Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sonic Generations

"Sonic the Hedgehog" once upon a time was a major force in gaming, easily one of the biggest names in the entire world.  Every kid on Earth knew his name, he was the fastest hedgehog on Earth.  Sonic was a cynical creation designed specifically to be a proper 90s kid's hero - a cartoon hero with attitude.  Whatever happened to "attitude"?  Back in my day, every kid's hero needed that bizarre indefinable quality of authority-mocking coolness.  Oh well, the world moved on, and so did Sonic.

The years were not kind to Sonic.  While his Italian plumber rival would go on to high glory in the 3D realm, Sonic sat out the entire lifespan of the Saturn*.  When Sonic did finally come out in 3D, it was "Sonic Adventure", a buggy game that many people consider to be inferior to Sonic's classic 2D outings that made him a star.  Sonic only had further troubles in the 3D realm, including as missteps as "Shadow the Hedgehog", a bizarre attempt to make a dark mature game with a guns and drivable vehicles like "Grand Theft Auto".  Things finally came to their lowest point with "Sonic 2006", a rushed, broken, miserable game that would inspire the greatest Let's Play of all time from Pokecapn and company.  "Sonic 2006" may be the one of the worst things ever made, because not only is it horribly shattered as a game, it also features a frightening love plot between Sonic and preteen human girl.  "Sonic 2006" is the real deal, the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of video games.

Things have gotten better in the last few years.  "Sonic 2006" such a low point that the the series could only improve.  The next installment, "Sonic Unleashed" finally managed to master 3D Sonic gameplay, and "Sonic Colors" continued from that point.  "Sonic Generations", the game I have here, is the ultimate conclusion of the series, a celebration of everything that made Sonic great.  It mixes classic 2D Sonic controls with 3D modern Sonic gameplay, letting players decide which Sonic they want.  And it is amazing.

Since 2011 was apparently the 25th anniversary of every video game franchise ever, "Sonic Generations" opens with Sonic's birthday party, full of the gaggle of strange furry cartoon characters he's met over the years.  I've played quite a few Sonic games myself, about five all in all, including all the Sega Genesis masterpieces, but even I don't know who all these characters are.  This is the game for the hardcore Sonic fan.  So thanks to a much of timey-whimey stuff, Sonic ends up in a white realm beyond time.  And then he meets his past self.

On the first trailer, I thought Sonic had a kid, thus the smaller blue hedgehog.  Maybe a video game version of Baby Godzilla.  Nope, that's actually classic Sonic, the old sprite turned into a full 3D character without all the artistic evolutions that Sonic had undergone over the years.  So "Generations" in the title is completely literal, you travel through all the many console generations Sonic has seen during his long lifespan.  I guess when cartoon video game animals grow older they get taller, get spikier, go through a strange phase of sexual confusion with little girls, change voices repeatedly, and finally reach a nice place of maturity on the PS3.  So on the overworld, you can switch between Neo Sonic and Retro Sonic with a button and play through all nine of the game's levels with either character.  You have to use one or the other for boss fights, but for the most part, if you hate modern Sonic, you never have to use him.

The storyline, is of course, completely meaningless and pure functional.  Dr. Robotnik Eggman** is back, has teamed up with his past self, and has stumbled upon some kind of time devouring monster beyond the end of the universe and well... who cares?  Race through the levels and beat the bosses, THE END.  The game is peppered with small cameos from all the Sonic folk, punctuated with Sonic looking really depressed that weirdos like this are his friends.  Personally, I love the Eggman scenes, because he's definitely the best character in this franchise.

The main meat of the game is the eighteen main levels.  They're all recreations of old Sonic levels, from Green Hill Zone to City Escape to finally "Sonic Colors"' Planet Wisp.  Of course, Sega wasn't lazy, they didn't just remake the 2D or 3D levels, they completely reworked the levels for this game.  Not only that, you can play the modern games in 2D and the old levels in 3D, which is always a cool twist on perspective.  In a strong sign of developer's bravado they remade a level from "Sonic 2006" and its actually good.  Ironically its the buggiest level in the game, but its a lot of fun, especially when you can quote medibot and Kung-Fu Jesus all level.  Sega still hasn't gotten the 3D business completely right just yet, but its a lot of fun.

