Ever since Sega shifted towards the more "modern" Sonic approach with the release of Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast, the original fans of the series have been clamoring for a return to the original approach they grew up to know and love. Last year's Sonic Colors was a great step in that direction by merging the 3D aspects with the innate sense of speed found in the original Genesis titles. So when Sega announced Sonic Generations back in April and everyone saw both the original and modern Sonics together in one game, many were left wondering how the merger would fare. From what we saw at E3, Generations is shaping up to be an entry in the series that shouldn't be missed.
As stated earlier, Generations allows players to play as both the original Sonic from the Genesis era and the modern Sonic from the more recent games such as Unleashed and Colors. Playing into this difference, each area has two variations for each character. Classic Sonic's stages are 2D-based and play very similarly to the Genesis entries (with a few differences that will be explained later). Modern Sonic's stages at 3D-based but they take their implementation from Sonic Colors, which had Sonic traveling forward with a constant momentum to keep the pace going while occasionally shifting into some platforming segments as the level permitted.
Sega had two sets of levels available at the expo, one for the public on the show floor and another behind closed doors. The show floor demo featured the iconic Green Hill Zone from the original Sonic the Hedgehog. True to form, the level was incredibly faithful to the original incarnation, with every golden ring and enemy robot remaining in the same locations that fans remember them in. Since this is a title made for HD platforms, one of the biggest changes was the incredible graphics work that Sega has put into the backgrounds and scenery. Waterfalls and cliffs can be seen far out into the distance and more than once during the demo we felt compelled to stop and take it all in. The new graphics also are further enhanced by a remastered remix of the original zone's theme, which feels similar enough to the original but doesn't feel like a complete rehash. Classic Sonic has gained a few new abilities since his Genesis days with an impressive blur and camera zooming effect when going through tight loops and jumping off ledges and Sonic 2's ability to enter his speedball form with the press of a button.
While Classic Sonic's variation of the stage was very much similar to the original, Modern Sonic's variation was a much different beast. Right from the get-go, his stage is much more intense with a number of boost panels and springboards littering the path. Modern Sonic has the homing lock ability (which was featured in prior titles such as Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Colors), which was used multiple times in the stage to reach alternate routes or to pass over a cliff. Like in Sonic Colors, Modern Sonic during part of the level changed into a side-scrolling game where Sonic grinded on the rails as we switched rails to grab more coins and avoid the plentiful enemies that lined our path. Part of the way through this area the game switched back to the behind-the-character camera angle while Sonic grinded on more rails to escape the jaws of a robotic fish who was hell-bent on eating Sonic alive. This chase ended with an impressive bullet-time esque jump where Sonic barely escaped the fish's clutches.
The closed-doors demo featured the iconic City Escape stage, which was Sonic Adventure 2's first level. Modern Sonic's take on the level was very similar to the original version, right down to the skateboard Sonic uses to grind down the city's streets. There were a few variations later in the level where some of the more cumbersome areas that slowed down the original were changed to fit in better with the Sonic Colors-esque style of gameplay, but for the most part it played almost the same. Classic Sonic's take on the level was quite different, utilizing the city aspect to litter the level with objects that made the area feel very much like a Mario level while keeping the pace flowing. One nice touch later in the level was the ability for Sonic to utilize Modern Sonic's skateboard by grabbing it from one of the item TV sets (old-school fans can skip this if they want, however, as the item isn't required to complete the level). Of course, both levels feature the massive truck hell-bent on capturing Sonic, with the vehicle even destroying some of the level geometry in Classic Sonic's stage at points, forcing Classic Sonic to take alternate routes through the level if he doesn't get in front of the truck's path of destruction fast enough.
According to Sega, Sonic Generations won't be including a complex story like the more modern titles and instead will be much like the Genesis titles where the story was largely explained outside of the game. Not all of the stages will need to be passed to gain access to the ending as well, with the developers giving roughly a 80/20% either way split level completion-wise to beat the game.
The game will also have a 3DS version, which features the same initial stage as its console brethren, Green Hill Zone, but will feature completely different stages otherwise and will play like the Nintendo DS Sonic Rush and Sonic Colors titles (i.e. 2D stages and 3D boss battles). The HD console versions will support stereoscopic 3D support and the developers are looking into online functionality such as online leaderboards for time attack scores.
Sega currently has Sonic Generations set for a November 22, 2011 release in North America.