Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sonic Generations Review

Kind of hard to believe it's already been twenty years since the original Sonic the Hedgehog graced the SEGA Genesis. I won't trouble you with a history lesson since I'm sure we all have at least some sort of vague idea as to who he is. Sonic's his name, speed's his game. He's the fastest thing alive, the cool blue dude with attitude, and whatever other cheesy nickname you could come up with. Yep, we have a lot of memories, Sonic and I. Since I first came along for the ride, we've ran down a building at a 90 degree angle in Speed Highway, plowed through cars in City Escape, taken a joyride through Green Hill, admired the chemical waterfalls in Chemical Plant, narrowly avoided falling to our certain deaths in Sky Sanctuary, defeated Eggman numerous times as well as a few god monsters... (sigh) And who could forget the time that Sonic started sucking?

Yes, it's a tale told in the introduction of ma
ny a Sonic review and I'm sure it's one we'd all like to forget, but Sonic's dark ages have only ended recently and I believe that they may have influenced the development of the game that we're discussing today. In 2001 the Dreamcast died, and from there, Sonic devolved into either a depressing tragedy or a hilarious joke depending on who you ask. 2003's Sonic Heroes was the picture of mediocrity and 2005's Shadow the Hedgehog was an abomination to game design. And following that, we have 2006's "Sonic the Hedgehog", which had potential, but was rushed to the point that it was completely unfinished and Sonic and friends ran slow as molasses. It completely destroyed Sonic's reputation for good, and 2008's Sonic Unleashed, though a massive improvement, was still too flawed to do anything to restore it. Not all was awful during this time, however. It was around this time that DIMPS made the Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush series for Nintendo's handhelds (and they would later go on to make Sonic 4: Episode I), but they were unfortunately forgotten under the torrent of crappy 3-D console titles.

But then one day at Sonic Team, someone had an epiphany: "Hey! Maybe people would like Sonic again if we mad
e a game that was awesome!" And that's just what they did. 2008's Sonic Unleashed, while bogged down by a stretchy-armed abomination known as the Werehog, actually did reinvent the 3-D Sonic gameplay in its other half, and it was pretty well received. Taking that framework and making it so that it focused more on platforming and exploration, Sonic Team created 2010's Sonic Colors, a brilliant game that combined clever level design with a fun power-up gimmick, and with that, things started looking up.

The next year (which happens to be this year! Gasp!) would be Sonic's 20th anniversary, and with it came, as expected, a new Sonic game. This game is known as Sonic Generations, and it is themed on Sonic's twenty-year-long history. As such, you not only get to play as the taller, leaner, green-eyed Sonic we see today, but also the pudgier, cuter Sonic from the Genesis days and both of them have their own styles of play. Also, in keeping with the theme, you will be visiting locales based on those from Sonic's previous adventures with level designs made to fit both play styles. Well, I've finally gotten to play it, and while the title of "first good console Sonic game since the Dreamcast days" has already been taken, Sonic Generations is the first Sonic game since Sonic 3 & Knuckles that I can legitimately say is a masterpiece. Let's find out why.


Well, where to begin? I suppose I'll start with aesthetics, since, you know, that's the first thing you're going to notice when you start up the game, and well...dang. The graphics of Sonic Generations look fantastic. The setpieces are amazing and the environments look absolutely fantastic. Sonic Generations does an amazing job of breathing new life into levels from games past. Of course, the visual highlight of the game is Planet Wisp, just as it was in the game it comes from. No exaggeration - it looks like it came straight out of James Cameron's Avatar. (And before you tell me that movie is incredibly overrated, well, I agree with you, but it certainly did look awesome.) The graphics aren't perfect, however. There are some noticeable framerate drops here and there, most unfortunately in the Goin' Down section of Speed Highway. I can't help but be just a bit disappointed that the game doesn't run smoothly during one of Sonic Adventure's most iconic moments.

Of course, that's not even getting into the soundtrack. In keeping with the theme, the music for all of the levels and bosses are remixes of their previous themes, and the styles are different for both Sonics. The music for Classic Sonic's levels are usually more techno inspired, while the music for Modern Sonic's levels is based moreso around rock. Regardless, I love all of the remixes present in the game. Some of my personal favorites are Modern Crisis City, Classic Speed Highway and Modern City Escape. One thing I also thought was really cool was that you can actually unlock tons of other music tracks from the series and play them over any level or boss you want. This is a series that's full of awesome music, so a feature like this is very nice to have.

