Sonic Generations – E3 Preview

Sonic Generations is Sega’s celebration of the 20th year their famous blue mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, has sped his way through the annals of gaming history. The game will feature Classic and Modern versions of Sonic as they traverse familiar areas seen throughout different periods of Sonic’s history. Sega is hoping to attract fans from all periods of Sonic’s history as the gameplay style is split between that of Classic 2D side scrolling Sonic, and Modern 3D exploration Sonic. With a release date scheduled for later this year, I went hands on with the first playable level in Sega’s E3 booth this year to see if the blue blur still can spin with the best.

Let me first start out by saying that it’s hard for me to accept that Sonic the Hedgehog has ever been in a game post 1994; the 3D transition never clicked with me, and to say I’ve felt betrayed by Sonic is something of an understatement. I loved Sonic unconditionally for the greater portion of my life with feelings that he had just lost his way, was ‘going through a phase’, needed his ‘space’ to ‘find himself’, and that he’d see what we really had together at some point and all would be forgiven.

So I sat down with Generations already conflicted, hurt and toyed with. The demo even felt like a trap; drawing me in with a remake of Green Hill zone is about the equivalent to inviting me to a candle-lit dinner set in the same Toys-R-Us aisle that I was handed my Sega Genesis & Sonic 2 bundle pack. I hit start to find Act one begins with an identical starting scene to the original, and even goes so far as to replicate the first few moments of the level exactly as the original Green Hill Zone. I sped off into this new world and believe it or not, it felt good.

The “feel” of Sonic (his hang time in air, his acceleration, and his turn speeds) has received a great deal of TLC. The developers have come very close to the original Sonic’s movements, and overall they’re much tighter, even in comparison to Sega’s last classic attempt. The level had all the tropes and key elements that Classic Sonic needs: Baddies ‘popped’ very satisfyingly, bounce pads were placed strategically and not overused, and there were rings a plenty. Speeding to my first cliff, I immediately encountered branching paths and undiscovered locations that made me turn around just to see what a higher ledge lead to. Sonic felt fast this time too, not floaty and lazy, as was the biggest complaint of Sonic 4. Key moments of the level pitched the camera away from the 2D area to emphasize a distance Sonic leapt, or draw attention to how great Sonic can look in 3D. Not to mention the great blend of loops and twists in the road to get your speed up to the max.

I couldn’t help but find one dramatic difference Classic Sonic seems to have adopted from the present: Armor. Damage received no longer ejects every ring collected, instead only a portion or percentage of your total rings are lost. We hope this is a temporary adjustment for demo purposes, as one of the key elements of the original Sonic’s is the feeling of pushing your limits and testing fate with a huge ring count, and no desire to slow down. Ploughing through enemies head first, platforming over death pits or spikes with the knowledge that one false move ruined your perfect run is an essential piece of all retro gaming, and it would be a shame to see a crutch handed to one of it’s most famous characters.

Act two showed off Modern Sonic, as he blazed in full 3D through Green Hill followed closely by a 3rd person camera. The two acts are distinctly different, rather than just being a similar layout with a different angle. There is definitely a learning curve to Classic gamers who are not as experienced with Sega’s newer approach to the series, and bounding off walls and getting slowed down by obstacles is a high likely. Thankfully, Modern Sonic comes equipped with a few tricks, including a boost meter that allows you to reclaim your lost speed following these hiccups. You’ll find yourself extremely grateful for this ability since the fast paced nature of Modern Sonic makes any still moment feel utterly painful. Furthermore, Modern Sonic has the ability to target and dash-attack enemies and obstacles which dramatically helps to keep the action moving.

Beyond the main levels, Sonic will have a central hub area to explore, although it won’t be as open world and massive as, say, Sonic Adventure. Players will not be forced to alternate between the two Sonics level after level either, but instead expected to complete a group of levels before given access to the boss. Speaking of bosses, so far Egg-Man Robotnik has not been confirmed as the final boss, but lets be honest, who else would it really be? Furthermore, there are some unreleased extras in store for players that Aaron Webber, a Sega Brand Manager on Sonic Generations, promised fans of the Sonic series will “not be disappointed by”.

With Generations set to release by the holiday, Webber stated that the team will be spending the remaining months polishing the entire package to a nice shine. While the gameplay wasn’t perfect, it probably can’t be; classic fans like myself never seem to be completely pleased. However, from what I saw, it got me excited for a Sonic game for the first time since I was seven years old. With only one level to play through, it was a huge tease, but I’m looking forward to finding out what other classic locations are remade. More information will be known soon, and we’ll bring anything to your attention the first we hear.

Sonic Generations is set for a holiday 2011 release.