Thank you GamersGate for sending us this game to review!
One day, Sonic's friends throw him a surprise birthday party. Most of his friends are there. During the festivities, a large portal suddenly shows up overhead, and a strange mechanical beast breaks through. Shortly afterwords, several more portals open up and suck all of Sonic's friends, and eventually, Sonic himself, into them. After arriving at a strange, completely white place, he discovers a lifeless version of a place he once knew. Soon, he realizes that this beast has traveled through time and stolen places from his past. And Sonic meets his younger self, also trapped in this time bubble. Now, it's up to Sonic and Sonic to save the world once again!
Sonic Generations is unique in that in each of the nine levels, you have to beat them as both classic and current Sonic. The classic levels are completely 2D (though with the occasional 3D animation scene, but all 2D gameplay) and are called act 1, and act 2 features modern Sonic, with levels that span 2D sections and 3D sections.
For those who have not played classic Sonic the Hedgehog, the original games were on the 16-bit Sega Genesis, and were side-scrolling platform games, but with a twist: instead of going from left to right and bopping everything in your way similar to Super Mario, you now zoom as fast as possible from beginning to end, through intricately designed levels, intended to facilitate the high speed Sonic is capable of, all the while avoiding deadly enemies and traps. The 2D and 3D levels do a great job of reproducing this same feel.
Each level seems simple at first, with a single start and end point. However, as you play it more and more, you come to realize that there is actually a deep, complex structure to each level. As you cruise along at high speed, those difficult to make jumps that require momentum to reach actually are an entirely separate path that lets you fly through the level much faster. That lower path that seems so much slower really is, and there is no way to get back up top. There are many, many paths like these. This is true in both the classic 2D and modern 3D levels. As I sat and played, it occurred to me how complex level design must have been for the creators; a simple left to right or front to back running spree these are not. Completely exploring each level is virtually impossible in one play through of a level, and requires multiple runs just to take the dramatically diverging, though ultimately converging, paths. While there are a few levels I did not enjoy (Crisis City in particular), most of them can be commended for their variety and depth.
Each level is full of hazards ranging from spikes, flames, electricity, and many others. There is also a good variety of enemy types, including several kinds of robotic bugs, critters, and humanoid robots. Each level has mostly its own enemies, with a few shared between some of them. One enemy type to note is the Cop Speeder, where you can run down (and destroy) evil robotic police officers. Each enemy has unique animations that you have to learn to avoid taking damage as much as you can.
When you do take damage, instead of dying or losing health points, Sonic uses rings. Whenever he collects a ring, he has a form of life insurance: should his character take damage, he simply throws out a bunch of rings and moves on. He can collect some of his old rings back if he's quick enough. There are also many rings to collect throughout the levels. This way, rushing into a bad guy, while damaging, can be corrected quickly by picking up some rings and moving on. This ring mechanic was present in the classic Sonic games, and is present here as well.
Classic and modern Sonic vary in some notable ways. All of classic Sonic's levels are 2D only; you start on the left, and scroll to the right to eventually find the end. Sonic also has his spin dash from Sonic 2, and it launches him very fast. I noticed that classic Sonic's spin dash launches him even faster than modern Sonic. The classic levels are very much about momentum preservation and full-on speed.
Modern Sonic has some really fun tricks up his sleeve, that makes playing him noticeably different. You see Sonic from behind in the third person during 3D portions of a level, and the camera rotates 90 degrees and seamlessly becomes 2D for portions of a level where that is needed.
Modern Sonic's most obvious difference other than the 3D aspect is that he has a speed boost button. No matter where he is, once pressed, he zooms with very high speed in a straight line in the direction he is facing. This can also help him stay afloat by running on the surface of the water, though if he slows down he's done for. There is a boost meter that is filled by gathering rings and defeating opponents, and drained when he uses boost. Another major feature is he can also attack enemies or zoom towards the nearest target automatically, via the attack button. Once an enemy or target-able object comes within range, a reticule pops on screen, and simply pressing the attack button automatically zooms Sonic in and attacks or triggers the enemy/object. There are other skills modern Sonic enjoys, like sidestepping, sliding, and stomping, but those are the most important.
Each level has five red rings which are there for Sonic to collect. Many of them are quite difficult to find. Grabbing them rewards you with various collectable items, like artwork, songs, or new upgrades to purchase in the shop. These upgrades can do many things; anything from stopping on a dime, to running faster, to new powerful shields. Some of these skills only apply to one Sonic form or the other, while some apply to both. They can be quite handy.
