Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those characters you will instantly remember and recognize when it comes to console gaming and specifically platform games in general. The blue protagonist is as iconic as it can get, especially for Sega, and you will either love him or hate him. Thankfully though, the first game, released already in 1991, was such a hit that it paved the way for numerous sequels, spinoffs and ports, bringing us to where we are today. Some of these titles down the road experienced both commercial and critical success, others have been looked at with a raised eyebrow or two. All in all, Sonic has been a lot of fun and managed to hold his own on the scene for over two decades, which in itself is a tremendous achievement not many videogame characters have even come close to.
If you ask any Sonic fan what title was his favorite, he’ll probably answer with: “Sonic 1, 2 and 3 of course! Back in the old days of 16-bit when I played them on the Mega Drive/Genesis…”
If you ask any salesman what were some of the best-selling titles for the Mega Drive/Genesis, he’ll gladly confirm.
And if you ask me, I’ll gladly agree with both and in addition say that the 90’s were epic on many fronts – not just gaming-wise.
So what is it that made the original games so fun and unique that even now-a-days people remember them, play them, and whine anytime a new Sonic game comes out and is anything but perfect? That’s a question developers, in general, should be asking themselves every time they start working on a new title of an established series. Especially one with a long history and such a large fanbase.
This generation we have encountered the blue mascot already three times, not counting Colors, the Olympic Winter Games and the Storybook series, respectively in 2006 (Sonic the Hedgehog), 2008 (Sonic Unleashed) and 2010 (Sonic 4 Episode 1). The latter was supposed to be inspired by the original titles on the Sega Genesis, bringing back 2D gameplay and promising an entertaining trip down memory lane. At least it seemed that way at first glance for the most part. Sadly it did not turn out as well as intended and left many fans, including myself, a bit disappointed.
Today we are awaiting the fourth big Sonic game, Sonic Generations, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of this blue beast and is supposed to come out in November of this year. People got a chance to play Generations for the first time at this year’s E3, but Sega was kind enough to release a demo for the public on Xbox Live and Playstation Network so that literally everyone could get their hands on it and try it out. If anything, it shows that Sonic Team are pretty confident with their product this time around and letting anyone play the build so early isn’t just a way to validate all the positive feedback the game has been getting so far. Or is it?
General information aside, I’ll focus solely on the gameplay experience itself in the lines to follow. Generations features levels with 2D and 2D/3D gameplay, depending on whether you play as the Classic or Modern Sonic. The demo version features only Classic Sonic and just one level, the Green Hill Zone, but even that is enough to give us a taste of things to come. (Just a reminder – all opinions expressed in this article are purely of my own. So if you disagree with anything I write, feel free to leave a friendly comment below. I’m curious what you think yourself!)
Now, let’s start with the positive things that made me smile from ear to ear…
+ Splash Screen/Menu
Both the main menu and loading screens are chosen well and are entertaining to look at on their own. They shine and smile on the player’s screen and I wouldn’t change here a thing – at least not drastically. Menu options are simple to navigate through and user friendly.
Sonic 4 felt a bit unnatural in this regard. Character movement was sluggish and at times even slow. I didn’t notice any balance or transition from fast to slow and vice-versa, nor did Sonic’s jumps satisfy my expectations. He felt clumsy, like rubber that never really goes anywhere, just expands, stretches and entangles back. His moves were simply too 3-dimensional, even though the gameplay remained 2D. This has been thankfully fixed in Generations for the most part and that is definitely a good thing.
+ Pace (fluidity)
The pace of Sonic Generations is much better than it used to be in Sonic 4. Again, it has to do with how Sonic moves. And this time his speed is about right as I remember it from the old days. Not much to improve here.
+ Music and SFX
Sonic always used to have an interesting soundtrack and some pretty neat sound effects too. Even though some of the games weren’t as good gameplay-wise, audio has been almost always a strong field of any Sonic game, much like in the Tony Hawk or Need for Speed series. Generations is no exception and manages to be on-par with previous installments. Personally, I can’t wait to hear the soundtrack for all the other stages in the game.
