Sonic Generations feels like it’s out to appeal to everyone, but I mean that in a good way. For years, disgruntled Sonic the Hedgehog fans have been calling for a return to the design mentality of the Genesis Sonic titles, where speed is a reward for precise platforming, but rejecting the (in my opinion, not half-bad) downloadable Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 for having different physics than the Genesis originals.
On the other hand, there’s another group of Sonic the Hedgehog fans who adore the more modern, 3D speed-and-spectacle-filled approach to the Sonic series. Sonic Generations attempts to cross gap between fans of 2D and 3D Sonic by taking classic stages from the series’ 20 year history and reimagining them for both 2D and 3D.
Green Hill Zone was the only playable zone on the floor, despite the fact that City Escape (from Sonic Adventure 2) was just announced in an E3-released trailer. When I first sat down with the game, I was too curious about how they recaptured the "Classic" Sonic feel to not try it.
In a nutshell, Generations feels like the first Sonic the Hedgehog with the addition of Sonic’s trademark "spin dash" from Sonic 2, which can either be performed the traditional way by crouching and mashing the jump button to make Sonic spin around, or simply by holding the newly mapped square button, which, admittedly, was a little off putting to me at first. Once I got my bearings, all of my old Sonic-playing instincts kicked in.
The "Classic" part of Generations lived up to its name. Sections involving racing through loops at high speeds were offset by segments in which I had to carefully hop from one platform to another. Even the way that the enemies were laid out felt nostalgic. I mean, Green Hill Zone is based on the level of the same name from Sonic 1, and Sega captured the atmosphere perfectly in 3D, from the robot crabs to the ring boxes falling out of trees that Sonic grazes.
However, there were a couple of things that pulled me out of my nostalgic revelry. Getting hit in classic mode only makes Sonic lose 20 of his rings instead of all of them. While Sega’s Aaron Webber told me that this was to make the game a bit more accessible, he also stressed that this wouldn’t necessarily be in the final build. I also asked about the series’ Barrier Shields realizing that I hadn’t actually found any in the demo, to which he playfully replied: "What shields?"
After getting an S-ranking (primarily for speed and the fact that I didn’t die) in Classic mode, I decided to give Modern Sonic a whirl. This mode was much more focused on speed, granting me a boost gauge that filled up as I collected rings. Considering the rate at which I collected rings, this essentially gave me the ability to hold the dash button (square or X on the 360 controller) and race through the level at constantly high speeds. While Modern Sonic was a distinctly less composed and precise than Classic Sonic, bouncing from one enemy to the next with the homing attack (the jump button again in the air) was the same sort of rush I got from hopping on three enemies without touching the ground in the original games.
Playing as Modern Sonic was a little like playing a roller coaster. I wasn’t always sure what was going on, but I was enjoying myself as I dashed through the level, grinded on metallic rails that just floated in midair, got chased by a giant robotic fish, and did tricks by flailing the analog sticks after going off of a jump. However, despite the fact that my brain was struggling to keep up with everything that was going on, I never actually died any pitfall deaths, nor did I take any cheap hits. I was impressed.
I had a lot of fun with both styles of play. Both the more precise Classic Sonic and the manic Modern Sonic were well-crafted and a lot of fun. It might just be that I’m a lapsed Sonic fan, but I’m legitimately excited to see more.
Sonic Generations will be released for the Xbox 360, PS3, and 3DS this Winter. We should have impressions of the Nintendo 3DS version up in the near future.