However, the challenges highlight the game engine's biggest shortcoming – the control. I think by now we can all agree that 3D Sonic is never going to control as well as 3D Mario, simply because he moves too quickly. Ironically, it's the low-speed control that's weakest, seeing Sonic struggle with the simplest of small jumps, falling short of easy platforms and dropping out of the sky when his inertia abandons him mid-jump.
If that sounds annoying, it is. But where other Sonic games look broken as a result, Generations rarely looks mega-messy when you're doing it wrong. And I'd even go so far as to say Modern Sonic's side-scrolling sections actually feel more authentic than Classic Sonic's. Weird.
Above: Grind rail, stunt rings... but that jump is the right height. No, I'm serious
For the Sonic connoisseur (or 'fussy old bastard'), the physics are not 100% authentic for either character. Despite the name, Classic Sonic only ever really feels right when you've got the running boots on. At normal speed, the young hog is a little sluggish to pick up speed from standing, especially when you're jumping between moving platforms. Plus he feels like he's affected by gravity a little too much.
Modern Sonic actually feels more like 16-bit Sonic as his jump is higher, but of course he has the homing attack and Rush-style dash. Neither of them behave like old Sonic over hills or round loops and neither would last five seconds in the boss fight of Sonic 1's labyrinth zone.
Of course, if you've never played a Sonic game made before 1999, you'll likely champion this as the best Sonic game ever and accept the characters' movement as simply 'how it is'. And I must stress, when it's all moving at full speed, the game doesn't need any excuses. Anyone looking at it when it's going at full tilt would have to agree that it's simply spectacular. Check out this run through Green Hill here to see what I mean. Warning – it may melt your face.
My actual speedrun record so far is a 1:39.47, but that uses the drift move in an unattractive, scenery-rubbing fashion, which makes the game look less awesome than it actually is. I'm sure things will get even faster with more exploits as soon as the world gets its hands on the final game. Why? Because you can't go as quickly in the demo as you can in the final game. If you're eagle-eyed, you might have noticed there's a little icon at the start of the video when 'Go' appears on the screen.
Above: Did you notice this? Wondered why you didn't see it in the demo?
Well, this is a new 'skills' system. After each stage, you're given points based on your performance, which can be spent on abilities in a shop in the hub world. Each skill has an ability point cost, and seeing as Sonic only has 100 points, you can only equip a few at a time. Some are really useful, like making dropped rings stay on the screen for ten seconds before disappearing, while others like the one final extra life that kicks in when you hit zero are pretty pointless (continues are infinite). However, you can save up to five different sets, which makes speedrun success a little more personal.
Staging a comeback
I can't emphasise enough just how slick the main levels are. Perhaps Crisis City is too reminiscent of Sonic's lowest low, but that aside, level design here is of the highest order. The new Chemical Plant seems to get more fun with every play, perhaps due to the way it flows better when you're hitting the shortcuts right. City Escape and Speed Highway are both superb, and Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes is a non-stop thrill ride – possibly my favourite level after Green Hill. Even the mega-hard Planet Wisp has grown on me with repeat plays, probably because I'm no longer dying every few steps now.
Above: Seaside Hill is an absolute blast, full of secret routes and awe-inspiring set-pieces
There are five red rings hidden in each act, which means every level has significant replay value. Going back through the game to hunt them all out just goes to show how brilliantly-constructed the levels are, with hidden routes requiring seriously sharp eyes and reflexes to uncover. Sky Sanctuary wasn't a favourite of mine at preview stage, but now I've seen all the routes it has to offer, I positively adore it.
I understand memorising levels isn't everyone's cup of tea, but while it undeniably aids success here, I'd still say that 90% of the special routes in the game can be found first time if you're quick enough on the jump button when you see a hoop or a platform appearing above you. And with so many little shortcuts strewn throughout the levels, there's a constant feeling of success once you start doing things well.
Stop doing it wrong
The game is undoubtedly at its best when you're doing what it wants you to do - but conversely, at its worst when you're not. As a case in point, Speed Highway is amazing, but can require too much understanding of the game's rules and controls for novice players, resulting in many deaths and a distinct lack of 'fun' as a result.
But when you've got jump, dash, boost, ground pound, lightspeed dash, roll, rev up, corner drift and slide all readily available at any time for Modern Sonic, you can't just keep mashing buttons and expect it to do what you want.
Above: You may well look confused, Classic Sonic. You're gonna have to deal with all of this, one day
When you're playing it right, it's clear that Sonic Generations has been designed with an abundance of care and patience that's been lacking in Sonic games for too long. Of course, it helps that it has 20 years' worth of ideas to cherry pick from and augment, but it's got plenty enough original ideas too.
One thing that did disappoint me, however, was the last boss. I won't spoil anything for you, but with mobile tutorial Omochao switched off, it took me four goes to work out exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and even when I did, it seemed very haphazard. And just before the fight's over, the game gives you another new controller command to use, explaining how to use it (even with Omochao switched off) while you're supposed to be fighting. It's a pity, because the Death Egg, Silver and Metal Sonic bosses are good. Not so much the Shadow one, but… well, it's Shadow, isn't it?
Above: Fortunately, Shadow left his gun at home. That would've really spoiled the party