Funny how the first two games I decided to review for this site were released on November 1st. Perhaps this symbolizes something.  Maybe November 1st is the day I establish myself as a millionaire, swimming in pools of money and sticking my nose up at anyone who doesn’t own several mansions. Or maybe November 1st is the day I die via explosives strapped to my ass. Huh…

Either way, Sonic Generations is the first Sonic game since 1994 that I can say I liked without saying, “But…”, and listing several hundred glitches, control issues, and a story that  makes me seriously consider building a memory-erasing machine for the sole purpose of making me forget it. Appropriate enough, I suppose: Sonic Generations was created specifically to celebrate 20 years of Sonic, and I’m sure the entire gaming industry would have a field day if that celeberation turned out to be crap, as unironic as it would’ve been. That it isn’t the case, thankfully, though that’s not to say this game is perfect.

After jarringly being thrown into gameplay seconds after pressing the Start button and having to complete a stage before even being told what the hell was going on, the story kicks in, if very briefly. Sonic and his friends are celebrating Sonic’s birthday, when Barney the Dinosaur’s evil and dimension-spanning second cousin rips a hole through space and time, sucking Sonic’s friends through various times and places that all very conveniently correspond to ones Sonic has visited in his past, and its up to Sonic to save them. All this screwing around with time causes some sort of paradox, and the present-day Sonic meets his past self, who he teams up with to save his friends and make time right. Not that saving you’re friends seems to have any real benefit, with the exception of Tails: You rescue them, they give you a 10-second pep talk, and they spend the rest of the game flicking their ears. Actually, they do have a role in some missions, but we’ll get to that a bit later. The Sonics also need to retrieve the Chaos Emeralds to fix time and space, though at this point, the Chaos Emeralds are Sonic’s solution to everything. “Ah, hell, my tea’s gone cold! I know, I’ll go get the Chaos Emeralds to make it all better!”.

Remember to share, kids. Share DEATH!

Now, it’s best to keep a time-travel plot as simple as possible, lest someone spontaneously combust trying to figure out how it all works and what rules are being applied. It’s especially important to keep time-travel plots involving Sonic the Hedgehog simple, because A) Sonic ’06 and B) Sonic stories need to be kept simple anyway. Trying to write a serious plot when your main character is a super-fast rat is a good way to get laughed at. The game thankfully keeps the plot at an absolute minimum, but it also skips out on dialogue, which is incredibly disappointing.

See, you progress through the game by playing through a level selected from 9 different Sonic games released throughout the years, and I was under the impression the writers were going to have Sonic and Tails comment on the level you just completed, make a few in-jokes, and even take a few jabs at the game it was originally from; Sonic Colors has proven that they have absolutely no problem doing that. Hell, the game itself supported that impression, as Sonic and Tails do exactly that for the first two levels, but it never happens again. I thought it was a good opportunity to let out a bit of Sonic history and laugh at a few bad past decisions the team made with the series, which are quite a few. I mean, I thought that the only way SEGA could’ve slipped in a level from Sonic ’06 was if they beat the crap out of that game in a cutscene or something, but without that, its inclusion is jarring. It stinks of a game that was rushed, since as mentioned, these sort of cutscenes occur twice in the beginning, and I assume it was intended to continue for the rest of the game. But you know what, fine. If you have to skip out on something due to deadlines, skip the story, not the gameplay. Good Sonic games have never been heavy on story, and this is no exception; I wasn’t looking for a drama or a thriller starring a hedgehog. I really do wish Sonic Team had learned that lesson before starting on Sonic ’06.

Those lovely pre-rendered cutscenes that were in the trailers are also nowhere to be found. There are no words for the disappointment.

The game is tied together with a neat little hub world, which connects the various levels and their corresponding missions, and is split in 3 Eras: ‘Classic’, ‘Dreamcast’, and ‘Modern’. The Sonic series has done hub worlds with very limited degrees of success, but this is easily the best, because its damn near inconsequential. It’s a couple of seconds between each stage, and while the missions do require some platforming to get to, it’s very rudimentary. Except in the Modern Era, where a specific set of missions is bloody impossible to get to without screwing around for a couple of minutes, every single time. Regardless, its nothing like Sonic ’06s harrowing 5 minute runs around a stupidly big, bland, lifeless city, or suffering through 8 billion load times in Sonic Unleashed to get to the stage you wanted. Interesting how this hub-world’s completely white background feels more lively than Sonic ’06’s cities. You can visit a shop to buy skills and equip them to customizable sets, but unlike Sonic and the Secret Rings, which shoved this system in your face before every single damned mission, it’s completely optional here. For some reason, though, these abilities only seem to work in the main stages, not in the missions, where I think they would’ve actually been useful.

Yes, this here feels more lively than the populated cities in Sonic '06.

