Sonic Generations Review

by

Date Released: November 1, 2011
Date Reviewed: November 13, 2011
Genre: 2D and 3D Action Platformer
Players: 1 Player Only
Length: 4-8 hours for main story, 15+ for extra content
Replayability: High

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Introduction

Sonic Generations is the latest major release in the Sonic the Hedgehog video game series. Developed not just for the 20th anniversary of the character, but also in hopes of bridging the numerous amounts of gaps between the differences of the fandom’s preferences in a continuously changing series. It combines gameplay elements and music from all 20 years of the franchise’s history, successfully creating a game that appeals to fans old and new, while also becoming the most accessible and enjoyable new Sonic game this entire console generation.

Concept

Sonic Generations is an action platformer designed with concepts from throughout the franchise’s 20 year history. Players will be able to use the classic version of Sonic which plays similarly to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the modern one that plays similarly to the day levels in Sonic Unleashed. Although three ‘Eras’ of the series are included, there is no option to play as the Sonic from the Dreamcast games, but there are some unlockables that let the player make him control similarly to it.

The game presents itself as half classic-styled, but this is not the case with only one third of the game’s zones and bosses reflecting this. The level themes are staff favorites from the past 20 years and are not designed to be a “Best Of”, but a overall celebration of the franchise. Almost every Sonic game is referenced in some form, with all of the SEGA Game Gear titles being mysteriously unrepresented.

Gone are deep plots, ill-fitting lyrical or orchestral themes, Quick Time Events and playable friend characters, all of which are some of the most complained elements to the franchise since Sonic Adventure – The first major 3D outing in the series. Likewise however, the game is not designed with an overbearing hand to fans whom prefer the original style of Sonic.

Regardless of the overall quality of Sonic Generations, the full and original Sonic the Hedgehog game (Which we have reviewed in the past) is an unlockable in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. Times and scores are saved within the same save file even. Although this is a very poor port of the game by Backbone Entertainment with cheap sound emulation, the game is one of the most important in the history of the industry and has aged very well.

Story

The game has no introductory cutscene, but instead begins with the Classic Sonic in a remake of Sonic the Hedgehog 1‘s Green Hill Zone Act 1. After this, time is moved forward to where many of Sonic’s best friends are throwing him a surprise birthday party, which is interrupted by a mysterious entity that pulls each character in through a different “Time-Hole”. Sonic awakens in a small section in the world where all of the color is missing and must traverse through zone gates from his past to restore them and his friends before all of time and space falls apart forever. Along the way he reunites with both the original version of himself and both versions of Tails, but many other characters like Amy Rose and Knuckles the Echidna confusingly do not receive classic models.

Easily Sonic Generations’ weakest point is the story. While not full of hidden deep meanings or awkwardly dark back stories like some of the 3D titles have had, the reverse is true in that it is now all overly childish and not enough is explained. While fans who have been following the series for the past few years will not have much of an issue, newcomers will be left with a massive amount of questions, such as why there is a giant truck chasing Sonic or why would you want to save an apocalyptic level filled with monsters.

It is likely for the best that the writers (whom had previously written the plots to Sonic Colors and MADWORLD, both of which are Wii exclusive) avoided the many plot holes and continuities left by previous games, but a lot of potential is missed in this too. Only mild references to games happen early on and then are largely never discussed afterwards. Considering the fanbase especially has created numerous in-jokes based off of every game it would have been fairly easy for the writers to find some, but they did not even attempt to.

[Levels from past games that had multiple acts with different art are now seamlessly blended together]

Gameplay

Gameplay is similar to what is expected from both classic and modern gameplay styles, where the player must reach the end of the level through multiple paths, collect rings for protection and defeat Dr Robotnik’s (AKA Eggman) badniks, with some levels having different enemies. Although the character is known for speed, some sections prove to be too fast and are specifically built for replaying instead of just enjoying them the first time. The trial and error of recent Sonic games is nowhere near as apparent, but some of the 2D sections require unrealistic predictions from people playing for the first time, some of these are entirely locked out if missed unless the player restarts the level even.

