Review: Sonic Generations – AAUK’s Take

It’s not every day that AAUK feels like he needs to write a review – well, lets face it for a long time he wasn’t in a position to do so what with working for the big S. However with it being Sonic’s 20th Anniversary and Sonic Generations being a landmark game for the series how does he think the game shapes up; is it a worthy game to mark two decades of Sonic? What improvements have been made and what lessons still have to be lived and learnt? We’ll let him explain.

A ROAD WELL TRAVELLED

Sonic The Hedgehog. Whatever you think of Sonic you no doubt have some measure of an opinion on the character. Be it one fashioned from the years of SEGA Vs Nintendo and your own personal pick of the battle or from the modern-day, third-party SEGA and it’s distinctly third-dimensional Sonic. Sonic for one reason or another has polarised many gamers; you mention Sonic and like as not you’ll get a view that Sonic isn’t as good as he used to be. There’ll be chuckles about Werehogs and guns and kissing of princesses.

I had joked a while back that you could have a drinking game based solely on Sonic Generations reviews; if someone uses the 2006 Sonic The Hedgehog game as an example how “Sonic isn’t good these days”, take a shot. Unfortunately from a fan’s point of view it is “fashionable” to rag on Sonic and has been so for some time. The truth, for those who can see past a title from five years ago created at the very beginning of the current generation of consoles, is that Sonic has been improving for a fair while. And the last few games have been more than, competent – they’ve been good.

Sonic Unleashed has its decriers in regard to the night stages, but the daytime levels were action-packed thrill rides combining pace and platforming in a balance not seen in years.  Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode I would’ve been hailed a lot better were it not burdened with the millstone around its neck of being not just essentially a work in progress title but of being Sonic 4. Sonic Free Riders whilst hardly setting the world alight at least pushed the bar for graphics and music up just that little more in the series. Then we have Sonic Colours, a game which stands out from those around it in the last 6-8 years as a bright beacon of gaming.

Sonic Team came so close to the Holy Grail in this game it hurts. Fast pace, action, a fun plot, gimmicks that truly enhanced play, voices that fit the characters and gameplay that satisfied both the younger and more senior gamer. Colours is a story of what might’ve been, especially had the title been released on 360 and PS3 with its extra graphical grunt.

Sonic is still improving, but it has not been at Death’s door as many would have you believe for a long time. With all this in mind we come to Sonic Generations, possibly the last game in the “Unleashed Era”.  From concept, Sonic Generations was designed to be a celebratory game of two decades worth of hedgehog antics.  But how do you summarise twenty years of gameplay over all manner of systems and platforms into both a cohesive game and a genuine celebration. It is not easy and I’ll tell you right now something SEGA entirely succeed at it.

GENERATION NEXT… PREVIOUS… WHATEVER(!)

The game begins at a surprise birthday party for the modern-day Sonic, one with chilli dogs and cake everywhere and surrounded by many of his friends, although the likes of Shadow and Silver – both of whom appear later in the game as Rivals – are not present. The party is rudely interrupted by a giant purple hole being ripped open in the sky and a monster looking suspiciously like a cloudy version of Angelus The Gatekeeper from the original Sonic Riders makes an appearance. This is the antagonist of the game the Time Eater, who promptly tears open a bunch of other smaller purple holes and sucks Sonic’s friends into the void, brushing away our hero’s attempt at saving them and departing.

Honestly, the guy doesn’t even wish him happy birthday. What an ass!

Sonic subsequently wakes up in “White Space” an interactive hub-world which holds a variety of highly familiar locations from his distant and more recent past. Games are represented well being split into three eras: Classic Era (Mega Drive/Genesis games), the Dreamcast Era and the Modern Era. All of which boast a variety of locals that were actually influenced by the fans themselves. But what about Sonic CD – is that in? No. (Well, sort of…) So are all your favourite levels in there? Probably not – but you need a balance between rose-tinted glasses and variety. It wouldn’t have been possible to put in every game ever made of Sonic and neither would it be feasible to put in handheld or obscure levels.

At its core the story is a simple one – and quite a criminally short one too; for those able to resist the lure of replaying immediately you could probably blast through it in a few hours with no trouble.  Sonic must free his friends, bring colour and life back to the places stolen by completing levels. He’ll face bosses too from his past which split the story up into three neat acts for each of the three eras – although the pacing on these acts feels all over the place even if that of the levels themselves seem excellent for the most part.

