Sonic has not aged gracefully—an understatement at best. At first he was a pudgy, speeding hedgehog whose exploits on green hills, death eggs, and in trippy bonus stages made Sega a mainstay in the homes of millions. Today, we are lucky to get a Sonic game where the biggest problems don’t involve falling through scenery and listening to irritating crocodiles. (Yes, Vector, I mean you. I hate you and everything you stand for.) While many people loved the Sonic Adventure series, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) was a title so notoriously broken, slow, and all around bad that Sonic games have struggled to regain traction with fans all generation.
Speaking of generations, Sonic Generations, released in 2011, was created to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise. The story begins at Sonic’s birthday party. During the bash, a nonsensical incident involving a time-eating, time-travelling monster appears to ruin everyone’s day. “Modern Sonic” and his chubbier, 90’s counterpart “Classic Sonic” (it’s time travel, accept it) need to stop this time-monster from destroying everything. The fact that Modern Sonic doesn’t remember this incident from his more youthful days is, as in all time travel-related fiction, unexplained and better off. The story is, needless to say, inconsequential. Thankfully, Sonic’s more irritating friends take a backseat and are summarily captured by the aforementioned time-monster.
In this case and in any reunion or mashup, a lackluster story can be quickly forgiven once the player gains control of the Sonics. Since Sonic is plural here, the game transitions between Sonic’s old, side-scrolling action and the more modern, rollercoaster-like 3D platforming. This combination is a mix of nostalgia with a little bit of frustration thrown in. The Classic Sonic levels feel like the “good old days” of Sonic, but they could be a harsh reminder for some as Sonic’s lock-on attack is not unlocked until later in the game, which will surely slow down players who haven’t played the Genesis era of Sonic games in some time. Even though the homage pair of Sonic 4 downloadable games returned to side-scrolling Sonic goodness, the classic levels in generations feel like Sonic in his purest form. As for Modern Sonic’s levels, they are the best 3D Sonic levels yet. It is devoid of the clunkiness that the Dreamcast-era titles so badly suffered from and make racing through each level feel like a rush, albeit a somewhat rail-bound and easy one. The crisp level design can have players moving non-stop after playing the level repeatedly, should they be interested in making a mark on the leaderboards. Whether or not the player approves of one Sonic’s style or the other, it is hard not to have a blast at top-speed in either.
There are three sets of three levels in Sonic Generations, each trio representing a generation of the franchise: Genesis, Dreamcast/Gamecube, and the soon-to-be-not current one. There are a lot of fan favorites like Green Hill, Chemical Plant, and City Escape and each level is realized brilliantly in 3D, especially in the levels with Genesis origins. At times, like in the Planet Wisp level, it is easy to be distracted by how fantastic and colorful the Sonic universe can look in HD (I may have sped off a few ledges). Perhaps the game did not sell enough to merit DLC, but it would have been nice to see some other levels included beyond what was available. The golden age of Sonic seems to deserve more representation, as it feels harsh to drag Classic Sonic through a Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) level when Sonic 3 isn’t even represented. The soundtrack includes remixes of music from Sonic history and, later in the game, the player can even choose their own classic tune to play in lieu of the default one.
There are many, many bonus levels in the game and they fall in a range between Bozo and Pennywise on the clown scale of fun; that is to say, some are beat the clock classic fun while others are random and uninspired, often with one of Sonic’s more grinding friends belting their dialogue. Still more ranging in playability are the boss levels. While I found some of them well-designed, the final boss in particular was an absolute mess and intuitively broken as it seems to punish the player by nonfunctioning, even when the proper strategy is discovered. This stymieing boss fight felt like a fecal jewel upon an otherwise fantastic and sanitary crown.
Sonic Generations is a fantastic swansong to this tumultuous console generation for its titular, spiky-haired hero. It gives the Sonic fan what they desire: a functioning, colorful, enjoyable, and nostalgia-laden game. It shines in comparison to many recent Sonic titles and the few fissures the game has only hinder the experience, not end it. Sonic Generations makes it okay to love Sonic games again, albeit cautiously.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames