It finally came out. Sonic Generations, the game that has been hyped beyond belief since its initial reveal in April of this year is now in the hands of the masses of the western gaming public. Containing the hopes and dreams of three generations of Sonic fans within, the title is perhaps the most fitting way one could celebrate 20 years of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Starting with the first game that lit up homes the world over and wrapping up with last year’s Sonic Colo(u)rs, Sonic’s entire gaming career is chronicled in some fashion inside Generations. With everything that has been said about the game on message boards and game sites across the globe, how much more can be said? How much can one review dictate whether or not someone should go out and buy it? Or at the very least, ask to get it for Christmas? Seeing as the game is a retrospective on Sonic’s greatest gaming moments (and a few of his misses), it only makes sense that the game is not perfect. But I want to make something absolutely clear: just because the game is not perfect doesn’t mean that it is not fun. On the contrary, I’ve had a blast going through it. Of course, if you’re reading this review in the first place, more than likely you’ve already at least played the demo, if not outright own and unlocked everything within. Which is perfectly fine, since this website is called Sonic Retro. Sonic the Hedgehog is our figurative bread and butter. You’re not coming here to read our reviews on the latest Final Fantasy game. So with that said, there isn’t much more to do than jump right into things. If you can curl, now’s the time to do so. The premise of the game is simple enough: Sonic the Hedgehog is having a birthday, and all of his friends decide to throw him a surprise party. Located in some nondescript park with balloons and chili dogs abound, everything seems to be going smoothly until the mysterious “Time Eater” shows up, in the process kidnapping everyone there except Sonic the Hedgehog. Before you can say “oh man they should have used a level from Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island so Sonic would have been captured,” Sonic wakes up in some mysterious white void, with only the echoed remains of his past exploits. Going level through level, it is up to Sonic to free his friends, defeat the Time Eater, and save the world. Of course, he isn’t going into things alone. Unless you’ve been in a bubble for seven months, the shtick for this game is that Sonic teams up with himself. Dubbed “Classic Sonic,” the short, tubby character that became synonymous with the early 90’s shows up, the younger version of the Sonic we’ve been seeing since 1998. Though silent, Classic Sonic’s design is loaded with the charm that won over the first generation of fans. Since the story isn’t much more than an excuse to have the game happen, there isn’t a whole lot to it. That isn’t a bad thing in of itself. After all, even though the early Sonic games did have a storyline, it was mostly confined to the manuals, never forcing the player to watch through anything more than a few seconds of a level transition on the trusty Genesis. In a whole, it’s inoffensive, the best lines being those that are able to poke fun at the series. And though I’m trying to avoid spoilers to some degree, I’ll only say that the last handful of cutscenes make everything about the story worthwhile. Before the game even plays the first cutscene, however, the player is rewarded with what all video games should be about: the game itself. Pressing start at the title screen and being sent right to the beginning of the Green Hill Zone, I must admit that nostalgia got the better of me. Running through the checkerboard landscape. Jumping onto Ganiganis and Beetons. Bouncing on springs and flying through loop-de-loops. All of it brought me back to that six year old kid in 1991 who couldn’t help but stare at the Genesis kiosks in the store, waiting until I could get my hands on that three-buttoned controller and play through the whole thing myself. The rush of nostalgia that even Sonic seemed confused about continued on through the rest of what the game defines as the “Classic Era” and through most of the “Dreamcast Era.” But once Sonic slips into more modern territory…well, the flaws in the game become far more evident, although at this point one would already have grown accustomed to them. Classic Sonic does not play as an exact 1:1 to his Genesis counterpart, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. The physics are certainly leagues above what Sonic 4 provided, but at the same time…if someone is playing this immediately after playing Sonic the Hedgehog 3, it is not going to feel right. There are scripted moments in the game that just shouldn’t be there, because the physics should be strong enough to let them happen on their own. The spin-dash being mapped to a button works in the context of the game, but at the same time feels like a quick fix that is only there because the designers of the game realized there were moments in certain zones that were impassable without it. It is disheartening to see Sonic trying to run up a loop, but then fall right back down when he already has momentum built up. There should never be a loop where Sonic needs to spin-dash to get through, or have a spring help him. And the rolling…there are times in the game that just scream for you to press down so Sonic can