For those of you that have been living under a rock, Sonic Generations is Sega’s attempt to bridge the gap between the traditional, portly Sonic of yesteryear and today’s leaner, faster Hedgehog; taking both styles of play and mixing them together in one game. Act One of every zone is played as Classic Sonic, using 2D platforming, while Act Two is always New Sonic and uses 3D worlds and controls. It’s a novel idea, but like all post-Dreamcast Sonic games it just falls apart in the end.
Sega did at least take Sonic 4’s cold reception to heart and have gone out of their way to make sure that the 2D Classic Sonic stages look and play the way they’re supposed to. No homing attacks; no wonky physics; just good old-fashioned running and jumping. Even the background music and sound effects have been pulled from the original 16-bit games; creating an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The later Classic Sonic stages, based off the New Sonic era, can get a bit tedious, but they still follow traditional 2D design and maintain a nice balance of speed and platforming. Sadly the same cannot be for the New Sonic stages when played as New Sonic.
If you happen to have played the second Sonic Generations demo, like I did, then you were probably looking forward to the new and improved Sonic. Unfortunately while the Acts based on 2D Sonic stages are quite fun to play and are very well designed, once you cross into the stages from games like Sonic Heroes the frustration level skyrockets. I wish I could say these problems were something new, but alas they’re the same as they have ever been. Let’s go through the list:
Homing Attack Platforming Sucks: Crossing giant gaps is incredibly frustrating. If you fail to lock on, you will die. If you go past the first target you will often not even try to target another enemy and if you turn around you can’t target the enemy behind you. This has plagued the series since it was first introduced and has some how managed to get more annoying with each passing iteration.
No Camera Controls: The camera was never an issue with 2D Sonic games because it was always fixed in the right position. With 3D Sonic it’s almost always locked behind you and often obscures what you really need to see. Is there land behind that platform or a giant hole? You won’t know until you take a leap of faith. On more than one occasion I had the camera jump ahead to the position required for the next scene while I was still stuck in the previous. This resulted in me being unable to even see the platforms I needed to jump to and forced me to commit suicide in order to reset it. If I had had control of the camera I could have just repositioned it. Now there are certainly some segments where the fixed camera makes sense, such as when New Sonic goes 2D or if there’s a long pipe running segment, but when the pace slows down you need to have control.
Poor Hit Detection: There are a number of times when New Sonic just seems to pass through objects. Bumpers can often be difficult to hit without a homing attack and it’s easy to run straight through an object that is supposed to grab you; doubly so if you’re boosting. One of the later stages involves doing a stomp attack to drive floating platforms downward. If you’re close to the edge you stand a very good chance of going clean through.
Walking/Turning: New Sonic is really good at running in a straight line, but add any other movements and control becomes a royal pain. In open 3D sections Sonic moves very stiffly and it can be difficult at times to get enough momentum to reach a platform. In the fast-moving scenes where Sonic is locked on a rail path, like he is in the Wii games, refined movement becomes nigh impossible. Side-to-side movement is only really possible by using the Left and Right Bumpers to do little hops and while this works great in straight segments, when platforming is thrown into the mix it all just goes to hell. Even if you come to a full stop Sonic does not return to free 3D movement; making even simple side jumps a pain.
Add some Invisible Walls: While it feels weird to say it, New Sonic’s stages really need some invisible walls. It is way too easy to go flying off the edge of the stage by executing a homing attack at the wrong time or even just jumping in a turn. Boosting at the wrong time may even cause a rebound off a wall and into a large gap. It’s fine to fall to your death during a platforming segment, but when it happens way too often at times when you’re clearly not meant to leave the course, you have a major problem. This could also be solved if more New Sonic stages were set on the ground, like City Escape, and not on magical platforms that float in a void.
Despite it’s flaws, the New Sonic stages do have a couple of things going for them and when they’re good, they’re very good. Many stages feature some kind of high-action set piece that offers a level of exhilaration Classic Sonic just can’t match. Possibly the best example of this is the truck chase from the City Escape zone. In Act One the truck is merely a background object that occasionally smashes through the foreground, but in Act Two it’s an enormous mobile death machine that bears down upon you as you desperately race away.
Actually, in hindsight this high action set pieces are a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand they give New Sonic an aspect that is actually fun; on the other they make the Classic Sonic stages that lack nostalgic value seem somewhat boring.
Joining the various old and new stages together is a massive overworld hub. Rather than just being a map like you’d expect to find in a modern Mario game, it’s actually one big stage. An incredibly simple stage with only minor platforming, but it’s still unique enough to be interesting. While in the overworld you are able to freely switch between the two Sonics, though the only difference it makes is whether you enter Act One or Act Two. For every three Zones you clear you’ll uncover a Boss gate and unlock special stage challenges.
The addition of challenges is a great way to extend the experience and offer replayability, but like every other good idea Sega had, it has a tragic flaw. You see in order to enter the Boss Gate and actually make progress you must first complete at least one challenge in each Zone. This brings the game’s pace to a a screeching halt and force players to endure yet more tedium.
There’s also three rival battles hidden in the overworld that must be completed to earn you the Chaos Emeralds required to enter the final battle. They’re fun in their own right, but like the challenges making them mandatory just slows down progression. If the challenges were optional I’d say Sega did good, but by making them mandatory they’ve essentially sucked all the fun out of the game.
Online functionality is present in the form of stage rankings and 30 second distance challenges, but unless you’re a die-hard Sonic fan they’re just not worth your time. Like a good modern Sonic Game there is absolutely no multiplayer.
Sonic Generations is a brilliant concept, but it makes same old stupid Sega mistakes. This is not a return to Sonic’s glory days, but more an attempt to drown the beloved Classic Hedgehog along with his modern brother. I for one am getting sick and tired of seeing Sega flat-out refuse to acknowledge and correct the fundamental design issues that have been plaguing the series since it first went 3D. There was real hope that this would be the game to do finally do New Sonic right, but alas, are hopes were dashed. If you’re one of the few people who actually enjoy modern Sonic then you’ll probably love Sonic Generations. If you’re an incredibly patient fan of the original games, then you might find the Classic Sonic stages enjoyable at a minimum, but otherwise this is sadly not worth your time.
Sonic Generations is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence.