The Problem With Attempting To Create Satisfyingly Retro Sonic Experience

As Sonic week draws to a close – sadly, I’d love to *just* write about Sonic for the rest of this website’s natural lifetime, and if I stop tonight that would be the case, but I know some of you actually enjoy these warblings and rants so I shall continue, just for you – we were presented with the timed demo of Sonic Generations on the 360 and Ps3. Sonic Generations represents a celebration of all things Sonic, bundled onto one 3D-enabled disk. But will it be any good? How was the demo? And why the clearly bi-polar approach by Sega? 

The biggest issue with Sonic Generations is that it is an ‘anniversary’ game. It has to encapsulate the series for every gamer. But herein lies the issue, I played my first Sonic game in 1991 – obviously, you may have noticed – but for many their first experiences with the franchise may have been the later 3D, long-legged Sonic games. Nothing wrong with that, should blame the parents for not conceiving earlier possibly, but it does cause issues when trying to please the majority.

With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog Episode 4 on various digital distribution formats we were faced with classic Sonic feel with shoe-horned new gen aspects – for example the homing attack – which made it feel a little confused and unfortunately alienated some. With Generations it seems that Sega has learned from this by featuring two generations of gameplay in one title. Classic 2D platforming, with the proper blue chubby-Sonic from the Nineties and 3D adventuring with the long-legged Mac Daddy Sonic of the Adventure-era onwards.

All well and good, but how could it possibly work? Well the description of the mostly in-the-dark plot, as listed next to the demo on the XBLM states:

Sonic’s universe is thrown into chaos when a mysterious new power comes into force, creating ‘time holes’ which take Sonic and his friends back in time. Whilst there, Sonic runs into some very familiar characters from his past including a younger version of himself! Now they must team up to defeat their enemies, save their friends, and find out who is behind this diabolical deed.

So we now have some degree of clarity, Long Legs is an older version of Chubby – and not an alternate reality version as once considered by many to be the case – and the time holes allow for a blending of eras – explaining how Chubby Classic can be in the City Escape levels. Anyways, what this does is create a nostalgic feel for all Sonic fans, young and old. This has to be commended.

The last major ‘anniversary’ title was Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 – and we all know what went wrong there – and as such it represented an effort to bring Sonic kicking and screaming onto the next-gen consoles, a move that proved to by daunting for all involved, and yet  the lower spec machines were getting games such as Sonic Rush, Sonic and The Dark Brotherhood as well as the more recent Sonic Colors/Colours. These titles were restricted slightly by the technology and as such fealt more like the traditional Sonic series – Sonic Rush (and to an extend the earlier Sonic Advance series on the GBA) in particular. Fans of the early titles wanted a more 2D form title, much in the vein of the rather-quite-good New Super Mario Bros on the DS, but let’s not forget that Mario himself had an exceptional 3D adventure in Mario 64, before struggling with Mario Sunshine. Sonic Adventure, the Tenth Anniversary game, was far more successful than Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 simply because it felt like a step forward. Six years later all that had really changed were the visuals, and while the title may not have been popular, it is nigh on impossible not to fall in love with the game’s animated cut-scenes.

If Sega had celebrated the Fifteenth Anniversary with a full-blown animated movie based around those kind of visuals, instead of trying to update the 3D iterations to the HD consoles, we may have had a better year all round, but now for the Twentieth Anniversary we have a new age around us.

The Internet and social networking era is in full swing and now feedback is more instant than ever before. The Interwebs have been all a quiver since the initial teaser for Generations was released – rumours of the type, content, theme, focus etc… have been discussed and debated intensely, all stemming from one short animated clip.

Now with the teasingly short demo available on the 360/PS3, which see’s one stage from the Green Hill Zone update with Classic Sonic bounding around with a satisfactory level of speed and control we can see that Sega is committed to getting this one exactly right. Rumours are still abound that the demo might unlock something else further down the line – maybe Current Sonic in his version of Green Hill, or if others are to be believed a section of City Escape. Either way the tease is great. We know Sega can make great games with their little blue mascot, but it’s been a while since there has been a truly brilliant one. Hopefully this tribute to the last twenty years of gaming evolution will be that game.

It’s refreshing to have something that feels like a nostalgia-fuelled retro experience but without being a DVD loaded with Mega Drive ROM files, I just hope that further down the line we are treated to more inspired choices from the team behind the game. I personally am counting down the days.

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