Sonic Generations Hands On Preview
This looks like a great Sonic game! Wait...what?
If you were around for the bitter, vicious, and petty wars between the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, you can’t help but feel at least a little bad for Sega’s blue speedster with the 90s ‘tude. While Mario went on from the 16-bit era to have some of his greatest adventures, Sonic has had a slow, steady slide into irrelevancy. While he has his staunch supporters and always sells well to the kids, there is a segment of the hardcore gaming community that keeps wondering when that next great Sonic game is going to come along. With each new release, there’s always the talk that “This is the one! This is the game that makes Sonic great again!” And the fans buy into it, and more often than not, they end up disappointed, and have to seek solace in their fan fiction.
Considering that I was firmly in the Nintendo camp during those epic ideological battles, it’s okay if you look at me as a hostile witness. With that disclaimer out of the way, however, let me say that this is the one. This is the game that makes Sonic great again. Well, possibly.
Sonic Generations is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the famous hedgehog. The way that Sega has chosen to accomplish this is by giving players two versions of Sonic to play as. You get the classic, Genesis-era hedgehog, and a more modern version of the character as seen in recent releases like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic 4, Sonic and the Black Knight, and…need I go on? I don’t quite understand the story context for this, as the demo is pure gameplay, but it’s a rather odd gimmick to hinge a game on. It really brings into clear focus just how little Sonic has changed over the years. As far as I can tell, the only differences between the two Sonics is that the classic version is short, pudgy, and can spin dash, while the modern Sonic is taller, has green eyes, and can do a speed boost. Oh, and he can slide under obstacles.
While the premise of the game isn’t anything mind-blowing, it probably doesn’t have to be. That’s because Sonic Generations looks to give longtime fans the pure, undiluted Sonic experience that they’ve been begging for since the Dreamcast days. The first level of Generations is straight up a reimagined version of the classic Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog. While this isn’t the first time that Sonic Team has gone back to Green Hill, it has never looked this good. Sonic Generations is a bloody gorgeous game. When did that happen? Sonic games always look alright; they do a certain thing, and they do it well. But this is the first time since Sonic Adventure that I would actually say that a Sonic game sports truly impressive visuals. This is the way that you do a 2D level with a 3D game engine. The environments are crisp and pop with vibrant color. In a console cycle that has been dominated by grey, brown, and black, seeing a game as bright and energetic as this is refreshing. Even though you’re running from left to right, the backgrounds are packed to the brim with detail, animation, and depth. Waterfalls give Green Hill an exotic feel, and the camera brings everything to life in a way that makes this level feel fresh, exciting, and new.
What isn’t new, however, is the gameplay. For staunch Sonic supporters this is probably a good thing, but for my part, even when Sonic came sprinting onto the scene I always felt like his games were shallow. This is a game about running, and run you do. Just like classic Sonic, the titular hero moves almost too fast for the game or the player to keep up with, and at times I felt like I wasn’t so much playing the game as I was watching a gorgeous TV show. That changes, of course, when you run into an enemy and get hit, which brings all that forward momentum to a grinding halt. This is nothing new to the Sonic series, of course, and people that have stuck with him all this time probably don’t mind this reoccurring element of the franchise. I maintain that, once you reach a certain speed, you should be able to crash right through enemies, and keeping that momentum should be the main goal of the game. But anytime you have to stop for some imprecise platforming or to jump on some enemies the game stops being fun for me.
These issues are somewhat fixed in the “modern” levels of Generations, which are played from behind Sonic as he races forward. You have a homing attack that goes a long way in keeping that all-important momentum, and you have access to a handy speed boost that will totally barrel right through enemies without so much as a flinch. I actually enjoyed this level a little bit more than the classic version of Green Hill Zone, but there are parts of the level that go back to a 2D perspective and feel particularly jarring when compared to the behind-the-back view. I would much prefer it if the modern levels were all from that third person camera view and the classic levels were completely 2D.
With only two levels that go by at the typical Sonic-style breakneck pace, there’s not much that I can say about the nuts and bolts of the game. Tails is totally missing from the demo, as is Dr. Robotnik (I don’t acknowledge the change in naming conventions to Eggman). Hopefully, this is an indication of a back to basics approach to the franchise, which should make those old fans happy at last. While I never in a million years would have considered playing a new Sonic game, I have to admit that my brief time with Generations has piqued my interest. So rejoice, Sonic fans! This looks like it will finally be that awesome game you’ve been waiting for. Or not; you’ll just have to wait and see this November. But I highly recommend downloading that demo.
And please, keep the fan fiction to yourselves.