Neither Sonic loses all his rings when damaged, but instead a percentage based on how strong the attack was. This is unnecessary, confusing and makes dying by loss of rings very rare. Just like the majority of modern games, most of the deaths will be from falling down a hole. Although unfortunate, the amount of rings littered throughout levels now is very low compared to most 3D games, so the player will not be obtaining numerous extra lives with each zone, giving the game a much better balanced feeling than almost every 3D Sonic game to date. The camera is also arguably better than it has ever been in years, but some sections zoom out ridiculous distances, making Sonic hard to see at times.

[Underwater sections are still only in 2D]

Progression is fairly unique in that the player cannot just beat a level and move on, but now must find keys and some other items hidden throughout the level selection map. These largely optional missions in Sonic Generations are similar to what was found in the secondary acts from Sonic Colors or Sonic & the Secret Rings where the player must traverse through a level with altered paths and finish specific objectives that require the player to use a level gimmick or follow special rules. Many of these are races against the other Sonic and some of his friends, but many are also extremely clever one time concepts. A few of the missions where you collaborate with another character are fairly disappointing in that only one of them exist. It would have been great to unlock the use of Vector as a special ability for use in another level, for instance.

Bosses are seemingly added late in development and reflect some of the worst design flaws behind the game, especially the final two where the game seems to almost fall apart at points. Compared to many previous 3D Sonic games, this is still an improvement, but should have been addressed. A large problem from these come from the majority of them being fights where the player is running. Some work as intended, but when seem far too short and when the player has issues, they seem to last much longer than all of the main levels found in the game.

Controls

Perspective changes constantly between 3D and 2D gameplay in the modern Sonic gameplay style. These camera changes are automatic and usually occur during long stretches of land. 2D platforming is in place to make more vertical platforming possible and not play closer to the classic style. In 3D sections, the player is given numerous different actions they can perform with every button, many of which are optional and only used for skilled speedrun playing, such as drifting or ring-dashing. Some of these skills are unnecessary, but unlike previous 3D Sonic games, they are not overused to the point of tedium, like the homing attack chains over pits had become.

Concepts overused throughout some of the games represented such as the go-kart Sonic Heroes are now refreshing unique and are sometimes hidden secrets even. Almost all of these control well enough to have a whole game designed around them and are brief, so if the player enjoys them they want more of it, but if they do not they are easy to dismiss.

The modern Sonic has had new control concepts within each game – In particular the grind rails have had different control schemes within every release since they have been in since 2001, confusing fans both old and new. To help this somewhat, the colored buttons on the Xbox 360 all represent different abilities of the modern Sonic to help newcomers. This is not reflected on the PlayStation 3 controller, however.

[Rainbow-colored ramps and loops take Sonic to higher platforms and allow him to perform tricks]

Differences from previous Genesis/Mega Drive Sonic games are common, but not excessive like in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I. The spindash has it’s own button and is used to complete some levels, while rolling is confusingly useless. Early levels make this seem game-breaking, but the majority of levels are more platform-based than straight paths. There are still some points that purists will not like, such as being able to spindash up a wall while running on it, but many of the gameplay concepts such as jumping off angled platforms at a certain speed have very similar results to the originals.

For many fans that will not be enough, and Sonic Team is aware of this. Optional customizable actions are in place to allow the player to alter either Sonic to their liking. Modern Sonic can be tweaked to play more like he did in Sonic Adventure or close to how Sonic 3D Blast did with the same breaking sound even included. Classic Sonic can be given the “Insta-Sheild” or elemental shields from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the time break from Sonic & the Secret Rings and even the homing attack, among many others. Although these can greatly effect the main gameplay, the missions and online leaderboards do not allow them, so as to not give an unfair advantage.

