Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sonic Generations: When Fan Service Is Done Right

Without a doubt, Sega's biggest hit was Sonic the Hedgehog. The character crossed over so much that he had two different cartoon series on American TV simultaneously. The fast paced platforming and attitude that Series creator Yuji Naka brought to the Master System and Genesis set the gaming world on fire and gave Nintendo it's first serious rival in the "console wars". After the rise and fall of the Dreamcast, Sonic fell on hard times as a series of very bad games were released for multiple consoles. Then Sonic and the Dark Brotherhood was released on the Nintendo DS, followed by Sonic Colors on the Wii and DS, and Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on XBLA and PSN. This handful of good games led up to the 20th anniversary of the first Sonic game, and a major undertaking by Sonic Team: create a piece of fan service the likes of which Sonic fans have never seen. the result is a game spanning classic and modern Sonic universes with a charm that hasn't been seen in the series since Sonic CD. Not only is Sonic Generations the best Sonic game since the days of the Genesis, it's one of the best platformers to come out in a while.

Sonic Generations starts out like the very first Sonic game did, in the Green Hill Zone. In fact, much of the layout feels like that first level of the very first Sonic game, and that's because it is. What Sonic Generations does so well is take those classic levels from past Sonic games and expanded them both in length and scope. you'll see familiar enemies, hear familiar music, and blaze through familiar landscapes. The quirk is that there are at least two versions to every level: a side scrolling level that's handled as Classic Sonic, or the 3D levels that are run using Modern Sonic. The two versions of Sonic appear in cutscenes together as well, with Classic Sonic being shorter, pudgier, and decidedly mute while Modern Sonic is taller, skinnier, and can talk. There's a story in there, but for some reason, they all boil down to the same thing: Something is threatening the survival of the world, and Sonic has to stop it. Again, it's nothing ground breaking, as the story is merely there to provide some semblance of a reason for two different sets of characters inhabiting the same universe.

The play mechanics are classic Sonic, which means the player doesn't have to worry about doing a lot with their controller. Matter of fact, this game may be the textbook definition of "pick up and play", but because of the genre that works. There are a few prompts that pop up in early levels to tell you when to perform certain tasks, and thankfully nothing in this game feels as sluggish as it did in Sonic 4:Episode 1. Like I've said throughout this review, everything feels familiar, and that may be my only issue with Sonic Generations.

To say everything has been done before in Sonic Generations is an understatement. The soundtrack, characters, control mechanics have been done multiple times by Sonic Team over the course of the last 20 years. This turned a lot of gamers off, but this is far from a bad thing. Sonic Generations has effectively, for all it's fan service, proved that Sega still has it. This game reminds me of the days when Sega was still in the console business, and almost makes me think...no, that won't happen.


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