Posted November 10th 2011 by Adam Grayson.
Oh, Sonic, Sonic, Sonic... How long has it been since you had a good game? I suppose that answer will vary depending on how much individual Sonic fans are willing to forgive, but the general consensus is that it's been far too long. I myself am a huge Sonic fan despite being a die-hard Nintendo fanboy. While other kids were reading comics about some lame guys in tights called Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, I was busy reading up on the blue rodent with an attitude and an appetite for chili dogs. Despite my love for Sonic, playing Sonic and the Secret Rings for the Wii felt like each member of Sonic Team coming up to me one by one and slapping me in the face and spitting in my eye. Needless to say, that game completely turned me off of the franchise I once adored (at the time I didn't have a 360 or PS3 for that Sonic the Hedgehog to do it for me). Praise the gaming gods for Sonic Generations! Ever since its first trailer, the game has looked great, but fans (myself included) remained understandably skeptical. Now that the game is out, and I've spent countless hours with it, I am very pleased to say that Sonic Generations broke the curse of the Sonic Cycle and is the best Sonic game I have played in a long time.
Sonic Generations begins in a pleasantly unexpected way. There are no opening cinematics, no introductions, no credits, no nothing. After pressing past the title screen, the game simply begins; it immediately puts the player in control of Sonic in a marvelous, sidescrolling recreation of Green Hill Zone from the original Sonic game. After finishing the stage, we soon see Sonic again, but he's different... He's older, more modern looking, more... aerodynamic. This, ladies and gentlemen, is because Sonic Generations features two different Sonic the Hedgehogs—the younger, rounder hedgehog of yesteryear (a.k.a. "classic" Sonic), and the newer, taller, spikier hedgehog of the more recent Sonic games (a.k.a. "modern" Sonic). The two soon meet face to face, as a time traveling entity rips a hole in spacetime bringing the two worlds together.
While modern Sonic has found his voice over the years and talks throughout the game, classic Sonic is as silent as he was all those years ago. SEGA did look into getting Jaleel White, who voiced Sonic in the TV shows, to voice classic Sonic (which would have been awesome!) but, unfortunately, was unable to get him.
Sonic Generations is essentially split into two—old and new. Each stage has two acts—Act I is played as classic Sonic, and Act II is played as modern Sonic. The acts take place in the same level; however, the way they're navigated is completely different. In Act I, players run through sidescrolling stages as classic Sonic, equipped only with his jump and spin attack. There are times when the camera rotates to show different parts of the level, breaking from the traditional side view, but this only happens when the player is not really required to control Sonic (simply holding right while going through a loop or spiral, for example), so the effect looks really nice without affecting gameplay. Act II sections are comparable to certain parts of Mario Galaxy 2 in that they utilize both the navigation of newer Sonic games as well as the old. In other words, these acts are played through with a combination of behind-the-character camera angles, allowing for movement in any direction, along with moments of straight-up sidescrolling (much like in Act I). As in Act I, these moments of changing camera angles are flawless in both looks and controls. Plus, it's nice to see modern Sonic performing as well at sidescrolling as his classic counterpart (surely an attempt to please frustrated fans). In addition to different camera angles used in Act II, modern Sonic also has many of his newer abilities, such as boosting, drifting, rail grinding, and, of course, his homing attack, to help him through the stages.
Classic (left) and modern (right) acts from the "classic" stage, Chemical Plant (top) and the more "modern" stage, City Escape (bottom).
Now let's talk about the stages themselves. Both acts have splitting and converging paths throughout the stages—a great level design technique that has been lost on many of the newer Sonic games. Just like in the Genesis games, the different paths take the player through different parts of the level. They also differ in difficulty. For example, it is usually the case that the top path (the path that physically takes Sonic to the highest parts of the level) is the fastest route to the finish because of how few enemies and obstacles there are, and it allows the player to maintain Sonic's breakneck speeds from start to finish. The bottom path takes the longest to get through as it has more enemies and obstacles and requires more platforming which in turn forces the player to slow down and take his or her time. At the same time, the top path is the hardest to stay on due to the quick reaction time it takes to get/stay on the path while the bottom path is impossible to miss and allows players a "backup" path if they miss the higher ones.
All acts (both classic and modern) have numerous ways to run through the stages. Be sure to explore them all!
