Released: November 2011
Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS, PC, and Xbox One
It was 2011 and SEGA were eager to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their iconic videogame mascot; after years of disconnect and complex additions to what had begun as a simple, one-button videogame, it’s fair to say that there was some…confusion regarding Sonic’s past, canon, and timeline.
SEGA initially opted for a soft reboot, of sorts, with Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), which clearly depicted Sonic and his cast of characters redesigned into a slightly older, more anime-inspired aesthetics in a world similar to ours, inhabited by both humans and anthropomorphic characters, and with a tenuous connection to the previous videogames.
However, very quickly, this fell apart a bit as Sonic videogames became both incredibly dense and complex or laughably simple, especially in their narratives. After years of fans wanting a return to the traditional, 2D gameplay of the past, Sonic Team opted for a title that would combine not only the tried-and-true 2D gameplay of the past with the fast-paced 3D gameplay of what was, at the time, the present but also bring together two different generations of Sonic for the first time.
While celebrating Sonic’s birthday, Sonic and his friends are suddenly attacked by Dr. Eggman’s ferocious, mysterious beast, the Time Eater, which leaves time and space torn asunder in its wake. Teaming up with a past version of himself, Sonic must race through nine stages from his past to rescue his friends, retrieve the Chaos Emeralds, and put a stop to the Time Eater’s rampage.
Sonic Generations features two distinct styles of play: Act One of every stage sees players take control of “Classic” Sonic, who runs along a 2.5D plane that will be more than familiar to anyone who’s ever played a classic Sonic videogame. Act Two sees players control “Modern” Sonic, who blasts along with his Boost technique through both 3D and 2.5D environments pretty much exactly as he did in Sonic Unleashed (ibid, 2008) and Sonic Colours (ibid, 2010).
Both Sonics can run at high speeds collecting Golden Rings, jump to attack Badniks and enemies with Sonic’s patented Super Sonic Spin Attack, and even utilise the power of Wisps later in the game, but each has distinct attributes that affect their gameplay. Classic Sonic can utilise the Spindash at the press of the X button but Modern Sonic can Boost at supersonic high speeds to smash through enemies and obstacles by holding Z, perform a stomp, utilise the Homing Attack to quickly dash at enemies, springs, and the like, and can slide through narrow openings.
While it might seem like Modern Sonic has more tricks under his sleeve, each Sonic can be assigned Skills, unlocked by collecting Red Star Rings and completing additional Challenges. Each Skill has a point value and you can assign as many as you like to each Sonic until you hit the point cap of 100 but, with these Skills, you can give Classic Sonic some additional skills, like one of the elemental shields or the “Twin Spin Attack” (which you may know as the Insta-Shield) introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), or even a cool skateboard.
Modern Sonic can also be assigned Skills to allow him to blast off at the start of a stage, performing faster Homing Attacks and wall jumps, and increase the length of his Boost gauge. You can also use Skills to gain an Extra Life, grant yourself temporary invincibility, breathe underwater for longer, and even transform into Super Sonic (though your Rings will deplete unusually quickly).
Sonic Generations takes place in a simple hub world known as the White Space, a white, seemingly endless void where stages from Sonic’s past have been dumped by the Time Eater. These are arranged in three areas, each corresponding to an era of Sonic’s history (the classic Mega Drive days, the Dreamcast titles, and the more modern titles) and guarded by a Boss Battle. To progress through the game’s brief and simple story, you must complete each stage with each Sonic to partially restore colour and life to the White Space.
Each of the game’s stages is rendered beautifully and expanded upon with gameplay gimmicks from other games and even little extra things, like a celebration taking place in Rooftop Run and getting to visit Hidden Palace in Sky Sanctuary. While there are some obvious choices (Green Hill and Chemical Plant have since been overused to death), there are some odd inclusions, like Speed Highway from Sonic Adventure (I would have picked maybe Ice Cap or Red Mountain), and some disappointments, like Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes (Sonic Team USA, 2003); I’m honestly surprised that Sonic Team didn’t include Casino park instead, though I would’ve liked to see them mix it up with Egg Fleet or Frog Forest.