[Level concepts that were not possible on weaker hardware are now fully realized]

Sound originalreviews

Sonic games have become iconic within the medium for a number of reasons, but the recognizable sounds are a large part of this. The classic Sonic features numerous similar sounds to the Genesis/Mega Drive titles, but the modern one features more generic “Fast moving” effects. A major issue that becomes apparent almost immediately is that many background sounds such as a waterfall or an enemy just flying around are much, much louder than they should be and often times drown out the music. This is an issue especially with the modern variation of Sonic who distorts the music with his boost power already.

Voice acting has been one of the most criticized elements of Sonic games since they were introduced. The light story may be in place to combat this, but the dialog is still overly cheesy and uninspired still. Again like the story, much of it is overly childish and will likely irritate older players. Many of the character missions have them saying the same grating line over and over again, the last boss in particular has the cast telling the player what to do, but it is all repeated after seconds and the fight last multiple minutes. Very unprofessional use of already poor dialog. The HD versions have the option to select Japanese, English, French, Spanish, German and Italian. While the English cast is the same from last year’s Sonic Free Riders, the Japanese cast is largely the same that have been used since Sonic Adventure, with the four latter ones all being new and based off of the Sonic X cast for their specific language. Another bright point is that the classic version of Sonic is completely mute and uses his animations to express himself instead.

[2D sections use multiple layers of platforms in ways the Genesis/Mega Drive hardware could not]

Always considered a high point of the franchise even in it’s rough years, the soundtrack of Sonic Generations does not disappoint. While almost every song found in the game is from past games, many are remixed to the point they might as well be classed as different completely, but not to the point they would clash with the level. The possible exceptions are a few songs by the band ‘Cash Cash’ that use a new age pop style for some classic Sonic levels, but otherwise they are respective of the original vision behind the settings.

The amount of unlockable songs from the past 20 years of Sonic games is overwhelming. Many fans will be upset to not see their specific favorites, and a few choices poorly represent the series, but largely every type of genre and major composer ever part of the franchise has some representation. Games that had multiple soundtracks for different releases such as Sonic CD and Sonic 3D Blast each have been included as well, a very welcome touch. Even cooler, these can be selected for use in any playable level or mission and have their own separate listening station for when not in a level, but the zone-specific songs are not part of this for some reason.

Visuals

Art direction is strong. Not a simple cut-and-paste of textures and shapes from previous games, but a completely redesigned outlook on every setting. On paper, the amount of city themed levels seems redundant, but against one another feel very distinct, which is a huge improvement from the very samey feeling settings from Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors, but ice and gambling themed zones would have still been appreciated. Some locations like Sky Sanctuary Zone from Sonic & Knuckles looks almost completely different from the original design, but still feels distinct to the franchise by taking inspiration from other games such as Sonic Adventure, Sonic Advance or Sonic Riders and quietly blending them together. Some later zones reuse assets from the newer games, but retain a largely different level layout. However, the level from Sonic Colors in particular has many low resolution textures that are very obviously from a Wii game instead of an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 one, but still looks genuinely good simply because of the distinct and colorful art.

Ever since the franchise has become largely 3D, a massive amount of the appeal has been around cinematic camera movement during gameplay. Because of this, many Sonic titles have had framerate issues. Comparatively, many recent Sonic games on HD consoles have had whole levels with numerous inconsistencies and bounce all over the place, but Sonic Generations is generally solid with only a few of the later levels having them. Usually locked at 30 frames a second, the game casually drops below, but never during inopportune moments where the player might not know how to properly leave a situation such as death. The PC conversion by Devil’s Details has the potential to reach 60 frames and will receive patches to improve this in the future.

[Enemies from throughout Sonic’s history return for revenge]

Sonic Generations is the first 3DTV compatable game in the franchise and is available on all platforms. Some level gimmicks, such as enemies in the background shooting towards the screen or a piece of the level floating away in a tornado take advantage of this, but do not feel gimmicky or as if they were only intended to be viewed in 3D like many movies and video games now do. A special stage would have been perfect for this, but none exist in the HD version of the game.

