Sonic, Sonic, Sonic. A while ago, you and I used to be friends. Do you remember what happened?
I’ll tell you what happened – Sonic and The Secret Rings happened, buddy boy. And I found your gameplay stilted, the story and characters charmless and somewhat tired, and despite a passable attempt to shoehorn a Mario Party-esque multiplayer minigame into what was already a hugely drawn-out yawnfest of a game, I went off you pretty quickly. The release of Sonic and The Black Knight with the same clumsy, frantic motion commands only served to rub salt in the wounds. My head was turned slightly by the time Sonic Unleashed was…erm, unleashed, and I felt you’d taken a small step back towards the welcoming, fun (and thankfully mute) Sonic of yesteryear.
So when I heard about Sonic Generations, I was dubious. Was I ready to let Sonic back into my life?
Like a former addict, I hit the streets in search of leads, determined to know what I was getting myself into.
“The ultimate celebration of 20 years of Sonic gaming, Sonic Generations delivers the definitive gaming experience for Sonic fans new and old,” bleats SEGA.
Well, I guess I count as the ‘old’ Sonic fan, seeing as though I’m old enough to remember the original games. And I’d quite happily admit, hand over fist, that I much preferred them to any of Sonic’s recent fare. I finally bit the bullet when my fiance brought the game home shortly before Christmas. If this couldn’t endear me to the speedy blue sodhat once more, I vowed I would give up.
The intro video begins with a party. Yay! It’s Sonic’s birthday! Forgive me for not bringing a gift. Everyone’s favourite critter pals (and Amy Rose) are here. But something is amiss. A giant hole is torn in the fabric of space and time, and our friends (and Amy Rose) are sucked into it, only to reappear in a vapid white wasteland. But what’s this? TWO SONICS?!
On one hand, we have Old Sonic. Side-scrolling super speed platforming, ring-collecting, Robotnik-bashing Old Sonic. No need for half the forest to lend him a hand or gimmicky plots ripped from Arabian Nights, he just knuckles down (no pun intended) and gets on with it. On the other, New Sonic. With his entourage of buddies, aerial move-busting and ‘cool’ streamlined design, New Sonic looks like that kid on Facebook with 500 friends and a profile picture of himself on a skateboard in mid-air. And they’re going to have to team up if they’re ever going to restore their homeworlds. “Aha!”, I thought. “This is the test. This game is either going to be a fantastic blend of the best parts of every Sonic game, or it’s going to be like waxing: painful and unnecessary.”
The game is firstly split into Acts One and Two, playable in any order. Act One, as you’d expect, is Old School Sonic. With all the momentum and heady speed of the first games including the original music, it’s easy to forget I’m playing this in 2012, which is bliss. I’m interrupted now and again by a Chao bleating helpful tips at me such as “If you lose all your rings, YOOOOUUUU’LL DIIIIIIIIIIEEEE”, but then I remember there will be some gamers out there who have never played a Sonic game before. As I whizz through the first level with its impressive graphics, I’m quite happy that this will be some people’s first impression of Sonic. It beats the hell out of Secret Rings. There’s a good selection of vintage levels, and the artwork reminds me of the gorgeous design of Donkey Kong Country Returns or Rayman Origins – almost. Sometimes there’s a little too much going on, which can be distracting.
Act Two plunges us into ‘3D’ Sonic. The levels consist of forward scrolling at an impressive (and sometimes distracting) pace – you really have to concentrate: miss one move and you’re toast. This causes the most upset in our household when we keep dying at the same point in each level. “This isn’t what Sonic’s about!” cries my fiance. “You don’t get stuck in a Sonic game!” I’m mostly inclined to agree. A lot of the forward-scrolling play is about timing, as seen in a level which heralds the return of Silver the Hedgehog, who angrily flings debris at Sonic as you pursue him. Miss a move or two and you’re out. This can be a source of irritation for people who aren’t fans of repeating an attack sequence over and over and over to win.
As with most Sonic games, your performance gets a rank at the end of each level. Obviously, faster times and higher scores get you As and Bs, which in turn gives you unlockable content such as concept art, songs and character bios.
But the majority of the unlockable content is gained through ‘Challenge Gates’, which are exactly what the name suggests – levels with a unique challenge. Sometimes you have to race your doppelganger, sometimes you have to get to the ending holding only one ring, and more often than not you have to call on the expertise of your friends. This is quite a good idea: especially since I was not looking forward to endlessly having to deal with a barrage of irritating ‘Verb’ The ‘Noun’ critters which I assumed would dog you throughout gameplay. The Challenge Gates are an excellent way of utilizing each pal’s abilities – for example, Vector the Crocodile can toss you across large gaps, or Amy Rose can extend jump height by walloping you with her offensively large mallet (there’s a lot to be said for PMS power).
Since this game came out almost alongside Sonic Colours, the ability-enhancing sprites make an appearance. Since I hadn’t played Colours, I was a little un-nerved to see Sonic suddenly turn a nasty shade of cyan and start flinging himself about. Some of the abilities were a little hard to pick up on, and I kept forgetting that you could only use them once before you had to ‘refill’. To be honest, it put me off Colours a little bit. I could barely remember where the jump button was: how was I supposed to remember that light blue gives you a rocket ability and yellow makes you breathe fire and magenta makes you skilled at archaeology and green makes you…blah blah. I almost thanked God for the Chao yelling instructions in my ear. (Which you CAN turn off, something certain other games could do well to notice. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Navi.)
So we have the short, pudgy and mercifully quiet Sonic of yore, and the wise-cracking, chilidog-scarfing Sonic of recent gaming: and they seem to mesh fairly well together. The barren wasteland becomes smattered with colour as you play, collecting more chums and places to visit. The whole thing seems rather celebratory (as well it might, after all it was Sonic’s birthday), as if the goal was to applaud Sonic’s best efforts all along. I feel like I’ve actually achieved something, instead of feeling like I’ve been cheated as I had done in recent years.
Overall, the game is easy to pick up and get into. It’s not too hard or too easy, so it won’t alienate gamers old or new. It’s like a grab bag in the sense that certain gamers will find some elements superfluous – Generation One gamers may be frustrated by the game’s efforts to introduce new gaming aspects such as the Colours cameo noted above or Sonic’s animal pals, whereas New Generation gamers might not particularly care about the collectible content or the aesthetic of the Act One levels, but none of the niggles are enough to make either want to stop playing. Your personal mileage may vary, and you’re more than entitled to disagree with me if you want to.
Happy Birthday Sonic, and thanks for the invite.
(I will point out one more thing – sometimes, the ‘order’ of the game can get confusing. My other half is still missing the last Chaos Emerald and for the life of him can’t figure out where it is. Hasn’t stopped him playing it though.)