curl into a ball just to call back to the aerobatics of the Spring Yard Zone, but more than once I pressed down and Sonic just stopped dead in his tracks, especially if he was rolling down a wall. Once he hit the ground, he would just stop, do one of those pathetic “I can roll for half-a-second because I have no momentum” bits, and then I’d just stare at him as he was crouched down, looking at the ground for who knows what. Even so, Classic Sonic doesn’t feel broken. I can see myself in the future sitting down, popping in the disc and just randomly playing Sky Sanctuary or Speed Highway for the fun of it. Even if the physics aren’t one hundred percent there, the level design shines in ways it hasn’t for years. Since 1999, the only 2D fields we’ve really gotten are from DIMPS, and regardless of what side of the argument you fall on, you can’t argue that Sonic Rush is meant to be designed in any way like the classic games in terms of level layouts. SEGA has been so obsessed with the idea of showing off that Sonic is a speedy character that they seemingly forgot that, first and foremost, the Sonic games were platformers. Sometimes, you have to slow down. Even in the Genesis titles, there were times you just had to stop. The sense of speed was only something you gained if you became good at the game. Luckily, the 2D maps, for the most part, remember that. Yes, there are times where Classic Sonic is just running like there’s no tomorrow. But there’s also plenty of moments where he has to stop so he can jump on platforms, traverse obstacles, or even just run to the left of the screen. And the fact that there are numerous alternate paths, especially in those earlier levels? There’s actually a reason to play again. As for those moments where the momentum physics actually do work? They are incredible. Trying to run up a slope, failing, then going back a ways and finally being able to overcome it? There is something so rewarding about that. Of course, Classic Sonic is only one half of the coin (or should I say ring haha I made a joke). On the other side is Modern Sonic, in all of his lanky glory. Racing through stage after stage at blistering speed, if you’ve played through Sonic Colo(u)rs or the daytime stages to Sonic Unleashed, you know what to expect. Since Generations was built from Unleashed, there are a couple additions that were found in Colo(u)rs that are no longer present, such as the double jump, but on the other hand moves such as the quickstep are ready for Sonic to use at any time he’s in the 3D perspective, which can be nice. All in all, though, while there has been a subtle evolution of the way Modern Sonic controls, there isn’t anything all that new to it. If you’ve enjoyed the last two major releases, you’ll enjoy this. If you didn’t…well, you’re going to be forced to play through it anyway. At least one of the positives is that, unlike Unleashed, there are levels that aren’t just perilous hallways over a bottomless pit. Although it’s mostly in the earlier stages, it is nice to see Sonic fall and not die immediately. There were levels in Colo(u)rs that did the same thing, but its reassuring to know that SEGA is keeping in mind that not every level needs a million pits every five minutes. That’s not to say there are no pits…there are still way more then there should be. But at least they’re trying, right? Sadly, hitting boost to win still works way more than it should. The first couple times, you’ll careen off into the abyss, but running straight ahead and colliding into enemies without dying? Yes, I know that is how Modern Sonic works, but it still doesn’t feel right having the game play itself in these moments. I’m sure some people find it really cool to watch Sonic do all these incredible things with little input, but they shouldn’t be as prevalent as they are. It doesn’t annoy me as much as it did in Unleashed, though, and that may be because you can play through most of the game without constantly hitting boost, though it will certainly want you to. The urge can be resisted most of the time, but not always. There is one evolution of the style that exists in Colo(u)rs that luckily extends into this game, and that is the 2D segments of the levels. It helps add variety to the play style, and often takes advantage of the specific abilities Modern Sonic possesses. Of course, that isn’t always the case. One of the odd things I noticed the first time I played through Planet Wisp with Modern Sonic was that, during the 2D portions, I began to control Sonic just like I would Classic, and was doing so easily. I shook myself awake only when I realized that Sonic wasn’t staying curled up in a ball as he jumped and was able to get hit by enemies. Does this mean that Modern Sonic’s gameplay is actually stronger than what some would give it credit for? Or does it mean that SEGA bent their engine as far as it could go without building it from scratch to try and appease those still longing for a new experience in the vein of yesteryear? Either way, I was wholly unsettled by the experience. One aspect of the game itself which is less unsettling but more upsetting is the length. I know I’ve said that the earlier levels are some of the best, but you can replace “earlier” with “first half” and let it mean the same. With only nine levels, the core game goes by faster than Sonic, leaving you with wanting more. Sure, there are the numerous missions (which I’ll get to in just