I went into Sonic Generations cautiously optimistic. Sonic Team's exemplary work on Sonic 4 and Sonic Colors handily proved that not only does Sega learn from their mistakes and improve upon what works, but also that Sonic is still a franchise that can be known for its fast-paced, bot-smashing action. Having said all of that, my expectations were blown out of the water. Sonic Generations is an absolute masterpiece in every sense of the word. Even people that have been burned by awful Sonic titles in the past and as such have made up their minds to hate Sonic forevermore must grudgingly admit that this is the most refined and entertaining Sonic game to come out in quite some time.
During the celebration of his 20th birthday (marking the real-life 20th anniversary of the Sonic series), Sonic and his friends are attacked by a cosmic, interdimensionsal monster, who kidnaps Sonic's friends and KOs the hedgehog himself. When Sonic comes to, her finds himself in a sort of limbo dimension, which echoes of his past suspended in space and time. Meanwhile, Sonic's younger alter-ego also finds himself in this side dimension and he sets out to discover the source as well.
Bizarre time-traveling plot aside, what this really is is a vehicle for driving the dual-headed gameplay. Each stage in the game is a reimagined version of stages from Sonic's past adventures. And did they ever do their homework. During the course of the game you'll find yourself in locales from everywhere from Sonic 2, to Sonic CD (my all-time favorite Sonic title, though I think this game dethrones it), to Sonic Adventure and Sonic 2006. And believe it or not, the 2006 stage doesn't suck!
As classic Sonic, you play in a traditional side view reminiscent of the Genesis adventures. Classic Sonic has the super spin dash in his arsenal, but not much else. Which is perfect, and very fitting for the gameplay style.
But before we continue on, I might as well address the question that fans of Sonic 4 must already be asking: are the physics the same as Genesis Sonic? The answer is no. Classic Sonic feels slightly weightier than he did in the Genesis version, and consequently jumps and falls a little quickly. However, the issues of being able to accelerate uphill or instantly come to a dead stop seem to have been fixed. My feeling is that the overall result is actually quite BETTER than the Genesis outings. It feels less floaty and odd, overall. And one great little bonus is that once a spin dash starts to lose forward momentum, instead of slowing to a halt as he did in the past, Sonic is now able to flip himself back onto his feet mid-roll, allowing him to continue moving at full speed on foot. This really helps add to the pacing of the game, letting you move quickly and smoothly.
But Classic Sonic comprises only half of the game. When playing as Modern Sonic, every level takes on a whole new perspective, totally reminiscent of the gameplay featured in Sonic Colors. All of the trademark abilities in Modern Sonic's moveset are present and accounted for, allowing him to perform homing attacks, light-speed dashes, and slides as he could in his most recent 3D outing. And the level design is absolutely top-notch. There are lots of branching paths for both Sonics' versions of the levels, allowing for exploration and variety, and I almost never experienced deaths which felt unavoidable or glitchy (the hallmark of Sonic 2006). The stages are constructed so that you can blaze through at top speeds and still be able to react to things within a reasonable amount of time. And though I admit there have been a few times where a homing attack misfired or I accidentally charged into a pit that was very hard to see, overall I never felt cheated out of anything when I died, knowing it was usually my own fault, and driving me to improve.
The difficulty is rather balanced on this game. Which is to say, considerably more challenging than Sonic 4, yet not quite as unforgiving as the Genesis titles. And thankfully, the game gives you infinite continues and doesn't punish you too harshly for dying.
Upon beating a stage as both Sonics, one of Sonic's friends is restored to life (yes, yes, I know; but hear me out on this), and several bonus challenges for the stage are unlocked. Many of the stages also feature a special boss battle from Sonic's history. And believe me, seeing the all-or-nothing race between Sonic and Metal Sonic in the apocalyptic ruins that were once Stardust Speedway is as thrilling in this game is it was then. Perhaps more so.
(On that note, please allow me a brief tangent in which I commend Sega for including tracks from both the American and Japanese versions of Sonic CD, which sported completely unique soundtracks from one another. Both soundtracks were amazing, and the modern-day re-imagining of them is very impressive.)
So, there are several bonus challenges to each stage, and completing each of them gives you a special prize - either a piece of artwork or a music track from a previous Sonic game. The artwork is actually quite interesting, showing conceptual art for various stages (original and remade), as well as characters. The music is an even more impressive feature, as this game allows you to replace the track of any level with a track of your choice. You can even do battle against the final boss to the legendary (though sadly abridged) Sonic Boom. Now that's intense.
So, yes. Sonic's friends. Yes, they're here. Yes, they're as silly as ever. But... hey. They aren't playable in this game, nor do they fill any major role. And I for one think it's refreshing to see a company giving nods to ALL aspects of its past rather than sweeping the not-as-good stuff completely under the carpet.
And really that's what summarizes Sonic Generations in a nutshell: this is Sonic's life. As a matter of fact, Sonic is, in a lot of ways, a well-adjusted adult now. He started off as a precocious child with lots of potential and a bright future. He had a few stumbling blocks and outright embarrassments during his teen years, as teens often do. And now he's looking back on those times with the same amused retrospect as many adults look at their past exploits.There are even references to his past that might come as rather unexpected. In the opening cutscene, Sonic is seen enjoying a chili dog; a convention that was seen in virtually every American Sonic cartoon and comic, yet had never been mentioned in the Japanese canon until now. There's even an oblique reference to a debate about a certain character's name. I won't mention more than that, as the scene is funny enough on its own.
What is Sonic Generations, really? Is it a look at Sonic's past? Absolutely. But what I see in Sonic Generations is what I saw when I first locked on Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles for the first time: boundless potential. Sonic Generations is another step into Sonic's future. A game that, even as it looks back upon past exploits, continues to work on improving them and making strides in the series as a whole.
For Sonic fans, this is a must-buy. For fans of platformers and fast-paced action games, this is also a must-buy. For gamers looking for a game with lots of side challenges and unlockable content... well, you get the idea. This game is perfection. It is everything a Sonic game should be, and manages to combine nostalgia with innovation, which is a miracle in and of itself. This game takes an extremely in-depth look at Sonic's past, and playing it makes me look forward to Sonic's (hopefully) wonderful future.