Sonic, as a character, has been all over the place in the past, oh, decade or so; after a 3D foray in Sonic Adventure that was well received at the time but has since been the recipient of a lot of retroactive hatred, the games bearing his name have been of extremely variable quality. Put in simple terms, the games that focused on the 3D elements have generally performed poorly in critical reception, while the games that focused on the 2D elements have performed much better, and have (in some cases) even received heavy praise. Well, Sega somewhat seems to be catching on to the same way of thinking, as Sonic Generations, featuring old school and modern Sonic working together, blends the 2D and 3D gameplay elements together into one game, allowing you to pick and choose how you want to play. While we got the chance to check it out at E3, and Widro wrote up his impressions, Sega has also opted to release a demo for the game, which I had a chance to play around with.
1.) The first, and most… interesting… thing about the demo isn’t anything to do with the mechanics; rather, it’s that this demo of the game is only available for twenty days. Now, the game isn’t set to come out until the end of this year (so far), so most likely what this is trying to do is drum up interest for the game outside of standard advertising channels or press write-ups. Make a demo, put it online for a short time, and boom, get people talking, especially if they miss the twenty day window. As such, if you have any interest in downloading and playing the demo (and if you like platformers you really should), you’ve got eighteen days left as of today, so get cracking.
2.) The demo in question showcases one stage of the Green Hill zone from the E3 demo this year, but unlike the E3 demo, it only showcases the side-scrolling portion of the gameplay. Now, Widro discusses both demo stages in his initial impressions above, but it’s kind of hard to really take away from the demo what the game itself is supposed to be like without the 2D and 3D segments side-by-side for comparison. That said, since the 2D sections are likely to be the more enjoyable of the two, if the last decade or so of Sonic the Hedgehog games are any indication, it’s best to put your best foot forward, which Sega is quite plainly doing here.
3.) The first thing you notice about the game upon start up is that it is pretty. The game world is quite obviously the Green Hill zone from the original Sonic the Hedgehog, but the visuals have very much been updated, and while the 3D visuals might not please fans of the old sprites, Sega has gone to great lengths to make this game a visual treat. Sonic is very well animated, as are the robots he faces down as he plows through the stage, and the backgrounds are very lively, colorful and pleasing to the eye. In short: the game is a visual gem, and pays good homage to where it came from as well.
4.) The audio consists of classic audio from the original game, updated for the modern release. The Green Hill zone song is the exact song from the original game with a tonal update, so while it has the same tune as its MIDI basis, it’s clearer and more bubbly. The sound effects are essentially the same effects from the original game as well, updated for this release, and they’re also really well matched up, sounding very reminiscent of the old game without coming across as cheap or poorly executed. Sega did their work trying to make the stage match the original, and it shows well.
5.) Sonic Generations is meant to make the 2D and 3D segments play differently from one another, and part of that comes into play by making the two Sonics play like their respective selves would based on the time period. What that means is that Modern Sonic gets his homing attack and boost, while Classic Sonic gets the spin dash and spin attack, and their stages take advantage of those differences. Classic Sonic’s stage is really laid out like one would expect of an old Sonic the Hedgehog level, and Classic Sonic makes good use of that, spinning up into a ball to buzz through tubes or around circular loops, and using the spin dash to rocket through obstacles and such with ease, and it was actually somewhat of a nostalgic experience, given that I actually remember playing the first few games and such.
6.) While the Green Hill zone is modeled after the original, however, it’s not the same stage; you’ll notice if you’ve played the original that the layout is noticeably different. There are several different pathways to take through the stage, from taking a bumper at the right time or bouncing off of an enemy to reach a new location, and as a result, the level actually feels a bit more developed than its predecessor, though it’s not quite on par with Sonic 3 in terms of sheer structural insanity at this point. Still, there are multiple pathways to take and obstacles to overcome and it’s fun playing through the demo and finding different ways to go about things.
7.) While the 2D and 3D stages have their specific gimmicks, both stage types occasionally flirt with taking things in the other direction, and this happens a few times in the demo stage, as the camera will pan back while you take a speed run through a twisty section or a huge jump, which is very pretty, to be certain, but a little awkward at first. The game handles it well enough that you’re not likely to eat a death because of it or anything, mostly because these segments don’t kick in until after you’ve committed to a run or jump, but they’re still a little odd at first.
8.) The demo also keeps track of your time through it on multiple playthroughs, I noted, as each time I hit a checkpoint after the first playthrough, it informed me how much time I’d shaved off of my previous run when I hit that checkpoint. In theory, this will play into the final game, allowing you to track times and improve your top times for leaderboard posting or personal best measurement; in practice, this doesn’t really do anything for the demo that I can see, but it’s fine enough for what it is.
9.) And then, as you clear the spinning stage sign that’s a big part of most older franchise titles… the demo ends. I don’t really get that; there’s no tally of the score, no indication of what you collected or did, just a spinning sign and an ad for the release of the game. That’s a bit of a letdown, especially since there’s really only the one stage, and you can complete it in about three minutes.
10.) The Sonic Generations “demo”Â is really more of a teaser, and I can’t help but think that we’ll be seeing more of these sorts of demos as the release date comes up. There’s only one stage to play in this demo, and there’s no 3D gameplay whatsoever, so I can’t help but think we’ll see some more episodic demos, featuring new stages and gameplay mechanics as the release date draws closer. If that’s the case, this is a pretty cool idea for keeping the game out there and keeping it relevant as it comes closer to launch. Hopefully that’s so, as this demo is a good enough setpiece, but there really needs to be, well, more to show off to give people an impression of the game that might convince them to pay money for it. A three minute level and a teaser video isn’t enough, and I think Sega knows that, so let’s see what else they’ve got in store for us.
Mark B. is the Senior Editor at Diehard GameFAN, mostly because he’s been on staff for a decade. He has previously written for 411Games, InsidePulse Games, Not a True Ending, Retrograding and Beyond the Threshold, and he maintains multiple infrequent columns, as well as a Hitbox stream on Saturdays. You can check out his archives and non-game related work over at markbwriting.com, and follow him on Twitter at MarkBWriting or Facebook at MarkBWriting. (Special thanks to J. Rose for the artwork.)