Review: Sonic Generations (X360)

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Sonic Generations is an amazing gut punch to the malaise that the Blue Bomber’s career has been in lately. Not quite a knockout blow, but longtime fans might not care as they race through two decades of Hedgehog history.

After a series of lackluster races, Sonic’s latest adventure blends classic gameplay into one package for a trip down memory lane with re-imagined maps in 3D while keeping to much of the 2D magic that I remember from his Genesis days. It doesn’t shove gimmicky powers or cantankerous controls into your hands while hurtling you through some of the craziest, speed induced levels in Sonic’s career both past and present.
Generations came out to celebrate Sonic’s 20th Anniversary so things kick off with a birthday party featuring all of his friends. It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong when a mysterious, black cloud of hate ruins things by vacuuming up everyone and leaving bits and pieces of Sonic’s past everywhere else. Soon, our hero teams up with his past self as he tries to figure out just what is going on and why everything looks like a blank, white canvas.
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Tweaked levels, redone in HD and re-imagined in 3D spanning his twenty year history, stand in the way of his red sneakers and fans of the series will recognize favorites such as Green Hill from his debut on the Genesis. Even bosses like the Death Egg Robot make comebacks in beefed up battles adding to the mystery of what is really going on. But story has never been Sonic’s strength. It has always been speed and the crazy things that the game does to trip players up.
Sonic’s classic gameplay formula hasn’t changed despite the glossy pixels. Collecting gold rings remains key to his survival. Getting hit with a load of these golden trinkets will cause them to fly everywhere, but Sonic won’t die unless he’s hit without any rings at all. And then there are the levels that will try to kill him along with any baddies that happen to be along the way.
A giant, fiery tornado with floating platforms of snapped highway bridges and hovering autos awaits players in Crisis City while rocket power-ups and underwater bubbles provide challenges elsewhere. Springboards propelling Sonic at hyper speeds, twisting tracks, and gliding down rails over empty space bring back much of the nostalgic adrenaline from titles past which is both Generations’ greatest strength and its worst weakness. It’s great fun seeing and playing through these remastered places again, but at the same time, a disturbing commentary on Sonic’s future with so much deja vu from his past in keeping it alive.
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Special abilities can also be purchased and equipped, such as added speed, before heading out into any of these levels adding an unexpected layer of customization to the experience. They’re not the kind of bonuses that unbalance the game, and Sonic can only equip so many of these in a set, but they provide additional incentive to do well in each level to achieve high scores garnering more purchase points.
Each “area” of the game consists of three classic levels and completing them opens up a number of “challenge” levels set in the levels the portals are set around. These provide even more challenging options such as racing against a doppleganger or surviving a level with the help of a freed friend. Completing at least one one of these challenges for a particular level also reveals a key, one of three, that together are used to unlock the gate to one of the big boss battles in the game. Successfully getting through that opens up the next triple batch of levels and so on until the very end.
Longtime fans will also recognize Chaos Emeralds in the mix which are guarded by one of Sonic’s past foes such as Shadow the Hedgehog, each one providing a unique challenge updated for the game. Most of these boss fights are pretty straightforward often requiring Sonic to leap over a number of obstacles and challenges to get in close and bop the enemy, but one or two can tend to drag things out – like the final boss battle of the game.
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Players can even select which Sonic to play as. Classic Sonic will take on the challenges in 2D while Modern Sonic takes them on in 3D mixed in with special abilities and a few 2D moves. Although the game suggests starting off these levels as 2D Sonic because they tend to be “easier” with that approach, the challenge can often be just as tough with blind jumps, deadly drops, and a lack of life sustaining rings for when you need them most.
Finishing the story takes about four or five hours, though trying out the huge number of challenges and improving your leaderboard score can add much more depending on how much patience you’ve stocked up on. This is an arcade-styled game that adheres to the old school of its predecessors especially since much of that challenge lies within levels laid out as deadly gauntlets brimming over with built in dangers. The game won’t flatten out all of those loops, infinite pits, and alternate routes to ease things.
Sonic has had a rough couple of sequels, but Generations succeeds in trying to do right by its fans with a refreshing run through his past glory. In addition to the mini-challenges, a virtual cornucopia of collectable content ranging from art and music spanning Sonic’s history from character sketches to 16-bit arrangements from the distant past is also crammed onto the disc providing even more incentives. Generations doesn’t quite push Sonic’s world into new directions, but fans should find themselves right at home with what it brings to his party.
Sonic Generations
Sega / Sonic Team
Xbox 360 / PS3 / Nintendo 3DS / Microsoft Windows (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Rated: E for Everyone