Sonic and his furry posse haven't had the best run in recent years, but the ailing hedgehog finally returns in good form for his latest outing. Sifting out most of the cruddy elements from recent games that soured longtime fans and pushed some folks away for good, the development team hits a real sweet spot with Sonic Generations. Blending the tried-and-true classic 2D Sonic gameplay of the '90s with a refined, tighter version of Sonic's recent 3D jaunts yields a nostalgia-laden experience that favors blazing speed over schlocky gimmicks. When you add high replay value and a heap of extra goodies to that winning formula, you get one of the better Sonic games in recent memory.
Generations stars not one but two different versions of Sonic that coexist simultaneously in the same realm as a result of the game's time-bending plot setup. An upbeat picnic party gets ruined when a dark, powerful menace sucks up all of Sonic's pals and scatters them through time and space. Left stuck in a void, modern Sonic meets up with his retro self from the 16-bit era, and the two team up to recover their buddies and set things right. The story is laced with pleasantly light humor and serves as the vehicle for bringing the old and new eras together. Saving your friends trapped in time on the hub world requires you to warp back to memorably reimagined stages culled from past Sonic games. You have to tackle every level twice--once with the old-school Sonic and once with the modern Sonic--and that might sound like a cheap way of extending the adventure, but each hero's run offers a very different experience.
Playing as the original Sonic has you zipping through the undulating side-scrolling stages to collect gold rings, stomp foes, and navigate tricky platforming sections in 2D in a similar manner to the old-school games. Armed with just the spin dash and a need for speed, old Sonic brings back a great classic vibe. Returning for Act Two as the newer Sonic delivers a behind-the-shoulder, forward-moving 3D perspective that sometimes shifts to 2D for intermittent stretches. They're faster-paced runs that cover familiar terrain without being copy-and-paste repeats of the same stage designs. Modern Sonic has alternate moves like midair homing attacks and a speed boost instead of the typical spin dash. Both hedgehogs have somewhat unique moves, and each handles a little differently. The controls can feel a tad clunky when shifting between the old and new characters, and it's easy to lose track of what set of abilities you're working with during the common 2D stretches in each act. That's something that you get used to with time, though. There might be moments when you jolt to a dead stop or struggle through some of the platforming sections, but the challenge isn't so steep that you can't overcome the game's tougher areas with a little practice.
While the punchy, speed-driven gameplay keeps Generations upbeat and flowing, it's the impressive level designs that really seal the deal. Outside of the hub world, all of the main areas you explore are updated re-creations of stages pulled from a handful of past Sonic games. Multiple paths are the order of the day here, and obstacles like moving platforms, springboards, spikes, water areas, foes, lasers, and tons of other varied challenges are sprinkled generously throughout each branching route. Levels are also a real visual treat. Regardless of whether you're playing as old or new Sonic, the bustling background scenery shifts and pulses with life beyond the chaos erupting in the foreground. There's a ton of detail crammed into every area, and though much of it speeds by at a breakneck pace, it's gorgeous when you spare a second to notice. More deliberate transitional sections where Sonic gets chased by a rampaging truck armed with whirling buzz saws, hops across the noses of leaping killer whales, or rides a missile skyward really add some stellar flourishes too. Though few in number, the epic boss encounters showcase a similar pizzazz.
The collection and speed-run-focused vibe in Generations naturally encourages replay, but there are also a lot of minigames and content to unlock. Some are integral to progressing deeper into the game as well. After completing the main acts in each section of the hub world, you have to collect three keys to unlock the door to the next boss encounter. Gaining access to the key requires completing a series of minigames, such as racing duels, rival battles, and score challenges. Some are more enjoyable than others, but you can pick and choose which ones you want to play to unlock the key. With the main stages, the optional minigames, and the desire to go back to get a perfect score, there's enough content to chew on for a long time if you feel so inclined.
Mixing the best elements from old and new Sonic games together into a seamless experience works out amazingly well. It's clear the Sonic team went above and beyond this time around to spit shine this game into a thing of beauty. It may have missed a few warts here and there, but Sonic Generations doesn't skimp on the speed or the fun.