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Sonic Generations [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Sonic Generations is simply the best idea for a long-running video game franchise that a fan-boy could ask for. It builds on the classic gameplay that fans have been crying out for since the end of the 16-bit era, and offers up a whole lot of fan-service to those who have stuck by the Blue Blur during his descent over the last dozen or so years. It melds beautiful the classic 2D speed-based platforming of yore with the modern graphics and gameplay mechanics that gamers will no doubt expect from anything released on a modern platform.

The Pros: 

+The presentation of the game is phenominal, and provides some much needed love to the fans of the franchise.

+The return of “Classic Sonic” is everything that a fan could have wanted, backdropped with some gorgeous reimaginings of iconic Sonic locales.

+The writing is funny and unfiltered, providing tons of allusions to previous Sonic titles throughout.

+The over-world navigation is simple, clean, easy to progress through and offers an end to the convolution of most modern Sonic titles 3D ‘hub worlds.’

The Cons: 

-Considering the amount of ‘Sonic Friend’ models that are in the game and featured in the ‘challenge zones’ multiplayer seems like a no brainer, but was left out.

-The 3D or “Modern” segments of Sonic Generations could have used a little more tweaking and still run into the same old problems of poor handling and unintelligent camera angles. Rating : 

Fans of the site, or Sonic in general, are probably aware of the fact that I am and have always been a pretty big Sonic fan. This year I went far enough to solidify my love of the Blue Blur by permanently inking myself with the Sonic Team logo on Sonic's anniversary. I say this upfront, because Sega has given me a rare opportunity: The ability to speak positively about a new Sonic game.

Forget all the Werehog and Black Knight non-sense of the 'modern' Sonic series, Sonic Generation brings it all back (in some ways even better than their attempted return to the throne of speed-based platforming in Sonic 4) in such a way that I, once again, can proudly state that I'm a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog.

If you've seen any of the trailers or commercials for the game thus far, then you're probably already well-familiar with the core concept of the game. It serves as bridge between the two major eras of Sonic the Hedgehog: The "Classic Sonic," a.k.a. the Genesis-era Sonic and the modern incarnations of the fastest thing alive, which basically encompasses everything Sonic Adventure and forwards.

At the top of the game you're introduced to Sonic's (modern) surprise birthday party where everyone from the extended cast is on hand to celebrate the hedgehog's anniversary. As with the introduction for any video game, things very quickly take a turn for the worst. A new threat is presented, and makes quick work of Sonic's friends, sucking them into a series of individual vortexes that scatter them throughout time and space. Sonic, hero that he is, immediately takes pursuit and, utilizing a closing portal, finds himself dislodged from time in a sort of "limbo" that is used as the game's hub world.

The hub feature is easily one of my favourite parts to Sonic Generations as its clean simplicity and navigation are something far too often left out of the franchise. It's so incredibly easy to overcomplicate things in the hopes of bringing something new to the table, trying time and time again to 'reinvent the wheel' and bring Sonic into the future. Generations takes a page from gaming past though, and makes the 'hub world' one that is 2D in nature, and (for the most part) linear. You can progress from left to right on a single track that walks you past the various zones that are open to you, and pressing up on the stick allows you to jump into one of the worlds to complete a challenge. At the start, everything is white, though you'll see 3D textures of vaguely familiar backdrops along the way of worlds that are to be cleared, and as you complete them for the first time, colour is restored and the names of the locations are revealed.

It's a snazzy way of presenting the levels, and the best part is that as you pass the 'gate' for each of the locations an updated take on the zone's classic theme is revealed. It's just one of the dozen or so ways that the game takes advantage of Sonic's long and expansive history to nudge our nostalgia in the most rewarding of ways.

Apart from the re-mastering/re-recording of all of the classic Sonic theme songs from the last 20 years, Sonic Generations also brings back all the classic levels from the franchise past, and has a little bit of fun with it along the way. One of my favourite examples is after just having run through Green Hill Zone (at the start of the game) to retrieve his trusty side-kick, Miles "Tails" Prowler, Sonic comments about the location "feeling familiar." To which Tails replies "not to me." It's a cute little nod to the fact that Tails wasn't involved in the franchise's first outing; though soon enough there's a comment about Chemical Plant in which Tails mentions that he "would NEVER forget that smell." The best part of that is that it's a theme that carries throughout the game.

When "Classic Sonic" is eventually brought into the story mode, you have the option of competing each world's two challenges (one per Sonic) in whatever order you like. If you finish with a character that mis-matches with the Sonic Friend saved, there's generally a little gem of in the form of a comment about how Sonic looks different or younger than they remember.

Adding to the sweet, sweet nostalgia mix of all the classic Sonic games are several 'hidden' Sega Genesis boxes where you can 'plug in' a Sega Genesis controller (purchased from the game's upgrade shop) and take advantage of some real classic Sonic gameplay. These Sega Genesis diversions are just one example of the side-quest type challenge modes peppered throughout the game. Each having its own style that focuses on one of the core concepts of Sonic.

After completing each sections' three zones a series of challenge portals unlock, taking place within the three completed zones, that feature a segment (or sometimes full-run) of a retelling of the iconic classic locales with an added objective like: racing a doppelganger, collecting as many rings as possible, racing one of Sonic's friends, taking on a larger number of enemies (usually of a specific type) or a good ol' fashion speed-run.

All of these features are wrapped around a classic Sonic game that feels great... at least 80% of the time. Some of the "modern" Sonic sections still feel a little less than stellar, considering Sega still hasn't really put the lock down on controlling something at that speed in a 3D rollercoaster-type gameplay level. The old issues of weird auto-camera angles and running into walls because Sonic turns like a drag-car still persist, and hamper what would otherwise have come to be known as one of the single greatest Sonic experiences to ever be released.

As a fan of the series, the best part of the game is the service it provides. Sega has finally put forward an entrant into the modern era of Sonic (aside from the Rush series on handheld, which I maintain to be some of the best games since the Genesis) that feels exactly like it should. Things are modernized intelligently, but pay homage to the roots of the series. The 2D takes on 3D levels and 3D takes on the 2D classics are brilliant, and when presented in conjunction with writing teams efforts to make all kinds of winks and nods to classic Sonic trivia... Well it just warms my heart in the very best of ways.

Sonic Generations is the Sonic game that we've all been waiting for. It is a positive experience from beginning to end, and finally delivers on the classic Sega promise of building a new Sega game for the fans of the classic side-scroller.

I said in my Sonic 4: Episode 1 review that it felt like Sega was finally getting wise, that they were making steps to improve the franchise and restore it to its former glory. Sonic Generations is a giant leap in the right direction, and if they can continue to improve the game-play and story-telling with a little bit of fan service (we deserve it for sticking around this long Sega) then they'll have their selves, at long last, a proper rival to all the other modern incarnations of 3D platformers. 

This review is based on a Xbox 360 version provided by the Publisher.

Sonic Generations
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sonic Team
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed), and PC
Release Date: November 1st, 2011
ESRPrice: $49.99