What I'm about to say might get me kicked out of the Cool Kids Club, but here goes. I love Sonic games. Not just the 2D platformers from when I was a kid. I mean, I've consistently enjoyed the series from 1991 until today. Sure, there have been missteps along the way, but I appreciate Sonic Team's efforts most of the time. Each major Sonic release is markedly different from the last, and even when it doesn't work, I respect the hell out of them for trying. It's an interesting contrast to the trends of today's game industry, where being “safe” is more important than trying new things. Sonic Team gets an idea, does it, and even if it doesn't hit, bless them for trying.
3D Sonic games have been steadily increasing in quality over the past few years. Sonic Unleashed was a thrilling, blisteringly fast game with the addition of the Boost mechanic. I remember playing that game for the first time and being blown away because it was the fastest Sonic has EVER been. On the flipside of that were the Night stages, less well received by the general public but enjoyed by a few (me plus maybe...three other people?). The night stages were basically God of War with deeper combat mechanics and better level design, but I can admit that they suffered from being too long and committing the unforgivable sin of cutting into BLARING COMBAT MUSIC every time you got into a fight.
Seriously, guys. I'm trying to enjoy the smooth jazz here.
Sonic Unleashed was pretty enjoyable and contained mostly 3D, behind-the-back gameplay as Sonic. There were 2D stages built in for fans of the older games, and the perspective during Day stages would often switch to 2D, but those sections complimented the game. I appreciated the fact that there was a GOOD 3D Sonic platformer again.
Sonic Colors on Wii followed that a few years later. While it was heralded as the “best 3D Sonic game” by quite a few people, I hesitate to agree with that sentiment. The fact is that the majority of this game is 2D. Sometimes 2.5D. But you are not spending the majority of it in the behind-the-back 3D style that Sonic Unleashed, and previous games like Sonic Heroes and the Adventure series did. Don't get me wrong here, it's still a fine game. I just would have preferred if they used their improved 3D gameplay instead of just not doing it.
The 3D sections are really well designed in Colors, better than Unleashed even. They lack the cheap death traps and occasional control awkwardness of Unleashed and added multiple paths...but they're incredibly short, often a few seconds long. If Unleashed was 80 percent 3D and 20 percent 2D, I'd say the ratio in Colors is exactly opposite.
I was a bit disappointed by this. The 3D platforming is so good! Why have so little of it? I actually felt like for the first time, Sonic Team was playing it a bit too safe. They know people will always love the 2D Sonic games, so they stuck to that closely to avoid offending lapsed fans.
Then, they came up with something that looked like the best of both worlds.
Sonic Generations is a tribute to the entire franchise that embraces both styles of Sonic gameplay. Modern Sonic has the Boost-happy 3D sections in the style of Unleashed/Colors, and Classic Sonic has the style of the 2D Sonic platformers I grew up with.
Sonic Generations is better than Colors and Unleashed, undoubtedly. The little control kinks from Unleashed are totally gone, the occasionally awkward to control Wisps from Colors have been mostly removed, and they even introduced some old gameplay mechanics that haven't been in Sonic games in a LONG time (Electric Shield!)
Still, I think they could have done more with it. I want to point out a couple of specific areas where Unleashed beats Generations, because I'm enough of a crazy fanboy to nitpick one of my favorite platforming games ever. Generations is fantastic, but they could have had a classic on their hands if they took a few cues from Unleashed.
1. Unleashed has better hub worlds. One thing I really enjoyed about Sonic Unleashed were the towns you'd visit between levels.
These hub worlds are pretty small, but full of life. The personality comes from the villagers that you can speak to. They'll send you on sidequests or comment on the plot with some short speech bubbles. It's mostly optional to speak to them, but they add a lot of flavor to the game. I especially enjoyed how the dialogue of each character would consistently change throughout the game, based on how far you progressed the plot, or if Sonic was in Werehog or Hedgehog form. I ended up speaking to people a lot more than I thought just to see how much unique dialogue there is.
The hub world in Sonic Generations is...not as good. The White Space is a mostly empty level select where you can just go left to right. At the far left is the space for collectibles and the power-up store. Sure, you “unlock” Sonic's friends as you go along, but they don't have much to say. They have a few canned quips to repeat, mostly tips about the stage they are standing in front of. But they have much less dialogue than the citizens of Unleashed, and it's not nearly as clever. One thing I found out recently is that they'll have one piece of dialogue if you do a cooperative sidequest and talk to them immediately afterward...but only if you finish it and go talk to them RIGHT NOW. Why couldn't they add that little speech bubble to their repertoire permanently? Why is Classic Tails a character but not Classic Knuckles, or Classic Amy? It's little touches like this that make the hub in Generations not feel as lively as it could.
