Whilst the uncharitable await his eternal demise, and the enthusiasts continue to champion the (perilously under-played) Wii and DS exclusive Sonic Colours as reason enough for the stubborn believers to keep the faith, anyone stuck on the middle ground has been waiting years for SEGA’s none-too-evergreen mascot to emphatically prove himself once more. Whilst Sonic Generations might not be perfect, it is the sort of careful comeback that deserves a bit more rustle than just polite kudos. The decision to meld Sonic’s ineffectual three-dimensional persona with his revered 2D ancestor is an unexpectedly savvy one, and some smart level design – along with some pervasive online score-attack modes – make for a package that just about surpasses last year’s mucho underrated Wii wonder.
The cack-handed cutscenes – a wearisome series staple ever since Sonic moved into the third dimension – are thankfully skippable and are more brazenly superfluous than ever, although a few well-placed digs at the asinine likes of Sonic and the Black Knight are more than welcome. The retooled versions of the classic Sonic themes are all excellent, and as was to be expected – especially in light of the highly enjoyable downloadable snack that was Sonic 4, Episode 1 – the two-dimensional bits fare far better than their 3D counterparts. Although 3D Sonic has never really felt interactive enough to flourish in the way that his predecessor did, these levels do maintain an agreeable sense of helter-skelter pace, and there is a great deal of fun to be had in seeing how Sonic Team have re-imagined classic stages from both periods to fit into gameplay structure of the other.
They’ve also picked these stages very carefully, and there is a conspicuous lack of duds. A few of Sonic’s old foes return – sequences of slavish fan service, all best left as a surprise – but the exhaustive roll call of appearances from every single one of his “friends” is something of a misfire; although if you’re the one person who’s been waiting to hear again from the baffling likes of Ninja Sonic, here’s your chance. Those characters tend to only appear during the game’s Challenge modes which are unlocked periodically, but most of these morsels are rather gratifying little numbers – Time Attacks races, mostly – that instil the experience with some agreeable variety. Races also make up the entirety of the online component, and extensive worldwide leaderboards will no doubt prove to be irresistible for the hardcore aficionados.
Both Sonic Colours and now Sonic Generations have done a pretty impeccable job of showing younger gamers exactly what made Sonic the Hedgehog so special in the first place. At least a full decade’s worth of slapdash rubble has turned the character’s name into mud, but the currently auspicious revival continues to pick up pace. It’s still in question as to whether Sonic was ever really in Mario’s rarefied league, but Generations is surprisingly observant of the franchise’s recent misfires and never takes your enjoyment for granted. It’s nowhere near as tough as its Mega Drive blueprints – which may give the zealots a reason to grumble – but it’s every bit as good looking and cleverly designed as those titles. Just don’t call it a comeback.
Sonic Generations is available now for Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3. A Nintendo 3DS version is due for release later this month.
Watch the Sonic Generations launch trailer below: