I'm still in awe that it even exists really. a) given how much of a point Sega seemed to make about not putting classic Sonic in Sonic 4, and b) that it really is the kind of game I've often daydreamed about throughout the last ten years. A series of direct nods to specific levels and events in a dazzling blur of nostalgia. During ultra serious plots about government conspiracies and the end of the world, or never-ending grind rails and speed pads, you'd ultimately have to force yourself to snap out of that daydream, as it didn't look like Sega had any intention for such things. Perhaps appropriately enough, after all Sonic himself is supposedly one to never look back. But now, things are different - it seems that the landmark of 20 years and a gradual, arguably fan-lead shift back into more classic stylings has created a large cycle that brings us, remarkably, to that very dream game. Whether it'll be exactly as any of us had ever imagined in our wildest of dreams is to be decided, but the promises look frankly unbelievable - classic levels from three different eras of Sonic history? Hello, that sounds like the perfect place for outrageously bold speculation! My time to shine...
The structure of Sonic Generations..
The fact is, I never really learn. I'm often wrong about game-wide speculations about things like the amount and order, and specific types of levels and how they're divided into smaller stages, whenever I attempt to predict the contents of upcoming games. That's probably not the best way of maintaining your interest in what, as of currently writing, will probably be a sizable article, but still, I'm going to have a crack at it anyway, and it's at least food for thought. So lets go over some sensible assumptions...
Here's what we know: At least two stages per level, one as classic Sonic, the other as modern Sonic. The levels will reflect 20 years of Sonic history, covering three different eras, classic, "adventure", and modern, i.e. the beginning, middle and end. The first level is Green Hill, which, obviously accounts for part of the classic element. I think it can very safely be assumed that pretty much all the levels will be obvious clones of specific previous levels from those eras. That's about it.
Well for starters I suspect, and hope, that there's more than just the two stages/acts, per level/zone. In the above video, in which both Sonic's steam through at a fair old pace, classic Sonic's stage clearly ends at around 1:40, while 'ol green-eyes is still going strong at nearly three minutes, with no end in sight. To maintain balance, I suspect that there is at least a second act for classic Sonic to complete, of a similar length, thus maintaining traditional level division patterns on both sides of the coin. Although having said that, I hope there's even more fun to be had beyond that, even if it has to be through silly little bite-sized acts like in Sonic Colours, but perhaps optional.
Next there's the question of sheer amount of levels, and how they're ordered. Could it be chronologically, or a massive mish-mash of time zones colliding chaotically? Well, this is a big main Sonic game for the 360 and PS3, and if previous examples are anything to go by, I'd say around nine or ten would be the amount to shoot for - specifically nine, it's the magic number of completely individual worlds for both Sonic 06 and Unleashed. I think it's interesting that they've made a point of saying that the levels correspond to three different specific eras of Sonic's life so far. If it were a fairly disorganised series of hops back and forth in time, I wonder if there would have been any point in specifying that there were only three definite eras at all, rather than just more vaguely covering the whole 20 years. It could be to just really make their point clear that they will be covering everything, not just the first few games of the 90's, but my suspicion is that the three eras play a big role in the structure of the game itself and that it isn't just marketing talk. The game is divided into three, and conveniently, we've already decided that we're going to have nine levels. That means three for classic, three for Adventure, three for modern. Bad news I suppose for anyone hoping for a bias toward one era in particular, but you never know, maybe they can squeeze in a tenth. What isn't so clear, however, is exactly how far the boundaries of each era reach. I have my own ideas, and I believe the levels will be played, mostly, in chronological order, so each era will be played in full before the player can progress to the next.
I've been having a good think about these levels for the last week, and I've narrowed down my definitive "dream team", of sorts. I've stuck my neck out and chosen eight specific levels to join Green Hill (or Greenhill as it seems to be called here), evenly distributed across the three eras. It's not an easy decision, if you're being realistic about it. On the one hand, you have to pick truly iconic worlds, all of which will be instantly recognisable to anyone who's played their native game even a little bit. An elected representative ambassador for each game, you could say. In most cases, the truly iconic one is invariably going to be the first level of any game - it's the only one every player is guaranteed to play at all (well, probably), but you can't have a game full of first levels can you? Especially if most of them are tropical paradise/jungle/beach levels. Any game planner worth their salt will try to vary the colours and content of each level as much as possible. I find the most characteristic levels for any game are often those that are most heavily featured in its pre-release media, in exciting trailers and screenshots that we all stare at for months before even playing them. Who knows by what criteria Sonic Team themselves judge a characteristic, memorable, and Sonic Generations-worthy level though.
