This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Sonic Generations.
After huge piles of games come out in the lead-up to Christmas all fighting to be the game little Timmy finds under the tree that will one day inspire his high school massacre, January seems to be fast turning into catch-ups month for me, when the publishers are all tired out from raping everyone's wallets and I have to pass the time by covering games I missed last year. I already did Mario: Marvel As My Creators Stop Giving a Shit in Three Spectacular Dimensions 3D Land, and this week, we'll take a look at the other one.
Now, the fan reaction to new Sonic games has been getting kind of predictable of late. The first thing that usually happened is that everyone goes, "Oh my god, it's actually good! Sonic doesn't suck anymore! Our saviour has returned! Paint your household pets blue and mutilate baby foxes in thanks!" Then, after a couple of weeks pass and everyone's had a chance to play it, things go mysteriously quiet. Skip forward a year or two and Sonic Team inevitably bring out another Sonic game and up go the voices again. "Oh my god, it's actually good! Sonic doesn't suck anym-" etc., etc. I've seen picnic blankets with less consistent patterns.
Sonic Generations is intended as a celebration of the Sonic games up to this point, in which modern-day Sonic finds himself caught up in some temporal shenanigans and in the company of his younger self, still bright-eyed, innocent, and untainted by the Sega 32X. The pair of them find themselves tasked to repair the timeline by going through various levels modelled on areas from previous Sonic games, once in classic 2D Sonic 1 loveliness and once in horrible, modern Sonic atrocity.
I see what the cunning plan was, Sonic Team. You thought if you placed Sonic as he is now alongside Sonic how he used to be - with all that slightly weird jumping physics, slower gameplay, no homing attack, and obstinate refusal to talk in what someone in the early nineties might have considered to be a cool person's voice - then we'd finally come to appreciate all the ways Sonic has changed for the better over the years. Well, if that was the plan, it fucking backfired, didn't it? And we end up with a game where you spend half the time in a nostalgia trip and the other half wanting to blind the mouthy little shit with his own bum spikes.
At first, I was thinking, "Okay, you're going to remind me of the less retarded days of the franchise with some remakes of some old classic levels strung together with a half-baked plot you scraped off Scott Bakula's bathmat. That's cool. I'm down. Can't wait to play an update of Mystic Cave Zone, 'cause that music was the shit." But it turned out Generations only updates one classic level per game - Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1, Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2, etc. - and this lead inexorably to a brain-scouring moment when I was faced with a level based on part of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. I mean, there's no way of making a game like this without coming across as self-congratulatory, but it wouldn't matter so much if you're congratulating yourself for something good. I'd have thought Sonic Team would want us to forget about Sonic 2006. Nobody liked Sonic 2006. If you think you did, you're wrong! It's like saying you enjoy listening to someone singing completely out of tune or reading a book whose pages are covered in brown sauce; I know it's your opinion, but your opinion is just wrong. And yet, here it is, presented unironically in this alleged celebration of Sonic's greatest moments. If I were a diplomat, I'd call it "misplaced conceit." But I'm not, so I'll call it "frothing, bug-eyed self-delusion."
Despite a stupid attempt at a plot, the connectivity between the stages is non-existent. The game hovers a random swarm of level entrances sprinkled against a white background like someone emptied their pick 'n' mix into the bathtub. Of course, the very existence of a game like this is basically a tacit admission by Sonic Team that they haven't got a clue what they're doing. They've basically taken the franchise apart and spread the bits out looking for the problem, little realizing that the problem is behind them gobbing chewing gum into their hair.
The switching back and forth between retro Sonic and retard Sonic would have been fine if they'd stuck to the plan of keeping all the 2D gameplay in the former half and all the 3D gameplay in the latter. But modern Sonic seems to have an awful lot of 2D sections too, probably because Sonic Colors and Sonic Unleashed both eventually grasped that controlling Sonic in 3D gameplay is like holding onto a bar of soap in the bath. But what we end up with is two very similar-looking levels with two completely different sets of physics and control styles. And let me tell you, playing a retro Sonic level after a lengthy modern Sonic level, forgetting too late that you don't have a homing attack now and falling down a murder hole is a social faux pas that will be hard to live down.
Speaking of murder holes, I swear there's something wrong with the jump button, because half the time at speed, it seems like I need to press it a quarter second before I think I need to press it. "Oh, Yahtzee, you doddering old scrotum face! Perhaps your neurons are just too old and clogged with tumours to keep up with the pace of Sonic games anymore." You know what, you could be right, you cunt. Because whenever a collectible zooms past far too quickly for me to possibly get and I accidentally take a route that means I can't go back for it without restarting the level, I do have a strong urge to shake my walking stick in fury. This is particularly obnoxious in the final boss fight that does the last level of Sonic & Knuckles thing where you have to keep collecting rings or die, but the screen is so fucking cluttered and the rings so small and drab that I couldn't see the bloody things until they were sailing past by grotesquely inflated head. What is with Sonic and rings, anyway? How many people is he planning to marry? He's like the Zsa Zsa Gabor of the woodland community.
Speaking of the woodland community, remember all those friends of Sonic he accumulated over the years that all disappeared from more recent Sonic games because everyone hates them? Well, guess who's back en masse! But lest you accuse the game of putting them in for fan service (although I'd hate to think what kind of fan was baying for a return appearance of fucking Charmy the Bee), each one has their own level with their own increasingly contrived gameplay mechanic, like Rouge the Bat distracting robots by flashing her tits at them. And I don't even want to think about how many ways that doesn't make sense.
I get the feeling Sonic is doing the Resident Evil thing. That's where you spend years cluttering your game universe with characters and backstory until it becomes to new players about as penetrable as a stone slab that doesn't believe in sex before marriage. But then they make a game - Resident Evil 4 in the one case and Sonic Colors in the other - that actually does all right because it gets away from all that tangled nonsense, whereupon the developers go, "Phew, thought we'd lost it for a second there", and blithely bring the tangled nonsense back in the very next game. It's like when a dieter loses three pounds and decides it's safe to go back to drinking an entire can of golden syrup for breakfast.
Basically, the failing of Sonic Generations is that any celebration of Sonic at this point is like breastfeeding a seventeen-year-old - extremely too late. And it'd probably get you thrown out of a restaurant.
Fastest thing on two legs: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I notice the game doesn't see fit to remind us of Sonic Shuffle
Hey Sonic rhymes with chronic ha ha hardy ha hee hee hee