Sunday, September 18, 2011

Megabits Column: Sonic Generations

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the September 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

SEGA’s iconic blue mascot Sonic the Hedgehog has done his level best in recent years to disprove the old adage that things get better with age. Despite his frequent appearances, some suggest that the prickly little guy - synonymous with the Japanese publisher since he sped onto our screens in 1991 - has sadly failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing gaming industry and our lofty expectations.

The 20 years since Sonic’s debut have whizzed by and he’s been ported to almost every platform – but has he really stood the test of time? SEGA says over 50 million people are said to have played at least one Sonic game, accumulating more than 500 million hours of gametime. Some 66 billion rings have been collected along the way too!

It’s certainly been a rollercoaster ride and arguably, he’s run out of a bit of steam in recent years. Even die-hard fans have begun to question whether everyone’s favourite will ever race to the top of the charts again…

Thankfully, the upcoming release of perhaps his most exciting self-titled game in many years may change things somewhat and help to pull his detractors back from the brink of indifference. Sonic Generations promises to be a return to form for everyone’s favourite and fastest protagonist.

Generation’s recently released trailer retreads the history of the Sonic franchise and some of the 30+ games, hinting at plenty of fast-paced fun in this follow up (hopefully, without the reappearance of his Werehog alter-ego (Sonic Unleashed, 2008).

First impressions suggest the new game will be heavily influenced by the good old days when he roamed the Green Hill Zone in search of rings and power ups. Once again, he’ll be aiming to thwart the evil egg-headed Dr Robotnik – who is also looking remarkably good for his age - and many of his other infamous rivals.

This time round Sonic must deal with the appearance of some mysterious time holes, which have transported our hero back to the past. Inevitably, this sets up the scenario that Sonics past and present will come face to face and have to join forces to ward off the powers of evil.

As a result, many favourite levels are set to make a reappearance. There will also be plenty of opportunities to step into the shoes of both classic Sonic with his trademark spin-dash attack and his modern self with his Sonic Boost move. Although SEGA is still keen to convince us that Sonic can successfully make the transition to three dimensions, fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief that opting to control classic Sonic returns the game to a 2D perspective. Combined with enhanced graphics and sound that you’d expect on a seventh generation console, the latest title seems to have all bases covered and could prove to be a welcome return to form.

The demo suggests that Generations will hit the mark, combining modern and retro gaming. The environments look dense and full of colour, while the trademark speed is still there.

SEGA marked his 15th anniversary five years ago with the release of a new 3D version of Sonic the Hedgehog on the 360 and PS3. With respective Metacritic scores of 46% and 43%, suffice to say they weren’t the happiest of celebrations for the spiky fellow.
There have been plenty of other attempts at a comeback since but most recently, the switch back to 2D in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 (2010) proved that speed and simplicity was still a winning formula.

For all the niggles and veiled criticism over the years, Sonic remains a key figure in gaming history. He’s helped to attract a new audience to consoles with his running, kart racing, hoverboarding, pinball and countless other spinoffs. Question is, has nostalgia had its day? Perhaps - and for that reason Sonic Generations may be the aging hedgehog’s last chance at redemption.