Sonic Generations: New Year catchup review

How long and twisting the road for Sonic the Hedgehog has been these twenty-odd years since he burst into the gaming scene. Not to get excessively allegorical here, but the path has been much like the stages he blazes through: plenty of ups, some noticeable downs, and a few loops that may nauseate you. Sonic Generations is a game that joyfully celebrates every step of the journey with reckless abandon, and that optimistic attitude alone makes it easy to like. But keep in mind that we are, after all, celebrating everything Sonic, and that means putting up with a bundle of nagging problems. This is a shame, because Generations’ splendid combination of both the old and the new could have meant the greatest Sonic game this world has ever seen.

In a time-warping tale that makes little to no sense, Modern Sonic (the current hedgehog you know and possibly might love) and Classic Sonic (the portly dude from the Genesis days) must work together and save the world or their dimension or something. Regardless, it’s a flimsy setup that serves as a nice excuse to travel through Sonic’s colourful past. At first the stark white hub world is devoid of said colour, but that all changes as both hedgehogs explore a timeline that stretches from the early ’90s to 2010.

What's this? Classic Sonic in a stage from 2004? That's completely bananas!

We’re sure you remember how to play Classic Sonic: hop and spindash your way through a wild rollercoaster of badniks while you you try to nab (and desperately keep) shiny, life-giving rings. For all the eye-popping pizazz and polygonal shenanigans, the gameplay remains remarkably close to the source material; Sonic Team clearly spent time on getting it right. Ducking is no longer required to spindash (tapping a dedicated button is an option now), which is the only relevant change – and it’s a good one. Creative stages are layered with fun routes to take, but the controls can be touchy, bordering on frustration now and then. The levels don’t quite rival the best of the Genesis/Mega Drive days, but they fit in as fresh additions of their own. Of course, Classic Sonic is only half the story, and probably the less interesting side.

Sonic has been tearing around the third dimension like a loon for years, loyal Sega always trailing behind and trying to steer him in the right direction with erratic results. The formula has been improving recently, and Sonic Generations is the best result yet. Among other stunts, Sonic can squeal around turns in a spindash, gain boost to rocket through loops, and cross huge chasms with the physically impossible homing attack. The blinding speed might throw you off at first, breaking the stages into stop-and-go stumbles; but practice will reveal tight stage design that rewards level memorisation and quick wits. Such intensely rad action makes it all the more disappointing when a glitch rears its ugly head or the controls fail you entirely. Nobody else does what Sonic Team does, but that doesn’t mean they always do it well.

And Modern Sonic in a stage from 1992? That's totally nuts!

Something they deliver in ridiculous abundance, however, is nostalgia; gallons of the stuff. Every level is ripped straight from a past Sonic title and positively packed with accurate details, whether it’s a familiar floating platform from the reimagined Chemical Plant or Seaside Hill’s faithful go-kart section. Anyone who’s played a Sonic game or two will get something out of it, but for those select fans who can pick out samples of Sega Saturn commercials mixed into a Sonic R remix, a true delight is in store.

Although the music can’t always rise to that level of jaw-dropping wonder, Sonic Generations’ rhapsodic smorgasbord of pumped up remixes is akin to stuffing your ears with gummi bears. These songs accompany stages brought to life with a delightful vibrancy that can differ radically from zone to zone. The sense of speed is genuinely thrilling, and grabbing a screenshot of the action would reveal textures of unexpected detail. It’s almost painful to admit that the beautiful environments and great animations are marred with a so-so frame rate that can dip into nearly unplayable slideshows during the more hardware-intensive moments. For a game focused so specifically on speed, this is 100% uncool.

And a remake of City Escape, complete with a new rendition of its jaunty theme song? That's entirely bonkers!

But for better or worse, there’s more to do in Sonic Generations than run fast. A hodgepodge of bite-sized challenges (often used to shoehorn in the non-playable extended cast) helps out with variety, but there are plenty of misses among the hits. Battles against Dr. Eggman and Sonic’s past rivals are similarly iffy, concluding with an abysmal final boss. Although a stupidly easy stage ranking system and a shop that sells passable special abilities also fall short of their potential, collectathon enthusiasts (you know who you are) will have a field day finding hidden red rings and unlocking oodles of prizes, including a fully functional Genesis that plays the original Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic Generations is a truly great game weighed down with sloppy troubles. Racing against the excellent system of leaderboards shows just how well put together the core gameplay is, and if not for the low frame rate and overall splapdash production, it wouldn’t have much holding it back. In short, imagine a shiny car of the coolest variety. Now imagine bashing it with a crowbar three or four times. Do you still like the car? Of course; it’s of the coolest variety! But seeing what it could have been makes the dents even more cringe-worthy. Sonic Generations is a gleeful tribute to the best of Sonic, but like our unfortunate hotrod, it takes a beating along the way.

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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