a second), but those missions are meant to be extra side quests for when I get bored, not be a way to force the game to be longer than five hours. I feel as though Sonic Team, when developing the game, had this great idea to split everything into threes (even though there are only two Sonics playable) and ignored anything that existed outside of this magic number. Would it have been so wrong to throw in at least one more level into each era? And if they were worried about repeating any games, it’s not like there is a shortage of Sonic titles in any of the three eras they defined. This game is built on obscurity, so why be afraid now? Of course, in any conversation about the level selection, you can’t avoid the “oh there are tons of city and green levels and nothing else.” And it’s hard not to argue that. The development team did make a concentrated effort to make sure that each was distinct, and I do give them credit for that. One of the major examples of that would have to be Classic Sonic’s version of Seaside Hill, which nearly begins in an underwater area reminiscent of Aquatic Ruin and Hydrocity. I was excited to see these nods to the classic underwater levels, but looking back, all I can really think about is how I’d have rather seen one of those levels transformed for Generations instead of relying on Seaside Hill for my underwater exploits. And Crisis City. Oh, poor poor Crisis City. You’re never going to get a break, will you? It’s ok as a classic level in terms of design, but even then there are some absolutely frustrating moments. I’m just thankful that not every level is laid out like that. The level arc does help point to something that I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere: the game follows the evolution of Sonic strangely well, with the Classic Era levels being considered great, the two Adventure title levels being good, Seaside Hill more often than not being forgettable, and Crisis City just reminding everyone why no one should be reminded of that game. Things start to pick up with Unleashed but just barely, and then finally everything is wrapped up in Planet Wisp, which also decides to take ten minutes to play through. It’s funny how Planet Wisp decides to remind me of one of the greatest moments in Hill Top Zone but then just a few steps later decides it must be the prerequisite Eggman base stage. I know that in Colo(u)rs the level was both the green level and an Eggman level, but even though it likes to give nods to Metropolis, I still can’t buy it as the penultimate encounter. I would have much rather preferred an amalgamation of Scrap Brain/Metropolis/Eggmanland leading up to the final boss than what we got. That’s not to say Wisp is bad. It’s not. It can be fun, if long. It just reminds me of something that isn’t there. Same as the Eggman airships that float above Rooftop Run. Even if they are used to artificially lengthen the game, I can not outright criticize the mission mode in the game. With ten missions in each level, half for each Sonic, they range from being fun to just infuriating. Some of them are simple time trials where you race against a ghost doppelganger, others feature the characters that you’ve saved through the rest of the game. Just like the homages to other levels in the main game, there are certain nods to past Sonic exploits that, while nice to see, make me suddenly want more. Seeing the classic version of Miles “Tails” Prower carry Sonic about as he flies through the sky makes me ask why they couldn’t slip in some 1.5 player action. SEGA does own the patent to it, after all. And the missions where you have to free Sonic’s animal friends from Egg Capsules? You bother to model and animate them for the game, yet you refuse to have them pop out of enemies when you destroy them. That confuses me more than anything. Regardless, they are fun to play, with some of them almost serving as a completely separate act of content. And who doesn’t love bouncing the Sonic signpost for all time? I feel weird saying this, but some of those missions are far more thought out than the one aspect of the gameplay that I haven’t mentioned – the boss fights. Including the final Time Eater boss at the end, there are seven, but all of them seem to be lacking something, with perhaps the exception of Perfect Chaos. The Metal Sonic and Death Egg Robot battles, though promising, end up finishing far too early. Shadow‘s encounter with Sonic proves frustrating since it’s the only boss fight that plays by slightly different rules. Silver‘s fight is leagues above how you fought him in Sonic 2006, but to be honest, that’s not a terribly difficult feat. And the Egg Dragoon…well, sadly it just feels generic, even if it shouldn’t. It’s the second time you get to fight Eggman, so it should feel like more than what it is. I don’t even want to get into the final boss, because no matter how nice the rest of the game is, the last boss will infuriate you like no other. I don’t understand how that is possible, since the three main bosses are all either the final or penultimate bosses of their respective games. They should know what makes a final battle work and last in the mind of the player. Not present something awkward that simply gets in the way of the final amusing cutscene of the game. One part of the game that I’d be hard pressed to find fault in, however, is the visual presentation of Generations. From the beautifully reimagined worlds