Along the way Sonic will also face three of his toughest rivals, two of which were historically tough badasses: Metal Sonic and Shadow. Whilst the other was just tough due to the awkward mess of a game he was in: that’d be Silver.

Sonic is joined for the generational ride by his younger self which immediately puts us in “holy crap time paradox” mode. SEGA to their credit have done a really good job with Classic Sonic’s character, bringing the old Sonic both up to date and keeping him true to his original design. Classic Sonic doesn’t speak, although Tails does which is somewhat bizarre.  He’s plump, has flesh toned  eyelids and black iris-less eyes and has an entirely different play mechanic to cope with. They’ve also put in a few things arguably to mess with both hardcore fans and critics. The idea toyed with at the end of the game (that the younger Sonic learned the much criticised Modern Sonic moveset) certainly feels that way and elicited a grin from me at how others might have reacted.

There are other little nods here and there as to the history of the franchise; when freeing one of Sonic’s friends (all of which are characterised nicely) they react differently to whether you did it with Classic or Modern Sonic. Knuckles remarks that Sonic seems to have put on a little weight to the chubbier Classic which doesn’t go down well. Whilst Amy gushes about how Sonic looks younger every day. In actuality I felt they could’ve done a lot more with this, especially considering when specifically Classic Sonic was taken out of time  – something which I’ll be coming back to later.

The voice work is very good for the most part. As we’ve come to expect Mike Pollock produces an effortlessly brilliant Dr. Eggman, whilst Roger Craig Smith turns in a solid performance as Sonic.

OH, WHAT AN ATMOSPHERE

Levels are all in all good, though they notably fade in quality over time which is a bit of a downer. It was nice to see Crisis City in a game that didn’t leave you wanting to tear your eyeballs out, yet at the same time they managed to make Planet Wisp from the recent Sonic Colours boring as hell.  It’s perhaps ironic considering all the unjustified (in my opinion) hate that Modern Sonic gets that the re-imagined 2D-to-3D levels feel so much better than the 3D-2D ones.

Without question Generations is a contender for the prettiest Sonic game there has been. The size and scale of the game world portrayed in all the zones is amazing and special note should be given to the sheer scope of the backgrounds and the huge amount of time spent on them. Yet for some reason the 2D levels feel colder and less real. Sonic Team were able to liven things up with a few tricks here and there that make things interesting –  Crisis City Classic has a false ending for instance just to mess with you – but otherwise they still feel flat at times.

Again a tad ironic perhaps, considering.

The music and the sound mix are of great quality, with music is helmed once more by Jun Senoue. Senoue-san clearly has put a lot of effort into Sonic Generations to make tracks feel familiar yet fresh, the result being that the Generations soundtrack is a delight. And whilst I am in no way as big a fan of Cash Cash as many of my fan contemporaries, their use has brought a more modern sound to the game.

RIVALS , BOSSES AND CHALLENGES

Controlling both versions of Sonic should be easy for most everyone who’s ever picked up a controller that moves a blue hedgehog about the screen. Whilst adequate I can’t help feeling they could’ve been tightened up more, as a result many times I was finding myself cursing Classic for his lack of movement especially when jumping. Heavy and cumbersome, it honest to goodness feels like you’re trying to coerce some sort of steamed pudding around the screen at times.  There are times when Sonic just doesn’t seem to want to jump up what frankly should be the smallest of inclines. Momentum physics? Yes… but there is a difference between momentum and feeling awkward.

Now that I mention it a lot of Sonic Generations flaws come from awkwardness, making no discernible sense or just coming off as lacking in terms of a real epic scale.  The Rivals are a good example of this, with the Metal Sonic battle coming off as a real landmark moment in the game.  Fighting Metal meant something to the experience, my entire attitude as well as those watching me changed, Metal Sonic was here –  this meant it was go time. Metal’s fight was a real nail biter first go, so I was a bit surprised when I turned it up to hard mode and toasted him in a minute.  Shadow’s fight, an altered re-enactment of his racing duel with Sonic aboard the ARK in Sonic Adventure 2 felt a pale imitation of the original.

Fighting Shadow in SA2, whilst a prelude to the Biolizard/Finalhazard, felt like an ending of itself. There was tension there with it all on the line – this felt hollow and meaningless. I beat Shadow so fast I turned to those in the room and went, “Wait… that was it? What the hell?”

