It can hardly be argued that the past decade hasn't been very kind to Sega's blue Erinaceus mascot. For years now, the quality and direction of Sonic console games have ranged from... questionable, to put it politely, to downright terrible, to put it bluntly (His handheld titles have been consistently excellent, however). I grew up loving Sonic. His Genesis adventures were the first video games I ever played as a child, and my love and obsession for Sonic as a series continued from my toddler days throughout his stellar Dreamcast outings (I even devoured the comic series for years. Over a hundred issues are still at my parents' house). I'll be honest, Sonic Adventure 2 was the last Sonic game to hold my attention as a fan, and it was after that particular Dreamcast masterpiece that Sonic started to lose his unique way of doing "what Nintendon't" (Some argue Sonic Heroes was his last great game. I never played it myself, so I can't judge). It seemed that all was lost for Sonic, and with each lousy game his fans felt more and more disheartened and angry when dealing with the haters, more of which came out of the paneling with each crappy game.
First, a little history about Sonic's quality increasing in recent years, culminating in this disc of pure adrenaline inducing awesomeness:
Sonic Unleashed's daytime levels were a true success at retaining the past greatness of Sonic's unique, classical "fastest thing alive" approach to platforming, but overall Unleashed was an experience marred by horrendous Werehog nighttime levels that were slow and boring, the antithesis of what Sonic has always stood for. Then came Sonic 4 Ep. 1, which made even more progress to return to Sonic's 2-D roots and past glory, despite some missteps and questionable gameplay design choices (I'm a lot kinder here than a lot of 4's detractors). Sonic Colors was next, and was FINALLY a wholly stellar Modern Sonic title, of which there are few things to complain about; by far the best Sonic title in years, until now.
These three titles have set the table that Sonic Generations has come to, seen, and conquered. The fastest thing alive is back on his 20th anniversary, and to commemorate this most special occasion for their #1 mascot, Sega has invited not one, but two distinctly different Sonics to come celebrate. We are the guests of honor, and this is the best present a Sonic fan could have ever asked for. This is a long intro, I know, and this review will be a long one, but please, let me indulge the inner 4-year-old in me that would be obsessed with Sonic for years. This is the game Sonic fans have yearned for for over a decade. I will try to be as detailed as I can to give you an accurate picture of the game. Ok, here we go:
Story: Sonic and friends find themselves the target of an evil, malevolent force that threatens the universe and time itself! Amid the chaos, Sonic and Tails find themselves in some void, face to face with a chubby Sonic n' Tails from the past, from circa early-mid 1990's specifically. Both "Classic" and "Modern" Sonics team up and set off from this pure-white hub world to journey through their most memorable past exploits in order to attempt to right the wrongs and save everything they've ever known. Is it a great, ground-breaking story? No way, but it doesn't have to be. This is Sonic, and if Sonic and the Secret Rings or Sonic 06' (shudders) were games that tried to put a heavier story into the mix, I'll thank the chaos emeralds and chao that this title doesn't. The story merely gives context to the action and then steps back so the player can enjoy what you and I have always picked up Sonic the Hedgehog titles for: Excellent platforming gameplay at extreme speeds, cool style, and awesome music.
Let's talk about gameplay. I'm sure many of you out there were probably worried, first of all, about whether or not Sonic Team screwed up the gameplay/control mechanics of classic Sonic. Sonic 4 really changed the physics and control behavior from the classics and that really upset a lot of fans (not me so much, but many fans were peeved). You may confidently relax, because the classic Sonic gameplay is exactly the way it was on the Genesis. The game really rewards those who work hard to attain high speed and punishes those who are careless and slow on the uptake, just like in the good ol' days. The inertia is back, yes, the continued movement without constant d-pad pressure is back, and it is glorious. The only difference I can think of is that the classic Sonic levels here actually feel faster than the originals, and that the levels and proportions of everything ranging from platforms to loop-de-loops to spikes to enemies, seems... bigger. You may not feel that way, but I definitely did. There were also graphical tricks implemented that almost gives Classic Sonic a 2.5-D feel to them. So even though you're only running from left to right, you may hit a bounce spring that shoots you at an angled trajectory (think barrels from Donkey Kong Country Returns), or a sprint section may go through turns to the foreground to the background and everywhere else. Sonic 4 had similar tricks. These little touches really make the levels feel like living, organic worlds that Sonic is speeding through, despite the 2D "flatforming", and that is really rad.
