For the 20th Anniversary of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega have released an early build of the Sonic Generations demo shown at E3 on Xbox Live and PSN. The most surprising thing about the demo is how fast it moves. Only consisting of a single level, a recreation of Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone: Act 1, Generations is much faster than its Genesis counterpart. After last year’s well-intentioned Sonic 4: Episode 1 attempted to pull in Genesis gamers it received a heavy-handed backlash for being a slow platforming game in a momentum based series with an emphasis on speed. It comes as a bit of a relief that what’s included in the Sonic Generations demo moves quickly, and can be effortlessly finished within a minute.
What is worrying is that this will only be half of Generations, which interchanges 2D classic Sonic sections with 3D modern Sonic ones. This is Sega’s plea to all Sonic fans, new and old, to get back on board with both styles. The first decade of Sonic was relatively solid, despite reaching its full potential only a handful of games in with Sonic & Knuckles in ‘94 and never replicating that same level of proficiency afterwards. On the tail end of that decade sits Sonic Adventure 2, the 10th Anniversary of the release of Sonic the Hedgehog. Things quickly fell apart after Adventure 2’s release, and Sega’s still scrambling to pick up the pieces following a decade where Sonic’s best outing was an RPG developed by BioWare. Half of Sonic Generations is a celebration of an era marked by incompetence and careless mishandling of what had once been the second biggest name in gaming.
While this half is separated from the available demo, what is presented in pure 2D Sonic’s platforming is accentuated with the vibrant greens of the aptly named Green Hill Zone, while also providing a sense of depth that will likely feel informed by the 3D portion. There’s also an excellent rendition of the Green Hill Zone theme that’s heavy on synth-effects, and only further enhances the liveliness of this environment. So far, so Sonic.
It is frustrating that things don’t feel as good as they look and sound in the demo. Sonic’s a stunted little runt in classic form, a chubby infantile-looking thing. He doesn’t have much in the way of hops, his spinning jumps too often falling just shy of what is needed. And he’s also somewhat difficult to follow due to his general speediness and the amount of detail in the level. After completing it a number of times, I still felt unsure if any of this improves upon the original formula in any way. It’s certainly faster, but this also means you’ll spend more time blindly running into enemies and when things begin to hitch up (the frame rate’s inconsistent at best), it’s way noticeable.
There’s still undeniable potential in this franchise. That’s what makes things so frustrating, as Sega continues to make ploys in appealing to every one of their fans, but refuse to do the single most important thing. What Sonic needs to become relevant is a complete return to the physics and aesthetics of his roots and some time off from this exhaustive cycle of attaining some ace 3D sensibility that never existed. Perhaps there’s still hope for the return to form fans expect in the anticipated release of Sonic 4: Episode 2 later this year – maybe there doesn’t need to be two attempts to reboot a stagnant franchise in a year. One thing’s for sure – there’s no way to please the entirety of the wide generation gap in Sonic’s fanbase.