Both acts are a marvelous blend of old and new. The classic acts play exactly like the Genesis games with a few new additions here and there like boost rings and sections of grinding. The modern acts perfectly combine the camera angles (and thereby movement controls) of the newer Sonic games with familiar sections of sidescrolling and level design based off of the newer games with that based off of the older ones.
There are points in some stages where classic Sonic is introduced to some newer mechanics such as jumping through boost rings and grinding, none of which feel awkward or out of place in the classic gameplay.
In addition to the fantastic level design, the game's controls allow players to feel that they're completely in control of how, where, and when Sonic moves. Players feel equally as comfortable platforming at the speed of sound as they do stopping, waiting, and jumping on a slow-moving platform. This is one of the game's strongest points. Though while the controls work great most of the time, they do have a few hiccups, particularly with modern Sonic.
One of Sonic Generation's greatest strengths is its ability to allow players to feel like they're in complete control of Sonic at both fast and slow speeds.
Perhaps the most annoying of said hiccups is how modern Sonic jumps. Now you may be thinking that jumping is pretty much essential in Sonic games, and you're right. It's not broken, but at times, it feels a little off. Modern Sonic has two ways he can jump. If the player just taps the jump button, Sonic will perform a little short hop like he's jumping over a hurdle (which is often the exact case). This short hop allows Sonic to clear small obstacles while maintaining his speed but leaves him vulnerable to getting hit by enemies. If the player holds down the jump button, Sonic will perform his spinning jump which goes higher than the short hop and damages enemies; however, this will slow him down pretty significantly. While it looks cool and feels good to short hop over something while blazing through the level, I found myself wondering why they didn't just have Sonic solely do his spin jump. If a player wanted to short hop over something, he or she could just tap jump, and Sonic would do a small spin jump over it like he does as classic Sonic. This way, players would never find themselves trying to make a quick jump past enemies only to be stopped dead in their tracks because short hopping doesn't hurt enemies. In addition, I wish that jumping normally (not a short hop) wouldn't slow Sonic down, at least not as much as it does. It doesn't slow him down at all as classic Sonic, so why does it as modern Sonic?
Another hiccup is Sonic's homing attack. While the homing attack works perfectly when locked on to something (an enemy, a spring, a rail, etc.), it feels a little funky when used for other purposes such as platforming or just simply getting a little extra air time. For one, when not locked on, the homing attack completely destroys any remaining momentum Sonic may have left after the preceding jump. Along with this, the homing attack has a defined distance that it moves Sonic, regardless of his speed. It not only feels wrong (if speedy thing goes in, speedy thing should come out), but it also makes it difficult to tell where Sonic is going to land after performing the attack. Many times I would find myself charging towards a large pit and would ready myself to jump over it. Two things would happen. One, the full jump would slow me down more than I expected, and two, my attempt at performing a homing attack to cover the "lost" distance would only end in me losing even more speed and falling well short of my expected landing. The same would often happen even in moments of slow platforming; the homing attack simply wouldn't move Sonic as far as I felt it should have, causing me to miss my target.
As for classic Sonic's controls, they're pretty perfect except for one small issue that many players may not even run into. Players can perform Sonic's spin dash in two different ways. One way is the traditional down+jump button to rev it up. The other way is simply mapped to one button (X on the Xbox 360 and square on the PS3). The difference here is that the jump+down method allows you to let go of jump indefinitely as long as you're holding down while the latter method shoots Sonic off as soon as you let go of the button. Even though the single button method is faster and easier to press, it can create problems if players are trying to gain speed (by rapidly pressing the button) before letting Sonic go. Many times the game registers the short time between rapid button presses as the button simply being let go, resulting in Sonic blasting off before intended. Again though, this potential problem may only happen to players who use the single button to spin dash rather than the tried and true down+jump method.
Aside from how good the game feels to play, another thing that really impressed me was the game's art direction. To put it simply, the game is beautiful, with HD and 3D only improving on its inherently good looks (be sure to click on the images for sexy high resolution versions). The reimagined stages really look and feel like the stages they're derived from. The art team did a remarkable job of recreating these past stages while at the same time making them different enough to incorporate all of the new branching paths and Sonic's new movesets. All of that being said, I am extremely appreciative of how brave the art team was to work so hard on the game's visuals when they knew full well that the vast majority of it would just be blown past without the player ever stopping or even slowing down to look at it. Even though players may rocket past most of the great artistic detail, it's incredible how each stage has a very defined and individual personality to it, one that the player will most certainly see, despite blasting through the level at super sonic speeds.