So, with quite enough introductory waffle, lets get on with it..
The Classic Era
Green Hill Zone - Duh.
Assuming there's room for a level from Sonic 2, there are many worthy options. Obviously Casino Night Zone screams out to you at the top of its lungs, and I would be happy to see it if I hadn't already seen it so recently in Sonic 4, under the guise of "Casino Street Zone". I'm sure they'd find a way to add something new to it in 3D, much like they have with Green Hill, but nonetheless it would feel like a waste of a crucial slot in the game that another long lost level could fill. Same for Metropolis really, as much as I'd love to hear an updated version of that theme tune. My suggestion? Chemical Plant Zone. Putting a personal case forward, this level is instrumental in forming my childhood, with its terrifying (and yet entirely avoidable, as it turns out) scary-water-rising bit towards the end that gave me nightmares for years. Even the Sonic Team of 2005 thought that was hard enough to warrant making a T-shirt about it. In any case, it's a well known and unique stage, and its speedy paths will be appropriate for modern Sonic too. Thanks to Sonic Colours bringing submersive water to 2.5D, that brilliantly frustrating section can no doubt be brought to life once again!
With only one slot left in the classic era, we've a tough choice to make. Conceivably this could come from Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, or potentially even from Sonic CD, but I'm not so sure about the latter - it would please die hard fans no end I'm sure, but I just don't know if enough people have played Sonic CD for it to be viable. Icecap Zone was my first choice, but then you have to consider the issue about the music. If it does make the cut, it'd be very interesting to see if it comes with its original theme intact, as it would perhaps shed light on whether Sega actually do own the rights to that.. And not Michael Jackson's lawyers. Still, I'm going to assume there's problems there, and go for the alternate choice of my most recently featured level: Mushroom Hill Zone. Absolutely characteristic of Sonic & Knuckles, it's a first level that's worlds apart from Green Hill, set instead in a great forest of fungi. The Hedgehog Engine would render it stunningly rich, especially if they choose to indulge in Mushroom Hill's changing seasons. I think that would be incredible personally.
Mini act? Sky Chase Zone
Well, they managed to do it in both Sonic Adventure and Sonic Unleashed - who's to say they can't tuck in the extra little treat of an aerial battle in the skies that can emulate the Sonic 2 side-scrolling original and even the more fire-powered Sonic Adventure version as well. Imagine a classic Sonic and Tails in the Tornado 1, joined by their modern counterparts in the Tornado 2 as they chase down the Egg Carrier together, crashing through time toward the Adventure era!..
The Adventure Era
For Sonic Adventure's contribution, I would avoid Emerald Coast as a full stage - I know it's not quite the same as Green Hill, but it is very similar. If Icecap Zone doesn't make it into the classic portion, it could reappear here in Sonic Adventure form very easily, but in this particular list of mine, we don't have a bouncy/pinball style stage yet, which I would argue is more pressing. Casinopolis is too odd to really translate effectively into either game mode, Speed Highway's a bit generic - I would suggest Twinkle Park. Classic Sonic's take on it could borrow many elements from the likes of Spring Yard, Casino Night and Carnival Night to help ease it into this unfamiliar territory, in addition to Twinkle Park features like exploding barrels and bumper cars.
The thing about Sonic Adventure 2's levels is that, well, they're a bit bland aren't they? Very enjoyable of course, but also really story-lead, and I wouldn't particularly want to find myself in dull corridors of government bases or space stations. Green Forest and Pyramid Cave are much more interesting, but I think the only real option here is City Escape, complete with irresponsible barging of traffic whilst road-boarding and cheerfully cheesy lyrics. Whale fans still mourning about Emerald Coast's rejection could easily be comforted too, as San Fransisco is by the coast, is it not? Surely there's no reason why Sonic(s) couldn't be chased by both a whale and a massive truck in the same level!