The longest rival battle is versus Silver and is entirely manufactured as they never had a battle like it in Sonic 06.  Why on earth is Silver the most difficult? It just felt wrong.

Levels are accompanied by the Challenges which are various different game play tasks be it complete a level in a certain amount of time, beat or be assisted by one of Sonic’s friends or master a new trick which can be unlocked as an upgrade in an equivalent to Sonic Adventure 2‘s Chao Black Market.  Though perhaps the best one of these is where you have to juggle the end of act goal post across the level in a nod back to the original games. These provide great replay value and are used in the main story only sparingly.  They even take places across both day and night and are for the most on custom-made level sections – not just bits of the level it’s based in.

But would you rather have these challenges.. or have Sonic Team taken the amount of time spent making these and pushed it into the inclusion of another zone? I know what my answer would be.

The Challenges also contain the most difficult boss of the game: Vector The Crocodile.

I am not kidding on this; Vector’s note challenge – essentially a retread of the classic Link/Ganon tennis -like  back and forth but using a musical note – is the HARDEST THING IN THE GAME. A challenge which goes on seemingly forever and does nothing but shows off technical instabilities in the controls.  Ask others about it, 9/10 will speak of it with hatred.

The boss in the Time Eater is a rarity in that it turns out to be a monster of the week that Eggman DOESN’T lose control over. A nice change of pace in that regard and something that should obviously have happened with Sonic’s 20th anniversary. The big reveal of who was behind the Time Eater was handled very well, with Mike Pollock again deserving recognition for really making the key scene (one that could have easily have come off as contrived or even corny) work so well.

For the actual fight however I’m sad to report that the Time Eater is a bust. A climactic showdown which sees it fight off both Sonics in super form throughout the space-time stream doesn’t stray from the difficult to the annoying it leaps on a horse and gallops there at full speed. Time Eater is awkward, clumsy and not very entertaining as an end boss. Even with both Modern and Classic Sonics working together it seems just that little bit lacking and not nearly as epic a final battle as we’ve had throughout the 20 years of the franchise. It’s not anywhere near as bad as say Ix from Sonic Chronicles, who you could beat by throwing a balled-up sock at. But there isn’t so much a sense that you completed the game through skill, more just through some kind of weird voodoo magic.  I certainly think sticking pins in a doll of the Time Eater would prove a more effective and entertaining strategy.

Flying robotic chao and helper Omochao, long hated character though he is, is actually a big plus in Generations and fixed to the point of being very useful.  When it comes to the final boss however there is deafly silence over what it is you have to do – how you approach dealing with the boss and what moves are in your arsenal.  Sonic’s friends do their best to prove all their haters right by “rooting” for both Sonics and offering “advice”, like ‘get out of the way of that missile the size of a small house’ which you may have deduced for yourself. It seems rather peculiar, there’s nothing remotely obvious about your progress either.  Have I made a hit? No idea. What’s the health like? There’s no bar. Am I making any progress? You’d get better answers from a Magic 8 Ball.

AND YET SO FAR…

This brings me about to one of the things that irks me most about Sonic Generations, it’s a great nostalgia trip but it’s missing a layer of polish. There’s a layer of detail that’s just absent and that makes everything feel like a copy.  Little things that really identified the levels, that made the atmosphere of the originals are missing that would’ve been so easy to add they become noticeable.

City Escape is a great example of this, you’re boarding down the hills at the beginning and you hit a jump.  Sonic does a trick in the air and lands, you get propelled forward a bit and move on to the next one. In the original Sonic Adventure 2 level Sonic lets out a whoop, yelling “Yes!”, “Capital!” or similar . You get a bonus score that appears at the top of the screen and you know if you’ve made a good jump or not. The Sonic Generations version seems to have a couple of different jump animations but Sonic says nothing when he jumps and its very noticeable. There is no score and nothing to let you know whether you got the timing perfect on that ramp or if there is room for improvement. As it happens with the boost implemented now the ramps, apart from being used as path transitions aren’t much use any more it seems.

It was also nice of SEGA and Sonic Team to bring back 20 years worth of bugs for Sonic Generations. It is seriously amusing to see bugs from all three eras also represented in the twentieth anniversary game. It’s almost like SEGA put them in deliberately.

