It’s been 3 weeks now since the console version of Sonic Generations was released, and now trotting on behind comes its little brother, the 3DS version. Differing from the console version in level selection & development team, a single question needs to be answered – is it any good? Let’s find out.
The game starts off pretty much like the console version, with it starting you in medias res with a level – namely Green Hill Zone Act 1. From here the story slowly unfolds, showing Sonic‘s birthday party being interrupted by Time Eater. There are several differences in the story to the console version, however – on 3DS, Sonic & Tails are the only ones present at the party when Time Eater bursts in, everyone else having yet to arrive (due to the aforementioned entity, of course). The game continues like this through to the conclusion – mostly the same in terms of story, but with some lines (and one or two scenes) changed here and there, but immediately recognisable to anyone who has played the console version.
The 3DS is still a relatively new system, and as such we don’t have a lot of comparison to know what the portable can do, but Dimps has shoehorned in a sizeable amount of content from the home version into this handheld port. Though not managing the splendour of the PS3/360 version, what it does have feels solidly presented. The game contains 7 zones (less than the 9 available on the console version), each with 2 acts – however with an additional 7 special stages to play through and 100 missions, the game doesn’t feel short of content. It could be argued that with Green Hill, Casino Night & Mushroom Hill all taking their Act 1 layouts from their respective original games you only get 11 new acts, however – certainly another zone or two wouldn’t have hurt the game, but we’ll return to this point later. The console version’s story is presented through a series of short entertaining cutscenes – the 3DS takes a slightly different tack in that instead of full video, it’s done in more of a typical RPG style – characters who are speaking have animated 3D models come up on screen with a short stock voice clip of the character, while the script from the main game (as noted above) is scrolled underneath. While it’s serviceable, it can get confusing at times with regards to what’s actually happening if you’ve not played through the console version. It doesn’t convey as well, either – the emotion from the initial cutscene where Tails is sucked into the Time Eater while Sonic watches helplessly simply doesn’t come across the same in this format. The 3DS can do 3D video – with the data already available ready to be downscaled from the console version, I can only assume there simply wasn’t space for all the language versions on the card. A shame.
Being on the 3DS, you don’t need to have the big expensive 3DTV that you require for the console version to see the 3D visuals – they come as standard, and they really do shine. Sonic Generations 3DS is a beautiful looking game, from the lush grasses of Green Hill, through Casino Night Zone’s (which, as a big fan of Sonic 2, Act 1 of this is my favourite level in the game. Seeing this in 3D is amazing) bumpers and flippers, all the way through the rails of Radical Highway & the slides of Water Palace. My one complaint is that they can be a bit bare in places – there’s a spot for example in Casino Night Act 2 where the camera turns to an unusual angle and all that can be seen in the background is solid black. However, this is a minor niggle, and certainly shouldn’t put anyone off.
Sonic Generations also performs strongly in the musical department. Not being constrained by a tracker format like previous handheld outings, the tunes sound just as good as they did on the console version – and indeed, Sonic Generations 3DS uses quite a lot of them and for most of its soundtrack, from menu music to cutscene scores. The content exclusive to the 3DS game is confined to the 3 new bosses & the levels themselves; and as Green Hill uses the same as the respective console levels & Casino Night Act 2 is the same as the console’s DLC, this leaves 14 tracks. Unfortunately, Water Palace Act 1 & Tropical Resort Act 1 use their original DS & Wii tracks respectively, leaving us with only 12 pieces unique to the system. However what we do get is of decent quality, from Casino Night Act 1’s simple-but-solid remastering which has echoes of the treatment done on the full game’s Chemical Plant Act 1, to the sped-up peppy rock remix of Tropical Resort Act 2. I particularly liked Radical Highway Act 1’s remix.
Collecting up some of the smaller features of the game, Sonic Generations features offline & online (Friend Codes & Random match-up) 2P racing through levels, as well as an ability to submit level times to a leaderboard. Like the console version, you also get a Collection section, featuring the ability to re-see cutscenes you’ve seen in-game, as well as listen to music & view art and models you’ve unlocked through the game’s Missions. The aforementioned missions can either be unlocked through gameplay or alternatively you can bribe the 3DS with 5 Play Coins to open them – and if you can’t beat a particular mission (some of which are incredibly difficult – any with Modern Sonic having to get through an act against the clock without destroying any enemies spring to mind, bearing in mind how many enemies tend to lurk on paths you’d normally just hold boost on. I challenge anyone to do these without being hit multiple times), you can also buy the reward for an additional 10 Play Coins. While it’s nice to actually have something to do with these things on my 3DS now, the sheer number of missions means you’ll be doing a lot of walking before everything is open, never mind buying anything you can’t complete. One completely exclusive feature of the 3DS version though is the Profile Card – this uses StreetPass to spread your Sonic Generations data to other players, via a card with your stats & information on it. It shows your level ranks, rings got, play time, missions done, collection completion percentage and level Ranks, amongst other things. You also get a degree of user customisation – you can set the year you got into the franchise, your favourite character & favourite Sonic title (even titles like Sonic Labyrinth or Sonic Drift! Game Gear? Yes). You can even set a game screenshot for the main background picture of the card from the franchise’s history – though these have to be unlocked, by default all you get is Sonic 1’s title. You can get up to 99 cards from others – StreetPass has been noted elsewhere as not working in reality day-to-day anywhere except Japan, but you could potentially get dozens in a day at a gaming convention.
