When I was a kid, I was a huge Sonic fan. I had all but two challenges aced in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, owned five Sonic games for the GBA, and knew the lyrics to practically every song in the Adventure series. I had the comics, 1CC’d the fighter built on the Virtua Fighter engine (and the nearest cabinet was in Canada!), and knew all of Sonic’s awful friends from the games and the multiple TV shows. If this incredibly embarrassing confession didn’t drive the point home, I’ve played a lot of Sonic games.
However, around 2004, I could feel my love for the series waning. Sonic Heroes was the first Sonic game I’d played since Sonic 3D Blast (sorry Ishaan) that I simply disliked, and the show Sonic X was underwhelming even by my low Saturday morning cartoon standards. Next thing I knew, Shadow the Hedgehog had a gun, the stories got even more ludicrous and I simply lost interest.
Sonic Generations won that interest back.
For the first time in years, pressing start on the title screen led straight into playing a stage. No menus. No cutscenes. simply Act 1 of Green Hill Zone, just like Sonic 1. While it wasn’t a direct remake of the Sonic 1’s first zone, it was meant to capture the feel, complete with Green Hill’s enemies and segments mirroring the original stage. The level is simple, but it’s a return to the old days. The speedy segments are a reward for precise platforming, instead of the point of the level. It was classic Sonic, his moveset reduced to jumping and spin-dashing.
At the very end of this stage, you run by a classic Sonic goalpost (with Sonic’s face on one side, Robotnik’s on the other), receive a grade based on your time, rings, and survival, and then…
You’re treated to a cutscene. Here begins your adventure with Modern Sonic.
Sonic and about seven thousand of his friends are celebrating his birthday with chili dogs (naturally) and balloons when an evil force appears from out of nowhere and tears a hole in time. Sonic, being Sonic, decides to stop the great villain by running through a number of rollercoaster-like stages.
And what rollercoasters they are! In comparison to the classic take on Green Hill Zone, the modern act is incredibly quick and visually dynamic, with tons of camera changes as Sonic goes through loops and slides along grindrails. The music takes on this same feel, as the soundtrack incorporates a wider variety of instruments and themes while playing as Modern Sonic. The composers even mixed multiple Sonic themes together to create the new tracks. Much like the mechanics themselves, the songs are generally welcome reimaginings of familiar classics.
Modern Sonic is a bit more complex than his classic counterpart, and his stages are built more like multi-tracked roller coasters than Classic Sonic’s vertically-endowed multi-path skyscrapers. Modern Sonic is given a homing attack that allows him to bounce from enemy-to-enemy-to- spring-to-enemy, a refinement of bouncing from the head of one enemy to the next in the classic games. The X button (a shortcut for the spin dash as Classic Sonic) is a gauge-controlled boost. While it makes Sonic invulnerable to enemies, it makes him unwieldy. Proper boost usage parallels proper spin-dash use in the classics; it can lead to death if you’re not careful, but also add distance to your jumps and provide access to alternate paths through the stage.
The general rule of thumb in the Sonic series has been that higher paths are faster and more fun, but take more skill to stay on. Modern Sonic takes that in a new direction by occasionally placing boosts and ramps in places that will start Sonic on a different path toward the goal. On the first run through a stage, you might just notice them in the corner of the screen and wonder where they lead while staying on the main path. For me, these mysterious alternate routes served as inspiration to replay stages, as they often resulted in faster times, better grades, and additional collectable red coins star rings.
It almost seems as though Generations was made for people (read: old curmudgeons) like me. It’s a combination of Sonic past and present, recapturing the magic of the old games while simultaneously easing reluctant players into the new. While I was more familiar with the play style of the classic levels, I ended up having more fun with the modern levels with their combination of blinding speed and over the top spectacle. Running down the side of a building while being chased by police bots is simply more entertaining than being blindly transferred from one end of a glass tube to another.
Part of my quick adoption of the new style came from the expanded freedom in stage selection. Zones are unlocked three at a time, and even their acts can be played out of order. For instance, you could play through three acts as Classic Sonic before switching and approaching them as modern or vice versa. If a stage proved frustrating, I’d quit out of it and approach it with the opposite Sonic. While both acts of each zone must be beaten to progress (as well as a challenge
per zone, but more on that later), it was nice to have the freedom to get used to each Sonic’s approach to a stage at my own pace.
Speaking of me being an old curmudgeon, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the game’s writing. Ever since Sonic was given a voice, he’s starred in increasingly more ridiculous storylines. Since the Dreamcast era, Sonic has fought ancient aqueous gods, discovered the scientifically engineered “perfect lifeform” (in both hedgehog and lizard forms), and even been turned into an etymologically inaccurate “werehog”.
I’m not going to lie to you, Generations’ story isn’t that much better than Sonic Team’s previous attempts. It’s a pretty loose time-bending yarn that just barely justifies why there are two Sonics running around and creates an evil for them to fight, and a lot of the dialogue is groan-worthy. However, there are some cute references to previous Sonic games in there that put a smile on my face. For instance:
1. Classic Dr. Robotnik/Dr. Eggman has no idea who Sonic’s new friends are.
2. Tails can’t remember Green Hill Zone, despite Sonic’s deja vu.
3. When Tails mentions how bizarre the game’s time travel story is, Sonic mentions that it’s no more ridiculous than the plots of Sonic Colors and Sonic and the Secret Rings.
There are little jokes like these strewn through the game’s writing, and as a lapsed Sonic fan, it’s a pleasure to see that the writers are willing to have fun with their material, especially given how silly it is.
However, those aren’t the only sly references to Sonic’s past. Boss fights and rival battles (levels set on loops in which you have to discover a way to attack and defeat either Metal Sonic, Shadow, or Silver the Hedgehog) would often have openings that emulated the intro cutscenes of the games they were from. While some of these were lost on me, I can’t deny that I had an idiotic grin on my face as Sonic and Shadow leapt through the air and posed in front of the moon like they did in Sonic Adventure 2’s intro.
It’s ironic that Sonic Generations can be completed so quickly, because it’s the kind of game that deserves to be savored. There’s more to it that just the basic completion of course, challenges are unlocked for both classic and modern Sonic after a Zone is beaten. These range from simple tasks like racing a doppelganger to the truly bizarre (one of the more questionable missions had me using the Y button to call in Rouge the Bat to use her “feminine wiles” to daze enemy robots
so I could destroy them. I wish I was making this up). Each challenge completed unlocks either part or music that can be used as the BGM of any level or challenge.
While it’s certainly not perfect (I still have no idea what the hell I was doing when I fought the last boss, but somehow earned an S-rank when I beat him), Sonic Generations plays off of nostalgia while encouraging the nostalgics to look forward.