The story of Sonic Generations is emphasized much less than most other modern Sonic games, but eh, I don't think it suffers because of it. While enjoying his birthday party, a giant vortex opens up in the sky and sucks in all of his friends and leaves Sonic in a white void with an entrance to a familiar location: Green Hill Zone. Sonic rescues Tails and discovers that a monster called the Time Eater is tearing holes in time and space, and must team up with his pudgy past self to restore the world and defeat the Time Eater. It's...quite a bit more enjoyable than it sounds. The writing style is different from how it was in Colors, focusing less on jokes, but the script is still good and has its funny moments. We also get to hear more of the new voice cast this time around since this game has more characters, and most of them are pretty great. In short, good stuff.

But with all that said, the most important aspect of any game is its gameplay, and boy, does Generations deliver here. As I mentioned before, in Sonic Generations you will be controlling the tall, green-eyed Modern Sonic and the pudgy, black-eyed Classic Sonic, and they both have different styles of play. However, rather than one of them being a crappy God of War ripoff, both are familiar styles of Sonic gameplay. But before we talk about the main gameplay, I think I should talk about the level list. As a celebration of twenty years of Sonic, the levels are all based off of the most iconic levels from Sonic games past and they are separated into three eras. From the classic era, we have Green Hill Zone (from Sonic 1), Chemical Plant Zone (from Sonic 2) and Sky Sanctuary Zone (from Sonic 3 & Knuckles). From the Adventure era, we have Speed Highway (from Sonic Adventure), City Escape (from Sonic Adventure 2), and Seaside Hill (from Sonic Heroes). Finally, from the modern era, we have Crisis City (from Sonic 06), Rooftop Run a.k.a. Spagonia (from Sonic Unleashed) and Planet Wisp (from Sonic Colors). It kind of amazes me how accurately they captured the feel of the original incarnations of these levels. Rather than being content just copying aesthetics, Sonic Team looked at everything: gimmicks, the enemies you faced in the level, and other elements that made these stages awesome.

Better yet is that, in regards to the level gimmicks, they've put a lot of creative and fun twists on them and even added new ones that make sense in the context of the levels. Modern Sonic's "road-boarding" section from the original City Escape returns, while the more early 90's-oriented Classic Sonic receives a skateboard that serves a similar purpose. Also, remember the giant truck at the end of the level that was just there for the Rule of Cool's sake in SA2? Well, now it's a legitimate hazard. In Modern Sonic's level, it pulls out sawblades that you will have to avoid, while in Classic Sonic's level, you will have to move fast as it tries to destroy paths you can take through the level. Crisis City is special if only for the fact that it's fun to play this time around, but now it makes use of Modern Sonic's stomp move by having you use it to push down rocks carried by lava geysers. It also recreates the infamous tornado sequence in both the Modern and Classic levels; in Modern Sonic's level, it's much the same except for the fact that you're running towards it rather than away from it as it throws things at you (and thus it's not as horrendously cheap), and in Classic Sonic's level it makes platforming more difficult by trying to pull you in. For Planet Wisp, they actually brought the color powers back from Sonic Colors; Modern Sonic gets the Orange Rocket power and Classic Sonic gets Pink Spikes, and they're both put to the same uses that they were before. The Spikes power is also used to operate and ride some of the machinery, and Modern Sonic can now hitch a ride on some of Planet Wisp's minecarts. It's things like this alongside the new level designs that help the levels feel new at the same time that they feel familiar, as well as adding more of a feeling of diversity to the levels.

With all that out of the way, I can talk about how both Sonics play, starting with Classic. Yes, Classic Sonic is back in Generations, and he plays much like you remember him. True to the color of his eyes, as Classic Sonic you will run through 2.5D environments propelled by momentum physics. Sonic Team got the classic physics down pretty well; movement feels great and Sonic's jumps carry momentum just as they did in the classics, and it's actually necessary to make use of this to reach some paths in the levels. Rebound height when jumping off of enemies is now fixed, but it's used as sort of a double jump to reach different areas, which actually works really well. In terms of physics, the only thing I think they could really have done a lot better is the rolling. Unfortunately, it hasn't improved much since the first demo. It still slows you down more than anything. This isn't a big flaw by any means; rolling really isn't necessary for anything, and it would be hard to care anyway considering how powerful the spin-dash is in this game. It's just something I think they could have worked on to make the game feel know...classic.

