Games like this don’t often get a lot of attention. When some major release comes out for home console, the last thought in the mind of an exited fan is to go out and buy the version on the ‘inferior’ handheld console, when all it would end up being is low quality port. Well I’m very disappointed in the ‘fans’ that shoot down the handheld versions before even giving them a chance, because in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog, the 3DS version is a very different beast entirely. Like Sonic Colours before it, the handheld version of Sonic Generations brings something very different to the table.
In what seems like time honoured tradition at this point, Sonic Generations on the 3DS has been co-developed by Sonic Team and Dimps. Dimps have become the go-to guys when making the handheld Sonic game, working on the Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush series as well as the DS version of Sonic Colours. And in the early stages of playing Generations, it seems it has a lot to thank these preceding games for.
When it comes to this game’s narrative, it features a bare bones version of the story than was seen in the console version, which will probably have many a commenter sighing in relief that they don’t have to site through all those cut scenes. The game’s cast is also very limited featuring only the Sonics, the Tails’ and the Robotniks (Eggmen). Sonic is celebrating his birthday with Tails, only to have it cut short by the dark creature known as the Time Eater.
The pair are thrown back into a past with all of the colour drained out of it and meet up with their past selves. The only way to restore time to the blank world is to burst through the white constructs at high speeds. The story is told through dialogue boxes and any actual voice acting reduced to mere sound bites of each of the characters, excluding classic Sonic of course.
The stages within the game are ordered chronologically, finding their inspiration from many older (and recent) consoles. The zones are split into three groups, the Mega Drive (Genesis) era, the Dreamcast Era and the Modern Era. The first getting three stages with the later only getting two. Apart from the very first stage in the game (Green Hill Zone) all of the stages are unique to the handheld version of the game, even the shared zone has its own spin on the classic level though. Each of the eras also contain a rival race as well as a boss battle to top it off.
The three classic iterations of the Mega Drive era stages are almost exact remakes of how they originally appeared on the 16-bit console, only with a significant graphics boost. It’s about as faithful as it gets. The developers even wanted to honour Sonic’s past on the handheld as well as the console, including Water Palace from Sonic Rush that came out on the old DS in 2005. Sonic Generations also sees the return of Special Stages that are played to collect the chaos emeralds, this one being lifted from the Special Zones seen in Sonic Heroes.
Each stage has two acts, the first being played with ‘classic’ Sonic and the second using his more contemporary counterpart. The classic stages are (almost) played exactly as they would have been way back in Sonic’s early days, while the modern levels produce something very reminiscent of the gameplay seen in Sonic Rush.
Modern Sonic’s stages mainly consist of wisely timed speed boosts as well as his homing attack and grinding. The stages are also restricted to a strictly two dimensional plain, this has the unfortunate side effect of blurring the distinct gameplay style between the two acts of the game. This isn’t helped at all by the odd decision to give classic Sonic an ability he has never previously had, his own homing attack.
After beating the first three stages and the boss of the Mega Drive era, Classic Sonic learns how to use the homing attack from his future self, from that point on classic Sonic is able to perform the ability on any level. I think this was a very strange decision on the developers part. I thought that the whole point of this game was to create two very different ways to play as Sonic and put them in one game, however giving this ability to classic Sonic makes him seem much more like a powered down verison of the Sonic used in act two.
As a result I ended up enjoying the act two stages more than I did the classic one, and would on occasions catch myself trying to boost with classic Sonic. It is a decision that has caused some criticism of the game from fans. While it doesn’t take anything away from the game itself, and actually adds some fluidity to the movement of classic Sonic, many would have rather had this version of the character left untouched.
Boss battles are much better in this game than they are in their console alternative. Each boss is battled in a style much more reminiscent of classic style games and even the infamous final boss makes for a much more satisfying finale to the game. However, the rival battles have been changed in this game from fights to foot races, and it doesn’t benefit from them. First off, the races aren’t fair, the opponents often teleport to catch up with the player and will attack them to take a lead that more often than not will give them a lead the player has no chance of catching up to. I wasn’t able to beat a single rival on my first try and ended up having to memorise short cuts in order to skip ahead of them. luckily, these races are brief and only need to be beaten once each.
Overall, this game seems much shorter than it’s console counterpart, having two less stages than it. Sonic Generations on the 3DS can be beaten in an afternoon if you’re feeling up to it. However, the multi layer level design gives players reason to go back and play levels over and over again in order to find different and more interesting routes through the level. In this respect it makes the game much more similar to its early 90s roots.
There are plenty of other game modes to keep your attention also, there is a time attack mode for the more competitive player. A records system keeps track of the fastest completions of each stage in the world. There is also a multiplayer mode unique to the handheld version, players can search online for opponents and race against their ghost in for rank.
To top it all off, there are a ton of missions that can be unlocked through gameplay or from making use of the 3DS system’s built in pedometer. Playing through all these game modes rewards the player with a plethora of collectables such as music, models and backgrounds for your online I.D. card. The extras are unique to the version too, meaning you won’t just be getting the same old tat for your efforts. The game can provide the player with a lot of entertainment if they care to scratch beyond the surface, and the inclusion of an online multiplayer mode gives the game a whole now reason for replayability.
That being said, the game really would have benefited from a few more stages, and while the development team did have a very limited time to put the game out all of these extras only take place on the standard seven levels. It would have been nice to see another handheld stage or modern stage included.
Being on the 3DS, the game does have the ability to make use of the platform’s unique functions. While it does use the street pass to collect other people’s I.D. cards and pedometer functions to collect play coins, the touch screen is completely inconsequential to the game.
The 3D is a purely aethstetic choice too, it makes for a more atmospheric experience and adds a bit of depth to some stages. Some of which make use of this by having the stage split into foreground and background areas. Turning this off takes little away from the game though.
Sonic the Hedgehog games for the handheld consoles have become something of their own entity in the modern era of the franchise. Sticking with a style of play much more reminiscent of the classic games from the character’s beginnings, they stand on their own and don’t get involved with the nonsense 3D that their console counterparts dabble in.
I’ve tried to keep comparisons to the console version to a minimum, but people are always going to want to know why they should buy this when they can get it on their Xbox360/PS3. Generations on the 3DS does actually provide plenty of things that it’s compact disk alternative does not. Boss fights are much better in this game and the online multiplayer functionalities being the biggest examples I can give. When is all said and done though, there is no point in comparing the two games, they feature such different gameplay and level design that they are very distinct game from one another.
Sonic Generations on the 3DS is more like a look back at Sonic’s past on the handheld system rather than his series as a whole. Despite some odd gameplay choices and the bare bones nature of a game that comes nowhere near what it’s platform is capable of, the game itself is still an enjoyable experience none the less.
Whether you’re a fan of the series, someone who played and enjoyed the console version or even someone who bought a 3DS but still only owns Ocarina of Time 3D for it, then I’d fully endorse picking up Sonic Generations for it. I’m not sure coming out at the same time as Super Mario 3D Land will be doing this game any favours though. Damn that plumber.