have appeased the hardcore while keeping Generations open, accessible and more importantly, interesting to newer Sonic fans and perhaps given them a window or a history lesson about Sonicís past and in doing so made this game, a game for all generations. Even though itís still too early to say whether this game will completely deliver, whatever your favourite Sonic game is and if youíve ever been a fan of Segaís spiky mascot, you canít help but feel that this game is being made for you.