To kids, Sonic the Hedgehog is the closest thing to a cartoon rock star the world has ever seen. He has a string of hits, claims to save the world, has an attitude, and a passionate fanbase. Like all rock stars, however, Sonic has also had a sharp fall from grace in recent years, with new projects suffering unfavourable comparisons to the greatness of his first few 'albums'.
For the blue blur's 20th anniversary, publisher SEGA is doing the typical record label thing and producing Sonic Generations - but this is more than just a Greatest Hits collection. While the point is to revisit the highlights of Sonic's best adventures, it's probably best to think of it as a tribute or re-interpretations album, using today's technology to put a modern spin on the ubiquitous nostalgia.
As you would expect, the first thing fans will notice about Sonic Generations is just how many references to past titles are included here. The amount of fanservice is simply staggering - from collectible artwork, alternative music from Mega Drive, Saturn and Game Boy Advance eras, references to 'Chao in Space' and characters such as Mighty the Armadillo, Ray the Squirrel and Fang the Sniper, this game has it all.
Even the menu presentation is inspired by the original Japanese box artwork for the Mega Drive Sonic games. And to top off all the homages and re-interpretations of main stages from the franchise's history, you'll also be able to unlock the smoothest version you'll ever play of the classic Mega Drive version of Sonic the Hedgehog. Bonus.
The 'tracklist' to this retread of good old times is a collection of iconic stages from each of Sonic's major console releases - from Green Hill Zone to City Escape, all the way to Planet Wisp from 2010's Sonic Colours. There's a good mix of design, location and gameplay gimmicks for each level, and the graphical presentation is simply gorgeous throughout. Even the world map, housing doors to side-missions, smacks of Sonic Advance 3's hub stages.
Fans will forever argue which era of Sonic remains his greatest, but in Generations both Classic and Modern forms have come together, and play surprisingly well indeed. It's the Classic Sonic stages that will resonate with older fans, a perfect representation of the kind of gameplay design that was so prominent in the 16-bit games: momentum-based platforming coupled with branching paths and set-pieces that wouldn't look out of place in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Modern Sonic has always had a bit of a problem, in that critics tend to feel that his linear speeding doesn't work all that well, and retro fans never wanted this style of gameplay in the first place. Following the pleasant surprise that was Sonic Colours, however, it's actually pretty fun to play as Sonic's up-to-date counterpart. You're still running into the screen and using the boost mechanism, but you don't feel compelled to hold the button down, while the level design ensures you'll rarely get anywhere using the tried-and-tested 'Boost to Win' tactic.