A lot can happen in 20 years, just look at Sonic the Hedgehog. Back in 1991 when the blue hedgehog with an attitude made his first appearance on the Sega Genesis the video game landscape was completely different. 16-bit sprites and blast processing were all the rage, and only two platforms, each with their own respective mascot, ruled the console market, the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. Fast-forward to two decades later and Nintendo's Mario is clearly the winner of the first console war, whereas Sega got out of the console business within ten years of Sonic's birth.
Even without his own console Sonic still has a host of titles under his belt, spanning both 2D and 3D gameplay. The dimensional difference is a decision that seemingly splits fans of the series into two distinct camps. In an attempt to bring together those factions, and showcase their most recognizable character in his 20th year of games, Sega has released "Sonic Generations," the first Sonic game to combine both styles of gameplay, and both styles of Sonic.
While enjoying his birthday celebration, Sonic and his friends are interrupted by a mysterious entity that kidnaps and imprisons everyone at the party except Sonic, forcing him to put his hot dog on hold and save each of them. Shortly after venturing after the giant monster Sonic discovers that he has actually traveled through time and space, and he needs to save all of existence from being consumed and erased. While doing so, Sonic meets up with an older version of himself (the classic, pudgy, 16-bit version) and the two must team up to save their friends, and their world.
"Sonic Generations" is a solely single-player experience, as Sonic revisits levels from his previous console releases. Play through levels representing Sonic's past, from "Sonic the Hedgehog" through "Sonic Colors," each with a 2D, a 3D, and a series of challenge levels. If you're feeling particularly competitive, you can take your skills online, and see where you end up on the leader boards.
Full Of Nostalgia
"Sonic Generations" has a little something for anyone that has ever spent any time with a Sonic game, no matter when they picked up their controller. Culling from nine different games, the levels included aren't exact duplicates of anything that was previously released, but more interpretations, making the game a new experience more than something of an anthology. Everything from the music, to the gameplay, to the power-ups will evoke memories of Sonic games gone by. Sega even goes as far as to include the Genesis version of "Sonic the Hedgehog" as an unlockable to really drive home the point.
The revamp of the classic games included in this package wasn't strictly a visual upgrade; the instantly recognizable soundtracks also received some love. Hearing music that first pumped through the Sega Genesis 20 years ago updated to the quality that it was in "Generations" was simply a treat. While it's hard to say as much for the City Escape "Escape from the City" (a.k.a. "Follow My Rainbow) track, it still sounded good; even it is one of the most annoyingly catchy songs ever included in a video game.
A Whole New World
Depending on which camp your Sonic allegiance falls into, "Generations" will offer you something new to experience. For example, if you're an old-school 2D fan, you may have never given "Sonic Heroes" a chance, but now that there's a 2D level based on the Seaside Hill zone from that game, you'll get to enjoy a game something that you may have passed over when it was released on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube.
Making The Switch
There are some very fundamental gameplay differences between 2D and 3D games that "Generations" highlights, mostly because the story forces you to switch back and forth between them so readily. The biggest issue that shines through is platforming: landing a jump in 2D is completely different than landing a jump in 3D, and Sonic jumps a lot. You need to be a versatile player to be able to switch so constantly between the two styles of play in "Generations," and that can leave some players behind. Unfortunately, there's no option to only play the 2D or the 3D acts to complete the game, since you need to complete both to unlock the next zone.
Who's The Bosses?
There seems to be a sizable disconnect between the levels and the bosses in "Generations," going from classic-style gameplay to just over the top frustration. It's like they let the teams that worked on the last few Sonic games work on just the bosses to remind fans why the series is in need of resurrecting. Inconsistent controls, minimal instructions, and overall wacky gameplay mar each of the battles, leaving them as noticeable points of frustration.
Since the Dreamcast died in 2001, Sega has had quite a bit of difficulty really nailing down what makes a Sonic game both a "Sonic" game, and good. Countless fans have given up on the series as it's taken some serious twists and turns, but "Generations" may finally put Sonic back on the right course. You still need to have a bit of an open mind as to whether Sonic is better in 2D or 3D, but if you can manage to straddle both camps; you might actually find yourself enjoying the game. It's still not perfect, but after where the franchise has been for so long, "Generations" offers a glimmer of hope.
Watch the trailer for Sonic Generations right here: