It's Sonic's 20th anniversary, and already Sega have celebrated the occasion with the excellent Sonic Generations on PS3, 360 and PC. But, just as with Sonic Colours last year, Sega have ported the game to a handheld, only this time to the 3DS. Offering new levels, and ostensibly an extension of the HD version experience, does Sonic Generations remain as classic on the go?
The conceit of both the HD and handheld versions of Sonic Generations is the meeting of classic Mega Drive-era Sonic and his modern-day counterpart, due to the machinations of Dr. Eggman and an all-devouring monstrous Time Eater. Every zone in the game has two acts, one act for classic Sonic, and another for modern Sonic, allowing for two styles of gameplay bringing the best of both worlds in one package. However, this is quite different on the 3DS. To begin with, modern Sonic's levels in the the HD games alternate between 3D and 2D gameplay, while in the 3DS game modern Sonic is forever stuck in two dimensions. The only occasions where 3D movement is allowed are in the special stages (taken from Sonic Heroes of all games) and briefly in the final boss battle (which is just as bad as it was before).
Secondly, classic Sonic's gameplay is fundamentally altered after the first three zones, when he permanently learns modern Sonic's homing attack. This move was first introduced in the Dreamcast games as a way to help Sonic navigate and defeat enemies in three dimensions, so it just feels out of place in classic Sonic's levels, which become designed to take into account the homing attack more and more as you progress in the game. It also means that both modern and classic Sonic become very similar, with the only real difference in their move sets being classic Sonic's spin dash and modern Sonic's boost. This kind of defeats the purpose of the entire endeavour of contrasting the old with the new, if the only difference between Act 1 and 2 is that modern Sonic runs faster.
The levels in Sonic Generations on 3DS unfortunately pale in comparison to its HD counterpart. There are some nice selections, including the Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2, Mushroom Hill from Sonic & Knuckles and Emerald Coast from Sonic Adventure. The Mega Drive-era levels are faithful to the originals, perhaps a little too much seeing as every classic Sonic act almost perfectly replicates the original design, simply updating the graphics rather than providing a new challenge. Once the game moves on to the Dreamcast and HD eras, the level design takes a turn for the worse with endless bottomless pits for Sonic to speed into with very little warning. You'll be trained to not jump or press any buttons when Sonic's on one of his speed runs through ramps and rails because of the constant death this results in, making the occasions where you do have to boost or jump pretty annoying.
Despite this, and sometimes because of this, the game provides a bit more challenge than the HD versions, and you'll be facing a Game Over screen quite often as you memorise enemy positions and alternate paths through the levels. In this respect, the game is a homage to the platformers of old. However, even with this challenge in place, the main game will only last you about 4 hours. There are a number of boss battles, which alternate between basic races with the numerous Sonic clones Sega have created over the years (Metal Sonic, Shadow and Silver) and battles with Eggman's famous contraptions. These battles play largely the same as the games they're taken from, albeit now on a 2D plane, and are decent enough that we wish there were more of them.
To pad out the game's length and add value to the package, there are a multitude of extras and modes in Sonic Generations. First up is the Versus multiplayer mode, that allows two players to race locally or online through any act, which is quite fun even if the game's framerate takes a severe hit. Every player has their own profile card that can be customised with Sonic backgrounds and information about what Sonic game and character you like most. There's also a standard Time Attack mode, and more interestingly, a Mission mode. These missions are similar to the challenges in the HD versions, providing you with different objectives (such as defeat X number of enemies before time runs out). Completing these will unlock bonus art, music and models, so they are worth playing if you're looking for more to do after the brief campaign.
Bereft of the voiced and fully animated cutscenes of its console brethren, the story of Sonic Generations is conveyed by static dialogue scenes, with speech bubbles accompanied by 3D models striking one of a limited number of poses and occasionally exclaiming in small soundclips. The evil Time Eater isn't even seen outside of a small pop-up box before the final battle. The in-game graphics are actually quite good, replicating the levels of the past very well and moving at a fast frame-rate even when the 3D is turned on (except in multiplayer, of course). Speaking of the 3D, it works well but is hardly necessary for gameplay, only providing a sense of depth between different paths and planes in levels. We must say that modern Sonic's run animation looks a little odd, too. The music is mostly made up of tracks lifted directly from past games, and aren't remixed to the degree we saw in the HD version, although they are nonetheless catchy and memorable.
Sonic Generations on 3DS feels in many ways like a missed opportunity. Here was a perfect chance for fans of the game on PS3, 360 and PC to play through a selection of new levels on the go, with the power of the 3DS behind them. However, this port makes changes which fundamentally alter the gameplay of the two playable characters in the game, and provides inferior level design to that of its big brother. It's not a bad game, in fact the challenge it provided was actually quite fun, and there's enough content to sift through if you so wish, but it's not quite the portable experience Sonic fans were hoping for.