Stages aren’t particularly challenging; there’s some unfair bottomless spits and each Sonic seems to be weighed down by something, which can make precision platforming slippery and frustratingly difficult. Their difficulty comes in the length and haphazard variety of gameplay mechanics seen in the later, modern levels; unsurprisingly, Sonic the Hedgehog’s (Sonic Team, 2006) Crisis City stands out as one of the game’s more frustrating stages thanks to the fire traps, lava pits, bottomless pits, and that Goddamn flaming tornado! Once free one of Sonic’s friends, though, you’ll unlock five additional Challenges for each stage; you’re required to clear at least one of these for each stage to gain a Boss Key, battle the boss, and progress to the next area.
These Challenges are considerably varied; they can be anything from racing against a ghostly doppelgänger, to finding Chao, to completing a stage with only one Ring. Sometimes, you’ll also race against, or team up with, one of Sonic’s friends; you’ll use Mile “Tails” Prower to hover over obstacles and gaps, knock musical notes back to Vector the Crocodile, and clear walls of flame with Blaze the Cat, for example. While you may call upon Sonic’s friends with the Y button in these Challenges, you won’t ever control any other character other than the two Sonics, which is quite the disappointment.
These Challenges can be a frustrating experience but clearing them is the only way to completely restore each stage and also unlock additional Skills, artwork, music, and character profiles in the Collection Room. As you race through each stage, you’ll also be tasked with finding elusive Red Star Rings but you’ll need to blast through stages and Challenges not only quickly but also without losing a life if you want to gain an S rank. While this isn’t necessarily that difficult, stages can be large and sprawling and filled with bottomless spits, poorly placed obstacles (if you fall from an upper level or jump to a platform, you can bet you’ll land right on a bed of spikes), and an oddly zoomed-in camera perspective, especially for Classic Sonic, which means you’ll often dash headfirst into some kind of obstruction.
Graphics and Sound:
Graphically, Sonic Generations is still one of the brightest, most vibrant Sonic titles created; Classic Sonic, especially, looks and animates really well and every stage is packed full of life, colour, and little details that will be recognisable to any Sonic fan.
Perhaps the pinnacle of Sonic Generations’ graphically achievement, though, is in the fantastically updated battle against Perfect Chaos, who has turned from a choppy, flappy-mouthed monstrosity into a genuinely terrifying, bio-organic creature. However, playing the Xbox 360 version on an Xbox One, I did notice some blurriness to the images, some frame rate issues, and the game crashed on me three or four times, which was odd.
Sonic Generations features some really well done computer generated cutscenes; it’s just a shame that the game’s story is so criminally short that we don’t see more of these. When you free Sonic’s friends, they’ll make a comment while Sonic just stands there like a tool; this would have been a perfect time for a brief cutscene where they properly interact but, instead, you just watch them come back to life and then they’ll give you hints…through speech bubbles.
As for sound, Sonic Generations has you covered! Every stage features a unique, remixed version of its original track and each Act has a different version to differentiate the two. You can also unlock additional music tracks, including some great remixes by the likes of Cash Cash and Crush 40, and play these on any Stage, allowing for a lot of variety in the music you hear as you play.
Enemies and Bosses:
Given that it features stages from three eras of Sonic’s history, Sonic Generations also includes many recognisable Badniks and enemies from each time period it is representing. You’ll smash apart the likes of Crabmeat, Spiny, and Egg Robos from the classic games but also Eggpawns, Cop Speeders, and Iblis creatures from Sonic’s more modern titles. While most slow and easy to attack, they can still surprise you with bolts of energy or other attacks, but they’re all gloriously rendered here.
While Sonic Generations only features four actual boss battles, it opts for quality and scope rather than quantity; you’ll battle the Death Egg Robot as Classic Sonic, then face Perfect Chaos and the Egg Dragoon as Modern Sonic, before teaming up as superpowered versions of both to take on Dr. Eggman and the Time Eater.
Each boss is not only lovingly recreated from its original but also amplified and expanded upon in new ways; the Death Egg Robot not attacks you from the background and you must stun it with bombs before you can attack it and the fight with Perfect Chaos is now a whole stage in itself as you dodge its tentacles and jump on crumbling platforms to reach it.
You’ll also have to compete against three of Sonic’s rivals to obtain a Chaos Emerald; you’ll once again race across Stardust Speedway against Metal Sonic, smash meteors at Shadow the Hedgehog down pathways in space, and jump across floating cars to attack Silver the Hedgehog. Each Rival Battle can be replayed at a higher difficulty level, but you’ll only face them as one of the two Sonics.