In addition to the actual stages looking great, the hub world used to access these stages is also quite stunning. The hub world is in a void in spacetime, thanks to certain story elements, and as everyone knows, voids in spacetime are stark white. Along with this white background are portions of stages used as entrances to the levels. Before the player beats a stage, the stage entrance is also textured white, as if all of its color has been drained. The bright white background with the nicely detailed, 3D, and off-white stage entrances look really good together. After the player beats a stage, color is returned to its entrance. Still, the bright white background looks really good with the vibrant colors of the rejuvenated stage entrance. But that's not all! Not only does the hub world look good, but it's even its own platforming level!
Where's all the color? Before we figure that out, let's just stand here a bit longer and admire the view...
As players beat stages and make their way through the game, Challenge Act Gates appear throughout the hub world. These Challenge Act Gates are all located somewhere above the stage entrances and require players to navigate the stage that is the hub world. The fact that the hub world is navigable yet not too big makes it very manageable and fun to platform through. Past methods of advancing through levels included automatically advancing to the next stage, as is seen in many Sonic games; having to travel through a huge but mostly empty overworld like in Sonic Adventure (though I personally loved the overworld...); and having a linear hub world like in Sonic Rush that only serves as a visual means for stage selection. Sonic Generation's platforming stage of a hub world seems a perfect amalgamation of the past Sonic games' stage advancing systems.
The hub world, complete with platforms, boost pads, springs, loop-dee-loops, and more, is basically its own beautiful, sidescrolling stage!
But let's get back to the Challenge Act Gates, shall we? What are those? The Challenge Act Gates are entrances to goal-orientated acts that are supplemental to the main two acts of each stage. In addition to getting to the end of these challenge acts, players are tasked with additional goals such as collecting a certain number of rings, defeating a certain number of enemies, or juggling the finish sign through the level (like juggling the sign in Sonic 3). Some of these challenges are better than others. My favorite of the bunch are Doppelganger Challenges. These challenges pit you against, you guessed it, a Sonic doppelganger whom you must beat to the end of the level. The reason these are my favorite is because they have you replay the whole stage (many of the other challenges only feature a small portion of the stage) while under a strict time limit. Because of this, you may be forced to play the stages over and over again until you know the stage backwards and forwards. You know the fastest way through. You know when to jump to get to the top path. You know which enemies to jump on and which ones to skip. Now this may sound like a chore to some, but ultimately it pays off by allowing the player to run through the level at a constant super speed. And let me tell you, being able to boost through an entire stage without ever slowing down gives you a grand sense of accomplishment. Plus it just plain looks cool.
Unfortunately, while there are really fun challenges, there are also really, really terrible ones. Guess which ones they are? The ones with Sonic's friends (big surprise there...). This is too bad because Sonic's friends have gotten so much flak as of late, and I really feel like if they were used properly they could be a really neat addition to the franchise (I really liked them in Sonic Adventure... except for Big...). Despite my personal wishes, many of these friend challenges are just awful. There are two types of friend challenges, one of which isn't actually bad at all. The good type is when you have to race said friends to the finish, sometimes while dodging attacks that they dole out at you. That's all fine and dandy. The bad type is when they help Sonic advance through the Challenge Act. Because many of the obstacles in these challenges require the help of Sonic's friends in order to clear, the game's momentum becomes disjointed. Players often stop to call Sonic's pals, let them do their thing, then continue on to... oh wait, never mind. We have to stop again and call a friend. Too often the player makes a mistake and is forced to stop for even longer and call the friend again to reattempt the failed obstacle. What's worse is if players are trying to earn top rankings by finishing the challenge quickly. This often times turns out to be harder and more frustrating than it should be. So again, the Challenge Acts vary from really fun to really terrible.
This is one of the most frustrating Challenge Acts. Players must call out Rogue (one of Sonic's friends) to have her stun otherwise invincible enemies. The only problem here is that Rouge appeared behind the enemy, so the enemy isn't stunned... Better use those fast reflexes, Sonic!
The purpose of the Challenge Act Gates is twofold. The first reason is that, in addition to beating full stages, players must beat a certain number of Challenge Acts to unlock keys used to fight bosses (which in turn, allow players to advance to the next few stages). Fortunately, the required number of challenges to beat is very small, making playing the rest of the challenges completely optional. For each stage, there are five Challenge Act Gates with two challenges each (one for classic Sonic and one for modern Sonic), making a total of 10 challenges per stage. Players must beat at least one challenge from each stage as either Sonic to gain a key to the boss door, meaning that only three challenges must be beaten in order to fight a boss. The game features nine different stages, so that means there are 45 challenges per Sonic. Only having to play nine challenges out of 90 sounds pretty good considering how bad some of them are. And this leads me to the other purpose of Challenge Act Gates—prolonging the gameplay.
