Sonic has been though some tough times of late. A string of average games have been propped up by a fairly lucrative partnership with is old arch-enemy from the other side of the console divide, Mario in a succession of Olympics-themed ventures.
With Sonic Generations, Team Sonic has tried a new nostalgic angle to get fans of the old Sonic back while turning on newbies to the joys of what Sonic used to be. A mysterious monster has ripped a large hole in the fabric of Sonic's universe and cast classic Sonic and modern Sonic together in the usual race to save both the past and the present from whatever it is that that has caused all the damage.
So begins a nostalgic journey through Sonic's more memorable adventures in both his modern 3D form and classic 2D form in order to save the world and his collection of increasingly annoying friends.
The game is laid out in a fairly interesting fashion. Specific areas from Sonic's history have been drawn into a strange purgatory and drained of all their colour. Sonic has to enter each zone and run, bounce and spin his way to the end in order to bring the zone back to life again.
There are nine zones in all separated into three groups of three. Complete three zones and a selection of challenges open up. All of the zones are available to play as either classic Sonic in 2D or modern sonic in 3D and completing them as both will revive the zone fully and save one friend. Once the first three zones are revived a boss door will open up along with a selection of challenges. The boss door requires three keys to unlock and the keys are freed up by completing some of the challenges. Again challenges are available in 2D and 3D and vary from collection rings, to speed challenges to using specific powers which will unlock them to use later on in the game.
After completing each level and challenge you are awarded a grade depending on how quickly and completely you finish the level you're on. This translates into points which you can use in the game's store allowing you to unlock upgrades for Sonic and even open up the chance to play the Megadrive version of Sonic The Hedgehog in the game.
Freeing up the keys only requires completing a small proportion of the challenges meaning that Sonic Generations can be completed in a depressingly short amount of time for those who have a short attention span. It can easily be spun out to around 15 hours worth of gameplay by trying to complete the challenges with the best grade possible.
Only one zone could open up the game and that is the Green Hill Zone. Playing through it as classic Sonic reveals the level to be an impressive HD tribute to Sonic's most iconic location. It plays a couple of cunning visual switches throwing Sonic around into the depth of the level as well while maintaining the classic 2D platforming action. It responds exactly as you'd want a Sonic title to and effectively captures the spirit of Sonic's Megadrive adventures.
Modern Sonic provides possibly the most interesting incarnation of Sonic in his 3D form. All his spin-moves, boosting and targeted jump attacks are in there keeping the nippy hedgehog moving along with a nice flow as long as you can master using them all in combination. The 3D levels transition comfortably between full 3D sections and 2D levels. This works well although it almost defeats the purpose of having the classic Sonic sections in if modern Sonic keeps flitting between 2D and 3D platforming.
Sonic Generations is a great-looking game. The animations are smooth and clean but the pace of the action does leave you feeling like you don't really blink while you're playing.
There are a few issues though. The main problem is cornering in the 3D sections of the game. On most of the corners Sonic will get thrown to the outside of the path especially if the corners are tight and the controls tend to veer quite violently between oversteer and understeer. Team Sonic has thrown in a drift cornering control dynamic to counter this involving pressing the appropriate trigger when cornering. At first glance it seems like an intuitive solution but when put into use it has fairly little effect on how well Sonic takes the sharper corners.
It has been a long while since Sonic has had a truly decent 3D outing - Sonic Adventure 2 is probably the last - but Sonic Generations goes some way to redressing the balance. It presents a neat blend of a slick take on the classic 2D platform action that made Sonic's name in the first place and their aspirations for what Sonic can achieve in the current 3D world. Our speedy little blue buddy still hasn't managed to make the transition in the meteoric way that Mario did on the N64 but this effort shows that Team Sonic are getting themselves on the right track again after so many miscues.
Sonic still has a long way to run to bring the kind of revolutionary adventure that will restore parity between him and his moustachioed Italian counterpart but Sonic Generations provides his fans with a respectful and nostalgic nod to the past and a hopeful look forward to the future.