  • There’s the spike bug from Sonic 1 which occurs on spiked balls, not floors on this occasion. I had SA2 sticky jump, breakable camera issues – at one point by boosting I broke the camera in Speed Highway leading to a top-down only Sonic in the 3D section.  Grand Theft Hedgehog perhaps?
  • The front layer in Green Hill Zone on two occasions didn’t even render (Again following high boosting) leading to Sonic and a Motobug floating in midair.
  • Once while going around a loop I even managed to land on the layer BEHIND the primary one resulting in me walking on platforms not supposed to count as the level.  But yes; strange random deaths, getting caught on level elements randomly stopping your momentum, dashing through enemies sometimes killing them and sometimes not. Being hit despite being in invincible mode or despite attacking whilst in a ball…
  • And I will guarantee all of you will have found at some point what I call a stealth gap. This is a gap the size of a hedgehog which you can’t actually see and subsequently fall to your death.  I know of several people who have had that on the end platforming section of Crisis City, both TitansCreed and Blake Draco on SW staff had the same experience and when I mentioned the platform in question (one with a small step out from it) recognition and relief flooded Pete’s face. “It’s not just me then. I knew it.”

OUTTATIME

Then there’s the plot (or should that be time) hole problems. I remarked several times when playing the main story, which is written by the same people who wrote Sonic Colours, that it seemed like whilst the story was good it was written by people only familiar with the original games and a couple of the most recent ones.  That it inevitably ties in as a direct sequel to Colours should therefore not be a surprise to you.  There just seemed to be not enough done in terms of references and building on the history of the franchise, not enough in-jokes – just getting away with the bare essentials necessary to convey “Lolz time travel is KA-RAAAZY!”

This results though in writing problems that litter the game and that make NO SENSE when it comes to Sonic’s history to date – and as you’re doing a game that is supposed to be all references and greatest moments you’d’ve thought it would be a good idea to get such details correct. Otherwise you run the risk of looking like you don’t know your own product.

Let me take you back to the Rivals battles to further showcase this. The battle with Metal Sonic was brilliant as I already mentioned and for me a real highlight. What was made clear though was that this was classic Metal Sonic. Metal Sonic of Sonic CD. Now, somehow in White Space this Metal Sonic developed the remarkable ability of being able to speak, which he couldn’t do until Sonic Heroes. You might recall this being quite a big thing in terms of the entire plot of that particular game. But this was Metal Sonic of HEROES, some 11 years after Sonic CD.

When Sonic comes across Shadow he also appears to be the Shadow specifically of the SA2 timeline, having more of his original abrasiveness when speaking to him before the battle.  Therefore its surprising when he doesn’t say “Maria” when defeated. I know that’s nothing really, but again a little detail left out that had it been it would’ve really added to the sense of you journeying back in time to play the game. Not only that but if you play him again Shadow says “back for more” which is ridiculous as you just kicked his ass.

Though I guess Shadow’s memory has never been particularly accurate, right?

Silver is the worst offender of the lot though as when you meet him he’s actually friendly and comes across as Silver of the modern, current era and invites Sonic to battle for fun as rivals. Judging by previous logic Silver should be in full Iblis Trigger accusary-mode! That would at least explain why Silver, in his “for fun” battle remember, starts hurling cars and a giant metal sphere of steel at Sonic in order to KILL HIM.

The same even applies for Sonic himself! Classic Sonic is clearly taken from Green Hill Zone in Sonic 1 yet interacts with Tails who is from Sonic 2 or further forward in time like he knows him. If it is Green Hill Sonic then SONIC CAN NOT KNOW TAILS.  Tails himself admits that he doesn’t recognise Green Hill Zone earlier in the story in a clear nod to the fact Tails wasn’t in the original Sonic The Hedgehog. You surely cannot have it both ways???

Heck why do you even keep getting “????” as the level name when you first play the zone? Does Sonic just not remember any of his old adventures? And if he doesn’t remember why is there a humongous name label you can jump on across the top of the zone in White Space.

I could literally talk about these forever but needless to say ones like this are not alone. Issues like:

  • The fact Sonic 06‘s timeline magically exists still somehow, even if it’s in some form of closed loop when Sonic 06 clearly made it that the game never happened. Does this mean Blaze is a Queen again? Someone tell her she got upgraded!
  • The fact that all the Classic timeline characters forget EVERYTHING at the end.
  • In your battle versus Perfect Chaos you no longer need to be Super Sonic – so all those emeralds I collected in SA1 weren’t even necessary? Or are we suggesting here that Sonic has grown in power to such an extent he could now take Chaos down regardless?
  • And the end of the game effectively means Dr. Eggman no longer exists – thus negating the need for Sonic to even be a hero.

