19 April 2011

Thoughts on Sonic Generations

When Project Needlemouse was revealed to be Sonic 4, I made a post which contained a fair amount of (what I hoped was biting) criticism of the trailer, and by extension the game itself. It garnered a few 'Right on, brother!'s from people I respect, but it also incited hateful comments (which were frankly hilarious) and was reposted on a handful of gaming forums, inevitably with some sort of 'look at how much this guy is bitching' topic.

During the wait for Sonic Colours, I ended up keeping mum about the whole thing; not because I'd become shy of touching off another controversy, but because I realised that I just didn't feel very strongly about it. There wasn't anything for me to say that wasn't already being endlessly said passim (if you'll excuse the gratuitous and clumsy use of Latin). There's such a fine line between adding to the conversation, and adding to the noise.

Despite the above, and despite the fact that lately I've been rather busy as well as feeling sort of apathetic about things and letting this blog languish, I feel I just have to weigh in on Sonic Generations.

And this time I have no complaints. I never thought I'd live to see the day!

First, just to get it out of the way, I have to chuckle at the obvious similarities to Sonic Fan Remix. The concept of trying to recapture the awesomeness that was Classic Sonic is of course a natural one, and one that well predates both SFR and Sonic Generations, but seeing Sega's offering come so hot on its heels makes me chuckle inwardly. We'll probably never know, of course - Sega would never admit it - but it would be cool to think that Pelikan and I had a tiny part in making Sonic Generations a reality. As if I wasn't insufferable enough as it is.

Second, I have to talk about Classic Sonic's return (or, as he's referred to now in a fast-spreading meme, C.Sonic). I've always been a pretty vocal detractor in regards to Sonic's Dreamcast redesign (which somehow stuck and has now lasted quite a bit longer than the original design), calling it everything from a "green-eyed monster" to "octopus-headed gurning freak". (And to those who always countered by pointing out - condescendingly, always condescendingly - how little difference there really was between the two designs, I say HAH - see them side by side and say that now.) Call me simple, call me afraid of change, call me mired in the past - whatever the case may be, whether the failing is on my part or Sega's, it remains true that I prefer C.Sonic and always will. As much as I like him over M.Sonic, though, I was completely unprepared for how much of an impact it would actually make on me to see Sega bring him back. Having now seen it happen for real, I realise that it was in fact the crux of the issue the whole time, the deciding factor that makes me smile uncontrollably when watching previews of the game instead of reaching for a nearby chalice (or pot) in which I can empty the contents of my stomach.

Does that make me a horrible, shallow person? Sega just slaps C.Sonic in a game and I'm suddenly their undying apostle, an unthinking thrall who will follow them, lemming-like, wherever they may lead? Well, no... otherwise I would be over the moon for Sonic Schoolhouse. I think what it comes down to is that, while C.Sonic is no panacea, no matter how good every other aspect of a game might get, M.Sonic still needles me and prevents my pure and unadulterated enjoyment of it. It's hard to describe exactly why, but M.Sonic's presence (especially in Sonic 4) feels like a slap in the face, like someone saying, 'you know that thing you like more than anything else in the world? Yeh, it's laaaame, and this one's better. Oh, and you're a stupid delegitimate ludite if you don't admit it!'

Grrr, enough about this M.Sonic stuff. The point is that this time I'm actually happy, yes happy, and unreservedly so, about an upcoming Sonic game. Not only am I over the moon about cuddly C.Sonic's return, something about seeing him and M.Sonic teaming up makes me also - incredibly - like M.Sonic more as well. All it takes is Sega admitting that C.Sonic is valuable too, officially saying that the two of them can peaceably coexist, and it's like there's finally closure. (And it's not just the return of Sonic's classic design itself, but the apparently loving attention to detail on the model and the presence of other things like yellow springboards and classic Eggman/Robotnik that do it for me too. I can't wait to see C.Tails now!)

And now I'm going to say something I really thought I'd never say in all my years - Sega's idea for this game is deeply ingenious. Yes, that's what I said - deeply ingenious. What makes me think so? Isn't it just another pathetic rehash-fest like Sonic 4 and... well, everything else we've seen in the last few years?

No, at least not to me. And not just because this interpretation of Green Hill Zone is the best I've ever seen it (with the possible exception of Sonic Fan Remix, but even still there are some things in Sonic Generations' version I prefer. 'You speak blasphemy, sir!' 'Yes, fluently.'). The biggest reason why I think Sonic Generations works fabulously well on a fundamental level is because I look at it like this: Why did Sonic Unleashed suck? Why did Sonic and the Black Knight suck? Because they kept adding horrible gimmicks that fans of Sonic gameplay just couldn't stand. But Sega didn't do this just to be perverse - they aren't stupid or cruel after all. These things were added to pad the experience because no one will buy a 2-hour long game these days - at least not for upwards of 50 bucks.

But finally, with Sonic Generations, a solution that works. Play as M.Sonic for an exhilarating, Unleashed-day-stage, run-till-your-feet-bleed rollercoaster ride. There is no doubting that this is extremely fun, if a little shallow. So what does Sega add for depth? A sword? A Werehog? Of course not - what kind of fool would come up with ideas like that? Instead they add C.Sonic gameplay, with the technical platforming that classic players crave. In one stroke they've solved the schism that has been the franchise's most glaring flaw and padded their game to a respectable size. It's amazing this wasn't thought of before.

The only sad thing in all this good news is the sobering thought that this can't possibly be true for the next Sonic game. There can't be temporal warps for the rest of time - after the blow-out anniversary celebrations it'll be back to business as usual. My fervent hope is that this could be the start of a branch in the franchise - sort of like how Zelda's Windwaker-style Link has his own independently running series. Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch a certain trailer over and over.