My major issue with this game is that for whatever reason it isn't properly a fifty-fifty split between 3D and 2D.  Modern Sonic can't help but spend a lot of time in the second dimension, which is kinda annoying when the 3D portions are so exciting and fast.  I mean, I like Modern Sonic's controls in 2D, but I when I sign on for a 3D level, I want a 3D level.  Planet Wisp in 3D is something like 80% 2D, what the heck?  The other problem I have is the huge differences between 2D and 3D Sonic.  They control similarly, but they have major issues, so it really is like two completely different games in one, switching back and forth between very different physics and moves.  Modern Sonic has a small double jump, Old Sonic doesn't, that's tough to get used to.

For whatever reason, I found the 2D levels to be much easier.  Maybe my brain only works properly in the second dimension.

One thing I find vaguely shocking is the massive drop in ambition for Sonic developers.  "Sonic Generations" is a nice short game, with only nineteen levels and about seven boss fights.  If compared to say, "Sonic 2", that's impressive, but remember, this game is on the PS3.  For all its faults, "Sonic 2006" tried to make a huge overworld game with an epic storyline.  Soleanna was an - admittedly shitty - attempt to make a living breathing city like "Super Mario Sunshine"'s Delfino Plaza.  Yeah, it didn't work, but I don't get much tension from "Sonic Generations".  The game's entire plot is basically explained in the cutscene right before the last boss, before that you're just finishing levels without any context or reason.  (And surprisingly few bosses, that's just lazy, yo.)

Well, on the other hand, its clear that Sega has finally made more sense out of the Sonic franchise.  They cut out all the stupid stuff and went to pure gameplay.  All that's in this game is levels, a few challenge levels, and a couple of awesome challenge fights against Shadow and Silver.  Its simple, its cool, and its a decent game.  You can probably beat the entire thing in just a day.  And that's fine, its a great platforming game.  I'd say its 90% perfect.

Except for the Final Boss, that was, to coin a phrase, a load of dick shit.

But ignoring that.  90% perfect.  At the end of the game, Modern Sonic promises Young Sonic that he's "going to have a great future".  Well, Mr. The Hedgehog is clearly lying there, Young Sonic is going to have to go through a long fifteen-year rough patch.  Nobody whose life will eventually take them to "Sonic 2006" has much to hope for when it comes to future events.  But maybe, just maybe, its the current Sonic that is bound for a great future.  One can only hope.

* The lone attempt to bring Sonic to the 3D realm resulted in total embarrassing failure.  No less than two entirely separate visions for a 3D Sonic, using the ultimate 90s title, "Sonic X-treme" were made.  One was version was a basic 3D running game, with a fixed camera and Sonic charging down a thin strip of terrain.  The more finished model was very exciting, and still looks great to this day.  It had a very distinctive fish-eye lens, and apparently got very far in development because there are extensive gameplay videos all over Youtube.  Unfortunately Sega could not have fucked up worse on the "X-treme" project.  The main designer almost died, the execs rushed production, it kept changing hands from dev team to dev team, then they refused to let them use the "NiGHTS" graphics engine, then they just canceled everything because they realized the Saturn was an awful failure.  Sega was seemingly staffed by nothing but idiots in 1996, so this very interesting game was never made.

I actually want to play "Sonic X-treme".

** Now, I didn't get into this franchise until "Sonic Rush" on the DS, but why the heck would you change his name from the awesome "Robotnik" to the truly bizarre "Eggman"?  Dr. Eggman is about the least threatening name of a villain ever.  Imagine if Ganondorf's name was "Lord Fuzzydoodles".  And don't bother telling me what Robotnik's name in Japan is either.  If the Japanese prefer Eggman, they obviously are wrong.  As a people, they are accountable for this crime.

1 comment:

  1. Eggman is just a nickname, you know. Sonic started calling him Eggman in Sonic Adventure and it apparently stuck.