The main gameplay is split into two styles, Classic and Modern, and might as well start with the one fans have been begging for for the past 15 years. The Classic Sonic stages are completely restricted to a 2D plane, though it does often take you into the foreground and background, something that it really benefits from; if you’re going to bring Genesis gameplay onto the PS3, you might as well tweak it to take advantage of the new hardware. The stages are purely platforming here: you jump from platform to platform, be they swinging, descending or ascending, and all those wonderful things completely unsupported platforms can do in video games. There were two factors that always put the Genesis games’ platforming on top of any other games’, one being the physics. You could be running down a hill and suddenly jump, or leap onto an enemy and keep jumping on other ones to keep the flow going. I’m incredibly relieved to say that all that’s intact, as well as Classic Sonic’s momentum. SEGA’s last attempt at replicating this gameplay, Sonic 4, had as much with common with the Genesis titles as McDonalds has with decent food. Sonic controls near perfectly here, if having a somewhat stiff jump when stationary. The other factor was the alternate paths; there were so many branching paths that you could explore in those games that I’m still finding completely new ones to this day. This, too, was kept intact in this game, but is more reflex and/or memorization based than the classic titles. I’m not sure I’m a fan of this, because it means that you have to already know where it is you have to jump onto an unseen platform, or leap off a hill while descending it, rather than finding new paths through exploration. Either way, it’s definitely going to keep me playing the game long after completing it.

TROOOOOOOOLLLLLLLNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Modern Sonic’s gameplay system is exactly what is was in Sonic Unleashed: you’re running at top speed on both 3D and 2D planes, gathering rings to fill a boost gauge which causes you to run even faster, a feature that you’ll almost always keep active. You can perform the homing attack by pressing X twice, allowing you to target and destroy an enemy in an instant; a quick step by hitting the R1 and L1 buttons, which lets you quickly witch lanes, and a crouch maneuver by pressing O, which lets you drop whenever you want, at whatever speed, though I can’t imagine the kind of damage done to Sonic’s ass when doing so at 500 MPH. It’s still fun as ever to be zipping by at lightning speed through beautiful environments, but what shocked me was the amount of platforming included in these sections. Unleashed focused almost completely on you just running fast and quick stepping to get through the stages, but this game completely wrecked that system in favor of some decent platforming. This delighted me, really, because we haven’t had honest-to-God 3D platforming since Sonic Adventure 2. Its not as physics and momentum based as Classic Sonic’s, though; its mostly run and jump style, but its done well enough that I really don’t mind. Another thing that was completely absent from every single 3D title were those alternate paths that I mentioned, but Generations gives Modern Sonic so many that I’m left astounded by how much effort they put into these levels. You have to remember that all those beautiful environments cost a lot of money to make, and having to make levels long enough for Sonic to zip through without them lasting 20 seconds must really hurt the developers’ wallets. And now, not only do you have ONE lovingly rendered paths to blast through, you have MANY of them, a lot cleverly hidden, which, along with Classic Sonic’s level design, boosts this game’s replayablility to astronomical levels. If there is one problem here, though, it’s that Sonic still controls like he’s skating on ice with shoes made out of butter when not boosting, and while the platforms are generally large enough that they compensate for that, sometimes the game demands precision platforming, and you’d have an easier time finding a needle in a stack made out of other needles that’s slowly being filled with posionous gas than getting Sonic onto those platforms. And while this isn’t necessarily a problem, I have to question the redundancy of having Modern Sonic have 2D sections, when Classic Sonic was supposedly the one who should handle them. If nothing else, Sonic is certainly a lot easier to control in 2D.

And you do get to use that ever classic board in a couple of levels. A couple.

The selection of levels in this game is actually really good, and they did an amazing job bringing those 16-bit levels onto current generation hardware. Not everyone can be pleased though, and some will definitely be angry that their favorite level from any specific game not making it. My problem, though, is the overabundance of city levels. Of the nine levels, FOUR are city levels, and while each is completely unique from the other (one is in a post-apocalyptic setting, for crying rather softly), it would’ve been better to have some more unique aesthetics, which the Sonic series is well known for. You also have to consider that the series is very fantastical in its setting; it would’ve been much more appropriate to have the more out-there levels to represent the series’ history than what look like real life locales. What infuriates me to the point of wanting to amputate my own leg with a chainsaw, though, is that the game features both Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1 and Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes. Both these stages, besides some differences, are atheistically exactly the same. I don’t care about fan demand, having two stages virtually identical is NOT a good way to represent the franchise’s history. I know Green Hill Zone is a prerequisite for this kind of game, but Sonic Heroes had that really surreal haunted castle. That would’ve made a perfect fit and given the level selection some variety, not to mention that it was a level I really would’ve liked to play with functional controls. I still appreciate the stages on display, though, and they’re all designed very well. Sonic Colors’s stage really makes a strong argument that the game should be released on HD consoles; it looks absolutely gorgeous.

I'd have really liked to play Colors with visuals like this the whole way through. A bit lazy, are we, SEGA?

