Remember what I was said about Sega’s two-pronged attack, of them tapping into facets of the past that had been unexplored, and also trying to rebuild brands for a new generation? Well, unfortunately, Sonic Generations proves that they still have a long ways to go when it comes to the latter. Or more specifically, when it comes to reviving the magic that was once their knight in shining armor, it’s finally time to give up that ghost.
Like many, I wanted a straightforward Sonic experience, free of all the silly gimmicks that’s dragged the hedgehog down for the past decade. Whether it be stupid sidekicks who are grating at best or ill conceived gameplay enhancements (turning into a werewolf still tops that way too long list). So when Sega announced a celebration of Sonic’s past, which included a return to no frills or b.s. from his glory days, many took notice.
Yet many of us were skeptical and figured that there had to be something wacky curveball at the very end. In the end, there is none, thankfully. But the core problem remains, and that’s Sega’s lack of understanding of what made the original installments so compelling, coupled with their inability to create a Sonic game that isn’t fundamentally broken.
The basic set-up has you going through levels plucked from Sonic’s post, one from each prior title. And each asks you to approach them in two different manners: as old school Sonic, with the action presented in 2D, or how he is today, in which Sonic runs both left and right and into the screen. Seems basic and sensible enough, right?
I can only say one positive thing about the entire ordeal: it’s absolutely gorgeous. The level of graphical sheen is sometimes awe-inspiring, and it’s fun seeing elements from the past recreated with today’s tools. The remixed music is also quiet good. And that’s pretty much it as far as the positives go.
Let’s start with modern Sonic: despite many years and numerous titles underneath its belt, Sega still hasn’t figured out a halfway decent method to control him in 3D space. The designers want to emphasize speed by effectively having Sonic be a racing game of sorts, to the point that he even drifts to a certain extent.
But there’s also jumps to be made, enemies to disposed off, like any other traditional action game. Following such acts creates a sudden and jarring halt to the proceedings. Imagine playing Gran Turismo and being forced, out of nowhere, to come to a sudden stop to dispose of some lady bug looking robot that was just standing there, in the middle of the road?
And because no acceptable control scheme has been decided upon, the solution is to take the act of movement literally out your hands. Hence the intricate set pieces: you’re just zipping along, then all of a sudden, you’re being catapulted here and there, like a pinball on crack. It’s visually impressive, but there’s also a serious disconnect between yourself and the screen.
Best part is how, if you try to interact when you’re not supposed to, like move the joystick in a way that’s a no-no in the designers’ minds (since again, you’re moving this way a mile a second, and then that, with the camera constantly switching angles to razzle, dazzle you), you immediately perish.
Thus the player is actually punished for trying to play. And even if you leave the controller alone when you’re supposed, immediately after the aforementioned sequence is usually a moment in which, if you weren’t paying attention, you’ll miss a critical jump. It’s as if, every step of the way, Sonic’s new handlers don’t want you to play their game.
But most of that is old news; anyone that’s played any Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2 is well aware of what I just described. Hence why so many longtime fans were only concerned with the 2D portion of the game, a return to the glory days. And I’m sad to report that it’s actually worse in many ways to the 3D parts, if that can be believed.
It’s mind-blowing how Sega was not able to follow the blueprints that was set down twenty years ago, one that’s so easily to comprehend. You just hit the jump button when need be it, and other just lilt right on the control pad to move forward. That’s it. How hard is that to mess up? Apparently, very.
Jumping has never required so much thought and effort. Every single gap or ledge has to be handled in a very specific way. It’s crystal clear that the designers want you start at a very specific spot, and perhaps they think it’s even cuter that you’ll always JUST make it. Has Mario ever felt as constricting and mentally taxing? Not at all.
Here’s another problem that one never had to worry about back on the Genesis: the POV. In order to emphasize the admittedly fancy visuals, the camera is sometimes placed at odd angles for some impressive effect that’s immediately undercut when you die as a result. But that’s more the fault of horrible level design more than anything else. The camera is also pulled back so much that everything appears to move slower than it is. Which is especially silly for a Sonic game.
Presentation-wise, it’s an absolute mess. After completing three levels, you have a boss battle, but to unlock those, you have to go back to the previous stages and fulfill certain requirements, like racing against a rival or fulfill some other obligation. Almost none of them is fun the least bit, and are clearly busy work.
Making matters worse is how nothing is clearly explained. The number of tutorials alone, for a game that’s just about running and jumping, is asinine. And advice given is at times insulting to one’s intelligence as well, like being told that you’ll lose rings if you get hit near the end of the game. Gee, thanks.
Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with just having X number or levels and Y number of objectives, provided they are rock solid, or at the very least easy to understand. BTW, for folks who think Navi is the most annoying sidekick/helper in a video game has yet to witness the hell that is Omochao. At you could understand what the fairy was trying to tell Link.
Sadly, Sonic Generations does typify a chronic problem that Sega has had over the years; its inability to properly adapt. It’s impressive how Nintendo has been able to infuse new tricks into Mario’s repertoire, while still sticking true to his original self. Meanwhile, not only are Sonic’s new tricks lame, but he can’t even perform the ones that worked. And that’s sadder than anything else. Xbox 360, PS3, PC, 3DS