For a while now, Sega has been trying to reconcile its two contrasting portrayals of Sonic: the old-school Sonic, characterized by the fast-paced, side-scrolling action of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis days; and the new 3D Sonic, a brighter, cheekier, and slightly more supersonic version (geddit?).
We've had old-school gameplay with 3D looks (Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1); 3D gameplay with a dash of side-scrolling (Sonic Colours); and finally, a Kinect-powered racing game (Sonic Free Riders). Now, still hoping to find the perfect balance, Sega has put the two Sonics together in Sonic Generations, a new platformer designed to celebrate the iconic mascot's 20th anniversary. We recently had the chance to sit through a short demo of the game's first two levels at Sega's offices in Sydney.
At this stage, not much is known about Sonic Generations' story. The game will encompass the 20 years of Sonic's history and will be set across three defining eras: the 2D Mega Drive/Genesis era; the introduction of 3D in the Dreamcast era; and the modern-day HD graphics era. Instead of creating new levels, the developers have revamped a bunch of iconic stages throughout these eras in HD and given players the choice of playing each stage in either classic side-scrolling 2D or in modern-era 3D.
There will be two incarnations of Sonic to go with each of these options: a classic Sonic and a modern Sonic. Each incarnation will retain the character's set of moves from whatever era he comes from, meaning the spin dash and spin attack for classic Sonic and the homing attack and sonic boost for modern Sonic.
Our first look at the game took us through the first level in the Green Hill Zone, which we saw twice: once in classic and once in modern. As old Sonic fans will remember, Green Hill Zone is all about lush tropical environments, achingly blue skies, brightly colored palm trees, checkered hills, and a zillion loop-de-loops. The level has been given a HD makeover, so it still retains the classic feel of the old Sonic games, but there's a lot more color and vibrancy to admire. Not that you have much time to take in the surroundings, what with this being a Sonic game and all.
Our head spun as we watched Sonic get back into old form in the classic mode, zipping around the various springs, slopes, and loops while jumping for rings, avoiding spikes and generally becoming reacquainted with all of his old abilities (the spin dash is a favorite). It's fast, but it's nothing compared to what comes next.
Entering the same level again, the 3D Sonic doesn't mess around. The camera now moves very closely behind Sonic, so we get a different perspective as he slides and jumps his way across the environment. In the big blur of blue and white and green, we managed to work out that Sonic now has the ability to use a homing attack to target enemy badniks from midair. In this level, the badniks were in their simplest form, the ladybug-like mechanical baddies that Sonic can easily manage.
This incarnation of the level also introduced zip lines, which Sonic glides across to avoid pits and large bodies of water. We also saw an underground part that has Sonic sliding across a zip line through a cave while being pursued by a giant mechanical fish. Things got crazy when Sonic decided to use his boost while zipping: It took the game from supersonic to hypersonic with no remorse for the poor sod watching (us).
As usual, there is more than one way to complete a level (up high, middle range, or ground level, from what we could tell), which is good to know because some parts of the 3D levels look hard to complete. Our demo was over before we knew it, but it left us feeling giddy with excitement. Or maybe just giddy.
Sonic Generations is due out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year.