Sonic the Hedgehog is 20 today. That means it’s twenty years since the release of what I still consider to be the best platform game ever made.
I was 10 years old when Sonic was released and I loved that game so much. It was the game I bought my Mega Drive for, after first playing it for hours on my cousin’s machine. It was the only game I owned for more than a month and I completed it countless times. I could finish the first Green Hill Zone in 24 seconds. My first ever polyphonic ringtone was the theme music from that level. I still refuse to refer to Dr Robotnik by any other name. I once punched one of my friends on his stupid little nose because he wouldn’t concede that Sonic was better than Mario. And I’d do it again.[drop2]I consider everything since those first three games (I’ll lump the Sonic and Knuckles cart in with Sonic 3 as it was basically an expansion) a downhill journey for Sega’s flagship franchise.
The influx of weak supporting characters and the horrible fiction and attitude foisted on our animal rights activist hero were egregious. I hated Sonic’s voice and his attitude. He went from being a loveable hero into a cocky teenager who had no likeable qualities.
When Sega announced that the downloadable, episodic Sonic the Hedgehog 4 would be a return to his roots, I was overjoyed. I thought I was finally getting my friend back. And to an extent, I did. Sonic 4 was a move away from the fluff, filler and hideous tacked-on character that had infected Sonic games for almost 15 years. It wasn’t perfect, there was that silly homing attack thing and much of the sense of speed in acceleration was lost so it felt a little too weighty. But it was a definite move in the right direction.
Sonic Generations was announced with a teaser showing the old Sonic character design alongside the new. My heart leapt. Was this another big step back towards my beloved Sonic of yore? Today’s demo on the PSN and XBLM couldn’t download quick enough for me. I loaded it up, delighted by the inclusion of the first few bars of that famous Green Hill Zone music, and immediately started to feel sick.
The design is wonderful, Green Hill looks exactly as it should, albeit a lot more detailed than it was 20 years ago. Sonic accelerates and moves with the speed I remember. He even taps his foot if you leave him standing for too long. This is Sonic the Hedgehog, reborn. I should love it. And I would, if I could play it.[drop]I’ve never suffered from motion sickness in any game I’ve ever played before but I think that’s what happened with Sonic Generations. On the PS3 demo, the screen zooms out slightly as you speed up but your view of Sonic himself is generally tighter than it was 20 years ago. The Xbox 360 demo, oddly, doesn’t seem to zoom in and out quite as much but it still suffers from some sickness-inducing motion effects.
The demo runs at 30 frames per second and it is very noticeable that you’re not getting the smoothness that 60fps would allow. The background, as it zips by, becomes very busy, blurred and distracting. Sonic has always been about speed but not at the expense of actually being able to see what’s going on. I adore the fact that the first half of the level is a pretty close representation of the original but I wish I wasn’t penalised for speed by not being able to see what’s going on. 60fps would help that immensely but so would a slightly more distant viewpoint and some consideration for how the background animates.
Sonic Generations looks like it has the potential to be everything I want in a Sonic game. It looks like they have finally realised what it was that made that early-90s trilogy so magical and they’re putting it all in the one place. I can forgive, and even enjoy, some of the camera tricks that are being employed to add depth to the game’s 2D viewpoint. I only hope that they can get on top of the disorienting, sickness-inducing motion before the game’s final release. I want to love Sonic again.
Isaac has very helpfully captured the demo footage from both consoles so you can make your own comparisons: