This year, the Sonic the Hedgehog series reached a seminal landmark: 20 years in the video gaming business. Over the years, it has gone from the well loved Sega Genesis's opponent to Mario to an eclectic mix of different gameplay types, countless new characters, convoluted storylines, and disrespect from gamers worldwide. But recently, Sega and Sonic Team have begun to reshape the image of their once legendary icon. With Sonic Generations, the time has come for Sonic fans of all ages to rejoice; Sonic is back.
There are two modes of gameplay in Sonic Generations, Classic and Modern. Classic Sonic sees the return of a silent, chubbier, more rotund Sonic from the Genesis glory days. His levels are played entirely 2D, and faithful to his simplistic roots. That means no aerial tricks, no grinding rails, no boosting, just a jump, spin dash, and blistering speed. Classic Sonic's levels are designed to account for this bare-bones approach and, new graphics and sound aside, would feel right at home in one of Sonic's earlier titles. There is a large emphasis on platforming in Classic; running recklessly forward without any caution will often end with a collision and all your rings spraying every which way. There are multiple paths of different elevations on each level. The highest path nets the most rewards, such as rings, extra lives, and Red Star Rings, but is the most difficult to reach and stay on. The balance between moving up and avoiding death is exhilarating; a feeling that I haven't experienced since Sonic's Genesis days.
Visually, Sonic Generations is stunning. The environments of the classic levels are expanded upon from their initial appearances, updated for this generation. Breathtaking waterfalls abound in Green Hill Zone while Chemical Plant Zone feels even more like a mad scientist's laboratory. Newer levels keep the graphical panache from their debuts, while successfully keeping that atmosphere in their Classic level forms. Running through the city in City Escape is just as exhilarating in Classic as it is in Modern form. One issue that might nag some is that the game is only running at 30 frames per second. However, I did not notice this ever having a noticeable effect while the game was running and it handles the speed and visuals with aplomb.
Perhaps the most powerful element of nostalgia in Sonic Generations is the audio. It would have been easy to copy in the music from past Sonic games and paste it in, but Sonic Team took the next step and created new remixes based on those old tunes. One might think that sounds sacrilegious, but actually, it sounds glorious. Both the Classic and Modern versions of each level have their own rendition of the level's theme song. Classic tunes take a more retro approach to the songs, while Modern goes full out and is often more bombastic. In both cases, the soundtrack is among the best ever used in a Sonic game. If you don't like the music that plays in a particular stage, you can choose to play another tune that you have unlocked. So if you want to play "Super Sonic Racing" while blasting through Speed Highway, you can do just that.
As an anniversary game, you would expect Sonic Generations to have plenty of unlockables, and indeed, it does have them. Collecting the many Red Star Rings strewn about each level will unlock new artwork or new songs, chronicling Sonic's journey from past to present. It would have been nice to see a larger collection, but what is available is still a great carrot to dangle in front of hardcore Sonic fans.
Lengthwise, Sonic Generations will only take about 5 hours to go through if you just want to speed through every level. But these levels are so much fun that you will want to play through them over and over again, trying to locate every last secret, every path, and every S rank. When all of that is added in, you will have certainly put a larger amount of time into it. Still, I wish there would have been a little more meat on the bones during that first run.
Two decades later, Sonic the Hedgehog remains an icon of gaming. Even though some of his games may not have lived up to the expectations of the fans, Sonic Generations emulates its origins in the best way possible; by being a solid platformer mixed with the white-hot thrill of controlling the fastest mammal in the world. Sonic fans, it's time to make merry. The blue blur is back, and he's here to stay.