Sonic Generations on 3DS gets off to a magical start, letting you run through a 3D remake of the original Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1. Soon, you're doing the same with Act 1 of Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2. Bumper for bumper, it's exactly the same, only in 3D. Amazing. Then again with Mushroom Hill from Sonic & Knuckles. It really is 'old meets new' – and it's pretty damn perfect. For some, that's going to be worth the entry fee alone. But then we enter the modern era and things are a little different…
Above: Casino Night Zone! A level from the days when Sonic 2 was THE game to have for Christmas
By now you're probably familiar with the plot – a rift in the space/time continuum brings pudgy little 16-bit era Sonic and his gangly-legged 3D version together in the same game to run, jump and spin dash into an array of robotic minions from the past 20 years of Sonic. However, this definitely isn't the same game as the 'big' version, and plays very differently. Even the zones are different - gone are the likes of Sky Sanctuary, City Escape and Speed Highway, replaced with Mushroom Hill, Emerald Coast and Radical Highway.
Whose side are you on?
Amazingly, the game is almost entirely viewed from the side. You get a couple of over-the-shoulder sections in Modern Sonic levels and some fancy-angled set-pieces, but the majority of the game is played like Sonic Rush. This is arguably a good thing as Sonic Rush is damn fine. But it does negate the classic/modern character distinction, especially when classic Sonic learns the lock-on attack from his newer self and starts using it in every level - even Green Hill.
Above: See that red handle on the right? That's in a second '2D' path, unreachable from here
The main levels feature one act for each Sonic and a special stage. These bonus levels are a lot of fun, taking place in pipes very much in the style of Sonic Heroes. They're controlled with the buttons rather than the touchscreen (in fact the touchscreen is pretty redundant throughout the game), which I actually prefer compared to Sonic Rush's similar efforts. The first one's easy, but once you start having to dodge bombs along the way, it gets much trickier.
Above: With the 3D on full-whack, you can really feel the depth as you look down the pipe run
To my utmost surprise, I found that switching the 3D on helped. Yes, you read that right - the 3D is actually good in Sonic Generations. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it enhances my enjoyment of the game. Come on, get up off the floor, you make the room look untidy. With the 3D off, everything can look a little 'PSP' in terms of graphical quality. But slide it up and suddenly it all looks way better. And actually rather special.
Rate me again
As with its big brother, there's a lot of grading going on here. Every act awards you a rank on completion, many of which feel a lot harsher than the big version. Decent runs yield Cs and even Ds. But playing through for all 28 S grades is a real game changer – and taught me two things.
Firstly, the replay value is far better than the first play value. Why? Merely completing the levels isn't actually as much fun as I expected it to be. Maybe I've been spoiled by playing the big PS3 game for weeks prior to this one, but unlike that version, once you're past the superb retro remake levels, many sections (particularly Radical Highway) feels a little featureless. Cut-down, simplified to the point where some bits feel decidedly empty.
Above: These retro level remakes are visibly more densely populated than the newly-made content
However! When you're playing for an S-grade, frequently hitting start-over at every screw-up, searching for the optimum route and finish time, there's a very pleasant turnaround. Seeing Sonic fair hurtle through these 3D environs, hopping over obstacles and locking onto enemies to reach new routes makes more sense, looks wonderful and makes you look (and feel) very clever. What at first looks like sparse level design actually becomes a complex test of controller dexterity and memory as you look for visual cues in the scenery to time your jump to perfection.
So that was the first thing I learned. The other thing I learned is that there's no reward whatsoever for getting an S-grade on everything (except for a warm fuzzy feeling inside). I expected maybe the Mega Drive original would be tucked away in there, or maybe an extra level to play, but there's no fanfare whatsoever for getting an S on every level. I feel unappreciated.
Above: Spoilers averted, getting this little lot takes a serious effort - a reward would have been nice