What lets the game, and its bosses, down though is the final battle with the Time Eater. Despite an impressive, ominous score, the unique design of both the creature and the messed up vortex you battle it in, and the joy of seeing Classic and Modern Sonic both turn Super Sonic to battle two versions of Dr. Eggman, this fight is a confusing mess. You charge head-first through a time/space distortion, dodging pieces of the stages and the Time Eater’s arms and lasers, to hit its core all while Sonic’s friends constantly shot the same “advice” over and over. You can barely see Golden Rings until they’ve flown right past you, you have no idea if you’re holding X or mashing it, and defeating this monstrosity is more down to luck than any kind of skill.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As he’s already pretty well-equipped, Modern Sonic doesn’t get many chances to improve his chances during gameplay outside of the extra Skills you can assign; Classic Sonic, thought, can break open monitors to get more Rings, gain a brief invincibility, speed up, or jump on a skateboard. Both can grab Wisps in the Planet Wisp stage (Classic gets Spikes and Modern gets Rocket) to manoeuvre through the game’s complex level structure.
Clearly, Sonic Generations intends you to make full use of the Skills function, which makes stages like Seaside Palace and Crisis City much easier when you have the Aqua and Flame Shield, respectively. You’ll need some of these Skills just to help you with simple things like not taking forever to get back up after being hurt or coming to a dead stop, but they can be a bit limited in some respects (you can only have one shield at a time, for example).
After you complete the game’s story, you can assign the “Super Sonic Skill”, which lets you transform either Sonic into Super Sonic once you collect fifty Rings at the cost of all 100 Skill points. While it’s great to burst through stages as Super Sonic, your Rings will drain unusually fast, especially if you hold down the Boost button, meaning you’ll burn out the power up in half the time you normally would, making it effectively useless in a lot of the longer stages.
As you complete stages, Challenges, and collect Red Star Rings, you’ll unlock additional music tracks, cutscenes, artwork, and little character trophies that can all be viewed in a little gallery/museum at the far left of White Space.
There are also a number of Achievements to earn here; in addition to normal, gameplay-orientated ones, every stage as at least one Achievement tied to it (normally something involving going a specific route and collecting a specific Red Star Ring before completing the stage).
If you explore the Green Hill hub, you’ll find a SEGA Mega Drive; for 7777 points, you can purchase a Mega Drive controller and, with the two, play a full port of the original Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991)! If you’re lucky enough to have pre-ordered the game (as I did for PlayStation 3), or download it from the Xbox Game Store, you can also play a pinball table themed on Casino Night Zone to kill a little more time.
When I first played Sonic Generations on PlayStation 3, I remember it being a fantastic experience; it was fun, fast-paced, and chock full of nostalgia and little bits of fan service. Aside from the final boss, I had a blast breezing through everything the game had to offer and lamented the lack of follow-up downloadable content from Sonic Team.
I was therefore super exited to see Sonic Generations pop up on Xbox Game Pass in March but, as soon as it started up, I was put off by how zoomed in the camera was. I don’t remember it being like that before. Nevertheless, I ploughed ahead, happy to be revisiting this slice of nostalgia and, very quickly, found myself quite frustrated by a lot of little things.
The few crashes I had, for one thing, the sheer uselessness of the regular jump both Sonics have (it’s as though they have stones in their sneakers!), the frustrating nature of a lot of the Challenges and, of course, the massive letdown of the final boss. All these years later and I’m still disappointed that the story wasn’t a bit more grandiose given that this was a celebration of Sonic’s 20th anniversary; the lack of other playable characters and extra stages was also disappointing, especially considering how modders have integrated both into the game since its release.
Yet, by and large, Sonic Generations is still an enjoyable experience. I fear this playthrough may have been soured by me rushed through it as quickly as possible rather than taking my time and losing myself to the nostalgia. If you can do that, there’s a lot to like here from a visual and aural perspective, as well the game being a fun, if all too brief, break-neck action romp through some of Sonic’s most iconic areas.
What did you think of Sonic Generations? Do you think it still holds up or, like me, do think that it was lacking in content and features? What was your favourite Classic and/or Modern Sonic videogame? Drop a comment below and share your Sonic thoughts.