Modern Sonic levels are characterized by maneuvering complex 3-D obstacle courses at speeds so fast, the music and outside sound literally distorts (I'm not kidding), making for an incredible effect. You have a boost function you can abuse to get Sonic up to speed again when you inevitably miss that 1/100000000th of a second you needed to react to miss a corner or ledge or enemy that stops you cold. You can even hold Sonic's boost button down to go at ultra fast speeds consistently over time. It's quite the rush, trust me. You can't abuse boost for long, however, as you need to take breathers, perform stylish moves, collect rings, or take down enemies to absorb more energy in order to replenish the boost bar. It's a nice balance. Modern Sonic gameplay really seems to push the envelope in every way, from speed level to set-piece epicness. It's all so over the top, and really captures that "HOLY CRAP!" feeling you and I probably first had when Sonic ran down that skyscraper or was chased by that killer whale in Sonic Adventure, OR the massive death truck chase from Sonic Adventure 2. Even the Modern Sonic reimaginings of classic levels have set piece moments like that, and that's really cool. Bravo Sega. I'm sorry for doubting you so much (but can you blame me?).
The presentation in this game, from the art design to its graphical presentation, is phenomenal and the definition of fan service. When I started up Sonic Generations, my brain fried a little from Nostalgia overload at the modern remix of Sonic 1's menu music and both Sonics waving their finger at me. I foamed at the mouth, a tear of pure joy and sunshine gathered in my eye, and my heart started beating in dubstep. It was... overwhelming, and probably not pretty but I make no apologies. When I started up Classic Sonic's Green Hill zone... well... gosh, this is going to be hard to describe... impossible actually, so I'll just say this and then let you discover the magic for yourselves: The graphical presentation of pretty much every Sonic level here is absolutely amazing. They all retain the spirit of their original appearances, while utilizing the power that today's consoles can afford the art design, and it is spectacular. That's no small feat! This applies to the age-old classics AND the more modern levels. I have less enthusiasm for levels from the "Post Sonic Adventure 2" section of Sonic canon, but this game's art design and gameplay mechanics are so great, I enjoyed them thoroughly too.
The classic music is enhanced, while harnessing that great ol' Genesis synthesized goodness, and the classic sound effects are all there. Same goes for the music/sound design for the modern iterations. It's quite amazing. It IS strange (and awesome) to hear "modern" versions of old tunes while playing as Modern Sonic, like Green Hill Zone from an actual rock band for instance, as opposed to the original synth stuff. One thing I *really* enjoyed were the awesome "classic Sonic" versions of newer "modern Sonic" songs. They're astoundingly awesome, seriously. Another really positive accolade for the sound is that much of the voice acting is actually tolerable now! You'll still stumble across some painfully cheesy stuff, but that's to be expected. To be mad at Sonic for campy cheesiness is like getting mad at Star Fox 64 for campy cheesiness. That would be crazy. Campiness is part of Sonic's "edge factor," so stop hating and let him cheese it up, I say. The excellent gameplay certainly affords him that right. It's definitely a vast improvement overall though.
There are levels from nine different games in Sonic's canon. That may seem paltry, but when you consider that each level has two different, and I meant very different, versions, one for classical Genesis Sonic gameplay, and one for Modern Unleashed/Colors Sonic gameplay, this is forgivable. This game has tons of replay value, as each level has several different ways to get from the beginning to the end-post/end-giant-ring. There's also tons of unlockables which not only drive the incentive for replay, but really are nice nods to Sega fans out there. This was nice. There ARE only four *true* boss fights in the entire game, however... yes, FOUR! This strikes me as odd, when you consider that the old Genesis titles literally had a boss fight after every stage. For a game trying to harness past success and design philosophy, such a small ratio of boss fights to stages seems very strange. I know a boss fight for every level is a bit much in today's age, but four still seems a bit anemic. At least they're incredibly epic, for the most part. There *are* three "rival fights" where you must battle past rivals in order to grab yourself a chaos emerald. One such rival is Metal Sonic, to give an example, and each of these rival battles are really fun and unique. I thoroughly enjoyed these cool segments. If you count these, then there are technically 7 boss fights, and that feels like a more adequate number.
"Long" review, I know, but if you're like me, you may feel a bit of trepidation about buying this game. Sonic has let us down so many times, and even though the handheld games were awesome, as well as Sonic Colors, the blue hedgehog still has an iffy reputation on console. Well, I can tell you now that, all things considered, this is an amazing game, period. It's an absolute masterpiece of a Sonic title. For years Sonic lost his way, and delivered experiences that felt NOTHING like the quintessential Sonic title. This is a return to the original, simple philosophy that Sonic always stood for: being the fastest thing alive. For that alone, this game deserves the highest recommendation. However, when you combine that with the incredible nostalgic experience this game offers, the outstanding production values and design (both in the visual and audio departments), and the absurd amount of fan service this game has to offer, purchasing this game becomes a no-brainer. Buy it, speed, dash, n' blast through it, and let yourself get lost in this celebratory sub-sonic bubble of retro Sonic glory.