Yeah, you read it right: there are only nine stages in the game; three stages from each Sonic era (the SEGA Genesis, last-gen consoles, and current-gen consoles). Of course, each stage has two acts, so really there are 18 stages. But considering each act will likely take you far less than 10 minutes to beat, that's still only three hours (tops) plus the time it takes to beat the four bosses and three rivals (maybe another two hours max). Makes sense, I suppose. Who better to zoom through a game than the Blue Blur? Plus, most of the Sonic games can be beaten very quickly. Even so, the minimum requirements to beat this game only last a few hours, so while the majority of the Challenge Acts are optional, they are definitely there as part of the game's replayability factor, or perhaps, completion factor if you're gunning for 100% completion. In order to persuade some of those people who would otherwise skip all of the optional challenges, the game rewards you upon completion of these challenges with songs or concept art playable/viewable in the game's Collection Room, a room where you can view/listen to the game's various collectibles such as music, movies, concept art, and character bios.
While the main game won't take you very long to beat, beating all of the Challenge Acts, unlocking all of the collectibles, and getting S ranks on everything is sure to keep you playing for hours on end.
Yet another feature that will have players running through levels over and over again is Sonic Generation's online modes. The game's two online modes are Ranking Attack and 30 Second Trial. Ranking Attack is simply a worldwide race to see who can finish the acts the fastest. Upon entering Ranking Attack, players can choose which stage and which act they would like to play through. After finishing, a player's time will be posted on the game's online leaderboards for the world to see. Players can see how their times compare to those of Sonic players worldwide as well as those of their online friends. You would not believe some of the insane times people have run these stages in. As of this writing, I am proud to say that I have the 60th most insane time of Green Hill Act II worldwide! This time, of course, was only achieved through exactly what I have described above—obsession with getting a better score resulting in replaying the stage over and over until memorized, in turn resulting in me playing many additional hours after "beating" the game within a few hours. The second online mode, 30 Second Trial begins the same as Ranking Attack with players choosing the stage and act they would like to play. In this mode, players are only given 30 seconds to run and must see how far they can make it in that time. Once time's up, Sonic stops and a flag is placed where he stopped. What's cool about this mode is that, even after your 30 seconds are up, you can keep going through the stage to see flags of other people (seeing how far they went in 30 seconds). These distances, of course, are also posted on an online leaderboard.
What's nice about both of these online modes is that the times/distances are only pulled from runs within the respective online modes rather than posting times earned/distances gained during the main game. The reason this is so nice is because, if times and distances were pulled from the main game, everyone would be able to use skills and stat boosters to help them score better, starting everyone on an uneven playing field. Without the use of skills or stat boosters, everyone starts at the same level, and times/distances are based solely the skill and dedication of the players.
The one thing I wish the online modes had is raceable ghosts. It seems like a no brainer, even more so after racing the doppelganger in the challenges. Want to race the fastest hedgehog of them all? Want to see how he or she finished the stage while you were still only halfway through? Yeah, me too. Unfortunately, you can't. Again, it seems like something that would fit right in, but for some reason, it's absent in the game...
There is one last feature that will prolong the game's play time—the inclusion of the full Sonic the Hedgehog game. The game can be purchased from the Skill Shop, though it does cost a pretty penny, or in this case a pretty... Shop Point? As if this weren't enough, players can also unlock and purchase infinite continues for the classic game! Not only do Sonic fans get a great game inspired from the classics, but they also get the game that started it all for free!
There are also lots of little things that make the game that much better, the most noticeable of which is the music. To start, while moving through the hub world, the player will hear short sections of the stages' music as they pass them by. What's cool here is that the songs are nice and relaxing versions of the originals, mostly featuring flutes and violins with some other instruments added in every now and then. Additionally, the songs flow from one to the other perfectly as the player guides Sonic from one stage entrance to the next. Even better than this is that players are allowed to change to background music for any act to any of the songs they've unlocked. Like one song in particular? Play it in every level! Hate a certain song? Well, you never, ever have to listen to it!
