Following on from last years platforming masterclass Sonic colours, Sonic Team returns to celebrate 20 years of the blue blur with Sonic Generations. Here Modern Sonic (the long quilled, homing attacking, boosting trickster from Sonic Adventure onwards) teams up with his former self Classic Sonic (the short, tubby, Spin Attacking, Spin Dashing hog of the 16-Bit era) via a time travelling plot involving an outer space beastie know as the Time Eater. As a 20 year celebration each of SG's nine stages have been selected from nine previous games in the series spanning three eras- Classic, Dreamcast & Modern. All redesigned with entirely new layouts. Acts 1 are played with C Sonic as strictly side scrolling 2D levels (albeit stunningly rendered using the hedgehog engine) and Acts 2 are played with M Sonic were you will mostly be running into the screen at ridiculous speeds. A game for every Sonic fan then, genius. The nine stages are unlocked three at a time once you have cleared all acts of the current era as both Sonics in addition to a few of each stages' own Challenge Acts (more about them later).
Classic Sonic Overview
This is what all the old fans have been waiting for. Ever since the release of last years craptastic Sonic 4 Sega fans worldwide have been clamouring for a return of the original hog from the early 90's. C Sonic can run, jump, roll, Spin Attack, Spin Dash and that's it. In the original games Yuji Naka's expert coding created an unrealistic pinball feel to Sonic's physics were he could build momentum bouncing from one enemy to another. For SG C Sonic uses the Havok engine to create a more realistic feeling of momentum and as such the player can no longer build momentum chaining enemy attacks. Also C Sonic's jump is slightly gimped- he can't quite jump as far as he could in the classics after a small run up. But the main area in which ST have dropped the ball is the rolling. The roll friction is too high when going downhill causing Sonic to slowdown when he should be speeding up. Bizarrely this problem does not occur on flats were he can travel in a ball for some distance. To accommodate this deficiency the Spin Dash has been souped up and levels tend to be platform orientated. One noticeable exception to this is Chemical Plant which like the original is a mass of ramps and loops but to get him rolling at the correct speed he is sent through a series of boosters. Another anomaly are the invisible boosts at the top of most ramps throughout the game which overshoot Sonic into the air by meters. You more than build up enough momentum to clear them all without the unnecessary boosts (especially when using the overpowered Spin Dash) so why they exist is a mystery. Overall this is a valiant attempt at re-creating the Classic Sonic gameplay. The speed is there (the running itself improved over the originals), the physics are correct and veterans will get a big kick out of playing as the short spikey once again. But next to the classics? The gameplay is nowhere near as good.
Modern Sonic Overview
Modern Sonic's gameplay is the best it's ever been in Generations. As fusion of the Unleashed & Colours play styles Sonic primarily sprints into the screen but every so often switches to a 2D perspective to hop platforms. 3D sections revolve around the boost (built up by collecting rings and performing air tricks similar to Colours), the quick step (a lightning fast side step used to avoid obstacles), and of course the homing attack which can be used in either perspective to lock onto and destroy enemies. Due to their incredible speed M Sonic's acts are often more exhilarating than C Sonic, the downside to this being they also feel a lot more on-rails and linear despite the equal amount of branching routes due of the numerous choke points and fixed 3D angle camera making it difficult/impossible to backtrack. If C Sonic's acts are built for exploration M Sonic's are all about speed. The difference being you can also speed run the classic levels but the Modern Acts do not offer the same flexibility if you want to travel in any direction other than forwards. When played as the developer intended the Modern stages are a blast and there is nothing like executing a perfect run through Green Hill Act 2 (probably the greatest Modern Sonic level ever created) chaining boosts/homing attacks/air combos to achieve your best time. Boss/Rival battles of which there are six in the game are mostly handled by M Sonic with only the first two (from the Mega Drive era) played with the little guy. Once you have learnt their patterns Boss/Rivals are quite easy and best played on hard mode. Taking on Sonic Adventure's Perfect Chaos to the tune of 'Open your heart' by Crush 40 being a particular highlight.
Aside from C Sonic's roll being broke there aren't too many. On the whole level design is of high quality but both acts of Planet Wisp are a letdown. In Act 1 the player only gets access to the Spikes Wisp, and in Act 2 we only get Rocket. This removes the puzzle element of the original Planet Wisp (Sonic Colours) were the player could use all eight Wisps to find secrets and access faster routes and because the same two Wisps are spammed they're not as fun. Another disappointing aspect is the stage selection. Of the nine stages we get four cities and two 'Hill's and while the cities are all very different a more diverse line up would have been nice. I really could have done without Seaside Hill and Rooftop Run in favour of something more distinct such as Hang Castle & Chun Nan. My final gripe concerns the Challenge Acts. Each stage once complete unlocks a series of challenges that range from races with doppelgangers to treasure hunting. They're a nice extra to help pad out content but being forced to backtrack and complete a few for each stage before the next era unlocks disrupts the flow of the game and feels like a chore.
Negatives aside Sonic Generations is a spectacular anniversary title the likes of which have never been seen. Making both Sonic's playable was a masterstroke and to finally play as Classic Sonic again, now in glorious 2.5D is a joy to behold. Sonic Team have out done themselves with the level design which often surpasses the Mega Drive games. Standout levels include City Escape Act 1 in which the pursuing GUN truck actually alters level geometry depending on how fast you are and the maddening Crisis City Act 1 which requires precision platforming skills but once mastered provides great satisfaction. S Ranks are easier to attain here than in previous outings and rely on memorising routes. The cut scenes also deserve mention as another highlight where C Sonic's distinct personality comes through despite the fact he is mute. There is a wealth of extra music, artwork & character upgrades awaiting those who unlock all achievements, all stages provide huge replay value and there is a great final boss battle which I won't spoil. Do not listen to negative reviews about this game. Framerate issues are barely noticible and do not affect gameplay at all. If you're a Sonic fan of any era, or even just a casual Platformer fan you can't afford to miss this one. Happy 20th Sonic!