When I walked into my closed-door preview of “Sonic Generations” in SEGA’s quiet upstairs meeting room, something Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said earlier reverberated in my head, “you want what you’ve always wanted, but you also want something new.” In a nutshell, that’s both the promise and the overwhelming appeal of Sonic’s upcoming adventure, which reinvents levels from Sonic’s 20-year history and lets you play through them as two distinct Sonics: classic and modern.
On the show floor the SEGA team was showing the iconic Green Hill, but in our private demo we were treated to a playthrough of City Escape (for the console version of "Sonic Generations), the frantic level that opens “Sonic Adventure 2.” In Act 1 of City Escape, the level is run through the “classic gameplay” filter, turning it into a speedy 2D platformer.
With the catchy “Follow Me” tune blasting out of the speakers and the Hedgehog Engine (from “Sonic Unleashed”) adding significant pop to the graphics, the momentum-based gameplay takes center stage. Sonic jams through the level using only his spin-dash and jump as the GUN truck relentlessly chases him down. True to Sonic’s Genesis-era roots, the hedgehog uses multiple paths throughout the level. He dashes up and down with blistering speed, but also weaves into the foreground and background. A dynamic camera stays locked onto Sonic, but also shifts to show us the GUN truck, which isn’t just trying to damage Sonic, but now is a threat to the environment as it destroys platforms and ledges.
This is still an unfinished version and the textures are in need of definition, but that’s the only complaint we can throw at Sonic Team’s latest based on our preview. Thus far, “Sonic Generations” accomplishes precisely what it has set out to do: It has concocted the perfect blend of nostalgia and newness to bring an exciting Sonic experience that is familiar, fast, and fun.
Next, we switch over to Act 2, the “modern” iteration of City Escape with its 3D-modeled landscape inspired by San Francisco. At first we couldn’t picture how this modern spin would differ from the relatively recent 3D level design present on the Dreamcast. The difference was stunning, since the entire cityscape is now full drawn in the background, and helps add a sense of speed and immersion to an already exhilarating stage. Additionally, Sonic has a few more tricks now, such as homing attacks and boost.
The developers have new tricks as well. Taking cues from “Sonic Unleashed” and “Sonic Colors,” the frantic chase frequently shifts from 3D to 2.5D, keeping you on your toes and offering some new gameplay twists – especially when the GUN truck takes flight and a giant buzzsaw materializes on its chassis. Now, instead of being merely an annoyance, the GUN truck is a constant, menacing threat that feels alive and incredibly dangerous.
These “modern” takes on the level design feel more subtle, but still serve to breathe fresh life into Sonic’s best moments.
During a brief Q&A following the demonstration, I learned that Green Hill is the only level present on both console and 3DS versions. One journalist raised the inevitable question of which levels would be on which version, and Iizuka smirked knowingly, reciting a much-rehearsed PR line to politely block the question. However, a recently released interview at SonicStadium has given us a gigantic clue, as Producer Takashi Iizuka said the following:
The 3DS version is a celebration of Sonic’s portable history. As such it only makes sense that we keep that history on a portable system.
Aside from being a brilliant marketing move which will surely bolster sales, expect to see classic levels from titles like “Sonic Advance” and maybe even “Sonic Rush.”
And what about bringing it to the new Playstation Vita? I asked the SEGA team and was greeted with another knowing smirk (and in response, knowing laughs from my fellow journalists) despite the answer: “We’re talking about the PS3, 3DS and 360 versions for the time being. Any new platform we currently can’t tell you what our plan is.”
Overall it left this Sonic fan, raised on retro 2D levels and classic speed -- soured by Sonic’s recent outings (rife with experimental storylines, uninteresting characters and slow gameplay) -- genuinely thrilled for “Sonic Generations.” It looks sharp, fast, and incredibly inspired. Then again, when you’re working with 20 years of Sonic’s greatest hits, we expect nothing less.
Sonic Generations represents yet another reason to drain your wallet this November.