Ah, Sonic! Gaming’s most notable speed freak. I remember him fondly from his Sonic 2 days, when he was just a fresh faced upstart. Surely he’s now a burnt out shell, wrecked from years of obvious amphetamine abuse? Actually no, he’s looking pretty good for himself.
Sonic Generations is a celebration of the hurtling Hedgehog’s life so far, giving us nine zones from his past adventures to tear through along with various other challenges featuring characters from Sonic’s past. All the levels and challenges can be played either with the old school, slightly dumpy (the constant speed abuse clearly hasn’t harmed his appetite) Sonic or the more modern, leaner Sonic. Playing with a different era Sonic changes the way the zones work: using Fat Sonic means old style levels – sideways scrolling and spin jumping, with 3D only used for graphical effect; Fit Sonic gets full 3D levels and a plethora of moves to pull off in them.
Wrapped around this is a story about time travelling and having to rescue Sonic’s friends from limbo, that’s so teeth-swallowingly bad I’m not going to waste my words on it. Believe me though - it’s truly God-awful, completely unnecessary, and features some unbelievably bad cut-scenes. Why bother? If Sega had removed this guff they would surely have been able to fit in another couple of levels?
It doesn’t really matter though – the game is top, top fun. Sonic’s always been about blazing through levels at breakneck speed, and Generations nails this. It’s also brutally beautiful. I say “brutally” because the colourful cartoon graphics tearing by at giddying speed are akin to having Skittles massaged into your eyeballs. Whenever I stop playing Generations, my eyes are bloodshot, watering and squinty, but I’m smiling. And it really doesn’t matter if your eyes are dangling against your cheeks, as long as you’re smiling.
But, stop! Literally. Stop and take your time. Sure, you can play Sonic like a time trial – the game even caters for this very thing, recording your times for you to beat – but just slow down and take a look around once in a while. The zones are beautifully constructed; time your jumps well and you’ll get to take quick, exciting higher routes, but miss your leap and you’ll drop to different routes. Some of these are more difficult than the higher routes, but others just look different. It really pays to replay and explore the levels. Especially as they look so damn lush, every zone is painted with real character and flair.
Bizarrely... actually, it was probably to be expected... you can still level the same criticisms at Generations that you could level at all the other Sonic games. The boss fights are horrible, absolutely horrible, asking you to perform particular feats to take them down. I really think they get in the way of the flow. Also, 3D platformers have never, and will never, work. All of you who think Mario 64 (or Sunshine) is the greatest thing ever are stupendously wrong. There are few things in gaming as frustrating as trying to make a jump in a 3D platformer and failing miserably, and time and time again I perished in Generations in precisely this manner. You may say I’m an old stick-in-the-mud whose glory days are behind him (which would be pretty cruel, frankly), but I’m not – I’m absolutely correct.
Other than that, it’s a brilliantly made platform game, and it works well on PC. Controls are quick and responsive, although Fit Sonic has too many moves at his disposal and they’re slightly clumsily implemented – I tended to pull off something completely different to what I was expecting. As mentioned, it looks ace, and is silkily smooth, even on my olde steame powerede PCe (dual core, wooden ram and rubber keys). It sounds, well, like Sonic: nothing special. Mind you, I would’ve been offended if it didn’t sound like Sonic. Although some disturbingly furious drum and bass track would suit Sonic down to the ground.
So, a splendid return for Sonic when all’s said and done. I get the impression that Sega wanted to prove something with this. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I hope it's this: there’s life in the old hedgehog yet.