Game: Sonic Generations XBox360 (2011)

I’ve had a funny history with Sonic, he’s been pretty much a constant presence in my gaming landscape for the last 20 years(!), and yet by most measures I’ve hardly played any Sonic games. Of course I started off with the original four big ones, Sonic 1, 2, 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, brought out between 1991 and 1994. These games I will always treasure and hopefully never tire of re-playing (I’ve already bought them on several platforms over the years).

But the Megadrive was the last of the Sega consoles I owned (having also enjoyed some Sonic fun on the Master System in the early 90s), so I went eight years before sampling the Sonic Advance games on Gameboy Advance, skipping the Dreamcast games entirely. Even then, I think there’s only been Sonic Rush (awful) and Sonic Rush Adventure (passable) on the DS, and various spinoffs over the years like Sonic Spinball, Sonic 3D Blast and the Olympics games with Mario.

I had a resurgence of interest in my XBox360 at the tail end of 2010 and re-played all the original games on Live Arcade ahead of the release of the HATEFUL Sonic 4 Episode 1 last year. So with this background, I approached the big 20th anniversary release Sonic Generations with some trepidation.

But do you know what? It’s pretty GOOD! I hope it goes some way to heal some of the wounds to the franchise after several misadventures over the years (a good Sonic 4 Episode 2 would do well to learn some lessons from this game).

For those of you who don’t know, a tenous storyline (and that’s generous) involves “classic” and “modern” Sonic meeting in some time-space disturbance world that consists of levels torn out of several games in Sonic’s canon. I won’t say which, but there’s a broad mix from the timeline (though I would say any amount of Sonic 1, 2, 3 wouldn’t be enough).

You play Act 1 as the classic 2D sidescrolling Sonic, and Act 2 as the modern 3D-ish Sonic, who segues between over-shoulder rampages to 2D platforming surprisingly smoothly. The excitement here is that you can play the traditionally 2D levels of the original Sonic games in 3D. So far, so crowd-pleasing. I’m sure the fans are a difficult bunch to please, but you can’t really argue that Sonic Team haven’t tried here, literally merging an HD update of the glory days with the frantic dashes of modern Sonic.

The graphics are gorgeous, full of colour and life. I would say sometimes it’s tricky to differentiate foreground from background sometimes, but otherwise they’ve visualised the worlds pretty beautifully.

The gameplay is a lot easier to deal with than I feared. The supersonic “boost” power you have in modern mode seemed FAR too fast to control in the demos, and in practice it is difficult to work with at times, but it really is a hell of a lot of fun. There’s something a little slow and ponderous about classic Sonic by contrast, but it keeps the feeling of the original games more than the horrible handling of Sonic 4 Episode 1.

I did find some infuriating moments, a few glitches on one level that caused me a level to go ‘wrong’, and a semi-reliance on bottomless pits as obstacles. Where the hell are these places to have such big drops everywhere? But once past these annoyances, they are largely forgot easily.

The music is really lovely too, full orchestral remakes of legendary music made me instantly download the soundtrack. For most nostalgia action, there is an astonishing array of unlockables, albeit mostly concept artwork and soundtracks. They’ve at least got the OCD fanboys in mind.

The cutscenes really do make it a lovely package, particularly in the final stages (I won’t ruin the ending), and the end credits made me suddenly keen to try out some of the older games (even the ones I’ve heard are terrible, at least they’ll be cheap). The vaguely self-knowing disregard for the bloated roster of friends is quite reassuring too (though Tails and Knuckles can stay).

I desperately hope they revisit the past more, Generations was fun but very short (even if there is some replay value). Generations II with different levels would be wonderful, even moreso a Sonic 1-3 HD remake collection, these sorts of things seem to be in vogue now don’t they? I’ll be waiting for Sonic Team to balls this up still though, but I can at least enjoy a rare success.

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