Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Sonic Generations

Few people, myself included, thought that we’d ever see SEGA’s spiky blue hedgehog return to form and give those other gaming mascots a run for their money once again. But just as the old fella reaches his 20th birthday, he dusts off his trademark trainers and marks the event with the release of Sonic Generations. Thankfully, we can all breath a collective sigh of relief as the latest addition to his long list of self-titled outings is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that will leave his fans grinning from ear to ear. Even the 3D segments are fun to play – unlike many of his recent appearances (yeah, we’re looking at you, Sonic Unleashed!)

The opening movie sees Sonic’s cutesy friends springing a surprise birthday party on our hero. But all too quickly, the celebrations turn to chaos when all his animal chums are sucked through strange time portals by some angry-looking demonic creature. It’s then up to the world’s most famous blue mammal to tie up those shoelaces, rev up those legs and race off to find them.

The time holes not only transport our hero back to the past but also see him cross paths with his older self, opening up the opportunity for SEGA to not only to make use of some of the best bits of the series but also to give us the chance to step into the shoes of both classic 2D Sonic, with his trademark spin-dash attack, and his modern self with his Sonic Boost move. This epic journey is a tribute to all those past escapades, taking him back to some old haunts with all those familiar ramps, platforms, springs and loops. The game is heavily influenced by Sonic’s past exploits and features reworked levels from his various games over the past 20 years, from the original 1991 Megadrive classic to the more recent Unleashed and Colours.

Each zone is split into halves, one is classic 2D fare with the side-scrolling levels providing old Sonic a chance to stretch his legs, while the other is largely a 3D affair. Beyond these two-part Acts and boss levels, side missions and challenges can be accessed through the main hub menu.
The landscapes are many and varied, from Seaside Hill and Sky Sanctuary to Rooftop Run and Planet Wisp. Each has numerous routes, hidden Red Star rings, and bonuses to collect – and every single stage is ridiculously fast! Despite his advancing years, the old boy certainly hasn’t slowed down!

Being a Sonic fan since his debut all those years ago, Green Hill Zone remains a firm favourite in Generations, harking back to the days of old but revamped with plenty of twists, turns and tunnels. But for me, it’s the City Escape zone that perhaps deserves the plaudits. The classic Sonic portion is well worked but it’s the modern 3D level that will bring many a fond memory from Dreamcast owners, as we smash through cars and skate down sloping San Francisco-like streets. City Escape sees you chased by a crazed trucker like in the classic Spielberg movie DUEL.

It looks awesome, with the juggernaut zooming between the fore- and background as Sonic sprints to the finish line (the driver has some cool buzz saws at his disposal in the 3D version too, which makes everything a little more hectic!). Grab a skateboard and things seem to get even faster, but it doesn’t matter – the camera zooming in and out to cater for the unrelenting velocity. It’s a really well-worked level, with the two stages offering a really nice blend of old and new.

There are plenty of stages, and improving scores and completing the various sections unlocks upgrades, artwork and and allows access to the original Sonic game – it’s an awesome package for fans.

Beyond the main single player game, there are also two new modes: 30 Second Trial and Ranking Attack. The former is exactly as the name suggests, giving the player just half a minute to see how far they can race through a level. A marker is then set down and you and friends can try to better it. Simple but addictive fun. The Ranking Attack mode challenges players to complete a stage as fast as possible with their score posted to an online leaderboard; compare your times and try to beat everyone else’s.

There’s plenty packed onto this disc to keep you occupied and there’s always the urge to find hidden routes, improve your scores and collect as many rings as possible. The hidden Red Star Rings and challenges certainly add to the replayability factor.

After years of promise, Sonic is back to his best. Sonic Generations captures exactly what SEGA’s iconic character is all about. This is a brilliant game with something for everyone; it’s fast, there’s plenty to do and loads to bring a smile to your face – especially if you were one of those gamers who were with him when he started his journey two decades ago.

*Reviewed on Xbox 360