However, that was then but now things are a bit different. Sega seem more willing to listen and cooperate with fans these days and this has lead to something of a full circle motion, with more classic-oriented features and design decisions, and in turn, noticeably better games too. There's no better time for us to reflect on Sonic's long journey with a game that briefly stops, pauses and looks back lovingly at nostalgic Sonic lore in a way that also somehow feels totally new and highly exciting. There was a time when you would dread reading the reviews of a big new Sonic game. Hopefully, those times, a bit like Sonic Generations itself, are now in the past..
Note that by reading this, I'm assuming that you have either played the game yourself and are comparing notes, or, for some bizarre reason, are still on the fence about buying it and want to know more. If the latter, I hope you don't mind SPOILERS! Still, it's not going to be much more than what Sega will have already tried to tell you about in their many trailers for the game anyway.
I realise that this review goes on far far longer than it really should - longer even than my own University dissertation by several thousand words in fact, so please don't feel obliged to do any more than dip in and out on certain bits, but I really didn't want to compromise on any of it, not least of all because it's already taken me a week to write it and I really shouldn't spend any more time trying to make it more concise. So, here we go!...
Decisions, decisionsAs a Sonic fan who puts the study of Sonic levels at the highest of all concerns, this is truly a game that I can appreciate a great deal, as it's almost entirely about celebrating wonderful, specific zones and their iconic features from 20 years worth of major Sonic titles. Practically my dream game! Selecting just nine levels to recreate from a back catalogue of literally hundreds is a tall order for anyone, and there's a hell of a lot that could have neatly slotted in here and produced just as many goosebumps - perhaps moreso in some cases, though in my view these are in the minority and overall, the nine 'chosen ones' are a pretty good selection, considering that it was always going to balanced fairly across the eras and that there was probably only ever going to be room for one level from any single game.
You've probably known exactly what was coming for months now thanks to a highly irritating leaked list, but if you're anything like me, you might have been trying to avoid its contents (mostly in vain) like the plague in order to try and save up as many surprises as possible. Shortly after the game was announced I put together a list of viable candidates and assessed the way in which they could be organised. Though I only got three of them bang on, I did successfully predict that nine levels, one each from a selection of the main games in the series, would be divided into three clear eras, and that they would be played in chronological order. As such, the game, just so we're all clear, has..
The classic era, including Green Hill from Sonic 1, Chemical Plant from Sonic 2 and Sky Sanctuary from Sonic & Knuckles, plus a rival fight with Metal Sonic, inspired by the Stardust Speedway race from Sonic CD, and an Eggman boss, inspired by Sonic 2's final battle aboard the Death Egg.
The middle, 'Adventure' era holds Sonic Adventure's Speed Highway, Sonic Adventure 2's City Escape and Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes. An SA2-inspired rival battle with Shadow follows, as does the Perfect Chaos boss from Sonic Adventure (though not as Super Sonic).
Finally, the modern era rounds things up with Crisis City from Sonic '06, Rooftop Run off of Sonic Unleashed, and, to my slight surprise, Planet Wisp, from the very recent Sonic Colours. Silver in Crisis City plays the rival this time, followed by an Egg Dragoon boss battle from Unleashed (not as the Werehog thankfully).
Normally, levels for any new, original game are ordered in a way that makes sense, so that things kick off with a happy level, and end on quite a dramatic one, with various degrees of seriousness in between, sometimes according to what the story dictates. But a bit like arranging songs on a playlist, if you're going to do it right, then there is a certain art to it. You don't want too many similar levels lumped together, and certain types seem to fit best at certain points in the game. When I made my predictions, I based my choices on the correct assumption that they would roughly be ordered chronologically, so when I came to each game, I picked a level from it that made sense when appearing at that particular point in the story.
Sadly, from accidental reading of people's comments and tweets (which is what really sucks about leaks and spoilers, but I plan on discussing the damage from all of that at a later date) I either outright knew of, or could intelligently deduce the identities of all but one of these levels, and as such I must admit I had difficulty believing that they would fit into a chronological order. I didn't know anything about how the story would develop at that time, but I could only imagine scenarios that would best suit having the levels ordered more randomly. Perhaps Eggman takes the opportunity of time being mixed up to go back and collect all of his greatest works and bring them together at once - his greatest prize being the Death Egg. This would allow Sky Sanctuary to be a much later level, and act as the setting for a climactic dash to the reborn space station. Or, even though it wasn't one originally, I could see Crisis City as an equally effective dystopian final level, flinging our heroes into an alternate far future. Thematically speaking, both make a little more sense than Planet Wisp to be honest, which is quite a melancholic level, but not a very dramatic one.
But I can live with that, as it's little more than just a curious decision that's easily shrugged off. What does bother me a little bit more is the sheer abundance of city-based environments throughout the whole game. There are four clear city levels (five if you include Chemical Plant, though this version doesn't really do much to emphasise the sky scrapers seen in the background of the original), plus Stardust Speedway in the Metal Sonic battle, and that's all rather a lot - too many, I would say, to make up a neatly balanced game. Crisis City, Rooftop Run and City Escape do all have their own unique themes to differentiate them quite clearly, in fairness - they are very much different types of city level, which generally is a very broad type anyway. But Speed Highway I really have to question, and if I'm honest is probably the only level whose inclusion I really have a problem with.
I kind of understand why it's here, for many players it was one of the first 3D levels that really offered that sense of amazing speed to a significant degree. But Sonic games have had so many iconic level types that haven't really had a look in on this game - ice levels, flying fortress levels, mountainous levels, egyptian levels and not forgetting of course the crucial pinball/'bouncy' level. Some of them might have slight hints at various points in the game, but Speed Highway is just such a generic city that it's a shame that it's occupying a much sought-after slot in the game while levels based on those other types go AWOL. What I think has happened is that they've focused so much on bringing together lots of iconic, meaningful environments, that they've slightly forgotten to carefully balance that with the need to create a more varied list that also more fairly covers the different types of Sonic level that we've come to love over the years. In short, they've made slightly more of a compilation pack of favourite levels, than a Sonic game filled with a wide variety of environments that feels like it progresses in the way that it normally should.
Plus, because of their decision to order chronologically, Speed Highway and City Escape, two very similar urban city levels, are sat right next to each other. By all means, accuse me of being overly nitpicky because I probably am, but that fact alone does bother me quite a bit. City Escape should be here but if it were up to me, I'd have definitely been insistant on swapping Speed Highway for another Sonic Adventure level. There are some great ones to choose from - Ice Cap or Sky Deck would have been better choices, but I still would have gone with my original pick of Twinkle Park, which will effectively capture the much needed 'bouncy' stage and will have done wonders I think.
Now that the rants are out the way though, I want to emphasise that the above points do little to dent my love of this game, and my belief that otherwise, this is a great selection of levels. It's all too easy to take for granted now that memorable places have been brought back from the dead and beautifully re-imagined, but lets not forget just how much of a treat that really is. To see the likes of Chemical Plant, an environment so perfectly etched into my childhood reborn again in amazing detail with all of its terrifying features and music intact is jaw-dropping. Never in a million years did I think I'd see the Sky Sanctuary again, convinced that Sega barely even knew it ever existed any more, and I can't describe the wonderful feeling of relief and excitement that met me upon first laying eyes on the Death Egg looming over the whole of the classic level. It's so crucial to the epic storyline of Sonic 3/Sonic & Knuckles, that nothing else will have really been as perfect to include.
Rooftop Run is one of my favourite stages too, so I'm thrilled that it's made the cut. As for Seaside Hill, I admit I was a bit dubious at first, given that it's so similar in principal to Green Hill, but luckily they've really focused on the Ocean Palace elements to the environment, turning it into more of a water ruins level that happens to be by the sea, and for this it earns its place in the game as far as I'm concerned. We're pretty used to seeing Green Hill re-imagined all the time, but when it comes down to it, this is one game that it couldn't have been absent from. Every single level is recreated absolutely beautifully, but perhaps in some ways, this iconic first ever stage is still the most visually amazing.
Overall, aside from the one slip up, I do think they've done really well with this list, and as I will come to describe in more detail later on, almost without exception they are all great fun to play, and highly addictive. They may have leaned more towards capturing particular favourite or iconic levels, rather than also considering the overall balance of level types and how it impacts on the thematic flow of the game, but they've not been afraid to really delve into each of the games covered to pick not just obvious environments (a game that's just full of first or second levels would have been a wasted opportunity) but really meaningful ones that, in many cases, only the real die hard fans will be able to recognise.
Playing as two SonicsObviously, a big question/concern for this game will have been how successfully Classic Sonic's controls and maneuvers have been brought back and translated into "2.5D". We've had an insight into this for a while now thanks to the initial 20 day demo released back in June, and while you could get used to the specifics of running about as Classic Sonic, there were a few things that didn't feel quite right. He seemed quite heavy to move around, and had a fairly weak jump. It's hard to say exactly what's been tweaked since then, but it definitely feels like improvements have been made, as Classic Sonic's jump and overall weight definitely feel more comfortable now.
Inevitably comparisons will be made between these physics and those of Sonic 4, which as we're all probably aware, had its fair share of not-quite-rightness about it, putting some off completely. Well, this time it generally feels much closer to the originals. Sonic 4 lacked a sense of momentum about it, as whenever you jumped, the speed gained from your current sprint wasn't really applied to it and could halt you completely. Thankfully, not so anymore - this Classic Sonic has a real chaotic sense of speed behind him, and the spin dash really helps with this. Not only is it extremely powerful, but it can be performed in pretty much three different ways. The original method of "down, tap tap tap" is of course present and correct, but I find that the use of the X button is even easier, which you can either hold to begin charging and then release, or tap repeatedly to rev it up, and then it'll release when you stop tapping. He tends to go into an awkward forward roll if you just press it once and don't hold it down for long enough, which can get annoying in tricky situations. The ease of using a single button for a spin dash though means that it can be performed while running, much like the spin dash in 3D games such as SA1 and 2, and you don't have to wait until Sonic stops completely. Purists may have something to argue about - they normally do - but I really like it.
What some will definitely still moan about is that his roll, normally performed while heading down a slope to increase speed, is still not quick enough, as was the case in Sonic 4. However this time with a powerful spin dash I never found it bothersome, and there are few places in the levels that really call for it anyway. In general the precise physics and jump aren't exactly the same as the classics, but once you get used to them and exactly how far you can expect him to jump, it feels incredibly natural and fun. They've obviously spent a long time refining it to be just right. Perhaps they are at their best in Green Hill however, whose simple level design allows you to just keep running and increasing your momentum in exactly the way that the original level, and others like it, encouraged. There's nothing quite like the hectic dash of Classic Sonic going at full pelt, gracefully bopping enemies and jumping over platforms without losing a step of pace.
Sonic's modern look brings with it a much more predictable, tried and tested approach from the recent games, yet subtle refinements to this formula have been added to work for the better. Whereas the Classic Sonic levels employ a strictly left/right 2D control system, Modern Sonic of course switches between the two regularly, exactly as he has done in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colours. Sonic Unleashed is the clearer comparison, as they both use the hedgehog engine and, well, the same control pad. Speaking of which though you'll immediately notice some differences there. Before, a double tap of the A button would do nothing, and A then X would perform a homing attack if near an enemy, or a jump dash/mid-air boost depending on whether or not you had any boost energy at the time. Though perhaps simpler, it did mean you'd occasionally go flying off of a platform with a powerful boost if performed at the wrong instant, which was annoying. Now, the moves are more clearly separated, double A for a homing attack/mild jump dash, A then X for a mid-air boost. It's initially confusing to keep switching these moves back and forth all the time from game to game, but this method seems to make sense now. The jump dash is still the one where he sort of darts forward and then drops straight down, rather than the older method that was more of a sling forward, maintaining momentum. Though the older was useful for a quick dash of speed, this newer method has proved handy on several occasions for reaching a platform, or successfully retreating back to one after a mis-jump.
There's another tweak that's slightly less agreeable to me, and that's the preference over using the thumbstick to hop between adjacent grind rails, like Sonic Colours, rather than the left and right shoulder buttons, like Sonic Unleashed. The quick step still uses the shoulder buttons, so I found this a little confusing at first. You soon get used to it, but I don't see what harm having both options would have done. There's also a satisfying trick mechanic now, while flying through the air off of most ramps, similar to the Sonic Rush games. If you twiddle the left stick, you'll perform various mid-air tricks that will increase your boost gauge, and if nothing else, at least gives you something stimulating to do while you're waiting for Sonic to land.
Most of Modern Sonic's other moves, the slide, the stomp, the light dash, the wall jump and of course the speed boost are all present and correct, this time available right from the start! The levels employ each of them gradually in turn, and a tutorial is offered at each point in which they first appear, but there's nothing to stop Sonic experts from going right ahead with them from the get-go, which is a nice touch that really demonstrates that this is a very fan-focused game. There are some new caveats to some of the moves, for example the light dash no longer works on just any line of rings but just a few specific lines, denoted by glowing bits, but unfortunately pressing Y near them is not always that responsive. Likewise, I believe that wall jumping can only be performed on designated red and black wall portions now, but this actually seems to work better than it has done in the past.
What I really liked were the improvements made to Sonic's controls in 3D areas, particularly during slower, more precise bits. Sonic Unleashed had a very inconsistent feel here - in some places Sonic controlled quite comfortably, other times he would be slipping around all over the place. Things feel more consistent this time, and generally much tighter, yet there is still the flexibility for quicker movement when on the run, which I think was always the difficulty for them to get quite right. There are still the occasional moments where you might slip and fall, and the level design still isn't always necessarily shy about death drops, which I'll come to later, but these moments definitely feel rarer than they have done previously, and nowhere near as frustrating. Moving and jumping around when in 2D mode doesn't feel at all dissimilar to the way in which classic Sonic does so, which is just as well otherwise it could get confusing. I very occasionally want to try and jump dash as Classic Sonic, and may even get confused between whether I should be holding or pressing the X button for a spin dash or a boost, but generally the two feel different enough from each other to not have their move sets confused, yet their movements feel very similar, and that's actually quite an impressive feat to pull off I think.
Ring loss is a bit of a tricky subject with Modern Sonic. Unlike in Unleashed, where certain amounts of rings simply fell away with no hope of being reclaimed, rings bounce around traditionally now, able to be re-consumed. In the 2D portions, this works as well as it does for Classic Sonic, but I did find it more difficult to reclaim some of them in 3D mode, even when I could swear that I was standing right in line with them. They may have the old Sonic Heroes problem of bouncing a little too high, but luckily, in any mode as any Sonic, you don't necessarily lose them all at once, as is commonplace these days. I haven't yet determined the maximum amount of rings that are normally lost at any one time, but it seems to be quite high, so you'll need a fair few of them in order to cling onto some after taking a hit. There is also, however, a bigger ring loss bug at large that I have experienced a few times, and appears in the 2D view only, to either type of Sonic. Every once in while, lost rings for some reason seem to find themselves in front of, or behind Sonic, and are therefore impossible to salvage because you're stuck on that plain. A little baffling. However, in all fairness I can't say that I can recall dying at all as of yet from being unable to reclaim lost rings that I should have been able to get, so I wouldn't say that there's a big issue here.
All in all, I can say that they have indeed put a lot of effort into making sure that both modes play at their best, and that annoying little quirks are kept to an absolute minimum. While Classic Sonic has his own set of physics that differ from the original games in precise but noticeable ways, there's not much that's inherently wrong with them at all, and they generally hold up pretty well to the varying challenges that come your way in the levels, once you've got a feel for them. What's more, the sense of momentum is absolutely thrilling, and they've really recaptured what Classic Sonic momentum is all about. As you get more confident with this mode and its levels, the more appealing and addictive they become. As for Modern Sonic, it's more of the same but refined down to what is now a very enjoyable experience indeed. Movement feels more precise and hopefully, when you get used to them, pulling off the wrong move at the wrong time should be a rarer concern. So fundamentally, we're pretty solid here, but it all comes down to what exactly it is that happens within these wonderful levels..
How the levels play outThere's so much that's worth talking about across these nine stages that I think the only fair thing to do is to take each one individually, in order to avoid missing out any of the carefully crafted details. From the top then!..
Green Hill is a level that we've all had just a little bit longer to experience thanks to two different demos, and it was the only one that I had allowed myself to see complete footage of before taking it for a spin myself. Because of this, and the fact that I've played both acts to death in the demos, it still feels somewhat separate from the rest of the levels to me at the moment, which all still have a very new and exciting feeling to them. Still, both acts are a terrific introduction to the game, with a gentle learning curve. It barely needs to be said how beautiful this level is, and perhaps it's even the richest in the whole game. They've certainly used the 20 years of graphical advancements to make a rockier, wilder, less geometrically rigid Green Hill, but this, if anything, adds to its charm. Act 1 (Classic Sonic's) is a great introduction to the way in which he plays, as the layout has that lovely continuous, free-flowing quality that some classic, early levels have, including the original. It's an absolute joy to keep running and jumping, reaching the higher areas while at great speed. My favourite moment is perhaps on the higher route where you can spin dash off of a ramp, bounce off a perfectly placed Buzz Bomber and go straight into a scripted, but nonetheless heart-stopping loop and spiral formation. What makes this act so euphorically addictive though has got to be that wonderful tune, which, in my opinion is just about the finest version of the Green Hill tune ever made. It has everything the original has, but with just the right amount of enhancements to make it sound modern, yet incredibly nostalgic.
Because of its attractive proposition and ultimately very smooth implementation, I would hope this game has lured in some people who haven't picked up a Sonic game in a while. For those Johnny-come-latelys who've managed to draw themselves away from Call of Modern Warfare - or whatever it's called - to play a proper computer game, Green Hill Act 2 is a great introduction to Modern Sonic gameplay. With thin roads helping you along, newbies can learn the boost move and there are few death drops to worry about. It's also immensely good fun for experienced players too and is one of the best acts to just simply dash through and perform stunts like a pro. Its soundtrack could be better, and is the textbook sound of Jun Senoue (which is a sound that's getting more than a little bit tedious in my opinion), but it still does the job quite well. I was surprised to find that actually only one other level, Sky Sanctuary, has the alternate faster version that replaces it whenever Sonic goes over a certain speed, which I assumed would be in all modern acts. It's an idea that started off a bit disjointedly in earlier versions but by release its implementation was refined to the point where I started to find it intriguing.
Lastly, multiple routes are back with this level, and they're here to stay! Act 1, rather like Emerald Hill Zone, has a faster higher route, and a slightly slower, lower route running in parallel through much of it, and Act 2 takes thankfully more leaves from Sonic Colours' book than Sonic Unleashed's in this regard. I'm most impressed with the point where the path completely divides into two, running next to each other for a fair old distance, and though one is clearly quicker than the other, its nice to be able to have a clear, easy choice depending on what mood you're in!
Moving onto Chemical Plant, which I'm so glad made it in. In general the location is slightly different to the original, which was against the backdrop of a modern city, perhaps even separated from it by a polluted river. This version seems a tad more industrial, and the buildings in the background are slightly more futuristic - in fact, with the threatening crimson sky, the whole background environment is extremely reminiscent of Eggmanland from Sonic Unleashed. The foreground elements are all carefully recreated through, from the winding tube paths that carry the mysterious blue gloopy liquid to the yellow and black danger strips - this is unmistakably Chemical Plant, and it looks fantastic! The map of Act 1 could have been taken straight from a lost "Act 3" of the original, as it's packed with exactly the right structural features and filled with multiple routes. Absolutely every feature and obstacle from the original is back, including the moving strings of yellow blocks that now come in several different sizes and some inventive new patterns. I was thrilled to see the pink chemical water rising up as you make your way over these blocks - just like in my childhood nightmares! However, I did find such sections disappointingly easy (although then again, I'm not exactly 8 years old anymore), so I do think this level would have benefited from a non-chronological level ordering as discussed above - perhaps better placed more towards the middle of the game. The original itself was always tough for a second level anyway. The music in Act 1 stays very close to the original, like Green Hill, but it does kind of lack that same magical charm somehow.
Act 2 was very enjoyable if, again, a bit easier than I would have liked. It's a fast-paced act, but it's nice to see that Modern Sonic has almost as much underwater activity as his stumpier counterpart. Like Sonic Colours, these previously ultra-rare occurrences are strictly 2D-view only for this game once again, but its nice that they're still here. The music takes a significant departure from the original, though still of course has the recognisable theme, and I do rather like it. What I really loved about this act though was that, towards the end, the entire place becomes dangerously unstable - liquid starts pouring out of smashed containers and the whole place starts exploding and bursting into flames! The explosion effects first struck me as a little off somehow, however if it keeps a smooth frame rate then I'm all for it!
Sky Sanctuary was a level that I absolutely couldn't bear to see even a tiny bit of before playing it myself - I really wish I didn't even know that it was going to be in the game, as it would have been such a wonderful surprise. It really is a great choice to have made, and when I finally did get to venture into it, I was not disappointed. The moment I first spotted the Death Egg as Classic Sonic was unforgettable. It's an iconic symbol of Mega Drive Sonic that hasn't been seen in a very very long time, and a feature that I'd really hoped would make it in! I did think that it might play a more active role however, perhaps firing its death rays at a monument that sends flaming pieces tumbling onto the path as you attempt to avoid them. Still, you can't have everything! The zone itself looks gorgeous, and they've added a considerable amount of extra design elements (those exotic birds are a great touch!) to the floating ruins, while also incorporating the familiar column structures and most of the characteristic features and obstacles.. although sadly the bouncy clouds don't quite make that same satisfying "wrepp" sound anymore.
Act 1 has some interesting choices of routes here and there, particularly at the end where the collapsing tower is circled by three different paths, each converging from a different route, and one of which I'm still yet to discover actually. Modern Sonic's Act 2 has some speedy sections but also some interesting platform-hopping bits and even delves into a whole new, darker internal area of the ruins, which carries almost a kind of odd alien design to them. As you might expect, death drops are common in both acts but this is one level where you almost feel like they belong there in some respects. As for music, Act 1 is a very good rendition that really brings to life that already brilliant melody, though with Act 2 I was really hoping for more of an orchestral approach to it. Had this level come at a later point in the game and been more integrated into a climactic point in the story, that would have perhaps been more likely, but as it is, Jun Senoue has knocked something together that again sounds very... "Jun Senoue-ie". I don't hate it - after all it's still an all time favourite tune, but it does sound a bit like what you'd go for if you were to turn the music of Sky Sanctuary into a TV gameshow's theme tune. He's still a great composer but compared to the talented people who've put together the soundtracks to Sonic '06, Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colours, his work is often very samey and far less interesting. Fortunately, he seems to have shared the rest of this soundtrack with other talent.
Though I don't agree with Speed Highway being here, that doesn't stop it from being a fun stage to play in both acts. Like the rest of the remaining stages, it doesn't have as much to gain as the previous three from the new up-to-date makeover, but there are still some nice touches, from the cars that patrol some of the roads to the nice reflective sky scrapers. They've even managed to incorporate what looks like it might be some corridors of the hotel in Station Square, during brief internal trips through the buildings. Classic Sonic again looks like he has access to some nice diverging routes across a variety of structural elements, while our green-eyed friend prefers to stick to a slightly more speed-led joyride around some familiar features from the original level, such as the long dash down the face of a building, crashing through glass and dodging pillars. There's a whole bunch of cop-speeder enemies chasing you at this point too, which may contribute to an unfortunate framerate issue during this whole segment. However, I'm pleased to report that it's pretty much the only noticeable one in the whole game, or at least as far as the main acts are concerned, which is a huge relief. I like that when you return back out into the city afterwards, the dawn is beginning to break in the sky, which is a nod to the original's lovely "At Dawn" segment, albeit without the change in music, sadly.
City Escape was one of those inevitable choices, and it's got a pretty good showing here. The inventive and absolutely manic uses of the GUN truck (it even knocks straight through houses this time!) as it relentlessly pursues its vendetta against Sonic and his innocent former self at literally all costs, are completely brilliant. Act 1 particularly benefits a great deal from it, and allows them to do things never before possible in 2D Sonic. Both acts are reasonably linear, with modern Sonic again taking an extremely similar route to the previous time he escaped from this city, and one that's roughly of equally short length too, which is a shame. The boarding parts are fun and well made, and the detail gone into all the buildings is excellent. The billboards and posters, particularly the ones highlighting lost characters such as Mighty and Fang as either missing or wanted are superb touches. Probably the closest we'll ever get to seeing them again! But music proves to be so crucial in a Sonic level, and its pretty much this factor alone that makes this level less fun for me than most others in the game. The original "Escape from the City" tune has been remixed differently for each act, but neither are as good, and I really flat out don't like the one for Act 1. It's more of a dance mix (I guess? I really don't know music genres that well) that's all well and good as a piece of music to just listen to, but it simply doesn't fit the level in my view. I reckon Classic Sonic would have better suited a lyric-less version, perhaps even one that follows the earliest instrumental version of this tune from the original Dreamcast demo of Sonic Adventure 2.
Seaside Hill was another level that I was initially quite annoyed about when I discovered that it had made the cut. It's great to have something from Sonic Heroes, but that game is so rich in visually interesting and inventive ideas for levels that it seemed a waste to just rely on what is essentially a modern Green Hill clone, and one that's also been brought back in other recent party games too. The only way I thought that they could turn this around would be by borrowing many elements from Seaside Hill's sister stage (or second act, if you like), Ocean Palace, thus making it more of a ruins level that maybe had a few interesting underwater segments. Luckily, that's exactly what they have done - in fact I'd say it's actually more Ocean Palace than Seaside Hill - and it's actually worked out so well that I'm now happy that this level is here, as it is very iconic in its own right. Modern Sonic's act is one of the most impressively non-linear 3D levels yet, and thanks to its much later positioning in this game, they've not been afraid to take a really different spin on it structurally. It's not just a hectic blast through winding roads with an occasional platforming bit, there's some real variety here, with several clearly defined segments. At one point, a randomly selected panel in front of a triple loop will either send you across the platforms on the backs of the giant turtles or for a ride on the little Sonic Heroes toboggan car. There's something odd about how it handles, but still, you have to appreciate the thought. The music features both Seaside Hill and Ocean Palace themes in a nice little mix, and though I once heard these tracks described as "80's" sounding music, I can't help but rock out to them. Classic Sonic's act is just as interesting, as it makes for a pretty solid water level with some familiar moments. There's a whole other route that takes place above the main one, or alongside it in the background, but it's rather tough to stay on it! In general the difficulty curve is rising quite nicely by this point, and each level is definitely that little bit harder than the last.
I must admit to being a bit of a closet fan of the original Crisis City. It was probably the most entertaining of Sonic '06's levels, and even the fiendishly unfair bit at the end, where the tornado of fire hurls debris at you, gets my blood pumping every time. This take on it is obviously visually very similar, but great fun to play too. Deviations from the main route are short lived, but it features a number of tricky platforming bits that will prove challenging for most. I particularly liked the new level-specific feature for Modern Sonic, which had him stomp on rocks that were floating on rising bursts of lava, in order to force it low enough to pass through a tunnel below. Classic Sonic too has a nicely paced act in which the tornado actually pulls away the chunk of ground on which the end-of-act signpost rests and throws it further off down the map, forcing you to brave strong winds from the tornado as you cross precarious floating roads and vehicles. Modern Sonic's act is missing the original's boarding sequence and its tornado segment at the end is rather shorter than I would have liked, but the real star of this level and the thing that stops it from actually being rather depressing (it is a post-apocalyptic flame-engulfed city after all) is the sublime music. It matches, even improves on the excellent original track thanks to some wonderfully dramatic string instruments. Both are great, but Act 2's, which manages to mix most of the components of the full, long version of the original, is one of my favourite pieces in this game.
Rooftop Run is probably one of my all time favourite stages, and though graphically it has almost nothing to gain from appearing in this game, I'm really pleased that it's here. Somehow new features such as the confetti, the hot air balloons and the Eggman blimp (which is supposed to be Flying Battery perhaps? A nice thought - maybe a smaller version of it anyway) passing through somehow really make the place feel even more lively, despite being relatively small tweaks. Classic Sonic's level is absolutely lovely, cheered along by a truly charming and different musical take on the original theme tune. It's got some great objects like the Hill Top-esque diagonal rope platforms and the massive barrels that come rolling towards you from the background of the wine cellar segment, which is great fun. As Classic reaches the top of the clock tower, we're treated to a wonderful scene in which he opens the face of the clock straight into the blimp, clambers aboard it and then leaves it in flames. Modern Sonic's level has a lot of the same components as the original version, but this is no bad thing, as it's simply a joy to play, and its music is unbelievably beautiful. Senoue has clearly stayed well away from this end of the game, and whoever's composed this one has done a brilliant job, with some wonderful mix of piano and violin at Rooftop Run's characteristic, hectic pace. One of the ultimate examples of how crucial music is to the Sonic experience, and speaking for both acts, this might actually be my favourite level of the game.
We end with Planet Wisp, and despite my best efforts to keep secret as much of the contents of this game as I could, this is sadly the only level that I had no idea was even here, so it was quite a nice surprise, and a good choice, albeit a rather odd one for a final level. I had considered that it might have made the cut, among other possibilities, but I was scratching my head as to what game the third modern level could come from, and I really thought Sonic Colours might just have been too recent. Still, Modern Sonic makes a good challenge of it. He begins by crossing the many bottomless pits of an entirely untouched region of the alien forest planet before diving straight into the "under construction" area, which covers most of the act. It was quite cool to have the Rocket Wisp join us for this one, though ascending the construction tower in the latter half of the act proved initially quite confusing. It ends with a very tough bit where Sonic must blast through weak sections of three or four floors that begin to descend downwards, threatening to crush you - you have to find the Rocket Wisp, then get to the weak section and use it to drill up through to the next one. Though I wouldn't say this is an easy game, this was probably the first truly "tough bit" within any of the levels that had me lose a few lives before succeeding, and perhaps we could have done with at least a couple more bits like this beforehand. Still, it felt very valid as a challenging moment, and not particularly cheap.
That was nothing though, as by this point I still had the classic act to do. Of the eighteen acts in this game, Planet Wisp Act 1 is really the only one that I would probably say that I don't really like very much. It's definitely the toughest, as it's infested with missiles shooting out from every wall, among other nasty traps. What really makes it frustrating though is the pink Spikes Wisp, which Sonic has to use extremely regularly in order to climb walls and flip a series of switches to open doors. These switches are accessed only by using nearby wheels that travel along angular circuits above the ground, and Sonic can only stay on them when powered up by the Spikes Wisp. They're bloody hard to stay on as it is, but what really made the whole thing ten times worse for me is the annoying repetitive, drilling tune that comes with every 20 seconds or so of Wisp power that you get, and the fact that it restarts even if you collect another one while still powered up. Both acts are at least twice as long as most of the others in the game, so this is a big step up in difficulty, though appropriate enough for the last level I suppose. I just really wish they would have addressed that damn Spikes Wisp theme.
Lets not forget the bosses too, which to be honest are a bit of a mixed bag. Things start off brilliantly though, because In the classic era, you'll find Metal Sonic and the Death Egg giant Eggman robot, both are superb and only fought as Classic Sonic. The race against Metal Sonic in Stardust Speedway is a classic moment that I always wanted to see re-imagined once again, Japanese Bad Future soundtrack and all, and this is pretty much what I had in mind. It's not quite the same, as there's no Eggman chasing you with an instant-death laser and no kidnapped Amy Rose waiting for you at the end - in fact there is no end as such, so it's more like a regular boss than a race - but Metal has all of his attacks plus a lot more, Stardust Speedway itself looks great, and it has the same sensations behind it. Great stuff! Meanwhile, the Death Egg makes it back to space, where we must once again (even though we just did it in Sonic 4 last year) face one of the toughest enemies of the early years. The giant Eggman robot is much more manageable this time however, with plenty of rings and, after an elevator up to the main deck, a completely different pattern of attack. The music really makes this boss though, as the theme is given all the orchestral fanfare you could possibly want!
All the remaining bosses are fought as Modern Sonic, which gives him the slight majority in terms of playable sections in the game. I was quite interested to see how they'd do the Shadow rival fight, modeled on the Final Rush boss from Sonic Adventure 2. Sadly, the answer was "weird, confusing, and not that great". Rather than trying to cleverly catch Shadow off guard on an endless road towards the Eclipse Cannon, you must instead go about picking up some sort of energy orb and then using it to power yourself up, catch up with him and slowly deplete his rings. Shadow meanwhile tries to do the same, and he was significantly better at it than me, so let's just say I haven't gone back to replay that boss fight since. The Perfect Chaos boss was one I had no idea about, so I was surprised that Modern Sonic was allowed to fight it without Super Sonic powers this time, though despite this, the whole boss feels almost exactly the same except for some added platforming elements. All in all, a rather enjoyable one, as was the Silver rival fight, which was satisfyingly challenging and more or less completely original too. I think they had trouble coming up with a meaningful main boss for the modern era though, which is fair, as there's not an abundance of good, memorable ones really is there? They've gone for Egg Dragoon, and unlike the original version in Sonic Unleashed, this time it's fought on the run inside a generic mechanical corridor. It's very typical of modern "on the run" bosses which, because of their difficulty in recollecting lost rings, often end up feeling a bit cheap and annoying, and this one isn't much of an exception. I'd have liked some sort of final level inside the void, perhaps merging several components of the other levels together, but alas instead we're thrown straight into the final boss, the format of which you probably would have been able to guess within seconds of the game's announcement frankly. I was really confused by it for quite a while, as a target marker appears over the enemy, as if you had to homing attack it, but instead you have to just sort of stay really close to it. Bit of a disappointing anti-climax, that one.
All in all though, this is an excellent selection of levels that are a joy to explore. Each one is beautifully recreated, whether it's just some small refinements or an entirely new shiny coat of paint, and you'll regularly marvel at each recognisable enemy, level-specific object, iconic level feature and definitely every musical recreation. Whether or not you liked the native game of any given level, it really doesn't matter here, because only the concept of the level has been recreated, not the original execution, so there's really not much to fear from any of them. They typically last for anything from 1 minute to maybe around 10 minutes at the far extremes, but the majority sit comfortably at around 3 or 4 minutes, after you've played them a couple of times at least. So they are fairly short, but they somehow manage to pack so much in that for the most part, the length actually feels very comfortable. When replaying, these bite-sized chunks of action are incredibly more-ish! Over the last two weeks I've regularly sat down with the intention of only playing two or three levels and then getting on with some work (such as writing this incredibly long review for example), but they have an amazing "just one more" quality to them, and the session usually ends up lasting closer to an hour!
The difficulty curve is nice and smooth, and while I wouldn't say the game generally is too easy, it could perhaps do with a few more really challenging areas. That said, most of its biggest challenges no longer come from avoiding the split-second drop into an abyss that has plagued countless Sonic games, 2D and 3D over the last ten years; they feel somehow fair and respectable this time. That's not to say death drops aren't common in the game, they're still everywhere, but that's not necessarily a terrible thing. I find people sometimes make too much of a big deal about them being present at all, while I've always maintained that their existence isn't the problem, it's how they're used. Here, they're handled really well, and borrow Sonic Colours' idea of giving you a clear warning beforehand. Over most drops, there is a danger sign that you usually see well before you have the chance to tumble down them, and it seems to make quite a difference. You'll still slip every now and then, particularly as Modern Sonic in 3D view, though perhaps only because of the inherent maths of there being more pitfalls around a three dimensional platform, but I was almost never frustrated by any drops I fell victim to, even on the relatively rare occasions where I tumbled down the same one more than once. I must admit I did think the mere act of having to add in all of these signs might highlight the sheer amount of them to the developers, but this doesn't seem to have bothered them, as you'll see more and more as you progress through the game. Nonetheless, they help a lot, at least regarding the occasional uncertainty of what lies below, which we've all felt many times before.
Another thing to be happy about is the return of the level-specific objects and enemies! For too long, the same set of generic enemies and basic, red coloured gadgets and gimmicks have spanned across entire games, with little uniqueness to the levels beyond the basic visuals. In Sonic Generations, each level comes with its original set of badniks/monsters, so you will only see Grabber in Chemical Plant, Eggrobo in Sky Sanctuary and Egg Fighters in Rooftop Run, and let that trend continue into the next few games please, Sonic Team! Although a lot of the general objects are a little more recurring, there are at least a whole load of them, as the game acts as a museum for pretty much every common object that's ever existed - it's got rockets from the Adventure games, bouncy flagpoles from the 2D handhelds, cannons from Sonic Heroes, Sonic 2's spring boards, Sonic Unleashed's directional shooters, hoops, zippers, ramps, balloons, and even Star Light Zone's see-saws!
One of the most interesting things I've noticed however is the differences and comparisons that can be made between the acts of Classic and Modern Sonic, and how they may not be so far apart after all. Sonic Unleashed borrowed heavily from the philosophy of the "don't-stop-running" Sonic Rush games, and it was an immensely entertaining one, but levels often felt samey and with their linear routes, just a little bit lacking in substance somehow. A far cry from the original balancing act of speed (or rather "speed as a reward" as its marketed now), precise platforming and complex maps filled with choice and hidden treasures. Sonic Colours attempted to bring a little bit of the older philosophy into Modern Sonic gameplay though, offering up richer multiple routes and generally more variety, although in the end I did find myself missing a lot of that hectic pace. Sonic Generations seems like the perfect compromise, not just in its general idea of combining old and new as separate modes, but purely even within the modern gameplay itself. There's just simply a great balance of everything - there are really fast bits requiring quick reactions that keep that adrenaline pumping, yet there are countless platforming sections too that are really satisfying to play. It also successfully continues along the path lead by Sonic Colours by engaging in true multiple routes, as I've detailed above. What you begin to notice is that far from every level feeling the same, they all actually have a different balance of each of these characteristics. Green Hill, Speed Highway and Rooftop Run are very fast paced, almost visceral, while levels like Sky Sanctuary, Seaside Hill, Crisis City and Planet Wisp tend to have a leaning towards the slower, more methodical option, and they all have varying degrees of linearity and structural patterns too. If you think about it, this is a lot like the kind of variety you'd get within the levels of Sonic 1 or 2.
In many ways, Modern Sonic has edged that little bit closer to what Classic Sonic has always been about, yet perhaps the opposite is true too. This is really the first time classic 2D gameplay has been represented in 3D graphics that are as capable as this. Therefore, the opportunity to go above and beyond what was ever possible before is open and well and truly taken advantage of. City Escape Act 1 is the perfect example of this, as the GUN truck bursts into the scene from any angle, completely decimating buildings and platforms and at one point even launching from a road in the background straight into your living room. These are the kind of "wow" moments that you would normally only find in a modern 3D level. Even the often-criticised automated sections that send Sonic running off by himself make occasional appearances, such as the loop into a rocky spiral in Green Hill Act 1. I believe just the right amount of automation, a few seconds here and there perhaps, can add a lot to the experience though, and in this case it breathes new life into an old experience. Like Modern Sonic, the varying balance of speed, platforming and non-linearity affects all of the classic acts in different ways, and while Classic Sonic's speedy sections are perhaps more short lived, this may only be because of the more limited opportunity afforded by the 2D view to see what's coming and react to it. On reflection, it would seem that through combining all of Sonic's best moments, we can see that maybe these two supposedly different protagonists and their philosophies are not worlds apart after all, when the specific things that make each one great can actually be quite easily applied to the other, and with outstanding results.
The Plot Thickens.. or maybe it could still do with a bit of thickening.Normally this would be a good area with which to kick off a review, but the fact is that in Sonic Generations it takes such a back seat compared to the levels and bosses themselves that it's been relegated all the way down here. To be honest, if there's any significantly weak area to the game, it's the overall packaging of the story and everything that links the levels together. It's arguably one of the least important areas and in the long run won't matter too much, but it would have been nice to have a longer, more involved initial story mode to really make your first experience with the game as special as it should be.
The narrative is a pretty straightforward one, and probably as simple as you're going to get from a big 3D Sonic game such as this. Sonic has a surprise birthday party thrown for him by a collection of friends and friendly rivals, only to have it crashed by a massive time monster, who proceeds to hoover everybody up and dispatch them to various locations across the franchise's history. Sonic finds himself in "the white space", a colourless void created by the Time Eater to act as gates from which he can suck the life out of Sonic's past. Our modern hero discovers he is able to reach back into the coloured parts of these worlds and somehow restore the rest of them, simply by running through the various challenges that they hold, it would seem. This also, one by one, restores his friends back to life after a period of suspended animation. Meanwhile, Classic Sonic and Classic Tails, having also been captured by the Time Eater from their home in the early nineties, have been on the same mission in parallel, though the two duos only bump into each other after completing the classic era of stages. Rather than exchanging causality-destroying notes and stories, they elect to just get on with it and restore time, collecting Chaos Emeralds from the grasps of bosses and rivals past and present. As the story heads towards its conclusion, Eggman's involvement in the events begin to come into question, and the penultimate scenes have one more surprise left in store..
Those who are impatient in dealing with plots and just want to get on with the game will be pleased enough here, but those who desire gripping events between every level will be a bit disappointed. For me, it varies from game to game, but this time I suppose I was hoping for something a bit more. There's a certain lack of adventure about it I suppose, as the nature of the levels themselves have little to do with the development of the story. For example the last level, Planet Wisp isn't a race against time to stop Eggman from destroying the world, its just one of nine levels that have to be done at some point. All of them could have been swapped for other levels from their respective games with little or no impact on the narrative at all. I was hoping perhaps the characters would at least bring a little bit of significance to each stage themselves by commenting on it, but they only really do this for Green Hill and Chemical Plant. Environments for which Sonic and Tails themselves - who, similar to their work in Sonic Colours, are playing it ever so slightly dumb - are actually both only vaguely familiar with. Then again, I suppose even though we've played their games hundreds of times and written illustrated guides for them (or maybe that's just me), to Sonic and Tails they're just two of hundreds of places that they may have only visited once. The interactions between the two different Sonics is entertaining enough, and the acting, script and general humour isn't up to the same standard as Sonic Colours but it's generally quite passable.
I suppose I had more excitement for the kind of general sense of adventure seen in Sonic Unleashed, which was all about travelling across the world, meeting new people, and exploring exotic places, and at the same time that only had a slightly more complex main plot than this game, but it was the little touches along the way that made it feel more fulfilling I suppose. I think the biggest reason why this feels absent this time around is down to the minimalist white space area, which acts as a hub to all the levels, bosses and extra challenges. It's an interactive menu system that has your character walk towards the option you want to play within a 2D space, very much like in Sonic Advance 3. All the main acts and bosses are easily accessible across the floor, while the more optional challenges (which I'll talk about in the next section) and rival fights are dotted around various platforms above the level entrances. At any time you can press Y to swap between the Sonics and the acts and challenges behind each gate change accordingly. It's more satisfying than a basic menu system, or a long linear stream of levels with no options to make or room to take a breather, but its the minimalist whiteness itself that makes it all feel very bland and everything disconnected and isolated. There's no sense that these are all different parts of a whole, rich world. I recall a friend of Zone: 0, Mercury, once describing some Sonic games quite nicely as "bags of levels", and in contrast to a grand adventure, that's exactly what this game feels like. There's nothing wrong with that, I love tucking into a bag of levels, but I do feel that things could have been fleshed out much more to make that first week spent with the game an epic journey that you'll never forget. As such, Sonic Generations is more of a "greatest hits" pack, in which all of the hits are completely re-done. Re-done extremely well, granted, but through a combination of the blandness of the white space and a story that doesn't draw any significance to each level, everything in it feels like it's part of a museum more than anything else.
What would I have done differently? Well, people are always complaining about hub worlds, but I liked the idea behind the ones in Sonic Unleashed, and felt that they helped offer a lot of background depth to each environment, giving each one some relevance by allowing you to meet some of the people who lived there. You may disagree, but I think you should have been able to find a small 3D area (yes, even as Classic Sonic, just in these areas) behind each gate within the white space that is initially colourless, but then completely bursts into life upon completing the acts. Its gates to the acts and missions are dotted around, and amongst them are the various residents, be they animal or human to offer some cleverly written banter, if you feel like talking to them. That's one change and it's not a very original one I accept, but in an ideal world I also would have considered re-ordering the levels to break out of their eras and inter-mingle more randomly, to allow different plots to emerge that actually give some purpose as to why they're here. But I'm beginning to change quite a lot about the whole plot in general now, and I could write a whole new fan-fiction for it if I wanted to, but alas this review is long enough already, so I'll cut myself short there. But you get the idea, I think.
Before moving on, there is one other point I want to make here though, and I'm afraid it's another negative one. The game, from start to final boss, I think, is a bit on the short side. I deliberately took my time with it, limiting myself to explore only one era per day over my first weekend with the game, but if you really wanted to, you could probably race through it in probably no more than 5 or 6 hours. Sonic is of course never the type of game you just simply complete and then push aside or exchange for another one. The whole point of it is to learn and master the levels until you can play them to perfection, and then keep playing them because they're so much fun. Still, I always fear that some may miss that point and end up being disappointed by this short length compared to other games. From a developers point of view, there has always been the natural downside to Sonic that because he moves so fast, so much more effort has to go into three minutes worth of gameplay than most other types of games. The sad thing is that unlike my above wafflings about changing the entire structure of the game, this problem could have been solved really really easily, because the truth is that it already has the added the longevity it needs by anyone's standards, it just hasn't used it as part of the main story..
As I will discuss next, there are ninety (yes, ninety!) extra missions to play, and even though they're all based on portions of the main acts, they aren't even annoying or tedious, a lot of them are actually quite clever, even fun! The problem is that they've only made ten per cent of them mandatory in order to complete the game. Nine extra missions lasting 1 or 2 minutes each don't extend those playtime hours very much, but there's a whole goldmine here, and by forcing us to play more of them, and still leaving us with the options of which ones to play and in what order, they could have made that first play-through much longer and with very little added effort at all.
All of the thirty missions in each era become playable after clearing the main acts, and you have to obtain three boss keys by clearing any three of them, in order to unlock the boss and carry on. I would have proposed a different strategy - scrap the boss keys entirely, and put locked doors all over the white space. These will prevent access to the bosses, most levels, and certain regions of the challenge gates on the platforms above. I'd bring back the good old emblems from the Adventure games, which will be obtained by clearing acts, bosses and challenges, and also by collecting all the red rings in each act. Each door only opens with a certain amount of emblems, so between completing each level, you'll have the chance to access some of the challenge gates above, with the rest only opening later in the game. So even when in another era you can go back and open new gates from a previous one, in order to gather more emblems, and the amount of challenges you have to complete will depend on the severity of the emblem requirements in front of each door on the ground floor. Certainly you shouldn't have to complete all ninety of them in order to finish the game, as it would be nice to be left with some of them as optional quests that you can do later, but I think such a system would have made the game's initial journey that much better, and really make those levels worth earning. Still, just an idea.
But Wait, There's More!Lets finish up the review a bit more positively, and take a look at what there is to do beyond the main game. For each level you get five extra missions as Classic Sonic and five as Modern Sonic. They're comparable to the additional acts of Sonic Colours, in which the whole playable level would have been divided up so that some acts explore new areas, while others retrace footsteps in those same areas but with different sets of objects, making it feel unique. It's a similar story here, except the main act seems to occupy all of the playable level as far as I can make out, and all of the challenges are limited to a particular portion of the act, but with a new object layout to tackle. This has become quite a common method of extending the life of a Sonic game, and sometimes you can clearly see which areas are being re-used, though on other occasions it's not quite so easy. Some of the challenges also show the level under alternate sunset or night time lighting which is never a bad thing, especially not when we're talking about classic levels that have never been shown at alternate times of the day!
Now, sometimes extra missions or challenges can be quite disappointing, frustrating, boring, too short and easy, and generally just something you know you'll never really be bothered to play again, but luckily this is not the case for a good portion of these challenges. They've clearly spent a lot of time coming up with some interesting ways in which to morph the existing environment without being able to change any of the actual level structuring. Lets put aside the "Doppelganger" challenges to start with. For each act, there is one challenge devoted to replaying the entire thing unchanged, but with a ghost player running alongside you, and whom you must beat to the finish in order to complete the challenge. This is more or less your classic time limit mission, but actually being able to see another Sonic to compete with adds a certain sense of panic to it I think. You probably won't want to play them too often after completing them though, so the remaining seventy two are divided into several categories, clearly denoted by an icon. You might expect many of them to place a certain requirement on you such as kill X enemies, grab X rings, don't break any pots, don't collect any rings, etc. I normally find such challenges to be dead ends for replay value frankly, and they're not completely absent here, but thankfully most challenges simply require getting to the goal at the end of the short course, albeit with some sort of interesting recurring gimmick or ability in play.
The character challenges are definitely some of the more striking ones. Once you've saved a character in the main game, they'll start appearing in certain challenges within their home era to either help or hinder you (which is a nice way of showing their gratitude isn't it?) as you make your way to the end, and there are lots of really nice ideas at work here. You might find yourself in a race against them, or they might prefer to drop bombs or set off traps as you progress through the stage. If they're in a helpful mood though, a tap of the Y button will summon them in a puff of smoke and they'll be able to help you perform various moves. A great challenge in Chemical Plant allows you to latch on to Classic Tails and use him to fly to far areas, just like old times. Meanwhile, Vector can throw you over a great distance, Espio can use Ninja rope to swing you safely across a wide gap, Knuckles can dig out hidden treasure, and there's even a weird one where you can hold up Rouge in front of a series of Egg Pawns to render them lovestruck, forcing them to lower their shields (easy now) and allow Sonic to attack. Character challenges in particular are often accompanied by a piece of music pulled straight out of the less renowned corners of Sonic's soundtrack history. Well done if you recognised such tunes as the main theme of the Saturn version of Sonic 3D, the multiplayer Balloon Park course from Sonic 3, and even Emerald Beach from Sonic Battle of all things - all given a nice new musical coat of paint. I particularly loved the Super Sonic Racing remix that accompanied a race against Tails in his plane, in Green Hill!
Typically other types of challenge may include passing a course with a large number of enemies, or one with enemies and objects that move at twice the speed, courses in which you must press buttons to removes walls in the right order, courses where you have to free a certain amount of trapped animals from capsules, and there's even an inspired idea borrowed from Sonic 3 in which you must jump and knock a spinning goal signpost all the way to a designated spot at the end. There's tonnes to do here, and though the courses are often quite short and usually slow paced, so not quite as fun as the main levels, they're still impressively replayable, even after you've spent the time beating each one. Few of them are just precariously placed in the air with ridiculous death drops too, as was practically the currency when it came to extra and DLC acts in Sonic Unleashed.
While happily beating stages, you'll also notice that you're gradually unlocking new stuff to add to a small museum of collectibles, found at the far left of the white space area (and featuring the revamped musical talent of Isolated Island from Knuckles Chaotix and the Sonic Jam version of the Sonic 3 Data Select music - oh Sonic Team, with these musical treats you are spoiling us!). In addition to the movies and character bios that you'll pick up during the story, you can also see a huge collection of really nice concept art for each of the levels in the game and even a big musical selection of Sonic tracks hand picked from his back catalogue of games. A very impressive gift indeed, and some of the older or handheld ones are even given a slight re-mastering! Single pieces of art and music are added to the kitty by completing the challenges (though in order to claim your prize you'll need to ring the bell above the gate afterwards, and chase a fast moving musical note through the white space before it disappears), and also by finding a red ring from the five that are hidden across each act.
That's all well and good but they've done something really nice with the music - in any act, boss or challenge, you can actually change the default music to anything in your collection, and figuring out which tracks fit with which challenges is almost a separate mini-game in itself! The tunes on offer don't necessarily cover all the different types of level perfectly (and naturally there's quite a lot of vocal themes, most of which I don't think really fit with anything to be honest), but you have to be inventive and it's surprising what kind of strange bedfellows you can come up with! Some of the more obvious choices I'd recommend though include Hydrocity for Classic Sonic's underwater challenge in Seaside Hill, and Marble Garden for the Sky Sanctuary race against Amy on the Marble Garden-esque spinning top devices. Toxic Caves works for anything in Chemical Plant, and likewise Route 99 for City Escape, but my favourite match so far has to be Sonic Boom with the 'Action Master' challenge in Modern Sonic's Planet Wisp. Both the purple dusky sky, and the pure adrenaline action in this challenge works amazingly well with the music, and you feel like you're controlling Sonic during his hectic dash through the intro of Sonic CD. Try it, it's awesome! What makes this whole idea even better is that it actually remembers what music you've assigned to what level every time you play, until you turn it to something else. A lovely touch!
Another element to the game that I haven't discussed, probably because it's optional and I haven't really felt the need to experiment too much with it, is the Skill Shop. Omochao will sell you various skills to either character for certain amounts of points, which are acquired by completing anything in the game. New skills are also added when completing certain challenges or collecting all the red rings within an act. You can equip them very similarly to the way in which you would do so in Sonic and the Secret Rings, except there aren't quite as many this time and I don't think any are really necessary to complete any course. They usually consist of slight tweaks to make some things easier, such as extending underwater air time, making lost rings hang around for longer, increasing Modern Sonic's boost gauge, etc. This is also where you get to enable Classic Sonic's elemental shields, as well as the standard one - in fact, I believe this is the first time the bubble, fire and thunder shields have all appeared in the same game since Sonic & Knuckles! Rather than being dotted around the game though, you have to unlock them first by completing a particular challenge that involves using each one to cross various hazards. Particularly be on the lookout for a great one in Planet Wisp, by the way, which has you using all three to pass different obstacles to get to the end. They are pretty faithfully recreated too, with all of their various double jumps, so it's great to see them again after far too many years. There are some interesting skills to equip here but generally I haven't found myself that interested in customising my characters yet. It's a nice idea, but in practice I've always found it quite unnecessary and more of a chore really.
One more thing.. the DLC Casino Night Pinball table that you will have been able to access with certain pre-orders of the game. As with many parts of Sonic Generations, the best thing about this is the music, as I've been waiting ages for someone to make a proper, "realistic" version of the Casino Night tune, and this one is filled with some lovely unique touches. The level itself is.. well, just a pinball table really. Still, I hope we'll see more DLC in the coming months, and if they're just extra challenges or acts then that's fine, but I think it'd be really great to get more entirely new content like this. Little mini levels such as Sky Chase or snowboarding on Ice Cap are desperately needed!
Closing CommentsNormally what happens is that, although I will usually notice any problems that exist in a game, they may not bother me as much as for some people, and then when those people make their opinions clear, the issues begin to get harder for me to dismiss as well. I haven't really read any other reviews yet, but I am honestly really scratching my head to imagine what anyone could really seriously have to complain about here. You can go on and on about what levels should or should not have been included, but the fact is that, with so many options and different people wanting different things, you inevitably have to compromise and accept the decisions made, and regardless I believe they are all executed exceptionally well.
Sonic Generations is an amazing treat of a game. It's been extremely well refined with all niggling problems like slippery controls, bad frame-rates and other glitches almost completely eradicated. It will appeal to anyone who has ever liked Sonic at any point in their lives because somehow it manages to draw together everything that the franchise has ever been and make it all feel very consistent. Sonic 2 is nothing like Sonic Adventure 2, and the 1991 and 2006 games both entitled 'Sonic the Hedgehog' are polar opposites in just about every regard, yet elements from all of them and loads of other games are all brought together and somehow, they just fit. It's got an amazing continuity that so easily might not have worked, and there really is something for everyone here. Although anyone can love this game, long time Sonic fans will probably get the most from it, as there are so many little things that only we will pick up on and appreciate.
In playing this game, you must bear in mind that although it's a big budget 3D blockbuster in Sonic terms, it isn't like those same major blockbusters that have gone before it. It's not about an epic adventure with a gripping storyline that you will take away with you for the rest of your life. Maybe it could have been had it been reworked in a different way, but maybe it was never supposed to have been. What Sonic Generations really is, is a museum of an amazing 20 year career, with its exhibits lovingly restored and reworked to shine in their best possible lights. Maybe it's just because they're still quite new to me, but right now I can't imagine a better way of packing this much fun into any given three or four minutes as almost as all of these acts do so well. Both Sonics are playing at their best, and when the combination of beautiful graphics, easy and responsive controls, nostalgic nods, clever non-linear level design and angelic music come together so perfectly, you have to pinch yourself sometimes that this isn't all just a wonderful dream!
Never before have the two main opposing philosophies behind Sonic gameplay been brought together so well, not just in the two alternate acts to every level, but in terms of what each learns from the other to modify their own experiences for the better, and without diluting away the things that make them special. For this reason and many, many others, Sonic Generations is one of the greatest Sonic games ever made.