Collecting doesn't end with gathering red rings, though. You can try to get 'S' rank on every level, If you so desire. There is also a nice assortment of Steam achievements, if that's your sort of thing. Each level has ten challenges; five with each form of Sonic. These challenges, upon completion, also help towards gathering every collectable. There is a great amount of variety with the challenge levels. I was impressed on how good of a job they did making most of them feel noticeably unique from the main one. While there are a few lazy 'the enemies run faster now' ones, the amount of variety available is impressive, and helps make the challenges fun.
There is an online mode, which I briefly tested out. There is only an online leaderboard, with a couple of different challenges. These challenges include a 30 second race, where you see how far you can get in 30 seconds, and a time trial where you see how quickly you can beat a level. There are leaderboards among your friends (I believe it uses Steam for this) and also worldwide leaderboards you can compare yourself against.
As of this writing, there is one piece of DLC for Sonic Generations, the Casino Night Zone. It's quite inexpensive ($1.59), though hackers have since found out that the whole thing is built into the game, and the DLC is a very small 'unlocker', nothing more. While it's a bit distateful for a built-in feature to cost money, the additional pinball game is fun for what it is, and worth the small price to pay for it. It's a nice distraction, though the Vegas-like music isn't my favorite. Nevertheless, everything feels right while playing, and each Sonic (classic and modern) have their own skills to contribute: the spin dash, or the speed boost.
Sonic Generations looks just wonderful. Now, I will readily admit that I am not as picky as some about video game graphics these days; indeed, for most game types, where realism isn't a goal, if graphics quality were to stay around the status quo I wouldn't be too upset about it. Nevertheless, I have been very pleased with the presentation and graphical style of this game. It has managed to 'wow' me a few times. And while there were a few places with slowdown, which if forum posts are to be believed exist on even the craziest of hardware (and reportedly is worse on consoles), it was a very rare experience, and with a high-end graphics card, it was breathtakingly smooth most of the time. The sense of speed you get is just fantastic.
On my laptop, I have the opportunity to experience stereoscopic 3D. While its hardware is nowhere near as powerful as my desktop, it's certainly not bad. I do not have the NVIDIA hardware that this game requires for its native implementation, but my laptop came with TriDef 3D, which has a built-in profile for Sonic Generations. While my frame rates noticeably suffer, this game, in 3D, looks AMAZING. I have played some games in 3D, and while enjoyable, it's nothing to write home about, or the compromises (glitches, other depth problems, art style) made it take it or leave it. Sonic Generations is entirely different. The 2D levels show depth, and the foreground pops out at you in very convincing ways. The 3D levels, with their amazing sense of speed, are almost overwhelming. I've been gaming for a long time, and I have never had a feeling of sensory overload before like when I played this game in stereoscopic 3D. It's an experience I highly recommend, if you have the chance.
The sound and music is also of a very high quality. The violin-heavy themes in the outer world where you choose levels is very pleasant, and each level is a recognizable theme which really fits. Other levels have guitar rock themes, and these also somehow fit in just fine. Even the few songs that weren't my favorites grew on me after a while. The level music also responds based on your speed and other things throughout the level. It's done in such a seamless way that you really don't notice, and it's completely natural. Many of the classic songs that these levels were based on are remixed in wonderful fashion here. They are also slightly different between classic and modern Sonic, which is a nice touch. The previously mentioned unlockable songs also include classics from throughout Sonic's history. I found many of them fun to listen to.
The keyboard controls are serviceable, but this game just begs for a gamepad. If you have access to an Xbox 360 pad, all the better, since it's natively supported. I used an Xbox controller emulator for my PS3 DualShock on my PC, and it worked excellently. While some may not like the growing trend towards console gaming on PC, I think it's wonderful. If a gamepad is all it takes to get games of all types on my preferred platform, I am all for it. I am doubly grateful when it's a classic franchise like Sonic the Hedgehog.
This game has a few appropriateness issues. There is animated violence, which is rather expected. The Cop Speeders may be an issue for some (bad cops). In a few scenes, the intro in particular, Amy Rose, one of Sonic's friends, claims to be his 'girlfriend', though he doesn't seem to feel the same way, and he is seen holding her at a proper distance or deflecting her affections. The most problematic thing in my opinion is Rouge the Bat, who is a character who acts in a very alluring way, and wears clothes with really low cleavage. One of the challenge levels featuring her has you call upon her to 'charm' otherwise invincible robots so they can drop their defenses while ogling her. Fortunately, this level is optional, though encountering her in the game at all is not.
Sonic Generations is a love letter to Sonic fans. This game takes much of what the older fans like, including solid 2D gameplay, and combines it with high-speed 3D levels to make it a great tribute to Sonic's history. While it does have a few smaller regrettable appropriateness issues, and a few quirky boss battles, these are rather minor in the scheme of the whole game. As a result, I feel confident in recommending this game if you enjoy high-speed, console-style, action. It's just a whole lot of fun.