Each Era ends with a battle with a boss, each from the corresponding era. You fight the Egg Robo (that thing will always be the Eggsterminator to me) from Sonic 2, Perfect Chaos from Sonic Adventure, and the Egg Dragoon from Sonic Unleashed. The point of fighting them is to retrieve their respective Chaos Emerald, but this raises the question of how Perfect Chaos even manages to exist. Chaos becomes perfect after having all 7 Emeralds, but he doesn’t here, so how… forget it. They managed to screw up the time travel plot with that. Nice going. Other than these fights, there’s also a fight against a ‘Rival’ in each era, repectively Metal Sonic, Shadow, and Silver, who also have Chaos Emeralds. Metal Sonic is evil and all, which is enough incentive to fight him, but the Shadow and Silver fights completely lack context. They’re all supposed to be friends, or at least allies at this point. Their pre-battle dialogue goes a bit like, “Grr, Sonic! GRRRR!!!”. Um, guys, I understand we have a friendly rivalry going on, but I think that can wait until we’ve eliminated the creature that’s detroying the very fabric of space and time. And how the hell did any of them get a Chaos Emerald, anyway? This whole Chaos Emerald deal really makes my brain melt; thankfully the game doesn’t focus on it, so I guess we’re not meant to take it seriously. That isn’t a good excuse, however, but again, the less plot in a time-travelling story featuring Sonic, the better.  Despite being completely arbitrary, all the bosses are rather enjoyable and completely unique, which I suppose is enough reason for them to exist. My inner plot whore rages against the set-up, but the story is simple enough anyway, so I guess I’ll let it slide.

Although Dr. Eggman definitely has reasons to want you dead.

The main problem about this game, though, is that in terms of story length, its barely four hours. This can very easily be overlooked by the fact that those alternate paths that I love bringing up will keep me coming back to the game for years to come, if the Genesis titles are any indication, but a game being sold at $50 needs more than that for those instant gratification twats. Thankfully, each stage comes with 10 missions, 5 for each Sonic, boosting the game’s length to about 7 hours. I was always lukewarm about Sonic Unleashed’s side missions, and Sonic ’06’s can burn in hell, but they actually put a lot of effort into these missions. You always have some sort of requirement to fulfill while in them, and they can generally be expected to support the fast and flowing gameplay. The level design for most missions is completely different than those of the main stages, and if the mission requirements didn’t exist, they could qualify as Act 3s and 4s. Some do recycle the main stages, though, but it never really bothered me too much. Until I was forced to play the doppelganger missions that every level has for each Sonic: you have to replay the main stage while racing against a doppelganger, which will never, ever catch up to you. These missions were the absolute worst, the least creative, and simple weren’t necessary. I didn’t need extra incentive to play those stages, you clots, you didn’t need to waste an entire mission forcing me to. That’s not to say they’re the only stinkers; some require you to team up with Sonic’s friends, or battle them in some manner, and these are usually boring, uninteresting, frustrating, or all three. Not always, but enough to make me wish I kept those bastards locked away. The missions can still be expected to be fun, if not very long, and you are always rewarded with either interesting artwork or music from previous Sonic games you can play over any stage or mission, and if you know anything about the franchise’s soundtrack quality, you’ll want to pick them up. What I don’t like is how you’re graded for these sections: your grade is based completely on your TIME, rather than how well you completed the mission. Say, for example, you have to rescue a certain amount of Chao. You’d think that the more you saved, the better your score would be, but no, you have a set amount that you must save, and then you have to haul ass to the goal. That’s like entering a spelling bee and being disqualified because you have a funny accent. And sometimes, especially during the doppleganger missions, they’ll give you a generous amount of time to get the highest grade, but fail to reach the goal, and it IMMEDIATELY drops to the worst. So now its like getting shot while spelling something the moment your accent is noticed.

You get this pinball game if you pre-ordered the game, and, well... its pinball. Nothing you haven't seen before.

Ever since Sonic moved from 2D to 3D in 1998, his games have ranged from decent to unplayable, and the franchise as a whole has been ridiculed as an artifact of a bygone era, irrelevant in today’s market. Sonic Generations completely turns the tables: I honestly haven’t had this much fun with any other game this year, maybe because I’m a hardcore Sonic fan, but being one hasn’t kept me from wanting to burn several of his previous games. For once, a Sonic game isn’t riddled with technical issues, a terrible plot (just a nonexistant one in this case), or just being boring. I can’t award the game points for originality, since it takes concepts and stages from previous games, but for this kind of celebration, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you’re a Sonic fan, chances are you’ve already purchased the game and beaten it, but if you haven’t, do so immediately; this game was made for you. If you’re looking to get into the series, this is probably the greatest starting point, encompassing the franchise’s history. Hell, you can even unlock and play Sonic 1, which is still fantastic 20 years later; you couldn’t ask for a better starting point. Yes, its short, but there’s so much potential replayablility that you’ll probably be returning to this game long after everything’s been said and done. Its just an overall great game, and SEGA should be proud of themselves for making should a fitting tribute to its star character. Its the best Sonic game that’s come out since 1994, which isn’t saying much, honestly; that’s like saying you’re the most decent woman in a city named Whoresville. But for its worth, it is. That said, return to shoddy quality for your future games, SEGA, and I’ll have my chainsaw ready.

You couldn't ask for a better celeberation package than the latest and oldest Sonic games on one disc.

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