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.