The blue blur is throwing a party, but is it one worth going to?
While gamers on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC have had their piece of the Sonic 20th anniversary pie earlier this month, 3DS owners have had to wait for Sonic Generations to be released on their platform. The back of the box promises a big adventure, but is that actually the case? Well, not exactly. The newest handheld game in the series is certainly a coherent one, but there were some strange decisions made along the way.
The premise of Sonic Generations is that the smaller, chubby Classic Sonic meets bigger, skinny Modern Sonic to take on a mysterious force. They have to go through stages of the past in order to keep the future safe and sound. The story is told through written dialogue with some character animation here and there. In total, there are seven of these platforming zones with classics such as Mushroom Hill, Emerald Coast, and Tropical Resort accounted for. Each platforming zone offers a classic 2D stage, a modern 2.5D stage, and an Emerald Challenge stage, the latter of which is heavily reminiscent of the bonus stage in Sonic Heroes. Next to that there are three boss gates, which contain a rival race battle and re-imagined boss battle against a classic opponent. The levels are all well done and provide multiple paths to completion.
However, the main campaign feels very short. They seem to want to keep the seven stage rule to keep them in line with how many Chaos Emeralds they are, but it feels short and limited instead. There are games in Sonic's past that they glossed over for no particular reason other than for the sake of the story. This makes the game feel restricted in scope, something that isn't the case with its bigger brother on the HD consoles. Another point that deserved more attention is the music. While there are some brilliant remastered tracks in this package, most of the classic versions come off as a bit lazy. They are just slightly altered or in the case of Water Palace and Tropical Resort, they just copied the higher quality music from the originals. It is certainly a shame and once again limits the potential the game could have had.
Next to the main mode, there is a lot more to do in Sonic Generations 3DS. To start, there are 100 missions to overcome and conquer. These missions vary from collecting items and destroying enemies to defeating levels a certain way and beating bosses with a single ring. They are a lot of fun and for every mission completed, you receive a reward, ranging from classic music to previously unreleased artwork. However, you are limited to how many missions you can do, since you will have to find people through StreetPass, use Play Coins, or meet other certain requirements. If you feel frustrated by a certain missions and are certain that you can't possibly finish it, you can buy your way out by paying 5 Play Coins. It is a cheap road to take, but you will still receive your reward.
A feature that is returns from the DS era of Sonic games is the option to duke it out in local or Wi-Fi multiplayer. While I couldn't give the local multiplayer a whirl, I spent an entire evening battling various opponents over the online servers. In here, you have an option to choose from any regular stage from the main game you like and see who can finish it the quickest. There aren't many differences to the normal game, but one thing you'll encounter are time holes, which stop you from making any progress and force you to press the B button like a maniac. It is a slightly frustrating mechanic, which can put you way behind the other competition. My online sessions also suffered sometimes from lag, though the game was certainly still playable. A neat touch is that once you finished your session, you are given the other person's profile card. This also happens through StreetPass, but it is certainly nice to see it implemented through the entirety of the game. Besides the profile card, you get new backgrounds and a special item that can be used in the single-player game. Usually, this is a protective bubble that can be activated on the touch screen, but it is certainly helpful for trying to get the one S-rank you really need. Finally there is the Time Attack mode. In here, you try to compete for the fastest time on various stages to get a high spot on the online rankings.
The game controls overall very well with both the D-Pad and the Circle Pad. It ultimately becomes a matter of preference, but the Circle Pad was the way to go for me. The gameplay is certainly different for each version of the blue blur, but the game doesn't do a terrific job showing that. Early on, Classic Sonic plays precisely as it should, but in a certain segment of the game, it decides to change the rules slightly and makes it feel a little bit like the Rush games. Modern Sonic, on the other hand, got all of his staples from games like Colors. He can do Homing Attacks, boost away across the stages, and of course there are rails, loads of them. However, it never reaches its true potential as the system's capabilities are a lot better than just a 2.5D format. It doesn't make the game bad, but it is something that should certainly be addressed with the next portable outing.
Sonic Generations on the Nintendo 3DS is certainly a well made game. Its level design shows once again what good can be done with the franchise. Above it all, though, is a blanket of concern that questions if they did everything they could to make this a proper follow-up to the fun Nintendo DS experiences we had. It copies an old formula pretty well and provides a good amount of amusement, but maybe it is time to push the blue blur forward into new directions. For now though, this is a game that every real fan should have in their collection.