Poor Sonic, as a cultural icon he's been struggling lately. As the 21st century reared its head with its iPod headphones in its ears and hood done up, he quickly became the embodiment of a 90's throwback, suffering from a chronic case of wretched image problem, the kind that only an aging star can suffer before exploding in size and wiping out an entire solar system. If you ever wish to measure how washed up an aging star truly is however, there's one simple test that can give us a clear an accurate reading. Simply ask yourself: "Has [insert decrepit star here] ever appeared in a commercial advertising [insert mundane object here]?"
As of January 9th 2012 Sonic, sadly, gets the wash-up seal of approval with an ad for insurance comparison. Honestly, look it up. Just like Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten before him our blue friend has crossed a cultural Rubicon from which he will never return... Or will he? The Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions of Sonic's latest outing, Sonic Generations, received an overall positive critical reception and after years as the butt of many a cruel jape, it seemed Sonic was ready for a comeback. The console and PC versions of the game mixed tried and tested Sonic platforming with classic and modern interpretations of some of the worlds and tunes we know and love, stirring a long-lost sense of nostalgia in our more than willing minds. But does the 3DS version achieve the same?
Graphically, the 3DS version of Generations doesn't look too bad, despite being a little rough around the edges at times. Sonic is as adorable in his classic incarnation as he is cocky in his modern one and the two are given distinct character designs to easily differentiate between them, much like in its console counterpart. Whether navigating tricky jumps with classic Sonic or blasting your way past tumbling totems and pursuing killer whales as modern Sonic, the jumps, spins and high speeds all look very nice and remain faithful to the Sonic legacy.
The worlds you blast around in the 3DS version differ from the worlds featured in the console and PC titles (with the exception of Green Hill Zone). Gone are such favorites of mine as the Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2 and the City Escape level from Sonic Adventure 2. In their place we have Casino Night Zone (Sonic 2), Mushroom Hill Zone (Sonic and Knuckles), and Emerald Coast (Sonic Adventure), to name but a few. As far as I could tell, the levels were faithful recreations of their previous generation forbears. With the 3D cranked up, the backdrops look deep and expansive, creating a wonderful illusion of immersive depth even whilst being glued to a 2D axis.
The soundtrack to Sonic's latest 3DS appearance also remains true to its original source material and is sure to bring back a lot of happy gaming memories. The Casino Night music in particular led me to suffer convulsions of nostalgic glee, and despite not remembering some of the tunes from the other worlds, I'd still find myself accidentally humming them on the bus or on the street, much like the Sonic tunes of old. Collecting rings, bouncing off springs and that horrific drowning countdown all sound much like they in Sonic's prime each adding to a general feeling that drawing from Sonic's roots was the right way for Sega to go.
When discussing the gameplay of Sonic Generations it would blasphemy not to mention the one mechanic that made Sonic such an icon in the first place; speed. Without speed Sonic is nothing and getting it right can make or break a Sonic experience. Thankfully, for the most part Sonic Generations pulls off Sonic's quick pace rather well. Occasionally an unannounced enemy will descend from the heavens to ruin your day, but learning the levels and countering said enemies leaves you with smug sense of satisfaction mixed with a sense of joyous relief that you didn't screw it up this time around.
The modern Sonic levels move at a much faster pace than the classic ones and although this may be a controversial statement, I actually preferred them. There's something about the platforming aspect of the classic levels that just doesn't seem to gel with the 3DS controls, and after getting used to abilities like boost and homing attack it's hard to let them go. Following the successful completion of a level the game grades you on your performance. Achieving the coveted S ranks was enough to convince me to play levels over and over, and there's that small child in all of us that giggles as they try to get their rankings for each world to spell out "ASS".
The boss fights also seem to be lacking a certain something. A good boss should be a thrilling climax to an exciting level, but more often than not the boss fights in the 3DS version of Generations often feel like more of a chore than an entertaining way to spend a few minutes. Many of the bosses are merely just races against rivals (such as Shadow, Silver and Metal Sonic) through a world you played through literally seconds before, and after a while, become arduous and frustrating.
As well as the story, there's also other modes for gaming's premier hedgehog to zoom about in. 'Time attack' is fairly self-explanatory; race to beat your own times and post your best online. 'Versus' allows you to challenge a player to race locally or over the internet and 'Missions' allow you to play through worlds with a distinct goal, for example, not killing a single enemy. Successful completion of these missions unlocks music and artworks in your 'collection' and who knows you might even enjoy looking at them... the first time.
All in all I have to say I enjoyed my time with Sonic Generations. Despite not being quite as impressive as its console brethren it was a perfectly serviceable handheld Sonic title that's great fun to play out and about. Sonic may have become a cultural joke in the last few years but Generations may serve to silence a few of his critics – at least until he teams up with Mario again to go snowboarding or take part in the amateur hammer throw. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sit in the corner and muse over why a cartoon hedgehog needs insurance in the first place.
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