Farewell to my Blue Friend
I kept going at it longer than I should and far longer than I really wanted to. I should've just quit. I kept subjecting myself to badly designed levels, unintuitive gameplay, throw-away challenges and bonus battles that made me despair. Sonic Generations teased me with brilliance, yet frustrated me with hideous game design and superfluous nonsense that proves once and for all, as if it needed proving, that when it comes to creating quintessential Sonic, SEGA are now clueless.
I was well aware that Generations was going to serve up content that I'd enjoy and some that I wouldn't; for the most part, this can be split between classic and modern Sonic. My first session was encouraging as, despite an early appearance for his friends and Sonic being given the gift of speech, I still found plenty to keep me entertained. The new versions of classic levels moved at pace and the occasional switch to three dimensions was well integrated with the more familiar 2D platforming. Although I struggled to get into a rhythm within the first few modern stages, I still found lots there to enjoy.
Things soon went downhill, however, as it began to deviate from the formula that once made a blue hedgehog the toast of the industry. Instead of straight-forward progression through levels and bosses, you are thrown into a confusing hub that hosts the ill thought-out mini challenges required to access the next set of levels. Almost every new challenge introduces a new mechanic, one that suits neither the traditional controls nor the levels that host them. Every few minutes you are introduced to a new objective and game style that is invariably less interesting than the last.
The controls feel slightly off and everything happens a split second too late. Sonic handles like a tank, making precise jumps a royal pain in the arse. These issues get worse as the levels become increasingly complicated and more stop-start in nature. These constant frustrations have rendered me a pitiful wreck, slumped in the sofa with tears soaking into my faded Sonic 2 t-shirt. The one from 1992 that is three sizes too small.
I continued to play through the disappointments, hanging tough for the odd level that seemed to get it right. Playing Generations, I came to realise that Sega do have a basic understanding of what they should be doing - a shared memory of triumphs past - but cause for optimism is soon scuppered once they succumb to the desire to modernize and complicate something that was once beautiful in its simplicity.
Sega clearly went to great lengths to celebrate the history of their mascot and were mindful of pleasing the older fans. Aside from remaking many classic levels, they have also included a museum of in-game memorabilia, including the full Mega Drive version of Sonic the Hedgehog and years of music that is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any child of the 90s. It’s just a shame that this nod to the old guard doesn't manifest itself more often in the actual game.
I realise that my Sonic, the Sonic of the Nineties, is only a small part of his legacy. There are legions of fans that will have never played Sonic 2 - may the Daedric princes have mercy on their souls - and it is unfair of me to expect Sega to ape the games of my childhood. But I do feel that Sonic gets worse the further he moves away from the basics, as Sega continue to try and make the quintessential 2D platformer into something it shouldn't be. One minute you are looping the loop, the next you are taking part in what can only be described as a karting race, only minus the vehicle. That's not Sonic, but an example of a studio unsure of what to do with a commodity that is too valuable to discard and too far gone to ever be fully redeemed.
Glimpses of brilliance will draw me back to Generations, but perhaps I’d be best served resisting these occasional teases and accept that Sonic has moved on without me. Although there have been some quality games in the last decade – I thoroughly enjoyed Sonic Advance and the spin-off Sonic & SEGA All Star Racing – it’s not really worth the effort anymore. I shall no longer extend a free pass to the blue blur and make a purchase on strength of name alone. The Sonic I knew and loved is unlikely to ever re-emerge, and I think that in the end we may be better off without one another.
I’ll give Generations one more spin though, you know, just in case.
Are there any well-loved games or characters that you have given up on, or are unwilling to let go of in the face of diminished returns?