Segas Sonic franchise has been going strong for 20 years. There have been good times and bad times, but most fans that stuck with the series will agree the more recent years have not been so kind. Sonic games have always been fast paced platformers. They took the player to break neck speeds through vastly varied locales. The older 2d Sonics from the early to mid 90's are mostly classics, and quite adored by critics and fans alike. Ever since Sonic's move to 3d, these critics and fans began to speak poorly of Sonic. The games just weren't the same. Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast was still widely enjoyed, but it was a spectacle for its time in 1999, and hasn't aged well. This transition between the generations came with a series of Sonic games housing poor camera controls, a wealth of bottomless pits, love them or loathe them rock songs, and an abundance of new characters that were soon despised. Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, the first Sonic game on the Xbox360 and Playstation3, was the lowest point of Sonics career. It is not only the worst Sonic game ever released, but quite possibly one of the worst games of this console generation. How a game so unfinished, glitchy, and downright broken got past quality control is beyond me. Sega must have realized how terrible Sonic had become, because the following games were a step in the right direction, yet still far from perfect. Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors were much more polished titles that tried to add in some classic side scrolling sections. These portions would pop in time to time but the star of the show was still Sonics 3d gameplay, which was also becoming more refined. It only took Sega 10 years to begin to get it right!
Because the side scrolling points in the more recent titles were receiving praise by critics and fans, Sega began to take note. They knew they had to bring 2d Sonic back in a big way. There had been quite a number of 2d Sonics on various handhelds, but the consoles were sorely lacking in this department. Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 in October of 2010 as a downloadable title in hopes of bringing in the 2d side scrolling fans. It looked fine on paper, as it was a complete throw back to the older games. While it was entirely played as a 2d side scroller, it felt nothing like the older games. It was Sonic 4 in name only, and turned out to be much more of a ruse than a proper sequel. To the layman, it was a Sonic game alright, but to the Sonic fans, it was terrible. It was unfinished, unpolished, and seemingly only developed as a test to see if 2d Sonic was still marketable. It sold well enough, and even though it soiled the name Sonic the Hedgehog 4, it served it's purpose in showing Sega that fans wanted Sonic back in his good old side scrolling glory. Sega halted the idea of continuing Sonic 4, and as of this writing there have been no announcements or plans to add on to it or release Episode 2. Instead, Sega went back to the drawing board in developing a 2d Sonic. They scrapped the poorly implemented physics and gameplay of Sonic 4, and instead went onto making the best Sonic game in years.
Sonic Generations is a fantastic 20th anniversary gift to the fans. It's like two Sonic games in one, each with their own set of controls, physics, and gameplay. The game consists of 9 stages, one from most of the series' main releases. Act 1 of each stage is played by classic Sonic, and Act 2 by his modern counterpart. Although the classic Sonic handles very closely to the originals, it is still not exact. It certainly has its' own feel but retains the fun and fast paced platforming that made the series great including the use of Sonic's patented spin dash. The modern Sonic stages are much better and well crafted than previous 3d Sonic outings. They are designed around the strengths of the 3d Sonic titles and like Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors before it, also consist of a few 2d side scrolling portions. Modern Sonic is still about speedy rail grinding, boosting through the stages, and homing in on enemies and objects alike. The homing attack and boosting abilities work well when carefully used, but gamers who wildly jump about will more often than not find themselves plummeting to their deaths or running into walls. There's nothing inherently wrong with the modern Sonic abilities, but you can clearly see how an experienced Sonic player approaches the stage than that of a newcomer to the series. There is a small learning curve here, but the game is still simple enough for anyone to enjoy.
Sonic Generations graphics are very well done. They're colorful, sharp, and some of the stages set pieces are breath taking. The stages are well designed with a multitude of paths containing shortcuts and hidden red star coins which unlock artwork and music from the series. The hub world of the game is very clean looking and intuitive. It not only serves as a diorama displaying each of the 9 main stages, but also works as a mini platforming stage with ramps and springs leading to the 90 challenge stages. It also leads to an unlockable Sega Genesis complete with a full version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog. The challenge stages, when completed, also unlock more art and music from the franchise. Speaking of the music, it is phenomenal. It not only includes remixed tracks thoughout the history of Sonic, but 50 other unlockable classic Sonic tunes. Once available, you may set the music to play in any level you desire. Want to play the Sonic CD classic "Sonic Boom" while battling against Mecha Sonic? For the old time Sonic fans that little facet will put a huge smile on your face. Can't stand the more recent Sonic rock anthems? Go ahead and change the music to the original catchy tunes.
Sonic Generations does a lot right. Other developers should take note of a prompt at the start of the game that allows you to disable all hint and tutorial pop ups. This is quite the blessing for more experienced Sonic gamers who already know how to spin dash and who know what they're getting themselves into. It's the little things, and the overall completeness and polish that lets you know Sega cared enough to make this an outstanding entry in the franchise. Another newer edition to the series, taken from the Wii title Sonic and the Secret Rings, is the ability to equip skills that enhance Sonic beyond his normal means. These range greatly from having abilities that let you use the speed doubling shoe powerup at the press of a button, to others that make your rings last longer without fading away after you've taken damage. Each skill takes a certain amount of points to equip, and mixing and matching them leads to lots of new possibilities. For the purist, they are completely ignorable.
Even though Sonic Generations does so much right, it's far from perfect. The absolute worst facet of the entire game are its boss battles. They are few and far between, only 1 per every 3 stages, as well as 3 optional boss fights. Each boss drops a chaos emerald, a series staple, and beating all of them unlock one last final boss. Besides the grand nostalgia factor with each classic boss from major points in the franchise, they are all what seems to be last minute additions to the game. They're not as polished as the rest of Sonic Generations, as many graphical and technical errors occur while playing them. It's also worth noting that the final boss is one of the worst in the series, in terms of playability. This is all quite a disappointment, but thankfully they are not a major point of the game and very short lived. The story is also simplistic, the cut scenes at times chuckle worthy, and overall it's a throw away plot, but that's not the purpose of Sonic games anyway. The main game can be completed in around 3 to 4 hours, but for the completist, that would only be a fraction of the game thanks to the challenge stages, hidden red star coins, and unlockables. There are also a few graphical errors like clipping through environments and frame rate hiccups, but thankfully they don't happen frequently enough to deter from the overall enjoyment.
Sonic Generations won't convert any non-Sonic fans, but it's certainly good enough to give it a try even if you arn't in love with the blue hedgehog. Those that are fans, are in for a serious treat. Ignore the score at the top of the screen if you've grown up with the series, because it's a MUST play Sonic game. It's the best in years. The combination of older music coupled with recreated locales is something very special and not many long time series can even reach this level of nostalgic bliss. There's so much history to the Sonic games that if successful, Sega could easily keep Sonic Generations going with a plethora of past, present, and future(good or bad) levels to choose from. Whether that would come in the form of downloadable content or an eventual Sonic Generations 2 remains to be seen, but as a Sonic fan, one can dream.