Sega’s mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, is enjoying a big 20th anniversary year thanks to the release of the time-jumping series retrospective-wrapped-in-a-new-game, Sonic Generations. The console version of the game has been out for a few weeks now, but tomorrow fans will finally get to take the speedy, blue hedgehog on the road when the 3DS take on Generations arrives. Which brings us to the question of the day: Does the portable release deliver fast-moving platforming action as well as its console cousins?
After spending some time with the game, it’s become clear that this is a difficult question to answer. Sonic Generations on the 3DS is very much a shiny, new game designed for an old-school gamer. If you’re a fan of challenging, timing-based platforming and replay value that grows out of repeatedly playing through the same stretch of level over and over until you know its every beat, this is a game for you. If, on the other hand, cycling through roughly four to five hours worth of content over and over again in the pursuit of a perfect speed run doesn’t sound like fun, then there’s little that will appeal to you here.
Like the console releases, Sonic Generations on 3DS uses the narrative conceit of a timestream out of whack to throw chubby retro Sonic and the more aerodynamic new Sonic into a game together, along with old and new incarnations of the series’ environments and characters. You’ll visit a range of zones pulled in from across the history of the series, with one 2D level apiece for retro Sonic and new Sonic, plus a bonus Sonic Heroes-style over-the-shoulder “Catch the Emerald” level for each zone. There’s also the odd boss fight thrown in, just to mix things up.
The 3DS incarnation of Sonic Generations does a good job of keeping its portable design in focus. The levels are all relatively short as far as getting from start to finish goes, though in true Sonic form, there are multiple paths you can follow. Finishing a level gets you a letter grade, with the game’s replay value growing out of your work to improve that rating. There is also a leaderboard-driven Time Attack mode, an online or local Versus mode and a set of unlockable Missions, some of which open up as you play the main game, and others which can be purchased with your 3DS Play Coins. There is also a “Collection” menu containing unlocked secrets like concept art. It’s actually quite a bit of content, provided you’re not the sort of gamer who becomes easily frustrated with Sonic‘s old-school approach to gameplay.
There are, however, some notable downsides. While the graphics look great and the levels — particularly the busier ones, like those in Casino Zone — really pop in 3D, you’ll often run into the same problem that every other 3DS game suffers from in the device’s enhanced display mode: Unless you can remain perfectly still as you play, expect to be frequently tripped up when you adjust your head slightly and the 3D goes out of whack. It’s troublesome in any game, but for such a speed and timing-driven game, playing in 3D can quickly become a waste of time.
The controls also leave a lot to be desired. Sonic just isn’t very responsive. He takes awhile to rev up to a reasonable speed, and even when he’s moving his fastest, the game just doesn’t do a great job of conveying a sense of that velocity. The tutorial elements are also woefully limited; for example, I found myself stuck at one point in a Casino Zone level when I couldn’t run my way out of a deep ditch lined with pinball-like bumpers at the bottom. It wasn’t until I started mashing buttons that I realized I could send Sonic into a boost that would carry him out of his predicament.
Sonic Generations is rarely kind, and that applies even moreso for series newcomers. There’s a lot to like about the game — the abundance of portable-friendly content, the look and overall design of the levels, the back-to-basics gameplay — but the good stuff is tempered by things like cumbersome controls and the device’s inherent 3D display issues. If you’re a hardcore fan to the point that you’ve got a reasonable argument for why the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog game was good, then go ahead and add another point to the above score.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS on a copy provided by Sega)