Sonic Generations has been officially announced and will release this year to co-incide with the hog's 20th anniversary. And the first screens and gameplay trailer show that it's turned out to be exactly what it should be. Two Sonics, doing what each does best. Old, chubby little 16-bit Sonic running from left to right through sumptuous side-scrolling levels, while new green-eyed Sonic can stretch his gangly legs in spectacular into-the-screen speed sections. Get a load of this:
Firstly, it solves the problem that Unleashed attempted to fix with its infamous Were-hog. Creating levels that move at the speed that Sonic reaches in those 'chase' moments takes a lot of time and resources to produce. Seeing the result of your art team's week of work flash by in approximately 0.17 seconds of game time isn't cost-effective. So instead of adding a crappy Werehog with climbing bits (seriously, Sega, what were you thinking?), all you need to do is bring Sonic back to his old, more sedate 2D platforming speed of yore. And that's exactly what they've done.
It's what the fans wanted, after all. In fact, I took a lot of stick for running stories about the fan games that looked better than the then-imminent Sonic 4: Episode 1. Were the complaints necessary? Yes. Absolutely. And I stand by them for the simple reason that THIS time, Sega's got it right. How gorgeous does this look?
Above: How many games did it take to make Sonic look 'right' in 3D? Seven? Eight? Finally, it's happened
And the best thing about consoles with the graphical oomph of PS3 and Xbox 360? You can afford to turn the camera 90 degrees and look at the path ahead with no compromise. Ready for this?
Above: Superb. All we need to know now is how you switch between them in-game. Separate levels maybe?
Yeah, but the physics...
There's one bit in the trailer where Sonic accelerates from standing and the speed pick-up isn't exactly smooth. But I don't care. See, I've learned my lesson. After all that complaining about how Sonic's movement in Sonic 4 was 'wrong', I came to play the game and realised that different doesn't necessarily mean inferior. True, I still believe Yuji Naka is the absolute king of character movement (16-bit Sonic and Saturn NiGHTS are impeccable in their fluidity), but the depth of control nuance in Sonic 4 was plenty enough to keep me hooked on speedrun attempts. This looks silky smooth and for now, that's good enough.
The Sonics in this trailer both have a touch of Unleashed in their movement (the good bits of Unleashed), though thankfully there's not a hoop or 'duck under this' obstacle in sight on the Old Sonic sections. Instead, we get springs, badniks and teeter animations. Much, much better.
Above: Moto-bug, properly-proportioned Sonic and current-gen physics effects. It wasn't that hard, eh?
I don't think this game is something that will only please old-school fans, although doing so would be no small achievement. There's something magical about Green Hill Zone that ignited something in the hearts of gamers everywhere in 1991. Those polygonal trees, silently spinning rings and glistening waterfalls are classic iconography of our medium and, as with so many stylised games, still look fresh today. We may have had a glimpse of only one level, and there's still so much that could go awry. But right now, it's doing everything right.
Show me an equally perfectly-realised Chemical Plant Zone next. But be ready to catch me, 'kay?
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