Sonic Generations Hands-On Preview -- A Blazing Run Down Memory LaneBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Apr 18, 2011
Sega's fast-moving blue rodent mascot has had some stumbles as the latest console generation has unfolded. Fans continue to anticipate each new release in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, but there's a wariness now, a sneaking suspicion accompanying every new announcement that each release will be followed by a tidal wave of unfulfilled hype and disappointment.
There's a larger question here, of whether Sonic's brand of high-speed platforming gameplay can still be relevant today. Ponder that as you consider the newly announced Sonic Generations, which celebrates Sonic's 20 years of life with a game that promises to reel in touchstones to all of his adventures, from the Genesis era all the way up to the modern generation of consoles and handhelds. The game was announced earlier this month with a title-less trailer featuring two Sonics running side-by-side, his slim, present-day iteration and his pudgier former self.
We got a first look at the game last week, along with hands-on time in two versions of the game's tribute to Green Hill Zone. First, a little explanation is required. Generations will run through a range of Sonic environments. GHZ is all that we got to see, but content will be pulled from every era of the series. Each level comes in two flavors: a 2D version with gameplay that hearkens back to the original entries in the series -- though the look falls closest to 2010's 2.5D Sonic the Hedgehog 4-- and a 3D version that finds similarities with last year's Sonic Colors. The map layouts are different depending on which mode you're playing in and, as is typical for a Sonic game, there are multiple paths you can follow. Also, while each level is inspired by the full range of Sonic games, their physical layouts are brand new across the board.
The "2D" and "3D" tags are largely just for reference, as neither play mode really sticks to a single perspective. In Sonic's 2D runs, the camera will move dynamically during certain sections of each level to better highlight the action. At one point during the GHZ level, Sonic reaches a point where the stone walkway he's running along twists into a series of loop-the-loops; here, the camera pulls in and angles slightly to the left, offering a better view of Sonic's footwork.
On 2D maps, Sonic controls just as he did in the classic games. Using an Xbox 360 controller as a reference point, the A button jumps while pressing down and A performs a spin dash. This move has also been mapped to the X button, trading authenticity for simplicity.
On the 3D side, the perspective (on the GHZ map at least) jumps pretty frequently between an over-the-shoulder perspective and a more traditional 2D-style side view. Pressing A (again, on a 360 controller) jumps and also performs Sonic's mid-air homing attack while holding X activates boost, depleting an on screen meter in the process. This meter can be refilled by knocking out enemies and performing tricks in mid-air -- done simply by moving the two analog sticks in different directions -- after hitting a rainbow-colored jump ramp.
Visually, it all looks pretty spectacular. Even if Sonic's gameplay hasn't always aged well, its graphics certainly have. The backgrounds are especially lovely in GHZ's 2D mode, living pictures with lots to look at, but never too much detail that your eye is drawn away from the action. The 3D mode looks solid as well; the over-the-shoulder elements pull away somewhat from the vintage charm, but Sonic's world is a richly detailed one and the less retro-styled gameplay mode offers a different view on things.
With just the one level played in each mode, there's really no telling at this point just how much fans will be serviced. There are a lot of small nods however, such as the return of classic Sonic enemy Crabmeat, who does a little dance for joy if he happens to steal some of the hedgehog's rings.
Sega isn't saying much about the story at this point either, though the game's crossover elements will be a part of it; the story opens with Sonic "and his friends" being pulled into a rift in time by a "mysterious power." There's also nothing being said one way or the other about the presence of multiplayer, leaderboards or anything like that, though more news is promised to be coming at E3. There was some mention of an "interactive menu system," though exactly what form that will take remains to be seen.