While Classic Sonic is slower than his modern self, don't think that there won't be enough speed. However, just like in the classics, you will have to play skillfully to maintain this sense of speed. Of course, there were two more aspects to the Genesis games aside from momentum physics and speed as a reward for skill: platforming and multi-teired level design that encourages exploration, and Classic Sonic's gameplay excels here as well. There's a lot of platforming here, and the levels are multi-layered with tons of different paths to take. One interesting thing is that the game makes use of the 2.5D perspective by making it so that the levels are not only layered from top to bottom, but also from left to right. Depending on where you are, there will be paths in the foreground or background, and often you will have to find a spring to take you to them. The game also makes use of the 2.5D perspective to provide more dynamic camera angles at certain points. On the whole, Classic Sonic's levels are very well-designed and a ton of fun to play.

But while the Classic Sonic levels are fantastic, it's Modern Sonic who really steals the show here. For those of you unfamilar with this gameplay style, the fundamental elements are that Sonic is given a boost move to help him go faster and perspectives constantly switch between 2.5D and 3D. Modern Sonic's levels borrow elements from both Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors. From Unleashed it borrows the amazing sense of speed and reflex-testing segments while from Colors it borrows the platforming and exploration. While Unleashed focused mostly on the speed and Colors focused mostly on the platforming and exploration, Modern Sonic's levels in Generations play pretty much like the perfect mix of all three elements. In addition to the awesome sense of speed, there's a lot of platforming to speak of and plenty of ways to get through each level. However, that's not the only thing that the Modern Sonic levels have improved on.

Easily the best thing about Modern Sonic's levels in Generations is how much Sonic Team has improved on the 3D gameplay since Unleashed and Colors. Some fans did actually complain that the 3D sections of Unleashed were confined and too focused around testing reflexes rather than platforming, whereas Colors severely downplayed 3D sections and what 3D there was was somewhat underwhelming and still lacked good platforming. Now, personally, I thought this worked for Unleashed, and while I didn't necessarily find anything wrong with the 3D in Sonic Colors, I will admit that it could have benefitted from better 3D sections and heavier use of them. Sonic Generations completely obliterates this flaw. Following Chemical Plant, most levels give much more emphasis to 3D gameplay. Sky Sanctuary, Seaside Hill and Crisis City are probably the best examples of how much the 3-D has improved since the last games. All three of these levels are completely filled with 3-D platforming, and Sky Sanctuary and Seaside Hill - Seaside Hill especially - have more paths to take and exploration than in any other 3-D Sonic level. Overall, Modern Sonic's gameplay is incredibly fun and the level design is amazing.

Of course, like Classic Sonic, Modern Sonic has only one thing that I think, while not a huge problem, is something that could have been worked on a bit more: 3-D controls. Don't get me wrong, play control in 3-D has improved a lot since the last games. I literally couldn't go back to Unleashed after playing Generations, and I'd probably screw up similarly if I were to go back and play Colors. However, it's still just a bit stiff and floaty, not to the point of causing any serious problems but just to the point that it's noticeable. The jump also sometimes feels like it carries a little bit more inertia than it should, and while it's just a nitpick, I think the game could have benefitted from always allowing you to turn all the way around while jumping. 3-D control is far from "bad"; it's just something they could have done a bit of a better job on in my opinion.

The next thing that I would like to talk about is bosses, and I don't know about anyone else, but I've always felt like boss design in 3-D Sonic games was somewhat lacking. I criticised the bosses in Sonic Adventure for being too easy, but that's not really the only flaw with bosses in 3-D Sonic games. For the most part, they're just sort of lackluster. Even the bosses of Sonic Colors, though an improvement, were for the most part just okay, and it didn't help that they were rehashed for the game's latter three worlds. In Sonic Generations, though...the bosses are actually pretty awesome! They're all based on bosses from previous games in the franchise, but they're all fought very differently. There are two kinds of boss battles in Sonic Generations: you have the rival battles in which you face off against one of Sonic's many rivals (such as Metal Sonic or Shadow) and you have the main bosses, which are, well...main bosses from the Sonic series. All of them are really fun to battle. The ways of defeating them are usually interesting, and while they're not quite "hard", I wouldn't describe them as "easy" either beyond the first two. (Of course, if you still think they're too easy, you can challenge them again in Hard Mode.) Easily my favorite boss in the game is the fight against Perfect Chaos, which takes place partially as its own mini-level and makes the fight from Sonic Adventure look completely obsolete.

On its own, Sonic Generations is not going to last you very long - about 5-6 hours at best. However, Sonic Team knew this wouldn't be enough, so they made sure that there was plenty of replay value. First of all, for each stage there are five Challenge Acts for both Sonics, sort of like the extra missions of Sonic Adventure 2 except, well, quite frankly better. While you will have to complete one of these from every level to beat the game, most of them are completely optional. It is also by beating the Challenge Acts that you will unlock a lot of the extra concept art and music. Some of these Challenge Acts will have you racing a doppelganger to the end of the level, some revolve around a specific mechanic or gimmick, some introduce a new upgrade (more on those later), and some actually have Sonic going up against or enlisting the aid of a member of the franchise's periphery cast, which is something I actually liked since I felt like it made them do more than just be in the game. While some of these Challenge Acts take place within areas of the main level, with the exception of the doppelganger races most feature completely different designs. There's a lot of variety as well, which keeps things from getting repetitive or boring. There were a few of these that I thought were tedious, but not enough to complain about and overall I had a lot of fun completing the Challenge Acts.

The other form of replay value in Generations is the Red Rings, which return from Sonic Colors. In Colors, these unlocked Sonic Simulator stages, and by beating those, you would get Chaos Emeralds. By getting all seven Chaos Emeralds, you would be able to go Super Sonic. In Generations, you actually unlock Super Sonic as an upgrade by simply defeating the final boss. So instead, collecting Red Rings in Generations gets you more concept art and music, and collecting all of them from a single Classic or Modern level will get you a secret upgrade. I suppose it's about time I started talking about those, isn't it?

Well, in Sonic Generations, there's a skill shop where you can buy and and equip skills using money you get from playing levels. Each upgrade has a different point cost to equip, and there are only five slots and 100 points you can use, preventing you from overpowering either Sonic. This is how you will use Super Sonic, as well as how you will be able to use the awesome elemental shields from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. If you're not interested in the skill shop, you don't have to use it, but it's a nice feature.

Back on the subject of replay value, like any good Sonic game, Sonic Generations is not an experience you'll get the most out of playing it just once. You'll likely find yourself playing playing at least the Modern Sonic stages over and over again, whether it's to take paths you haven't before, challenge your time or rank, or just enjoy yourself. Further encouraging this are leaderboards, which allow you to compare your time with other players. With this on top of Red Rings and Challenge Acts, Sonic Generations has plenty of replay value to keep its short length from dragging it down.

The Good:

+ Amazing environments and setpieces
+ Awesome soundtrack
+ Good story
+ New voice actors are great
+ Both Sonics are a crapload of fun to play as (but Modern Sonic moreso)
+ 3-D sections have improved immensely since Colors
+ Outstanding levels
+ Great boss fights
+ Great replay value

The Bad:

- Occasional framerate drops
- Classic Sonic's rolling is mostly useless
- 3-D controls could be a bit better, though are not at all bad


Sonic Generations was an absolutely fantastic experience for me and it's easily one of the best Sonic games of all time. Fans will, of course, get the most out of seeing some of the series' most memorable levels reimagined, but you don't have to be a fan to appreciate a genuinely great game. If you're not a fan, I'd say this is a great place to start. The few faults it has are minor, and it does everything else amazingly well. I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone. Happy 20th anniversary, Sonic. We love ya.

Score: 9.5/10

My Scoring System:
10 - Amazing game. Flaws are minor at best. If you don't own it, you should be ashamed of yourself. (Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

9(.5) - Fantastic game. Perhaps a couple of notable annoyances, but still a must-have. (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep)

8(.5) - Very good game. Has a few flaws, but you won't be disappointed with your purchase. (Klonoa)

7(.5) - Pretty good game that either has several problems or is just too short for its price. Enjoyable to play, but you may want to wait for the price to drop a bit before picking it up. (Rayman 3D)

6(.5) - Passable game. Has its strengths, but unless you're a fan of the series or genre, you're probably better off not bothering. (Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2)

5(.5) - Mediocre game. Not a bad experience, but it's too flawed to be much fun. A bargain bin purchase at best, and only if you're a fan of the series. (Sonic Heroes)

3 or 4(.5) - Bad game. A mostly negative experience, and whatever it does right fails to save it overall. Even if you're a fan, you're probably better off not playing it. (Sonic and the Secret Rings)

1 or 2(.5) - Utter garbage. An unholy abomination that we should do all in our power to avoid playing. In other words, STAY THE HECK AWAY! (Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22)

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