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Sonic Generations - The blue blur's 20th birthday
on 26 March 2014
"Sonic Generations" was released to commemorate the 20th birthday of the 'blue blur'. From the game's origins on the Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis in the US) all the way through to the latest addition on the 3DS and Wii U, Sonic the Hedgehog has served his purpose as Sega's company mascot.
For those unfamiliar with a Sonic game (Seriously? It's been twenty years!), Sonic is a blue hedgehog with the ability to run at the speed of sound. He is usually tasked with trying to save the world from the evil plans of Dr. Robotnik (later Dr. Eggman) with help from a variety of friends, including Miles "Tails" Prower and Knuckles the Echidna. To this day, "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" for the Mega Drive is still my second-favourite game of all time (just behind "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time").
Sonic faces his most dangerous foe yet: a creature that can manipulate the very fabric of time and space. After his friends are kidnapped and scattered throughout time it seems as if the hedgehog is completely out of his depth. That is, until help arrives in the unlikely form of...Sonic. The blue blur must join forces with his past self to face an adventure too big for just one super-fast hedgehog...
Just as previous games in the series did before it, "Generations" uses the idea of Acts to represent parts one and two of each level or 'zone' (veterans note: "Sonic 1" for the Mega Drive actually had three Acts to each zone). The game takes full advantage of this idea and brilliantly expands on it to allocate Act One to 'Classic Sonic' and Act Two to 'Modern Sonic', ensuring players get their fair share of past and present hedgehog.
The graphics have been enhanced to accommodate the more powerful console generation, with 'Classic Sonic' stages resembling 2010's "Sonic 4" more than the games of the Mega Drive era. In this aspect, "Generations" avoids the issue of appearing outdated when compared to other new games on the most recent iteration of consoles (though I challenge anyone to play the early "Sonic" games and not be entranced by their charm).
The control system accurately matches that of both the older and the newer games, although those who have played the recent Sonic games might agree with me that this isn't necessarily a good thing. 'Classic Sonic' zones are fantastically simple to operate just as they always have been. The levels are two-dimensional which drastically reduces the chance of going off-target, though falling off the side of a platform to Sonic's untimely demise can happen to the more novice of players.
In contrast, 'Modern Sonic' zones are frustratingly difficult to navigate without encountering at least one issue. The speed at which the game progresses does nothing to alleviate this problem, and I regularly found myself falling off platforms and walking directly into an enemy's line of fire because of its temperamental accuracy. Amusingly, I found "Sonic 3D" for the Sega Mega Drive easier to control than 'Modern Sonic' in "Generations" ("Sonic 3D" came out in 1996). It becomes even trickier to steer Sonic with his 'Boost meter' active, though it's as exhilarating as driving a car 200mph down the motorway.
The soundtrack revives many of the legendary melodies from the Mega Drive games and gives them a significant upgrade in the process, replacing the synthesized instruments of the Nineties with the auditory force of a live orchestra. I found myself humming along to the ‘Green Hill Zone’ score as I was blasting my way through it in “Generations”, getting goosebumps as I recalled the first time I played through the same level in the original game.
One of my favourite features of “Generations” is the addition of Challenge Gates. These gates appear at certain points throughout the game and provide additional challenges set within the realms of each zone. There are around five challenges to each level, which is plenty to keep you interested in the game long after the story’s conclusion. You are rewarded with additional content for each challenge you complete, ranging from concept art to music tracks from Sonic’s past. You can use these tracks as a replacement for the default music of any levels you go on to play. It's a welcome bonus, especially for veterans of the Sonic franchise such as myself.
I also noticed something in the Xbox 360 version that wasn't available in the PC game: the full game of "Sonic 1" from the Sega Mega Drive. This was a fantastic addition to the game as it proudly shows off the origins of Sonic to younger players who may not have been lucky enough to play the first games. I would've liked it if they had included the rest of Sonic's back catalogue from the Mega Drive (especially considering that "Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection" is available rather cheaply for the Xbox 360 these days and includes all Of these) but the decision not to add them is by no means a chink in the armour of "Generations".
"Sonic Generations" shows off the very best of what the twenty-year franchise has given to gamers: fast-paced, high-action adventure with a variety of enemies and challenging end-of-level bosses. The levels are as bright and colourful as they always were whilst retaining the fierce and exciting challenges that originally kept you hooked way back in 1991, and the references to past games lend an amusing nod of nostalgia to those who grew up with Sonic back when Sega was proud that they do "what Nintendon't".