The story kicks off on Sonic’s 20th birthday, as he and his friends gather round for some cake. Before he can dig in, a shadowy beast appears on the scene and manipulates time to undo 20 years of Sonic’s hard work. Sonic must now run through the levels of his past and present to restore his friends and defeat the time-eating monster. He’s not alone though – his potbellied hedgehog self from 1991 has his back. The story serves as little more than a backdrop, but series fans will get a kick out of the humorously self-aware dialogue during cutscenes.
More importantly, Generations offers two distinct gameplay styles that some fans will love and others will begrudgingly play in order to progress. First and foremost is classic Sonic, who really needs no introduction. You know the drill – run through 2D stages towards the goal, collecting rings and spin-dashing into enemies. His stages play out almost as if the Sega Genesis were still around and kicking, sans 16-bit visuals. It’s 2D platforming at its finest when it works, but mildly irritating when it doesn’t. The physics aren’t always spot-on, but they’re infinitely more accessible than the polarizing Sonic the Hedgehog 4.
Modern Sonic’s gameplay is rather elaborate compared to his counterpart (identical to Sonic Unleashed). Instead of the one button approach, modern Sonic can boost through levels and homing attack at ridiculous speeds. His stages play out as a mixture of 2D and 3D, yet it’s clear that 3D is the focus. Aside from occasional speed issues, everything runs smoothly for modern Sonic, and you’ll truly appreciate his gameplay altercations like the quick step.
Your mileage will vary when it comes to the selection of stages. Even though you’ve got nine zones (with two acts each) from the three eras of Sonic to work with, one could make the argument that the stages chosen aren’t terribly original. I could elaborate, but instead let it sink in that there are two factories and four cities in the game’s nine worlds. It never impacts the experience, but less discerning players might yearn for fresher areas like Ice Cap or Red Mountain. Thankfully (or regrettably), downloadable content will fill that gap.
It wouldn’t be a proper Sonic celebration without bosses. In that respect, Generations delivers modestly. While there are only four main bosses, they’ve been overhauled from their respective games and play out more fascinatingly than ever. On top of this, you can square off against Sonic’s rivals in battles for the chaos emeralds. The effectiveness varies from fight to fight, but they serve as solid distractions from constantly racing.
Between all this, there’s a 2D hub for the two Sonics to explore. It’s mostly nondescript white space, but it’s still fun to navigate the areas above zones. There’s also a shop where you can purchase optional skills for the hedgehog duo. The skills serve numerous functions, but highlights include skateboarding, bouncing with a protective shield, and enabling a homing attack for classic Sonic. The purpose is to make things easier for less experienced players, though some serve as a nod to aficionados. Clever use of skills can increase the replay value exponentially.
Once you’ve completed all the stages, your motivation to keep playing will be unlocking items in Sonic’s house via red rings and challenges. Red rings can be found
on faulty 360 models throughout the zones and offer incentive to fully explore each level. You’ll collect around half of them on your initial run through the game, but some are quite difficult to find.
More interesting are the various challenges Sonic can attempt in each era. Missions include innumerable concepts from racing a Sonic doppelganger and deflecting music notes at a crocodile to using Rouge the bat’s, uh, feminine “charms” to distract enemies. Each Sonic offers 45 challenges suited to their own style of play. You would think that 90 challenges are plenty, but all can be completed in a handful of hours. They’re certainly worth playing, though – they unlock music.
Sonic Generations absolutely nails the music department. In addition to the magnificent renditions of classic themes featuring in each stage (one for each Sonic), you can unlock music from games that aren’t otherwise featured. No fewer than 50 tracks are unlockable and offer ridiculous variety, from Knight of the Wind to Mushroom Hill Zone. Best of all, you can play these songs in any level or challenge at your own discretion. Hearing Sonic Adventure 2’s Green Forest tune in Green Hill Zone breathes new life into the old stage and makes it feel that much more hectic. On top of this, certain challenges contain their own music. In other words, pre-order that soundtrack.
The game's visuals are of a similar level of polish. Don’t just look at still shots of the game – it needs to be played in full 1080p to fully grasp how gorgeous the environments are.
The worst thing one can say about Generations is that it doesn’t reach its full potential. The core game is truly captivating and offers colossal replay value, but you can’t help but think that added substance would have helped. Additionally, some of the later stages (specifically Crisis City and Planet Wisp) suffer from a lack of polish. While the extra challenges and red rings are a nice touch, you’re still likely to experience everything the game has to offer within 10-15 hours.
Sonic Generations may lack content, but the goodness that is there eradicates the price of admission - it warrants hundreds of revisits. The two styles of gameplay won’t convert outspoken critics, but even the slightest Sonic fans must add this to their libraries.