+ Homing attack is gone
Some people liked it in Sonic 4, some hated it. I personally was upset by it and thought it simplified the gameplay even more. Actually, I think it was a little annoying to say the least. I like to do things on my own, especially in a videogame where I’m supposed to play by myself, and frankly the homing attack was a mess. Some might say that you did not have use it, but the fact is that most of the time you did. Finding out in Generations that it’s gone, (please don’t bring it back Sega), was a relief. (Editor’s Note:The homing attack won’t be in the 2D “classic” levels, but will be featured in the 3D “modern” levels.)
One could argue that graphics aren’t really important in a 2D/3D platform game, but I beg to differ. While Sonic Generations is not a first person shooter and the gameplay element is obviously what makes the Sonic games different and unique, one can’t completely ignore something he’ll be looking at for a few hours while playing. The game has to be visually appealing one way or the other. It boils down to style and colors. Even in the old days it was about colors. Just think about the palette swapping ninjas in Mortal Kombat everyone loved so much. See? Alright.
Sonic = blue. Rings = gold. Background = pretty. Understood? Even though the basic concept and models have been recycled to death, Generations succeeds because it knows exactly how to properly implement them and make them functional. It’s the same thing, even after all these years, yet it looks great and feels fresh. Think Sonic 4, but thrice as appealing and robust. True, HD helps. But you can’t give technology all the credit. Oh, and one more thing – the palm trees look really old-school this time. Omedetō!
+ Less trippy
Speaking of celebrations – here’s one more reason you should love Sonic Generations if you disliked Sonic 4: It is less trippy. That’s right – your head actually doesn’t hurt from playing this time. How is this possible? Clever level design, clever camera and less sharpness. Sonic Team knows where to put things and are capable of finding the right spots for the right objects. I don’t know how, but they do. The fact that the screen isn’t screaming at me with super-sharp HD visuals and textures helps as well. Not to mention the camera, which isn’t fixed in one spot like a heavy boulder and lets your eyes focus on other portions of the screen as well.
+ It’s fun
I don’t know if this is a point I even need to bring up, but why not? It won’t hurt to openly state that the new game is fun and addictive. Just leave Sonic inactive for a minute and he’ll start doing funny faces and poses at the camera. The demo was really short though, so hopefully there will be as many levels in the final game as possible – with lots of variety on top!
Overall, my first impressions are fairly positive. The majority of things I was looking for are there and they work. That’s probably the most important part about it – they work and aren’t there just to mask any flaws. No game is perfect though, so let’s be fair and bring up also some of the things that need to be fixed before the release date this fall…
– Sonic is too small at times
There were sections in the demo where I barely noticed Sonic on the screen. He was simply too small compared to the rest of the world. Personally, I think Sega should increase his size by 10-20% to make it perfect. It would help with orientation to a certain degree as well.
– Loading times are a bit long
Considering how quickly you can get through the Green Hill Zone, being one of the smaller levels in the game, I found the loading time a little long. Not too long, just slightly on the edge of what I am capable of accepting and what not. Hopefully Sonic Team can tweak this through some magical algorithm. (Remeber, work in progress –Ed.)
– The rings look odd
I know the rings are supposed to be gold, but they are too gold for my taste. It looks like they were directly imported from Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast title) without any real effort put into them. They should be more yellow, for sure, and less shiny. The size is probably accurate though.
– Sonic’s jump/fall could be heavier
Although the majority of issues with physics have been fixed, I still think Sonic’s jumps could use some work. They could feel more heavy (in the air), roughly by 15%.
– When Sonic looks up, the camera doesn’t move
Last thing on my mind is the camera. It’s used well, except for one tiny thing. When Sonic looks up, the camera doesn’t move up along with him. I kind of miss that. Always wanted to know what’s happening above my head and where to I can possibly advance. If anything, its inclusion would validate paying attention to details.
So there you have it! My impressions of the Sonic Generations demo have come to an end. So far so good and I’m looking forward with excitement to playing the full game this November when it comes out for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3! Hopefully you’ll be able to relate to at least some points I have brought up and if you want, feel free to leave comments down below. Thanks for reading!