Running, but getting nowhere new
For 20 years, Sonic the Hedgehog has been the fastest videogame character in the world. Sega’s original Sonic series managed to compete with Nintendo’s heavy hitter, Mario, because it gave players not only speed, but also multiple paths through every level. This core’s held over the years, even though the move to the third dimension hasn’t fared as well for the blue furball. Sonic: Generations brings the old and the new together, literally pitting the original 2D and current 3D Sonic in a tale intended to make original and current Sonic fans happy. Unfortunately, it only works half the time.
Making full use of the E for Everyone ESRB rating, Sonic: Generations begins with a birthday party for Sega’s mascot that abruptly cuts off the high-pitched and annoying characters when an evil black something vacuums up all of Sonic’s friends and leaves him unconscious. Our hero wakes up without a chili dog, without his friends, and with a bad case of déjà vu while running through Green Hill Zone. If that sounds familiar, it should. Welcome back to the original Sonic the Hedgehog.
In fact, Sonic Team didn’t actually create any new levels for Generations. Instead, every stage has been re-created from nine different Sonic titles, from the original to last year’s Sonic Colors. Generations does offer Sonic in two flavors, though: the original shorter, rounder, black-eyed one and the newer, slimmer one with green eyes. Both Sonics race through seemingly identical acts but from completely different perspectives. But the major paths are the same as in the originals, so grizzled fans of the franchise can play through some levels blindfolded.
Classic Sonic only plays levels in 2D and can utilize his spinball and shields, while current Sonic plays in both 2D and 3D and uses a homing attack and turboboost. Each stage has two acts—one for each Sonic. In 2D, various paths are clearly defined and easy to follow—though difficult to master. In 3D, it’s all too easy to make one wrong button press and plummet to your death over and over again.
Of the 18 acts—two for each stage plus four boss battles—the 2D acts are almost always easier to play through because they aren’t confusing. In 3D, things move too fast and there are too many ways to die. 3D levels aren’t harder; they’re just exponentially more frustrating, because one slip, and bam—Sonic falls to his doom. At least in 2D, players always can see where they’re headed.
Playing in only two dimensions isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either. The camera isn’t stationary and almost always zooms in too closely on Sonic, so players can’t see what’s in front of them quickly enough to react. Generations offers some abrupt changes in perspective as well, where the controls remain set for 2D but the game clearly plays in 3D, such as circling a building. That would be fine if the camera didn’t pan, but it does, so it’s so easy to lose proper perspective.
Combine those mishaps with a very childish story—the cast of Yu-Gi-Oh! might as well be playing Sonic’s friends—and aging fans won’t feel like throwing a happy birthday party for their beloved hedgehog. Generations doesn’t include those oh-so-hard—but also rewarding—moments from the classics. I didn’t once get frustrated because I made a poor choice—only when the controls were choppy in 3D levels or the game delayed button presses.
Sonic: Generations is a kid-friendly Sonic title with the speed we all love and the character we adore, but with a botched 2D perspective and many frustrations in the 3D levels. The 18 levels, 30 bonus areas, and four boss fights can be fun, but they’re just unfulfilling in the end. At least Sega smartly included the original Genesis classic in-game so that everyone can play Sonic the way it was meant to be played.
SUMMARY: A new Sonic game with literally nothing new, but with a fresh take on famous levels.
- THE GOOD: Classic Sonic gameplay, online leaderboards
- THE BAD: Poor camera, delayed controller response
- THE UGLY: It’s as kid-friendly as Teletubbies
Sonic Generations is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.