Every year for what feels like my entire life can be summed up as follows: doldrums, excitement, anxious wait, utter disappointment. In that order. No, don’t worry about me, this isn’t a horrible depressing insight into the life and times of a hopeful gaming journalist. Instead, this is a summation of a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Sonic Cycle.
In the beginning, Sega acts all coy about their upcoming project. Yeah, they’re working on something. And yeah, it might be a Sonic game. But you know, like, whatever. After that comes the moment of peak excitement in the debut trailer, which always shows off the best five minutes of the entire game set to some delightfully perky pop music. At this point, you’re probably feeling a massive surge of nostalgia flowing through your veins. Following that, you come upon the time where doubt creeps upon you as the time until the game’s launch slowly diminishes. And then, if all of your fears hadn’t already been confirmed, the reviews finally hit and leave you with a sick feeling comparable only to finding out that Santa is your dad on a cookie binge.
Needless to say, I was approaching Sega’s newest Sonic game, Sonic Generations, with great caution. Everything about it seemed too good to be true. You mean to tell me that I get the best of both worlds: a competent side-scrolling platformer and the pleasantly surprising action of Sonic Colors? I might believe that coming from a company that hadn’t spent the past several years dancing on the grave of my childhood.
It is now, friends and colleagues, that I must tell you something: I believe. Only moments after booting up the demo for Sonic Generations, I was rushed back to a time when Mario’s rival wasn’t just a has-been grasping at straws to stay relevant. For the first time in ages, Sonic feels like Sonic.
The demo made available by Sega on Xbox Live and Playstation Network gives only a small sampling of what you can expect to see later this year. Though the focal point of the game’s marketing is an appeal to both eras of Sonic, the demo caters only to those who fondly recall such tasks as plugging Sonic 2 into their Sonic and Knuckles cartridge just so they could beat the first act of the second level in a far more efficient and timely manner.
Genesis-era Sonic gets assigned with traversing an old favorite, the Green Hill Zone. I was astonished to see how identical this felt to the age-old gameplay of the original Sonic games, and even more astonished at how far Sega’s level design has come along since recent expenditures in the franchise. The level attacks with you nostalgia, but also gives off a refreshing vibe of newness. It feels like a combination of all three original Sonic games with the beautiful scenery that only current generation hardware can provide.
All that being said, there is a bit of a learning curve to controlling the blue blur in high definition. Backgrounds are unsurprisingly busier than stages of yore, and require a bit of adjustment before getting fully used to it. If anything, it’s reminiscent of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which had explosive backgrounds drawing player’s eyes away from their fighters at first glance.
Possibly the most exciting feature of Sonic Generations is the music, which thankfully appears to be a retreading of Sonic’s greatest hits and not a collection of ultra-peppy bubblegum pop. As Sonic runs across the screen like you’ve never seen before, you are greeted to that familiar tune that can only be associated with Green Hill Zone.
Using this demo as indication, I’d say that at least half of Sega has their minds in the right place. The side-scrolling portion of Sonic Generations feels like what Sonic 4 should have been: an adaption of the old gameplay set to entirely new scenery with impressive high definition visuals. It remains to be seen whether or not the other half of the game fares as well, but based on what I’ve seen and played in Sonic Colors, I can’t imagine Generations being anything short of the best Sonic game in the post-Genesis era.