Another small thing I really enjoyed was the numerous references the game made to other Sonic games, though my favorite of the bunch is more of a reference to the Sonic TV shows and comics. As any Sonic fan knows, Sonic's favorite food is chili dogs. Guess what Sonic gets as a birthday present in the first few minutes of the game? That's right, a chili dog! Another humorous reference is a comment made by Tails about how the Chemical Plant seems familiar and how the pink liquid in it gives him the creeps (Tails would follow Sonic in Sonic 2, and if there were no second player controlling him, the AI would not seek air bubbles, resulting in him constantly drowning in the liquid). Perhaps the smallest of these neat little details is that, in the hub world, players can jump on the names of the stages floating above the entrances. At first, I assumed they were just a part of the graphical interface, but while running through the hub world, I accidentally found myself standing on top of the words. In fact, the words are even used as platforms to get to certain Challenge Act Gates. Again, a very small detail but a neat addition that wasn't at all expected.
Don't want to listen to that cool new auto-tuned version of "Escape from the City"? No Problem! Just choose one of the many other songs to accompany you through the stage!
While the game does many things right, it's not without its flaws. Most of these I've already mentioned—things like hiccups in controls, the terrible friend challenges, and the length of the main game. There are a couple more problems that aren't too new to Sonic games, the first of which is glitches. Now I've only run into a few so far (all of which have caused me to unexpectedly die), but judging from the nature of these glitches, I feel comfortable in saying that there are a few more similar glitches I was fortunate enough not to run into. One such glitch came about while I was fighting the first boss. There is a point in the battle where you move from a single platform to a series of platforms; the game moves Sonic from the single platform to the group of platforms for you. However, for whatever reason, I was not moved to the group of platforms. Instead, poor Sonic simply fell through the solid metal ground and died. Color me surprised (and annoyed). Another glitch occurred while I was running through a loop. For some reason, I didn't have enough speed to make it through the entire loop, so once I got to the top of the loop, Sonic started to fall back down (a common occurrence in Sonic games). However, instead of simply falling to the ground at the beginning of the loop, Sonic got stuck in mid air in the middle of the loop. I tried jumping and moving to try to remind the game that gravity should not allow such a thing, and eventually he did fall back to the ground. Unfortunately, as I began to move past the loop, the camera did not follow. It didn't take long for me to die as I couldn't see where I was going. Annoying... There were a couple more glitches here and there, but all of them seemed to happen when the camera was moving to switch perspectives and while Sonic was generally out of my control. Because this scenario happens so often, it seems like these glitches have the potential to occur rather frequently. Again though, I've only encountered a handful in my many hours of playing.
The second problem is more of a visual/game flow issue than anything else; it's the game's frame rate. The majority of the time, the frame rate isn't even a problem; however, there are moments here and there that the frame rate will suddenly drop. Most of the time, this happens when there's a lot of high-poly geometry being displayed or when there are lots of particles or something which is understandable, and it doesn't really happen that often. That being said, for a game that succeeds in so many ways in its mind numbing speed, one would hope, nay, expect frame rate not to be an issue.
All in all, the negatives of Sonic Generations are far outweighed by the positives, and while the premise of the story may be a bit silly, it results in a really cool interaction between old and new characters that lends itself to reference the entirety of Sonic's 20 years as the fastest thing alive. The game is gorgeous, there's a huge selection of music, the original Sonic the Hedgehog is included, and the game's controls and level design allow players to easily move through stages at both fast and slow speeds. In addition to all of this, the game features gameplay from both the original Sonic games as well as the newer ones—something that should appeal to Sonic fans old and new. At every turn Sonic Generations demonstrates its success in bringing old and new together, creating one very fun, very solid game. At an initial price of $50 for Xbox 360 and PS3 (a price that has been rapidly dropping due to holiday sales) and $30 on PC via Steam, this is one Sonic game you don't want to pass up. This is the Sonic game we've all been waiting for.
Happy birthday, Sonic!
I played the demo of this and loved it. I'll be picking it up... eventually.
Thursday, November 10th 2011
Sweet, I'm glad this turned out well. My brother was that guy who got S ranks on every level in SA2:B AND beat every classic Sonic game multiple times. Christmas, nailed.
Tuesday, November 15th 2011
FUCK THIS GAME, it sucks in PS3, FRAMERATES ARE THE BEST IN XBOX 360, SO THIS IS FUCKED UP, THIS SUCKS, man.
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