Let’s not be coy about it: the Sonic franchise has seen better days. What once stood as the speedy bastion of an entire console experience and a worthy rival to Nintendo’s Mario has limped along for many years, a hedgehog much past his prime. Over the years, Sega seems to have lost its way with the spiky blue wonder, unsure of how to transition him properly to 3D while still honoring the tried and true flavor from generations past.
With Sonic Generations, they tried their hand at something new — rather than try to reinvent both wheels, why not package both 2D and 3D Sonics together into one comprehensive experience?
As stated before, Sonic Generations is basically two games in one. To unlock new areas and progress through the (completely ridiculous) story involving a Time Eater and a couple of Robotniks, you have to visit stages that are trapped in time from the perspective of past and future Sonic. Past Sonic stages play out in the classic 2D fashion, while future Sonic stages work in the 3D style like what we’ve seen in Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Switching between both of these is simple enough, and is all done from a World Map of sorts, which also allows you to access bonus stages, time trials, item upgrades and more.
Even though the premise works well enough, it’s one of those things where one of the two methods is clearly superior to the other. While 2D Sonic stages certainly aren’t bad, they don’t carry nearly the same kind of exciting energy and creativity that the 3D Sonic stages do. Eventually, I started to dread playing the 2D stages, simply because I had so much more fun with the other ones, particularly in the later levels.
Over the years, Sonic games have been gradually hampered by level designs that tried to be too clever for their own good. Sonic became a series of cheap deaths with ill placed spikes and sudden stops that cut off the thrill of the run.
Because of this, the levels are a bit hit and miss in Sonic Generations. When they’re good, they’re exhilarating, and when they’re not great, they can be a bit tedious — and at worst, you might just want to throw your controller at the wall, something I wanted to do during the astoundingly bad Planet Wisp from Sonic Colors.
For the most part, though, the levels do their job — update nostalgic Sonic stages and bring some new flavors to them in both the 2D and 3D perspectives. This allows you to revisit classics like Rooftop Run, Crisis City, Sky Sanctuary and the famed Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1. How much you like these will depend on how much you enjoyed them in all of their original counterparts, but the 3D takes on them are exciting enough to make them feel fresh.
One place where the game is weaker would have to be the boss fights, which are just frustrating endeavors all the way around. For many of them, the game isn’t even very clear about what you’re supposed to do, especially on the final boss fight.
The final and most crucial test for any Sonic the Hedgehog game would have to be the concept of speed. What made the early generation of Sonic games so successful was that they really created a sense of speed that was unheard of in other platformers, especially given the limited color and graphic capabilities of the time. For the first time, players felt as if they were zipping through these fantastic environments, and part of the thrill of Sonic is going so fast that you almost feel out of control as you fly through the air on springboard-based jumps, rocket through loops or break through walls.
Does Sonic Generations restore the speed? For the most part, yes. The 2D levels generally find a great rhythm that keeps the rush alive, especially in the earlier stages. As I said before, the later stages tend to stop you in your tracks right when they get going. However, the 3D levels are some of the most fun Sonic experiences I’ve ever had, and make Sonic Generations a title worthy of Sonic’s fame. For someone that’s skipped some of the newest Sonic games, flying through highrises in a blue blur or blasting across rooftops made me feel like a kid again in the best way possible.
In conclusion, Sonic Generations is a true game for any Sonic fan. Even though it suffers from a few pretty rough speed bumps (get it?), it’s a great entry in the franchise. The 3D stages are tremendously fun and addictive enough to make you want to go back in and play multiple times for the best time possible. It’s not going to win any awards or change your life, but it’ll be a blast for the couple of days that you’re racing through it. The sense of speed is back, and that’s what really makes Sonic tick.
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