Sonic Generations Review (PC)

I have a very love-hate relationship with Sonic The Hedgehog. I desperately want to like his recent games but they far too often give me feelings of extreme pain and anger. It’s therefore fitting that Sonic Generations, as a celebration of 20 years of Sonic, recreates these feelings and relationship perfectly. Half the time I love it, the other half I’m screaming obscenities at the little bastard. Usually when Sonic doesn’t jump when I tell him to or the game warns me of a deadly drop only after Sonic’s fallen down it.

The Death Egg. Classic battle rejigged wonderfully. Still got the music in my head 18 years later...
The setup for this particular hedgehoggy adventure is quite simple: a weird purple time monster kidnaps Sonic’s friends (um, do we have to save them? We do? Oh well…) and, more seriously, splits open time itself. This rather unexplained plot simply allows both classic mute pudgy Sonic and modern can’t-ever-get-a-break Sonic to be thrown together to save the day. Obviously a certain moustached mad scientist is involved, but thankfully the plot and cutscenes are kept to a minimum.

The good news is that the two Sonics are the only characters playable (yay), and despite rumours there’s no sign of the Werehog. Old Sonic is played entirely from the side and barring the Spin Dash has no extra moves. New Sonic is a mixture of 3D and 2D and receives new moves as you progress through the game. Levels consist entirely of excellent remakes of classic levels from all major Sonic games from Sonic 1 to Sonic Colours, with a few bosses and a load of special Challenges along the way.

At the start this is all utterly delightful. The stages have been re-imagined well with loads of detail, and it’s just as cool to play 2D classics like Chemical Plant in 3D as it is to play the complex modern stages as Classic 2D Sonic. Challenges are quite cool additions, often redesigning the stages to good effect – for example, filling the stage with spikes and badniks but giving you loads of invincibility boxes along the way. Rival battles against Metal Sonic, Shadow and Silver are uniformly satisfying, and the boss battles are mostly good too.

Then you’ll die shooting off a railing because you dared to press jump rather than left, or the camera wouldn’t let you see the correct path in time, and it’ll all come flooding back. This is why you swore you’d stop buying Sonic games. Play the game “correctly” and you have loads of fun… try to do something other than exactly how the developer designed it, or god forbid run too fast and not be psychic, and you’ll almost certainly fly off into a void. Far too often I had to actually walk slowly just to get past a section – walk slowly! In a Sonic game!

To use Valve as an example, the reason their games are so good and take so long to make is because they thoroughly playtest everything to perfection. Sonic Team, on the other hand, seem content to design their levels beautifully (as the pages and pages of unlockable artwork proves) but not to let anyone actually play them until the game is released. I can’t explain any other way how Sonic (old and new) from one perfect angle will bounce gracefully off a row of badniks but from every other angle would clumsily miss and either lose all his rings or die - which anyone who played it would see immediately.

In short, playing Sonic Generations is extremely aggravating. It’s even more annoying because a lot of the time you’re playing the best ever Sonic game, or at least one that had the potential to be. However, the times when I wasn’t yelling at the screen were enormous amounts of fun. The difference between Sonic Generations and another infuriating game I reviewed recently, War of the Worlds, is that a much bigger percentage of the game is fun, and at the end of the day I didn’t have anywhere near as much trouble actually getting through to the finish.
Seriously? Seaside Hill? How gauche...
The enjoyment starts with the amazing amount of fan service Sonic Team (or at least the writers) have crammed in. A massive selection of music from every Sonic game, all of which are playable as alternate level tracks, is something I’ve wanted in a Sonic game for a long time. Classic Eggman is called Robotnik and looks correct on the stage ending sign, which you can jump into and spin in the air indefinitely. Tails doesn’t recognise Green Hill Zone but the purple waters of Chemical Plant “make him nervous for some reason”. Oh, and Classic Sonic never speaks, which instantly makes him 100% more lovable.

The levels themselves are beautifully rendered, extremely colourful and wonderful to get through for the most part, which upsets me more then that there’s so few of them. I like the idea of one level for each major Sonic game, but just one Act for Classic and Modern Sonics? And a few major games have been left out, like Sonic 3, Sonic CD, Sonic 3D Blast, Secret Rings and Sonic 4, but screw that – no other levels from the first two games?! Consequently you’re done with the classic Sonic levels in about an hour, which are the best levels in the game from both viewpoints.

Then there are the odd choices, and if you’re not a long-term Sonic player you can ignore this paragraph okay? Right, why the irritating and boring Speed Highway from Sonic Adventure over Twinkle Park or indeed any other level? The exceptionally bland Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes over Casino Park or the fantastic Hang Castle/Mystic Mansion? And to reiterate, no levels from Sonic 3 or the greatest Sonic game of them all, Sonic CD? I know it’s being re-released, but come on, you could’ve had such fun with it Sonic Team!

There’s also a few cut corners which don’t make Sonic Generations the complete Sonic Celebration it tries to be. While the boss battles, and in particular the Rival battles, are really cool there’s just not enough of them. There should be a small one at the end of every level dammit. It’s also really disappointing that there’s no Bonus Stage to earn the Chaos Emeralds in. Imagine recreations of the bonus stages from 1, 2, 3, CD, and Heroes! That would’ve been cool fan service, extended the game with little difficulty, and upped the challenge fairly.

Ah yes, I mentioned another problem there… Sonic Generations is one of the shortest Sonic games I’ve ever played. Yes, there are loads of challenges which can be done differently with both Sonics, S-Ranks to earn, Red Rings to find, and the nifty addition of Super Sonic once you’ve finished the game, but that’s all “extras”. The standard levels and bosses can be breezed through in a few hours, which isn’t fair considering all that could’ve been added. That’s including the time it’ll take you to nip out and buy another television to replace the one you chucked your controller at too. Seriously, even thinking of Crisis City right now is making me angry again.

If you’re a Sonic fan or someone who hasn’t played a game in the series since you found out about Sonic and the Black Knight (he’s got a sword?!) I really think you’ll enjoy Sonic Generations. Despite a hefty number of aggravations, most of which I haven’t had space to mention (why can you only use Ring Dash about four times in the game at prescribed points? Why are there windy sections above sheer drops? WHY DIDN’T SONIC JUMP JUST NOW?! – from my review notes), I can still recommend the game and call my time spent on it “fun”. The score was so nearly in the 7s, but I ended up enjoying it just enough to break into the hallowed hall of the 8s. Just.
Oh you are SO going down (ED: Tron Edition)

It could do with a few more levels, a bonus stage, more bosses, slightly tighter controls and a load more playtesting to iron out the “AAAAAAAAARGGHHHH” moments, but Sonic Generations is still a worthwhile and entertaining package. It’s the best Sonic game since Sonic Heroes. What? I like that game, screw you. If Hang Castle’s in the first DLC pack I’ll be on it like a shot. Now then Sonic Team, SEGA, don’t screw up the next game and you’ll have redeemed yourselves for creating the irritating Chip. Maybe.

Top Game Moment: Laying out the a long-deserved smackdown on both Shadow and Silver. Eat road you spiky sods.