Sonic the Hedgehog remains to be one of the most iconic characters of the video games circuit. Speedy, spikey, and a distinctly regal shade of blue, he is perhaps SEGA’s most beloved creation. Yet recent direction in trying to broaden his appeal to a wider audience has been met unfavourably, even though the publisher’s most recent efforts with Sonic Colours offered a glimpse that things were certainly looking back on track.
In the year of his 20th Anniversary, SEGA are returning the infamous blue hedgehog firmly to his roots. Sonic Generations, an fundamentally ‘fan service’ concept, sees ‘Classic’ Sonic from the old school 16-bit Mega Drive (or Genesis) days making a re-appearance to share the spotlight with ‘Modern’ Sonic, whose abilities are plucked from the popular Sonic Rush series that were released on Nintendo DS.
Unlike the console counterpart, this Nintendo 3DS version is an entirely side-scrolling experience that spends the majority of time focusing entirely on what Sonic does best – rampaging through vibrant stages as fast as he possibly can! This assumes the traditional format of a duo of acts that form a ‘Zone’ that then culminate with a boss battle inspired by classic titles from the series.
Things kicked off with Green Hill Zone: Act 1 which felt as familiar as can be expected, although the glasses-free stereoscopic 3D provided added visual depth that certainly allowed the stage to feel particularly fresh – even though we’ve all encountered it before numerous times!
The animation was fluid, ‘Classic’ Sonic being able to progress at a blistering pace despite all the usual enemies and spikes seeking to throw off your momentum. As the screen became filled with more elements to render, there were a few dips in framerate – both with and without the 3D effect turned on – although as it was an early demo build we’ll have to see whether these are present in the final game. Whizzing around a few loops demonstrated the benefit of 3D with Sonic moving into the background as he continued his speedy traversal across the stage, before hitting the spinning end of level marker that makes a glorious comeback.
Green Hill Zone: Act 2 then switched to ‘Modern’ Sonic, introducing returning abilities such as ‘Boost’ and ‘Slide’ to make things a little more interesting. Whilst a primarily side-scrolling experience, these ‘Modern’ acts also incorporate sections in which Sonic is able to stray from his continual route, altering the camera angle and diversifying the gameplay in a way similar to Sonic Colours on Nintendo DS. Within this act, Sonic found himself grinding along rails and dodging obstacles, as well as pinging back and forth between the foreground and background of the image through the use of springs.
Lastly came a boss fight with Dr. Eggman/Robotnik which, in all honesty, was the weakest of the three levels on offer. Inspired by the ‘Big Arm’ boss from Launch Base Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the player was required to dodge Dr. Eggman’s gargantuan robotic fists and taking every opportune moment to hit his underside. It seemed to drag on forever, and in a 3D environment it was hard to discern precisely how to avoid incoming attacks. Here’s hoping it’ll be improved in the final version.
All in all, the Nintendo 3DS version of Sonic Generations seems to be shaping up well, although with little variety to experience it is hard to gauge how it well end up. Needless to say, it’s a welcome boost to the handheld’s software library and a fitting celebration inspired by the history of one of gaming’s most revered icons.