Saturday, November 19, 2011

Xbox 360 review: Sonic Generations

Sonic Generations opens with Sonic and his pals celebrating his birthday (certainly no coincidence to the franchise's 20th anniversary this year) when a purple cloud-like entity tears through time and whisks each character off to a different stage from previous Sonic titles. This tear also allows retro Sonic to travel forward and help his current-gen self. The two must restore these familiar worlds to normal, rescue their friends, and collect the Chaos Emeralds to stop the Time Eater from wreaking more havoc. It certainly doesn't hurt when Sonic includes a joke or two about how ridiculous the premises of some of his most recent adventures have been. This is a Sonic title that is more about gameplay than narrative, and in that respect it doesn't take itself more seriously than it needs to.

Players will tackle each stage twice - once in the shoes of side-scrolling Genesis-era Sonic, and a second time from the third-person perspective of the modern games.
The mechanics of old-school Sonic are not much different than they were twenty years ago - run and spin-dash to make your way through the level, jump and bounce to defeat enemies along the way. Modern Sonic's controls are similar to those in Adventure, though there has been some trimming of the fat since he won't be tracking down a bunch of extra items to help him. The A button makes Sonic jump, and a double tap while he is in mid-air will hone in on enemies. The X button allows Sonic to boost, provided he has enough rings to fill his boost gauge. The B button lets him slide under small gaps, while the bumpers allow for fast shifts left and right as he speeds through some of the more hazardous terrain.

The Smorgasbord of stages in Generations presents nice variety overall. Green Hill, Chemical Plant, and Sky Sanctuary have never looked so gorgeous. The Adventure-era stages Speed Highway and City Escape seem a tad too similar in their aesthetic appeal, and SEGA could have included something slightly more distinctive like Radical Highway or Sky Rail in lieu of the latter. Still, the revamped GUN Truck fits the look and play style of both versions of the stage. The lava-filled Crisis City and Planet Wisp flesh the package out - the former for its degree of difficulty, the latter for it use of new gameplay elements.

The boss fights are divided into two categories. Traditional boss fights against the Death Egg Robot and Perfect Chaos require some strategy in utilizing environmental objects to aid in the fight. The rival fights against Metal Sonic, Shadow, and Silver include some stages that could not otherwise be worked into the game, and serve as beautiful backdrops for the race/fights. There are a couple of fights that initially do not provide players with much direction, but after a few trial-and-error runs it's not too difficult to get the hang of things. The rival battles against Metal Sonic and Silver not only present a perfect blend of simple mechanics with creative angles, but are some of the best boss fights the series has seen in years.

The main story will only last players around six hours. But there is something to be said about the replayability of Sonic Generations. Switching up the music on a stage is purely for nostalgic purposes, but the challenge modes present legitimate substance. These are unlocked after each individual stage is restored, and there are ten per stage - five for retro Sonic and five for modern Sonic. They include simple time trials, races against Sonic's pals, and the occasional tooth-grinding "complete a stage with only one ring" to name a few. Completing each challenge nets players concept art and music. Players can also unlock the original SEGA Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog after they've saved up enough rings.

Online play is also present. While players cannot race against friends simultaneously, they can post their best times on a leaderboard and take part in a challenge to see how far into each level they can get with thirty seconds on the clock. While Sonic Generations isn't as lengthy as either of its Adventure predecessors, it certainly outshines the likes of Heroes and Unleashed. It's a matter of quality vs. quantity, and SEGA presents a strong balance of the two in Generations.

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

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