E3 2011: Sonic Generations Hands-On Preview

I'm seeing double here--four Sonics! Wait no, it's just classic and modern. *UPDATED*

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For over a decade the fans of Sonic the Hedgehog have boomed an outcry for a return to the classic side-scrolling high-speed action. They exclaimed "nay" to finding the computer room, interspecies romances, or a red sea of furry anamorphic pals. This time around, Sonic's new friend is Sonic: the classic '90s chili-dog-eating, family-band-playing, fastest-thing-alive version. Not wishing to alienate current-gen fans, both the New Age and the old-school Sonics are fully playable, and they travel through levels custom-tailored to their respective play styles.

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We first played through the Green Hill Zone as classic Sonic. The level was overwhelmingly faithful to the original Genesis incarnation. Every golden ring and dastardly "no-goodnik" robot remained in their respective locations. The backgrounds captured the magic of the retro title rendered into crisp high-poly graphics. The scenery was further enhanced by an upbeat remix of the iconic Green Hill Zone tune. The only real visual change came from the camera panning into a dynamic chase view when we reached top speeds around the more complex loops and ascents off ledges. Another additional element was the ability to quickly enter Sonic's hyper speedball form at the push of a button. This wasn't always the wisest choice, because several times this smacked us straight into an oncoming pit. Still, it was fairly simple to make it to the goal line.

For the modern Sonic, we entered into a reimagined version of the Green Hill Zone. From the start, the music was more intense, and Sonic raced onscreen with a rolling start from a behind-camera view. We quickly had a need to move around the three-dimensional speedway to collect rings and smash down enemies with high-speed airborne rams. The terrain was filled with speed-boost tiles and springboards to further launch us up insane heights. After whipping around a spiraling mountain and through a gauntlet of bumpers, we found ourselves far off in the background. The camera zoomed in further, and the stage quickly transformed into a sliding side-scroller. Sonic grinded across the rails like a pro boarder as we dodged enemies and quickly leaped to snatch up rings.

The winding path soon led us into a waterfall cavern where we were chased down by a humongous robotic piranha. The camera panned yet again to get into the heat of the action as we jumped across gaps to evade our hungry pursuer. When it seemed like the end of the line, the game entered bullet time, and Sonic barely managed to escape as the electronic fish made one false leap straight into a cave wall. We escaped the cavern and landed back on the grassy Green Hill. The remaining seconds of the level involved furiously zooming across miles in no time and bouncing through another maze of springs. The blazing ride came to a halt as we briskly sailed across the finish line.

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The next level we saw took us to a reimagining of a famous Sonic Adventure 2 level, City Escape, which originally featured a semi-truck chasing Sonic down the hills of a San Francisco-like backdrop. Like other levels, the classic Sonic version of this stage is played from a 2D perspective with Sonic maneuvering across old Victorian houses while avoiding enemies and various pitfalls. What's interesting is that the semi from the Sonic Adventure 2 level now acts as a constant nuisance, driving in and out of the action in an attempt to attack Sonic and destroying actual level geometry. For modern Sonic, the level is basically a slightly remastered version of the Sonic Adventure 2 level with updated visuals and some new mechanics and additional areas that weren't a part of the original. It's also worth noting that the semi-truck chase sequence got a nice upgrade--the truck now features enormous buzz saws and other horrible appendages that reach out and try to attack Sonic.

Sonic Generations contains two excellent play styles that offer a plethora of excitement for fans. Both old-timers looking for nostalgia or those who enjoyed the newer titles will find something to enjoy in this flurry-filled package. Sega said it plans to include some online elements in the form of a time attack and that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions will support stereoscopic 3D. Additionally, the 3DS version of the game will feature the same Green Hill level from its console counterparts, but the rest of the levels for that version will be completely different. Check back for more information as the game's November 22 release date draws near.

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