There’s an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me Twice, shame on me!” There is no saying more appropriate than that when it comes to discussing the past 10 years or so of Sonic the Hedgehog games. Every year, the latest Sonic game looks promising, only to reveal itself as a letdown in the end. The latest iteration of the Sonic franchise is called Sonic Generations and features both the chubbier “classic” Sonic as well as “modern” Sonic, each with varying styles of gameplay. Classic Sonic plays like, well, classic Sonic in purely side-scrolling levels, while modern Sonic’s levels are a mixture of 2D and 2.5D gameplay. It’s an interesting mix and so far, it feels a lot better than it has any right to. Fool me three times?
I sat down to play Sonic Generations with a pair of 3D glasses on my face and deep skepticism in my gut. I discussed my history with the Sonic franchise with the Sega booth rep, eventually coming to discuss my disappointment in the most recent Sonic game, Sonic 4. We talked physics—more specifically, how they were god awful in Sonic 4, allowing you to walk up nearly vertical inclines without a running start. It simply didn’t feel like a Sonic game, as hard as it tried. When I started up Generations, I chose classic Sonic first, as would any sane human. The differences between Generations and Sonic 4 were immediately noticeable. For one thing, Generations is a far more detailed game, being a disc release instead of a downloadable. As soon as I started moving Sonic, I knew – they’d gotten the physics right this time.
As I continued playing, it became apparent that the overall level design has also been vastly improved. Like the side-scrolling Sonic games of old, Generations’ rendition of Green Hill Zone (complete with the original, iconic music from that stage) is built for both speed and exploration. The route I took through the level was just one of many.
The modern Sonic level, predictably, did not fare quite as well as its classic counterpart, though it still feels like a step in the right direction compared to the past decade of 3D Sonic games. In addition to the attacking dash maneuver that has become synonymous with Sonic’s 3D adventures, he now has a speed boost to smash through enemies as well as a somewhat awkward slide move to bypass low hanging obstacles. It plays more like 2.5D than strictly 3D, and there were no wide open spaces to navigate. Instead, it was a more tightly focused level, favoring speed and momentum almost to a fault. It just kind of feels like the game is playing itself during much of the level.
While the game’s controls were mostly smooth, there was a fair amount of latency involved with the actual button presses. This slight, but noticeable delay could kill this game if it isn’t resolved. The Sega representative on hand assured me I was not the first one to notice the problem and that, fortunately, Sega will definitely be looking into it. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the game looked and performed much better in 2D than it did with stereoscopic 3D enabled. Whereas there was noticeable slowdown with 3D on, the frame-rate was a mostly consistent 60 frames per second with 3D turned off. There was still the occasional hitch, but it can likely be attributed to the fact that it’s a work in progress demo.
Sega also had the 3DS version of Sonic Generations on display. It is not a port of the console versions, favoring side-scrolling gameplay instead. The 3D effect was also a lot nicer on the 3DS version than it was on PS3, since having it enabled didn’t negatively impact the game’s performance.
While the gameplay itself is all 2D, you’ll still choose between classic Sonic and modern Sonic. The main difference is in their abilities. While classic Sonic has his usual spin dash, modern Sonic has his homing attack, speed boost and slide move like he does in the console version. The game looked and performed well with both versions of Sonic, but since they’re both side-scrolling, I have to wonder why modern Sonic is even included.
While I am still not entirely convinced of Sonic Generations’ overall quality (the first level of Sonic 4 seemed promising and look how that turned out), it certainly feels right this time. I am still approaching the game with caution, but that caution now carries a distinct glimmer of optimism as well. Look for Sonic Generations this fall.