Sonic Generations: A Generational Leap?

Or just another modern Sonic mess?

I can tolerate most of life’s minor irritations – bad drivers, queue jumpers, overpriced watered down beer – but for some reason Sonic Generations manages to wind me up the wrong way with consummate ease. It’s not that I’m not a Sonic fan, either; sure, I don’t go around town in a spiky blue hat and dream of Cream but I’ve got fond memories of the Megadrive original and Sonic Adventure still holds a place in my heart. But Generations? It’s not for me.

The idea’s sound – have ‘new’ Sonic playing in the same space as ‘old’ Sonic, dashing through some of the series’ most stand-out levels in both traditional 2D (albeit in fully rendered 3D, of course) and then in a more freeform into-the-screen affair for second helping. Each of the stages is split into two this way, and requires deft use of both Sonics (complete with their own move sets and abilities) to get the maximum ratings.

[drop]I get the concept. It’s smart, because it means there’s enough fan service to pull in the regulars and less of the sub-standard RPG-lite nonsense SEGA have pushed our way of late. Platforming is Sonic’s strong point, not wandering around talking to NPCs, and your first taste of the game – Green Hill Zone – is about as delightful as you could have wished for. Conceptually, at least.

Because the first thing that hits you is the frame rate. It’s half as quick as it should be (and it’s far from constant) which means that the heavy, sluggish sicky feeling that we commented on before is still present – the game simply moves too quickly to be able to get away with a 30fps refresh – animation’s choppy, the environment whips past you in about a hundred layers of parallax and, get this, somehow it all still manages to look blurry and upscaled.

There’s a frustrating lag about the game, too – it’s not terrible, but it’s there, and it’s annoying. Sonic’s inertia-heavy movement has always been like this but the level design has always accounted for it and somehow he’s got away with it. When Generations starts mixing things up (you’ll be revisiting each stage a few times with a few tweaks and twists) it starts to break down the flow, and without the rhythm to keep you going it’s not always a pleasant experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure people will love the way Generations pay homage to the old school platforming tricks, but I found the whole thing a little bit bland and uninspiring. The load times are too long (it pauses for far longer than it should post level and even needs a loading break to switch Sonics) and the overworld, which you gradually bring back to colour from a stark white beginning, seems fussy and overly complicated.

[drop2]There are elements of pure brilliance dotted throughout the levels that make you forget all this, however briefly, and some of the best platforming design is on show on occasion, and – yes, it can look good when it’s not flashing past your eyes at breakneck speed, but speed is what Sonic’s always been about it’s a shame that this all new take on the formula didn’t really click for me. Ironically, unlocking an old favourite might be the single best thing about it.

I think the overarching issue isn’t that the good levels aren’t good enough, it’s that the poor levels are really quite poor and the problems that surround the game threaten to swamp any joy I could have garnered from the title. It’s a move in the right direction after some abysmal current-gen efforts, but Generations doesn’t manage to live up to expectations, and certainly isn’t a match for the 16-bit original. At least not for me.

We’ll have our full review soon – Kris is on the case.

18 Comments

  1. Good read. I played the demo and was a bit disappointed, it seemed so much faster than I remember and it seems I would have to avoid enemies through memory, rather than being able to avoid then – much how the alternative option plays (view behind Sonic). It looks great but it’s not for me unfortunately.

  2. I was impressed with the Green Hill bit I tried at EGX but that was only a demo. I’m a bit gutted to hear that the frame rate and level design are shoddy, you would have though those would be the most important elements of designing a new Sonic game.

  3. I must wholly disagree. I’m half way through and think it is the best Sonic game for a long long time. Surely the story is dull but the action is great

    • I’ve heard lots of people saying great things about the game, and chances are Kris will love it too.

      But for me, the slow frame rate, blurry graphics and laggy platforming spoiled it all.

      • Slow frame rate? Not a single slow down (yet) on PS3…

      • Yes. It’s 30 at the most, and frequently lower.

      • I must admit, I have not noticed any frame rate drops or any lag so far.

  4. To be honest, I get that they are trying something ‘new’ (of sorts), but I don’t know why they didn’t just;

    a) continue on with Sonic 4 as it seemed to be getting a lot of praise & was supposed to be episodic. It’s been quite a while since the first episode hasn’t it?

    & b) do away with the ‘from behind’ view entirely, as I don’t think I know one person that likes playing as sonics behind.

    Seems they are destined to never learn.

    • I think we’re still on for another Sonic 4 episode.

      • Yeah, 2012 allegedly – Just seems like a long time to wait for ‘episodic’ content is all!

        I suppose January 2012 – Not so bad. December 2012 would be a little worse though!

      • Hey, at least Sonic 4 Ep 2 will appear quicker than Half Life 2 Episode 3!

      • Haha – This is true.

        Valve are indeed the poster boys when it comes to episodic content! XD

  5. Shame, I had good hopes for this game but these were dashed when I played the demo a while ago. Sega just haven’t been able to get to grips with the handling of Sonic since the Mega Drive days, it’s far too floaty nowadays, and it feels very controlled.
    I don’t like going at massive speed then being able to stop, I like being able to use momentum and rolls to increase my speed, not just automatically given. I don’t like going from zero to full speed whenever you hit a tunnel.

    If they had just given Sonic the proper handling again (and maybe a camera that wasn’t so zoomed in), this (and all other attempts at modern-retro sonic) would be brilliant for me.

  6. It was just far to fast for my aging brain, felt like hold analog stick right and hope for the best.

  7. I have actualy bought this game,and yes I agree with Nofi, the poor levels are poor, the god levels are good. But remember that I don’t think it is supposed to be a proper IP. Its a birthday game after all. (It even wishes Sonic a Happy Birthday at the end of the game – yes I’ve completed it already). 4/11/1991 – 4/1/2011.

    I will always defend sonic but have to agree that some of the understated design layouts are really bad – such as Planet Wisp

  8. Sonic Generations starts to fall apart near the end of the game, particularly for Modern Sonic and the boss fights. Everything else is quite awesome though. Some of the challenges are really great in that they actually act as their own unique levels, albeit much shorter. Even modern Sonic levels have some hints of brilliance.

    What impresses me the most is the level design. It’s far more intricate than previous games in the series, including the classics. I have collected all the red coins for classic Sonic and I’m still finding new paths to take. Modern Sonic is similar in that regard but it’s just more difficult to control. I find that those levels are more enjoyable once you learn the layout. That’s really when the game becomes fun.

    This game is great for speed runners too. There are so many ways to play this game and customizing both Sonic’s with unique abilities is a treat I didn’t even expect. You don’t see it even mentioned in many of the reviews. For me, though, It’s awesome being able to use Sonic 3 powerups with classic Sonic and other special abilities that I won’t ruin. Being able to customize the soundtrack with tunes from Sonic’s history is awesome too :D

    • I actually recently bought it, although being against the idea as I thought it was more of a lazy effort to re-use old content to make a decent game with, but they actually deserve credit this time. It was fun throughout, most of the levels were excellent, although Crisis City is the main offender of bad level design, and it’s environment and enemy design was pretty boring (although id blame the game it came from more than Sonic Team, even though they should have just selected another Sonic Adventure level :P).

      Im happy though that this is finally a good Sonic game!

  9. Just downloaded this today for PC after much debate. For my £17 I’m really quite happy, mixed quality but so far more good than bad. I felt the points raised above were perhaps a little harsh but I’ll see as I get deeper into the game. The fact that I’ve actually bought a Sonic game at all (first time in 10 years) speaks volumes.

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