A, Up, A, Down, A, Left, A, Right, Hold A and press Start. Brrrring, hooray! I can choose my level!
Not the most conventional start to a review maybe, but as the cheat for the first Sonic game on the Mega Drive is still fresh in my head some 20 years after first playing it, that goes some way to show just how much of an impact the small blue hedgehog made on my gaming life.
And so, after what feels like 93 different Sonic titles we arrive at SEGA’s latest effort: Sonic Generations. As the name suggests this doesn’t deny the game’s roots, but instead celebrates them and builds the game’s foundations out of the side-scrolling old-school dynamics of Sonics gone by. And it’s actually pretty good fun, even if it only serves as a reminder that modern Sonic titles aren’t quite as great as they deserve to be.
The first thing that slapped me round the face was just how fast these games are. You just don’t get this kind of speed in modern games, so much so that it took several minutes of shouting profanities to get used to having to react as quickly as I needed to. Without reactions quicker than your average Jedi, it’s almost impossible to speed through a level from start to finish, but that’s what was always the big charm of Sonic. Its very raison d’etre was to be the fastest game around and this is clearly no exception, and yet switching between the 3D and 2D sections mid-game is done with a smoothness that makes your change in viewpoint feel natural and unforced.
And these switches happen quite a bit, but the 3D sections still don’t feel quite right. They feel like the game is trying to be something it’s not, a bit like a pensioner trying to do some free running. They’re better than the other recent 3D effort though, with speeds boosts and a new homing attack proving to be quite successful additions to the arsenal, and yet the controls during these sections are clumsy and death is an frequent inevitability. Instead it’s the 2D sections that shine the most, with instantly familiar levels and music given a 21st century shine and in most cases looking gorgeous as a result. The time-travel based storyline gives a perfectly feasible reason for two Sonics to be knocking around too, and by switching between the older Sonic and his taller, less muted modern cousin you can enjoy each level in either 2D or 3D, although beating the levels in both modes is key to making progress.
This progress is challenged by a series of boss battles, only unlocked after you’ve completed the levels provided and won some smaller fun challenges hosted by various other characters from the Sonic world. These challenges don’t all need to be completed to move on, but it’s worth trying them all just to experience everything that’s on offer. The bosses themselves are tough at times, almost frustratingly so, and after some light-hearted and enjoyable platforming it’s often a bit much when the difficulty spikes suddenly in a boss battle. The final boss especially is a royal pain in the arse that the game really could have done without.
So there’s a brilliant 2D chunk of the game let down by an awkward 3D side. You’d almost be able to put up with the 3D levels if it wasn’t for the bizarre loading times, which seem far longer than they should be for the type of game and even make you wonder at times if the whole game has locked up. But there’s something forgiveable amongst all of the madness, maybe it’s the fact that after all of the promises this is actually the best Sonic game we’ve had for quite some time. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the artistic stylings throughout the game look the part and make Generations one of the most colourful and crisp games we’ve seen this year. In the end though I suspect it boils down to one thing – anyone over the age of 25 has been desperate for a decent Sonic game for quite some time, and this is the closest that we’ve come. The 2D sections alone make Sonic Generations worth a go, and even though it’s not perfect the low price tag mean it’s worth a look if you want to see what fast platforming action feels like.
Who knows, maybe at some point soon we’ll get the game that the Sonic franchise needs to propel it back into the limelight, but for now we’ve at least got something that isn’t destined for the “oh dear” pile from recent years.
Reviewed on PS3