A STRANGELY FITTING FLAW

Despite all the foibles and issues I’ve listed above, which it is easy for anyone who is a long time Sonic fan to do, I would like to reemphasise that Sonic Generations is a very fun and capable game, certainly one of the best of this generation.  Levels are action packed and exciting, if suffering from diminishing returns on this over time (how they made Planet Wisp boring I’ll never know). Whilst it didn’t necessarily need to with Sonic Generations and whilst it suffers by being written by someone with an only partial knowledge of Sonic’s history ( clearly why Secret Rings got mentioned as a previous adventure) it was nice that they crafted a story around what is just a greatest hits collection.

Speed runs, red rings and challenges are all excellent in extending playtime. The musical arrangement is excellent  and Sonic for the most part controls well and unlike many of the recent era Sonics I can see myself going back and back and back to Generations. They’ve even catered for those of you with enough money to waste on a first generation 3D television.

At last we have a game which has successfully banished the spectre of its last anniversary outing in SONIC 06, even if SONIC 06 has in my opinion a lot better looking cut scenes than Generations does. But whilst the game itself is awesome fun, especially for a Sonic fan, this does not exclude nor excuse Sonic Generations from the most damning of criticism I have yet to levy.

 

It is a solid eight out of ten game.

 

To clarify what I mean by that, Sonic Generations feels like a game, as I said, which is missing that little extra bit of magic.  Those absent extra details here are what make the game experience complete and truly memorable. Even when Sonic Team have put in the odd nod and wink half the time you can’t even see them. Dear lord Sonic Team if you’re gonna put detail in you that want us to discover and appreciate, at least do us the favour of putting in a traditional first person camera mode, something fairly common in previous 3D Sonic titles SO WE CAN(!)

Generations feels like a game which has gone out of its way to make sure it doesn’t disappoint. To avoid previous mistakes, make sure that no one can find major fault, not upset anybody and get a steady marketable score across the board. In other words… it is a solid eight out of ten game. There’s nothing wrong with it, it does the job pretty well and is entertaining enough so I guess congratulations, are in order. Mazel tov! But SEGA and Sonic Team should have been aiming for a TEN out of ten and they’re not. It’s sad that in Sonic’s twentieth year in a a major landmark game for the series, an eight’s worth of game was what was felt was required. Generations does not feel like the brave new frontier for the series which it could have been; a real showcase for the future by rejuvenating the past. Instead it is more like the precursor to this, a closing of the storybook for both versions of Sonic to date. Not so much a celebration as a goodbye – a last hurrah for the old glory days.

In this sense it oddly shares a spiritual bond to Assassin’s Creed Revelations.

Where Sonic the Hedgehog goes from here only SEGA and Sonic Team know; the talk swirling around seems to indicate that Takashi Iizuka wants to take Sonic in a new direction which would probably lead to a third generational redesign of Sonic and fundamental overhaul of the game play style and format. I wouldn’t have any major issue with this actually; despite what other fans, journalists and gamers might think, Sonic has to keep changing and moving forward. It’s the type of character he is. The series will continue to try new things, some of which will succeed and some of which will fail. The one thing of all that has to change though at SEGA is the mindset. Because until you get in your head that only a perfect ten game will do, you won’t get a ten out of ten product. It’s the attitude of Valve, of BioWare, Rockstar and the creator of Sonic’s long time rival Mario – one Shigeru Miyamoto. It’s the difference between good, fun and technically sound versus great and amazing.

So, perhaps then the score of eight (which is not bad by any means) is as symbolic of the Sonic franchise as a whole over the past ten years than it is of Sonic Generations itself . The future continues to holds good things for Sonic and Sonic Team, but how good? That depends solely upon them.

Make no mistake, Sonic Generations is a fun game in terms of play, but let down by a lack of ambition and recognition of what it was trying to achieve at the end of the day. Sonic fans will lap it up and rightfully so and those who have avoided more recent titles will get a real kick out it. It won’t create much in the way of new fans though and you can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more.
4.0

Author: AAUK

Gamer, scholar, gentleman & fountain of useless trivia, LMC's boss-man extraordinaire is also a super-awesome Community Manager who has worked on projects for SEGA, Square Enix, Konami, Capcom and more. Once co-created and hosted an international fan-convention because he can do that sort of thing.

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