Itís been 20 years since Sonic rolled into the realm of games, and with him heís brought us speed, clever level design and wonderfully imaginative set pieces. He has, however, also brought with him hideous 3d cameras, a host of annoying characters, piles and piles of buggy messes and a hedgehog who drives a jeep and carries a gun. Mixed legacy? You bet it is, and nowhere is the schizophrenic nature of the series better displayed than in the historically minded ďSonic GenerationsĒ. Is the blue blur back to his best, or is this simply another false start?
Sonic Generations begins optimistically, blasting through Green Hill Zone before being introduced to a charmingly ďnod-nod wink-winkĒ opening cutscene that hints at a more light hearted Sonic adventure than other games have attempted. This reassuringly fun opening is cemented when, after finishing the first level with modern sonic, you think that youíre safe. Modern Sonic played fine, Classic Sonic was great, maybe weíre going to make the long haul here, maybe we can see the game through and not hit any major speed bumps. This goes on throughout the first third of the game, the level design is charming, the cutscenes are small and for the most part amusing, and the music is great. Then something happens, and a cold sweat sits in.
Challenges? There are challenges between the levels? The pulse quickens and blood drains from the face. Oh no. They surely didnít mess this up, they were doing so well! Please donít make me replay the same level to pad out gameplay please donít... then the first genuine surprise happens. The challenges are not only really fun; theyíre entirely different levels, for the most part! New power-ups are dished out in the form of Sonicís friends and the level design shifts entirely. OK so these levels are much shorter, but theyíre good, theyíre fun, and best of all they take about 5 minutes at their most extravagant.
Then the first boss fight happens. Itís a mess, spotty controls, frustrating design and uninteresting music leads to the first true lull in the game. You can forgive it though, it wasnít too bad and it ended quickly once you figured out how to hurt the boss. But then you open up the Dreamcast era, and like Sonic does when he needs to go quicker, it goes downhill from there.
Itís incredible how Sonic Generations manages to pinpoint the exact moment Sonic jumped the shark but the history lesson is well taught. The level they chose from Sonic Adventure is a city level. The level they chose from Sonic Adventure 2 is a city level. The level they choose for Sonic 2006 is a city level. Suddenly it becomes very apparent that Sonic stopped existing in a sort of fantasy realm and started becoming an urbanite. All of the charm starts to drain, the level design gets, not exactly harder but more finicky, thereís more awkward jumps and bad precision platforming, even worse are the glitches which suddenly pop up in Modern Sonic, blasting through walls, clipping on the edge of a platform and falling your death, more unexpected and unfair traps, it all gets a bit frustrating. Classic Sonic seems lost and bewildered in these later levels, outside his 3 games he has to wade through 6 modern titles and in almost every single one of them he is chased by something. I know Sonic being chased is a fun idea, but my god the poor bastard must be magnetic or something.
This is Sonic Generations biggest problem, while itís great to celebrate Sonicís past, itís his present that is the true villain of the piece. Whatís baffling is how the designers missed a trick in doing as little of the bad Sonic games as possible. They chose to include Sonic Heroes and Sonic 2006, and both of the ďnew levelsĒ for those games are horrible. Why on earth recognise these infamously bad titles when you could have had a proper Sonic 3 level (the one in the PC version is Sky Sanctuary, a fine level but from Sonic and Knuckles) and brought in Sonic CD for a real nostalgia trip. Instead we get a bad beach level and a third (third!) city level. A terrible decision was made in development, but it could have been worse, we at least didnít get a Shadow the Hedgehog level.
Towards the end the game feels like it might be getting a little stale, so it stops. With only 9 levels, and only 2 Sonics to play them with, Sonic Generations is short, but rightly so. The challenges become a little more cumbersome and tricky towards the end, and the final bosses are a teeth gnashing nightmare, but they are at least beatable. With 90 challenges to play and time trial modes to master some players will get tons out of the end game, but most users will be satisfied to put down the game after the final foe is foiled. I certainly am, and itís an amicable separation, for £20 I felt I got what I paid for, and the game seems to breathe a sigh of relief that Iím asking no more of it.
As Sonic games go, Generations is a fun tribute. It remixes its ancestry but adds little to the series other than a recognition of when to bow out. Classic Sonic was fun to see again, but I doubt heíll be back and itís perhaps better that way, heís had his day and now itís his older, more jaded self that has to prove his worth. Modern Sonic is not redeemed by this title, and the later levels remind you that he still has his fair share of issues. But maybe he can move on, maybe someday weíll get that 9/10 Sonic game that blows us away. This, though, is not that game, but it seems it was never meant to be. Short, silly and satisfying, Sonic Generations is a snacky game, not an epic event, and itís nice to see something that knows its limitations. No melodrama, no over the top score, a fun run through the past of one of gamingís most contentious icons and then off home with a smile on your face. Itís a better tribute than it ought to be.
LOOK WHO CAME: