Blue skies! BLUE SKIES!
  • Sega
  • Blue skies! BLUE SKIES!

Over the past 15 years Sega has seemingly done everything in its power to ruin my affection for Sonic The Hedgehog.

I grew up a Genesis kid, and despite the hundreds of hours I've spent running loops in Green Hill Zone, I just can't get on board with the more recent concepts the developer has been adding to Sonic's world. Why does that black hedgehog have a gun? Why is Sonic a werewolf? What the hell are these people thinking?

That's why, when I heard that Sega would be sending me a copy of the newly-released Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 Sonic Generations, I had more than a little trepidation. Yeah, I like the idea of a game featuring the classic-era Sonic that I grew up with, even if he's forced to share the spotlight with his modern counterpart, but does the modern Sega have any idea how to recapture the same magic that made the Genesis an actual competitor for the Super Nintendo?

Hit the jump to find out.

First, let's define what makes a quality Sonic game. Easy, right? Speed. Sonic is an inexplicably fast hedgehog and his best adventures have always focused on this key concept. When Sega started mucking around with the series (this would be the Dreamcast era, for those keeping score at home), they tried to make his games more closely resemble the 3D exploration of Super Mario 64 than the blazingly-fast 2D sidescrollers the character was most known for.

Not that the Sonic Adventure games were terrible, they just weren't as good as the first four Sonic games (and were the first signs that things were headed south for the franchise).

That's why I'm so giddy to see that the Sonic Generations development team focused wholeheartedly on making the majority of the game one long ode to running so stupid-fast that your eyes can barely keep up. Even in the levels where you play as the modern Sonic, the game is so kinetic that it will take time to adjust to tracking the blur of movement and colors on-screen.

Oh wait, I should probably explain how the dual-Sonic thing works. Plot-wise the game centers on a malevolent entity whose very existence warps the fabric of time and space. It attacks, kidnaps a number of Sonic's pals, and in attempting a rescue both the Sonic of the early 90s and the modern Sonic are brought together, along with a number of the series' most famous stages. Though every stage has received minor upgrades, both to bring them in line with modern console technology and to offer players a novel experience, each is also a nice burst of nostalgia for any fan of the franchise.

All told this sets up a game with nine unique zones, but simply rushing through each stage won't end the game. In addition to the standard "reach the end" gameplay trope, every zone features 15 challenges that serve to alter how players make their way through the levels and massively extend the game's longevity. There's nothing incredibly complex here — the extra challenges task you with things like racing against a shadowy doppelganger or finding a number of semi-hidden items — but they do ask players to spend more time in each zone, exploring their multiple routes and more than tripling Sonic Generations' overall content.

I can still hear the Chemical Plant theme in my head.
  • Sega
  • I can still hear the Chemical Plant theme in my head.

Likewise, these extra objectives bring Sonic (whichever incarnation you prefer) into contact with other members of the series' cast. Some ask you to team with Tails to fly through a stage, while others see Sonic racing against a burrowing Knuckles. Happily, none ever ask you to do anything un-Sonic-like. Translation: You never have to go fishing with that stupid purple cat.

Though the game does offer the choice to play as either Sonic iteration, to complete the story, you'll have to navigate every zone with both hedgehogs. Seeing this, my earlier trepidation came raging back, but even the modern Sonic levels have been tweaked to focus on speed. Remember Sonic Adventure 2's City Escape? The one where Sonic has to outrun a semi through the streets of San Francisco? That's here, and it has never been faster.

More impressive however is how each Sonic's playstyle has been adapted to the stages he never saw previously. When playing as original Sonic, you'll run through levels that focus on 2D platforming, while modern Sonic's levels are more directly aligned with latter-day 3D gameplay tropes. There's no reason why modern Sonic's style should work with Green Hill Zone from the original Sonic The Hedgehog, and yet the development team has done a brilliant job of recreating the zone with the new perspective in mind. It's not a 1:1 translation, but instead is a clever adaptation that makes each zone a unique experience for both Sonics, and most crucially actually makes players want to burn through each zone with both characters.

The best part of Sonic Generations though, is the level of note-perfect fan service Sega has crammed into the game. From the classic Sonic music and sound effects to the battle against Metal Sonic that feels like an aesthetically improved Sonic CD boss fight, the game couldn't be better designed to inspire waves of 90s nostalgia if it came with a flannel shirt and a My So-Called Life box set.

And that unlockable Genesis emulator that plays the original Sonic The Hedgehog? Excellent addition.

Plot-wise its meaningless, but I just love seeing this dude here.
  • Sega
  • Plot-wise it's meaningless, but I just love seeing this dude here.

This review would have gone up last week, except that I couldn't decide whether I was enjoying the game so much based entirely on its own merits, or if it was just really, really good at filling me with wistful, nostalgic glee. It took a few extra days with Sonic Generations but eventually I came to the conclusion that while the game is a very good platformer for those gamers with no childhood ties to the series, it is a brilliant platformer for those who grew up with the blue hedgehog.

More importantly, Sonic Generations is the best Sonic the Hedgehog game in over a decade. Sega has finally broken the trend of baffling sequels and returned the character to his rightful spot as the best anthropomorphic animal in gaming.