How many times have you heard it claimed that a Sonic game will be a “return to form”, or that it will be “the best Sonic yet”? By my count it’s pretty much every Sonic game since SEGA moved on from the Mega Drive (which is pretty much where things started to go wrong for the company as a whole). There have been the occasional gems, Sonic Rush was particularly good, and those have generally been the ones that stuck to what Sonic does best: 2D platforming.
Unfortunately that’s not what Sonic Generations does. Oh, there are certainly 2D platforming sections, and they excel, but as a whole the game swings violently between high points and low points with certain issues seeming consistent throughout.[drop2]The stand out frustration of the game is the wait you have to endure for just about anything to happen. There are the obvious loading screens when you you start a level, which feel just a hair too long but don’t touch the length of ModNation Racers or WWE All Stars. You also have to wait for a load when you skip back to a checkpoint upon death or even when you change characters in the over-world.
Realistically, there shouldn’t be a need to load on a character switch, all it does is discourage you from toggling back and forth; something that should be a fun activity.
However, by far the worst wait is the one you have to endure on returning to the game’s over-world menu from a level. There’s no text on screen to indicate that you’re waiting, in fact it looks like you should be able to control Sonic. After a pause just long enough to make you believe that the game might have locked up on you, you finally get an indication that the game is actually saving. Of course, you can’t move until it’s finished saving, you’re just forced to watch a strangely immobilised Sonic until the save’s done.
The other consistent issue the game suffers from is its frame rate, although it doesn’t utterly ruin the experience. The problem is, for a Sonic game to feel as snappy and responsive as it should, you need a rock solid frame rate. There are certainly times where Generations is missing that. It doesn’t dip constantly, and there were levels where it didn’t seem to crop up at all. At other times though, the gameplay just completely freezes for a moment or two, a single frame sitting on the screen for half a second or more.
The gameplay resumes pretty comfortably after this but it’s enough to throw you off the game’s pace. It’s not going to have you throwing your controller at the screen, but in a game that’s all about momentum, these issues completely rob it of that.
Now, you’re probably wondering about this over-world that I’ve mentioned. Essentially this is its own 2D level, and isn’t just a simple way to move between zones. It’s not much more than that, but there is some platforming to be had here. It’s hardly the most challenging element of the game, but it’s a nice addition.
Beyond just being a fun extra, the platforming sections in the over-world contain the game’s challenges, which appear every time you complete a block of three zones. The challenges range from time trials to racing your doppelgänger to skill challenges, such as using modern Sonic’s boost feature for a whole level. If you wanted to complete all of these and S rank absolutely everything in the game you could probably add another five or more hours to the game, and as you complete the challenges you do unlock bonuses like artwork and music from other Sonic titles. However, all the challenges actually require of you is to complete at least one from each zone to gain a key for the boss gate which, you guessed it, lock away each of the game’s bosses.[drop]You see, unlike classic Sonic titles where the third act of each zone was host to a boss fight, they only feature in Generations after every group of three zones. Although you can do the zones and acts in any order, you have to beat both acts in all three zones before facing the boss, and you need to take out the boss before you’re allowed access to the next three zones. As the game only features nine zones, you’re only given three boss fights plus the game’s final boss.
It actually feels pretty underwhelming and, realistically, the game could feature a lot more.
The story probably clocks in at six to seven hours. Although, you’ll probably spend half an hour of that being frustrated by the game’s final boss which suffers from poor controls and a complete lack of explanation. In comparison to the pretty detailed hints you’re given for the rest of the game’s bosses, this feels out of place. Of course, the challenges do add something and give you some replayability but, unless you’re a completionist, there’s very little to reason to go back to them.
On the upside, the selection of zones is really nice, each one being drawn from a different game from the Sonic franchise. Unless you’ve played every Sonic game ever you won’t instantly recognise the source for all of them, but the credits feature a nice video showing the levels that inspired each zone. I say inspired, because these aren’t perfect remakes. There are certainly chunks that are almost identical to the originals, it’s particularly noticeable in Green Hill Zone, but largely it’s just aping the style and play mechanics. The biggest thing about the zones though, is that they pretty much all look absolutely gorgeous. Sonic isn’t the best looking game in terms of graphical power, but this is certainly one of the prettiest games to look at of this year.
Of course, even if Sonic Team had wanted to create pixel perfect recreations of the original games it would be pretty much impossible, due to the nature of the zones. Each zone features two acts, one using classic Sonic and one using modern Sonic. The only exception to this are the boss fights, which force a version of Sonic on you.
Each of the Sonics has his own abilities; classic Sonic is limited to just spin dash, whereas modern Sonic has a boost meter and a homing attack. The two acts are clearly drawing from the same inspiration but are different enough to take advantage of the different abilities of the two characters, as well as the different play styles associated with the different eras.
While it does make sense that each of the Sonics features his own abilities, it can become frustrating. Although modern Sonic is largely 3D platforming, he does have some 2D sections which look and play similarly to classic Sonic’s levels. This leads to you forgetting that you can’t use the homing attack when you’re classic Sonic, which ends in you missing enemies at best and falling to your death at worst.[videoyoutube]This pretty minor irritation isn’t the worst of it though, the 3D platforming sections as modern Sonic prove an intense and constant frustration. 3D platforming has never been a strong point of the Sonic series and Generations fairs no better. It’s fairly easy to fall off a cliff or island anyway but add in the homing attack’s ability to lose lock on the instant before you use it and the ease with which jumps can be misjudged in 3D and you’ll find yourself dying a worrying amount as modern Sonic. The game does warn you that modern Sonic’s acts are tougher than those belonging to classic Sonic, but I suspect the control failings aren’t intended to be the cause of that.
Aside from the default abilities of the two Sonics, the game features a skill shop that lets you customise your abilities. However, it’s so easy to earn points to buy these that it completely removes any challenge. They also have so little effect on the gameplay that they feel pretty much pointless.
If you’re wondering why the two Sonics have been thrown together like this, there is a pretty basic story involving time travel. It also gives you some explanation as to the presence of zones from so many different Sonic games, as well as the over-world. It’s by no means deep, well told or particularly interesting but it does at least explain what’s going on in some vague sense.
On the other hand, the Sonic series is hardly renowned for its gripping storylines, so it’s hard to say just how much of an issue it is. No, it’s not great but it’s probably about average for a Sonic title.
What is a real problem though is the voice acting. It’s generally abysmal; in fact it’s so bad that it actually feels like a relief that classic Sonic can’t talk (even though classic Tails can). Beyond the quality, there are points where it feels like it’s simply missing. A character will talk to Sonic and he’ll look like he’s probably going to say something in response; instead he just pauses before gesturing at the character.
The suspicion you’re left with is that the game was over budget towards the end and they simply couldn’t afford to get the voice actor back in; it sort of feels like an incomplete experience.
- The best Sonic game for a while.
- A good mix of zones from previous Sonic titles.
- Fantastic art style.
- 2D platforming feels like Sonic of old.
- Terrible 3D platforming controls.
- Awful voice acting.
- Lacklustre story.
- Frustrating frame rate issues.
- Feels short.
This is probably the best Sonic title on a home console in quite some time, although it doesn’t have the toughest competition to go up against. However, that doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that it’s a good game. But the actual core ideas here are good, and the whole thing feels like a love letter to the Sonic franchise on its 20th Anniversary.
In particular, the 2D platforming sections are worthy of praise and show that, when Sonic Team are on their game, they can really get it right. The issue is that when they fail it seems to be pretty spectacularly bad. The balance of good and bad levels is pretty even, throwing you back and forth between loving and hating the game.
Game reviewed from the PS3 version.