The thing that most people will be concerned about, of course (and rightly so) is the gameplay; and while much like the console version, it could still be improved, it’s not a terrible game – certainly a step up from Dimps’ previous outing, Sonic 4: Episode 1. Sonic & Sonic handle largely like their respective big-screen counterparts, with some differences – Dimps seem to have revisited some of their older code as Classic’s rolling physics are in places a little closer to the Mega Drive titles than the console version’s are – he will gain a little speed while rolling down slopes, meaning that if for example he is at the bottom of a U shaped structure, a little run up on one side and then holding Down will eventually get him out of the pit, though it does take longer than it would in say Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This isn’t to say they’re perfect, by any means – in Water Palace, the water jets that lead you up onto loops require you to essentially be pressing against the right wall before the jet spurts out in order for the loops to be entered. It also feels like Dimps wanted to be able to use Homing Attack in stages as soon as they possibly could – as soon as you get past the Classic era, Classic is given Homing Attack and while he doesn’t need it 99% of the time to proceed in later levels, it is somewhat encouraged. Modern even says to Classic that he should go back to the previous levels and try out Homing Attack there. While I’m far from the biggest opponent of the move, it does somewhat dilute the difference of the Classic character to Modern Sonic.
Unlike the main game, the 3DS features playable special stages to get the Chaos Emeralds – these are a fun into-the-screen affair where you collect balls to keep your boost meter up and try to reach a floating Emerald before it reaches the end of the stage, somewhat like the Sonic Heroes special stages. They start off laughably easy (the first one has no obstacles in it at all, leading to me whacking straight into the first row of bombs in the second level as I didn’t know they were obstacles), through to quite tricky (Stage 4 was an utter pain), though once you reach that peak the difficulty stays fairly consistent (I had no trouble at all getting the 7th emerald). You even get a couple of unique bosses – though Metal Sonic, Shadow & Silver are back (now just as straight races, not the running battles they were before, and not in unique levels like 2 of them were in the console game either – again, I’ll come back to this), the Classic era has Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ Big Arms (which is easily the game’s best boss), Biolizard from Sonic Adventure 2 representing the Dreamcast era and (oddly) Egg Emperor from Sonic Heroes props up the Modern era. All 3 of these match with a respective hedgehog race at an era’s Boss Gate. There’s then a final section exclusively for Time Eater – who, slight spoiler, is as much of a pain to defeat in this version as he is on the console release – who rounds up the set. Much like the console version, the bosses are slightly remixed versions of the originals – though it must be said Biolizard seemed to be more or less the same as he was in Sonic Adventure 2. Egg Emperor I never reached in Heroes to notice a difference, so can’t really comment on.
The biggest problem that the game has, in my opinion, is the level layouts. This obviously isn’t a problem in the first 3 Classic acts due to the level layouts, as mentioned, being ripped straight from Sonic 1, 2 and Knuckles, but while the game plays well enough and you do feel like you’re in control of Sonic, it will surprise absolutely no-one who has ever played a Dimps Sonic title to know that I died in this game to nothing but boss fights and pits. Yes, the Dimps curse of “pits = difficulty” is back, and by the final couple of levels you’re tempted to slow to a crawl in the expectation of a pit just over the next hill. The warning signs from the console game & the Wii version of Sonic Colo(u)rs are present and sometimes help, but in Tropical Resort especially they aren’t of much use. On a related note, some of the level choices are a bit strange – why, in a game where all the other levels are unique, do we have Green Hill again? We could easily have had another zone from Sonic 1 like Marble or Spring Yard. We all know that Game Gear titles were decided against due to their perceived obscurity, but why then when we had Nintendo handheld (and Dimps made) games as far back as 2001 did we get zones from Sonic Adventure & Sonic Adventure 2? Tropical Resort you could say came from the DS version of Colo(u)rs, but Water Palace is the only one of the seven zones that is truly from a handheld, on a title they said would focus on Sonic’s portable history. Were zones like Music Plant or Cyber Track from the Advance titles not deemed memorable enough?
In conclusion, I did enjoy Sonic Generations 3DS. The presentation of the story is a bit clunky and the levels get a bit frustrating later on, but the visuals & sound are great, and the nostalgia feel of the package does carry the game along well enough to warrant a look – it’s by no means a bad game, certainly better than some Dimps has churned out in the past (Sonic Rush Adventure and Sonic Advance 2, I’m looking at you). The one thing that you do get a feel for in the package which does somewhat haunt it is that the game was rushed, though. We all know that the console version of Sonic Generations was started pretty much straight after Sonic Unleashed came out in 2008, giving the game a good 3 year development time (with Colo(u)rs coming out in 2010, making some use of the resources currently being used at the time to make Generations with). For the 3DS version however, I strongly get the feeling that Dimps didn’t start work on Generations until after Colo(u)rs DS came out (again, in 2010). This would give them a total development time for the entire title of a year at most, and it shows in little ways all over the place – the fact there are only seven zones, not nine (7 presumably being the minimum they’d need, as there’s a Chaos Emerald then for each one); the fact the final 2 Classic acts don’t get a music remix, it’s taken straight from the original games; the fact that Green Hill Zone is present so music can be re-used there and some resources too; the fact that Metal Sonic & Shadow, unlike the console versions, don’t get unique areas for their races but just use existing levels from the game; and the fact that 3 act layouts were copy pasted straight in from existing titles (though at least this does provide 3 levels you know will be free of the worry of pits. Dying to one in Mushroom Hill Act 2 just felt wrong somehow). The game suffers a little for the lack of development time – not in any crucial gameplay ways, but more little niggles that just make it sad, rather than a catastrophe.
I’m not going to give a rating as this does nothing but cause holy wars, but nevertheless, I would recommend this game to any 3DS owner, especially with the current game drought that the system has (I got my 3DS about 6 months ago because it was on a Bank Holiday sale – this is the first game card I actually have for the thing), even if you already have the console version of Generations: it’s different enough to warrant a purchase. It has a decent amount of longevity in the score attacking & missions, it has multi-player (something the console version doesn’t!), and overall while not an outstanding game, is certainly a good one.