Insert controversy here. I see no reason why Sonic Heroes couldn't find its way into the Adventure era. Regardless of what you think about it, it's an important part of Sonic's history, and it's chronologically closer to the adventures than anything particularly recent. Unlike SA2 as well, its levels are incredibly vibrant and visually interesting so I'd be happy to see any of them really, although perhaps not Seaside Hill, it's had several reincarnations already and is ridiculously similar to Green Hill anyway. The next most iconic level of this game? Well, could be Casino Park, which isn't a complete clone of Casnio Night, but level number 6 is a tad late for a casino level to pop in isn't it? For me, it has to be the unrelenting grind-fest of Rail Canyon, perfect for modern Sonic. What exactly Classic Sonic is supposed to do with all those rails is another matter of course, but we'll find something for him. Perhaps he can spend more time in the more internal areas of Bullet Station, or mess around with some small crane-based puzzles. Quite a good opportunity to try some brand new 2D level features actually.
The Modern Era
I think this hectic dash through Sonic Unleashed's Spagonia country deserves a place amongst Sonic's best bits, and is among the most characteristic levels in the game that could competently sit at level number 7. Perhaps change the lighting a bit to more of a sunset, just to make it seem like more than just an exact duplicate of the original, whose graphical prowess and attention to detail will be pretty much identical to this one anyway. More minor acts in this level saw a trip through the torch-lit sewers beneath the city, which might be a nice place for classic Sonic to explore.
Sonic 06? Boooo, booo.. BOOOOOO! ..Yep, get over it. This era in general is certainly where I had the most trouble, and I'm not really sure if the likes of Secret Rings, Black Knight or Sonic Colours really quite fit into it. Sonic Colours just seems too recent enough to really have made a mark in the history books by this point, especially when you consider its production will have overlapped slightly with this game. Black Knight I don't think really had an impact on anyone. We could quite easily see something from Secret Rings I suppose, but this process is becoming quite a subjective one by this point, and I've decided to with go with Kingdom Valley. The first Sonic level to begin with the letter K (probably my favourite completely useless Sonic fact!) slots in neatly as a penultimate level, it's not really similar to anything so far, and has a number of interesting, unique features to utilise. I've always been quite excited and intrigued by it, so I'm going to give it another chance.
Ooooh, more controversy! Not only have I picked one of the longest and most utterly frustrating final levels ever, I've also gone for two Sonic Unleashed levels!? Hear me out. I believe that if there are only going to be nine levels, Sonic Team will divide them equally between the three eras, and for me, nothing else quite fits into this era, other than three levels from arguably the two major Sonic games of this time (based on budget and general "big-ness" rather than popularity or anything else). Secondly, it is a honking great huge, notorious level, I think the ultimate final level really, especially as Eggman had been going on about building it for an entire decade before finally doing so - makes sense to me. In any case, these are all just mostly visual ideas and templates, how enjoyable any of these levels are in their original forms bear no impact on their level of enjoyment in this game, as they are all very likely to be redesigned entirely from scratch anyway.
What's more, I've had another theory. By including two Sonic Unleashed levels, you're bringing ready-made graphics into your game that most people probably won't mind seeing - you've immediately got all the visuals you need for two full levels, so resources for designing maybe one more are freed up! I think for this reason we could see a tenth full level in this game after all, and it could be anything! How about if there are two final levels? Perhaps only modern Sonic tackles Eggmanland while classic Sonic is brought back to Scrap Brain Zone, providing a kind of neat balanced symmetry to what levels from what games are included. Two from Sonic 1, two from Unleashed sounds pretty fair to me.
..Anyway, those are my official predictions right now. I encourage you all to try and piece together your own, and then probably see how wrong you are, as indeed I will, I'm sure. It's not quite perfect on my list anyway - we've got some opportunities for a few splashes of water here and there but no full on water level as such, and it almost seems wrong to have no casino level in this game that is supposed to cover all of Sonic's most iconic bits, but frankly, there's been so many that not everything will fit. Especially if you want to include any of Sonic's more secondary adventures like the Advance or Rush series. Trying to cram in something from up to fifty-ish games just isn't going to work, is it? Arguably you could shrink down the modern portion to make room, but my personal hunch is that they won't do that. However I do hope that by shamelessly recycling some recent graphics, they will just about be able to make room for some additional material elsewhere. To be honest though, I don't think there are many classic stages or references that they could add that I wouldn't be thrilled to see, this is an incredibly exciting game from virtually any angle, and for me, the months between now and its release cannot pass quickly enough!
WARNING: Spoilers in the comments section below. The full list of levels has been discovered. If, like me, you don't wish to know exactly how wrong or right I am with the above until you actually play the game yourself, ideally, then I wouldn't scroll too far through the comments below if I were you :P