The game’s animations are arguably the best element of the title graphically. Every character model is expertly designed and smooth, which is sorely unappreciated in the gameplay as the camera constantly moves far away from them. Many very similar animation sequences are emulated in the classic Sonic model and some level backdrops, but are mostly used for ascetic authenticity instead of gameplay – A good example is how looking up does nothing, when before it would move the camera upwards. The character of Shadow in particular was painstakingly recreated to look exactly how he did in Sonic Adventure 2 and has some animation cycles improved from the game Shadow the Hedgehog as well.

The cutscenes are a bit different and feel rushed in comparison. Already short in length, not as much attention is made with how characters converse and they never interact with set pieces. Many of the newly created animations seem overly childish in comparison and stand out poorly.

[Set pieces from every level included in the game have completely new concepts implemented to surprise fans of past titles]

Windows Version Notes **

“System tested is a 3.4GHz Core i7 2600k overclocked to 4.8Ghz (Hyper-Threading disabled), 16GB of Kingston DDR3/1333 on a Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD7-B3, with a EVGA Geforce GTX 560 Ti 1GB. Windows 7 Professional x64 is the operating system.

Game runs acceptably. Personally, I am very surprised since the system specifications (both minimum and recommended) are rather high for such a game, being that it is a console port from consoles that run on lesser hardware than any high-end gaming rig you can buy today, and the game is no Crysis or Metro 2033, not to say the graphics are bad – just the game isn’t a graphical powerhouse. In short, the game is a acceptable console port, it’s not another GTA IV, which had low system requirements and recommended requirements but the game ends up requiring a very powerful system just to play the game.

Game supports the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows natively, works great and controls well. I don’t have a 360 controller, rather a Logitech PC game pad that works 99% identical with a PlayStation Controller layout.”

[Sonic uses animations from dozens of different games and promotional art from throughout his 20 years]

Nintendo 3DS Version Notes

The Nintendo 3DS is receiving it’s own completely different version of Sonic Generations being released later this month. Developed by DIMPS in cooperation with Sonic Team, this game will have for the most part an entirely different selection of levels from throughout Sonic’s history, most of which are first level affairs. It is very notable that the game will have Special Stages, unlike it’s HD brethren. The speed of gameplay is retained, but both classic and modern styles are in 2D at all times due to the platform’s lesser abilities compared to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. This version does not feature any levels found in releases that did not appear on Nintendo platforms, like Sonic ’06.

[Both the HD and 3DS versions have dynamic cameras]

Conclusion

In a medium where 1990s video game franchises like Mortal Kombat, Rayman and Kirby all seem to be returning to classic formulas after years of questionable quality, Sonic Generations does not start trends or push the limit of what is possible in the genre like the original Sonic games had. What it instead does is produce a love letter to every fan that has either kept believing in the series after all these years or to those who have been wanting to return to the series after a decade of dissolving interest or disappointments.

Certainly not a perfect game, but the correct one for the present, Sonic Generations will teach newer fans about why so many are passionate about the past games, and proves to those whom prefer the classics that the new style is not so bad after all. Not only the most easily adaptable title in the franchise’s recent history, but the highest quality Sonic Team developed game the industry has seen in over a decade.

Happy Birthday, Sonic.

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Formats: Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows PC via Steamworks and Nintendo 3DS

** PC notes by David J.

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2 Responses to “Sonic Generations Review”

  1. ShadiNeko Says:

    tl;dr

    j/k

    Nice review, I didn’t read it word by word, but I got the overall idea of what you were saying.

  2. Sonical Says:

    “orchestral themes, all of which are some of the most complained elements to the franchise since Sonic Adventure”
    Did I miss something here because I don’t recall the frothing masses that hated the orchestral themes. I think a orchestral version of the classic Sonic theme would have gone a long way I found the synch remake of it a little too clinical.

    I’ll take anything over the final boss music, it’s almost impressive how everything in the battle feels generic and disconnected from the rest of the game.
    I can see where the designers wanted to be like Doomsday Zone with the homing missiles and the giant chucks of levels coming at you but that’s where the similarities end and the frustration begins.

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