Also, the sidequest gates are occasionally difficult to get to. You have to switch between the Sonics to reach certain gates, and there are poorly placed springs and dash pads that could send you far away from the gate you want to get into. It's not great.
2. Unleashed has better music. Sonic Generations has a fantastic soundtrack. I remember hearing the modern remix of “City Escape” and completely nerding out. It's a remix of the obscure Snowboard Race theme from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle! The guitar solo is ripped from Sonic's old theme “It Doesn't Matter”! Don't even get me started on Classic City Escape sampling “Endless Mine”, that awesome “Super Sonic Racing” remix by Cash Cash, or the composers pulling what can only be described as a near-miracle (nearacle) by making a remix of “Rooftop Run” that is superior to the original. Seriously, don't get me started. We will be here all day.
Still, there are some moments of odd restraint on the soundtrack. Green Hill Zone and Sky Sanctuary have Fast versions that kick in when you hit top speed as Sonic, and that is really cool. Why not do Fast remixes for every stage? There's a couple of themes that are just bummers: Modern & Classic Planet Wisp suffer from poor sound mixing and just being a really bad song, respectively. Modern Chemical Plant is bland, Modern Speed Highway is both barely a remake and inferior to the original, and then there's the issue of the “remastered” tracks from 2D Sonic games.
For some reason, the majority of the unlockable tracks are “remastered”, which means they re-recorded them with instruments that sound worse! I appreciate the appeal to nostalgia, but these tracks just do not sound good.
So, I preferred Unleashed's soundtrack overall. The Day stages are upbeat rock and techno tracks with a bit of orchestral flavoring sprinkled in, but where the game really shines are the jazzy night themes.
Despite my issue with that battle theme cutting off the music every few minutes, I really love these tracks. Sonic Team took the tried-and-true fighting game rule to heart here: beating up dudes while jazz music plays is really cool. I can't think of many songs on the Unleashed soundtrack that I don't enjoy, including the hub themes and cutscene music. I believe it's a better soundtrack as a whole, while the Generations soundtrack has far too many immediate aural disappointments.
3. Sonic Unleashed has better writing.
In all aspects, the writing of Unleashed was superior to Generations. There were tons of funny clips from the NPCs. Professor Pickle was an absolute delight. And the game comes to a very satisfying emotional conclusion in regards to the sidekick character Chip. It's a simple story done very well.
In comparison, Generations is a simple story that could have used some more writing. I wanted more in-jokes for fans of the series. It's a giant nostalgia trip but they rarely reference it in the cutscenes.
There should have been more moments like this! Knuckles should quip about Eggman taking advantage of his gullible nature. Amy should meet Metal Sonic and freak out. Like I said before, "classic" versions of Amy and Knuckles exist, and they should have been included in Generations. There should have been an extra-long load time before Crisis City to poke fun at the awful loading of Sonic the Hedgehog '06.
Also, the dialogue during the final boss battle should have been cut entirely.
I know it's a homing shot. I knew it the first ten times you said it.
I don't know if the writing team was changed, but the script in Generations really lacked the quirky charm of Unleashed and the genuine humor of Colors.
4. Why so much 2D platforming? Like I stated before, the majority of Sonic Unleashed is 3D gameplay, behind the back as Sonic. It's a bit janky at times, but they improved on it significantly in Colors, and even more in Generations.
However, my complaint from Colors is still here. The 3D gameplay is the best in the series, and they don't use it enough! I was under the impression that Modern Sonic would be fully 3D and Classic would be 2D, and only the latter half of that impression is correct.
In Modern Sonic's stages, the majority of gameplay is 2D or 2.5D. I was disappointed in this, because the 3D sections feel right. They're really refined and really fun, and criminally underused. In my view, it doesn't make much sense for BOTH characters to spend the majority of their time in the 2D plane, and Modern Sonic should have stuck to a mostly 3D style.
I actually enjoyed the Modern stages more than Classic in Generations, because the camera for Classic Sonic is a bit too zoomed in, and his controls are a little off. The developers claim to replicate the sense of momentum from the older games, but it's not completely there. He still feels a bit sluggish in a way I can't explain. It's something you'd have to try for yourself. Play Sonic 2 and the Classic Stages of Generations next to each other, and you'll be able to tell that Classic Sonic is not what he used to be.
I don't know much about Sonic Lost World yet, but I'm looking forward to playing it eventually. I know Sonic Team has done the Sonic Team Thing and created an entirely new gameplay style that's nothing like Colors, Unleashed, or Generations. Is it a good thing? I won't know until I get my hands on it. Still, I appreciate them trying new things every time, in an industry where major publishers and developers are actively discouraged from doing so.
So while I might not get the awesome, fully 3D Sonic game in the style of Generations that I want, I'll keep playing and enjoying Sonic games for years to come. You can keep my Cool Kids Club card.