Sonic the Hedgehog, for whatever reason, wasn’t a childhood franchise of mine. I was too busy hanging around on the Comet Observatory or messing about in Scribblenauts to bother with the chaos emeralds, and my first time with the franchise was Sonic Advance 2 on an emulator during my senior year of high school. As a result, this review won’t be tinted by the rosy glasses of nostalgia.
Sonic Generations is a celebration of the franchise, allowing the player to race through a series of stages from older and newer games as both classic and modern Sonic. Due to a beast called the Time Eater attacking Sonic at two points in his life, as well as absorbing parts of the world, both Sonics find themselves in a colorless limbo of a hub world, with whited-out levels to enter. You have to play each level twice, once in 2D as classic Sonic and once in 3D as modern Sonic, in order to restore the level and rescue one of your friends.
Each level is from a major entry in the franchise (leading up to Generation’s 2011 release), and include Green Hill from the original game, Chemical Plant from 2, Sky Sanctuary from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Speed Highway from Adventure, City Escape from Adventure 2, Seaside Hill from Heroes, Crisis City from… Sonic 06… Rooftop Run from Unleashed, and Planet Wisp from Sonic Colors. Each level is rebuilt in both 2 and 3D, and the soundtrack is constructed in the same way (more on that later).
You’re presented three levels at a time, and after restoring all three, you’ll be presented with 30 challenges: 10 for each level, five in 2D and five in 3D. You’re required to beat exactly one for each world, in either playstyle, to access one of the bosses. There will also be a rival battle to earn a chaos emerald in each area: Metal Sonic from Sonic CD in the first area, Shadow the Hedgehog from Adventure 2 in the second, and Silver the Hedgehog from… Sonic 06… in the third. Only the three challenges have to be completed to access the boss, but the rival battles will have to be completed to beat the game, as all seven chaos emeralds are needed to access the final boss.
While the campaign is only about 5 hours, there’s plenty of other stuff to do before or after the final boss if you’re so inclined: S rank every stage, find every red token (five per level), complete every challenge, and get all the achievements, so if you’re a completionist, this can keep you occupied for a while.
There are two styles featured in-game: classic and modern Sonic. Classic Sonic plays entirely in 2D, and uses the standard attacks and movements from games like Mania, Advance, and the Genesis games, using the spin attack and spin dash to navigate on land, under water, and across platforms. Modern Sonic is more fleshed out, moving through both 3D and 2D space with the ability to use homing attacks and boosts, as well as light-dashing through rings and grinding across rails.
Here lies my main problem with just about every Sonic game I’ve come across: every main series Sonic the Hedgehog title is a platformer. However, Sonic isn’t all that good at platforming. He’s floaty and slippery, and while the levels are built around his speed, it doesn’t do enough to combat the fact that neither classic nor modern Sonic are built to hop from small platform to small platform. While there are multiple paths through each level, which is great, I’d often find myself progressing along the lowermost segment because I’d consistently end up falling down. Not to mention, if you fall, you usually don’t get the opportunity to get back up, so you can either restart and try again, or just deal with going through the bottom-most portion of the level again.
It probably doesn’t help that I was playing most of this concurrently with Celeste, which is just about perfect, and whenever something frustrating came up I’d briefly consider putting the controller down and going back to a much better platformer. Word of advice, only play one game of each genre at a time, the better one will only overshadow the other.
Regardless, this is a fair review, I’m not going to compare Generations to a completely separate game just because they’re in the same genre. Let’s focus on some positives. The main problem a lot of people have with modern Sonic games is that you’re constantly getting slowed down, so let’s focus on the positives. You certainly go fast in here, and while at times you do just hold forward or hold boost and watch things happen, you do get to race through a few obstacle courses, and on replaying a few levels after getting the hang of them, the platforming sections are a bit more manageable.
Last up are the boss battles, which are possibly my favorite part of the game. I liked all the rival battles better than the bosses, while most of them are pretty easy once you get the hang of them, they felt a lot better to play through than the actual area bosses (Death Egg, Perfect Chaos, and the Egg Dragoon), and I’ll take just about each hedgehog over whatever Eggman’s come up with just about every time.
This is where Sonic Generations, as well as most modern Sonic games, really shine. Because there are times when the game almost goes on autopilot and you just have to boost towards the stage goal, Sonic Team had to make up for the lack of any input with exciting visuals. For example, the truck from Adventure 2 in the City Escape levels, which is now outfitted with spinning saws and a jet engine. While you’re only really holding down and boost and letting the game play itself, it’s still exciting because you’re being chased down by a homicidal, out-of-control truck. This happens throughout the entire game, where the game lacks in actual gameplay, it makes up for with fantastically exciting set pieces to keep you entertained.
Despite being made seven years ago, it still looks great, its relatively-ageless cartoony style serving it well. As is come to be expected from Sonic Team, the soundtrack is fantastic. There are a couple original songs in there, but most of the tracks are remastered version of the original stage and boss themes. They each get two remakes, one for classic and one for modern Sonic’s version of the level. Chemical Plant is fantastic as usual, Shadow’s boss fight gets THREE themes (the brand-new For True Story, and shortened version of All Hail Shadow and Live & Learn), and while I don’t think either version of Escape From the City is quite as good as the original from Adventure 2, they’re both pretty damn good. Even if you have no interest in playing the game, the OST is still worth a listen.
Sonic Generations is a celebration of the games that preceded it, and a pretty successful one at that. It repackages many beloved older levels (and throws Crisis City in there too) with a fresh coat of paint and an all-new engine, and is widely considered one of the best modern Sonic games out there. Even if it’s not your favorite, it’s indisputably better than certain others that tried something similar and couldn’t quite capture the essence. While the gameplay isn’t quite perfect, and it might never be for the hedgehog, it has that magic to it that has me coming back to get chased down by that truck or race Shadow across the space colony ARK again and again.
Max is a student at Rutgers who likes writing fantasy and playing video games such as Zelda, Mario, Undertale, Earthbound, and Stardew Valley.