of the game to the remixed soundtrack, it helps to fuel that nostalgia, but in a good way. The Green Hill Zone hasn’t looked this good since 1991, and seeing the Sky Sanctuary Zone full of cues from Marble Garden and Hidden Palace, all with the Death Egg looming in the background…I can forgive the fact that a level from the first half of Sonic 3 wasn’t included. Even the modern levels look as crisp as ever. Crisis City…well, Sonic Team did the best they could do with it. The level certainly looks like a half destroyed, lava-filled wasteland. Even the hub world is put together nicely, the levels coexisting in a white void, all with Sonic’s Apartment hiding out to the left filled to the brim with unlockable goodies. There are worse ways to waste a Saturday afternoon. And who could forget the soundtrack? So many musical cues merged together in a remixed, remastered package, I can not wait for an official release. While Sonic soundtracks are usually great, this one is able to rank up there, because of all the memorable themes the game is able to revisit. Being able to hear the original Sonic the Hedgehog theme once more is something I couldn’t be happier with. This review could go on for a while if I really wanted to. I could talk about how I wished other classic characters showed their face, or how I can’t get enough of the parrots in Sky Sanctuary, or how I get way too excited being able to now run through the parking garages of Speed Highway. I could even be ridiculous and ask why there wasn’t a “Saturn Era” in the game (c’mon, who wouldn’t want a section dedicated to Flickies’ Island, Sonic The Fighters and Sonic R?), but at the end of the day, all that really matters is if the game is fun or not. And just like I said before, yes, the game is fun. Some of it may be just nostalgia glasses, but that is what this game is trying to celebrate. Not many franchises have been able to exist for two decades with a steady stream of titles connected to it. And even though I went on at length about certain flaws in the game, none of them were truly game-breaking. At most, they are annoyances that crop up here and there. When you look at them all at once, yes, it can be frustrating. But just playing the game from beginning to end, you’d be hard pressed to not enjoy yourself at some point. It is definitely the best game since Sonic Adventure. I don’t know if I can say it is as good as Adventure or even better, though. There are moments where everything shines through perfectly, but others when the faults decide to break your concentration. And it is those moments that prevent the game from being as great as so many people wished it to be, or for that matter how great the team behind it hoped for. Still, if you’ve been a fan for the long haul, there is no reason why you shouldn’t go out and get a copy. The games have been steadily getting better, even if they haven’t reach that critically, commercially, and artistically acclaimed peak from the early 90’s. While it would be nice if Sonic Team could make a game that could best Sonic 3 & Knuckles, all that SEGA needs to do is focus on making solid titles that try to live up to a legacy with a team that no longer works for them. Sonic Generations is the closest they’ve come in a decade, and hopefully the next big release will bring them closer still. Just remember, Sonic’s 20th has now come and gone. You don’t have a deadline for the next one. …is it wrong that I’m still bothered by the fact there’s no Bridge Zone music in the game? SECOND OPINION by Slingerland: Everybody is saying that this game “shows great promise for the future” and is “a step in the right direction.” I hate to break it to you, but Sonic Generations is a one-off deal that’ll never be happening again anytime soon. Classic Sonic is going back into the vault and Iizuka is already looking to create a new Modern Sonic. This game only services the present and the past; reminding us of the crazy ride we’ve all been on. Sonic Team put all of their eggs into the presentation and fan-service baskets to win back the hardcore, yet jaded fans and the fans that haven’t paid attention in years. The marketing for Sonic Generations was nothing like we’ve seen before. It certainly worked. They’re paying attention now. However, nostalgia is a temporary fix unique to this game, a crutch that Sonic Team has been leaning on for the past few years. Bringing back Classic Sonic, Genesis stages and strictly 2D gameplay does not a good game make. These changes are simply cosmetic. Sonic Generations’ existence is conspicuously born from years of criticism and complaints, but the real ills with Sonic today still weren’t addressed. The remedy isn’t hermetically sealed in Green Hill Zone and has been apparent for over ten years; Sonic Team has no idea what’s wrong with its games on a fundamental level. Until they realize that tight controls, physics and level design ultimately trump presentation and nostalgia, we’ll continue to be stuck in our own Sonic purgatory. For having a mostly mediocre existence, Sonic gets an average adventure to celebrate with no indication on where he is headed. Sonic Generations is an inoffensive title that has frequent flashes of brilliance, but is once again hog-tied by legacy issues. Its strongest feature isn’t within the game, but rather, your memories. To read in detail what Slingerland thought of the game, check out his full review over at The Sonic Stadium.