Friday, November 11, 2011

Sonic Generations: Impressions

"The only thing better than Sonic... is two Sonics!" ~Recent TV spot
I'd be lying if I said I was totally excited for Sonic Generations. After the initial announcements and Iizuka's lame reasons for stating why a Wii version was not in the works, I tried to soften the blow of missing out on Sonic's 20th anniversary celebration (and tried to keep my annoyance in check when people constantly told me "just buy a new console and shut up."). I certainly had high hopes that the game would be satisfactory for those that played it, and like Colors from last year, would please the critics and further elevate Sonic's stature back to being respected... even if this meant dipping a little too far into the nostalgia well to win back those "fans" that had claimed to have "given up" (yet they hang around and complain even when they don't play the games...).

Then a shining light appeared... or at least a rumor at the time. The year's worst kept secret, one that kept "accidentally" spilling out on online retailers the world over (or at least in Europe), that a PC version might be in the works. Eventually SEGA fessed up and made a formal announcement, though I've always wondered why they didn't just come out and announce it immediately instead of letting the rumor mill spin a while? Well, whatever the reason, it got me a little hyped up... I own a PC after all, and hopefully it'll run the game...? I remember double, triple and quadruple checking my system specs on my five-year old PC hoping I at least met the minimum requirements and, thankfully, I did.

After a wait that felt like forever just to get the game installed, a lot of swearing and headaches getting it to launch, I eventually got to just sit down and play the game. 

I hit the "Enter" key and, much like how Sonic Colors throws you straight into Tropical Resort, Generations drops you into Green Hill Zone Act 1, the "Classic" Sonic stage. And, yeah, I said "Enter" key; I played through this game on a keyboard. But more on that later. The "Classic" style of gameplay is exactly what it says on the tin: it's classic Sonic! The gameplay emulates the original games almost down to the letter. There might be a couple hiccups or oddities in this particular variation, notably Sonic feels slower/heavier at times, seeming to not accelerate as quickly as you'd expect or coming up short on a few jumps, but it doesn't really detract from gameplay (depending on who you ask, anyway). As this is "Classic" Sonic, he only has the Spin Dash as his standard, default attack, and it works quite well. Some have called it overpowered, but it feels just right to me; I think giving it that extra punch helps at times, though it's important to try not to abuse it, lest you send Sonic flying off a cliff (a lesson I've learned the hard way more than once...).

Once that act is cleared, you are greeted with the game's first cutscene, and the plot (what little there is...) is put into effect. It's Sonic's birthday (the "Modern" Sonic), his friends celebrate,  giant monster comes shrieking out of a portal, opens smaller portals and drags all of Sonic's friends into them, leaving Sonic in a white limbo. And so begins Green Hill Zone Act 2, the "Modern" Sonic level. This time you are in control of Sonic with all his moves from Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors in effect: the homing attack, the boost, sidestep, grinding, drift, etc. Where the "Classic" version of the level emphasized a little more platforming and the use of physics to get around, the "Modern" level focuses on speed. That said, it's anything but the "boost-fests" people love accusing this style of gameplay for. Sure, you can keep boosting all you want, but that doesn't mean that there isn't skill involved in navigating and completing the levels and earning your "S" rank––it's only a part of that. And in the gigantic, "Modern" levels of Sonic Generations, "boosting to win" is not always the answer (again, a lesson I've learned the hard way).

Both styles of gameplay work well, and it's quite nice seeing how many "memorable" stages have been reimagined for a whole new Sonic era.

The "classic" Green Hill is not a rehash of the original map from Sonic the Hedgehog. It's largely inspired, but has very few similarities in layout with its original counterpart. It does share the common level elements, such as swinging platforms, hidden paths that can be revealed through spinning and "tunnel paths" (for lack of a better term) that Sonic can spin through. It also has a few elements that also remind players of other "Green Hill" levels, particularly the corkscrew tracks from Sonic the Hedgehog 2's Emerald Hill Zone. The original music composed by Masato Nakamura is the default music that plays in all its 16-bit glory; it might have been "remastered," but the track sounds the same.

The "modern" version of Green Hill Zone was a blast to play through once I got used to the controls, and after the rather disappointing update the level received in Sonic Adventure 2, the "new" version created by the current team in the "modern" style is a refreshing and enjoyable update. Green Hill Zone Act 2 feels, in some ways, almost like the tutorial level for "Modern" Sonic. More than any other level I've played through, this was the level that seems to really get players acquainted with almost all of "Modern's" abilities and the control style. There are badnik chains to homing attack, grind rail and wall jump sections, moments when you have to quickly react use Sonic's slide ability to get under tight spots, and even a couple hidden paths that can be revealed if you know where to look (the famous "breakable bridge" section that was shown in all the old demos comes to mind). The "new" level is complemented by a rocking, ska-esque rendition of the classic Green Hill theme.

In just this level alone, there are multiple pathways that one can explore in either the "Classic" or "Modern," and this remains true for the later levels as well. So, in short, it's clear Sonic Team "gets it" when it comes to proper Sonic stage design. Hirokazu Yasuhara would be proud.

In general, I've had a blast playing Sonic Generations, and having recently completed the main "campaign" of the game, I feel mostly satisfied. The keyboard controls I've been using (I do not have a PC controller) took some tweaking and getting used to to get a reasonably comfortable result that won't cause me to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at least. It doesn't work perfectly, and I've specifically noticed it's impossible for me to perform Sonic's drift ability (it just doesn't activate), though I've heard a recent patch/fix for this is being taken care of by SEGA, so once I update my copy, I'll give that a go and see how I do with that.

For the moment, I'm currently clearing most of the remaining missions, collecting Red Star Rings and unlocking new music tracks that I can insert into the various levels, missions and boss battles (with some simply awesome results!). The game certainly has replay value almost through the roof, much like Colors did before it. It's nearly impossible to not have to go back to a level and see what little secrets you may have missed on your first run through, and it's genuinely surprising and wonderful to see what SEGA has done to update these various stages.

I've had my reservations about Sonic Generations in the past, mostly due to the marketing and what I felt was pandering to retro nostalgia, but I'll cover those in my full review (which should hopefully be written this month...). In spite of those reservations, Generations has won me over with its incredible level design and the ways in which SEGA and Sonic Team have paid fitting tribute to the Hedgehog's past 20 years.

Sonic Generations is now available in the US for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC digital download. The 3DS version will also be released on November 22. The upcoming review will be based only on the PC version of the game.

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