Sonic the hedgehog has come in many shapes and forms over the past 25 years, and Sega has picked its best two incarnations of him for "Sonic Generations," trying to bridge the gap between the original 32-bit game series and the Sonic series of today. In "Sonic Generations" for the Nintendo 3DS, we trade off between levels starring the silent, cartoony Sonic introduced to us through the Sega Genesis and the mouthy, super-charged Sonic of the Dreamcast's "Sonic Adventure."
The story mirrors that of the game's big brother, "Sonic Generations" for home gaming consoles, but the storytelling isn't masterfully told on the 3DS. It follows a time-space continuum rift that causes past and present Sonics to meet in a nondescript, colorless limbo. Scenes between levels are abstract, characters talk to each other in minimalist white rooms, decorated a few turning gears at most. Little is explained about the plot and it's clear that the developers of "Sonic Generations" for the 3DS were focused on game play first.
The 3D is serviceable, adding depth to Sonic's world, but runs into a problem that other 3DS games based on speed have encountered: Turning the system even slightly in your hands can undo the 3D effect and leave you looking at the screen as if you were crosseyed. This will happen a lot as you navigate loop-the-loops and shoot across gaps. I ended up playing with the 3D turned off for most of the game.
The gameplay can be confusing and will have you switching between a 1991 Sonic and a 1999 Sonic, both with slightly different mechanics for speeding up and jumping. Just as you've mastered one, you've got to play a level as another. It's easy to forget which buttons you need to press in order to save your life.
Get ready to see the Game Over screen, homing will likely fail you and you'll be losing your rings. You will not stumble upon many extra lives and ring collection to 100 will not happen often. Sometimes you can swim in water, sometimes water means death. It's fairly arbitrary. You'll also see signs warning of a deadly drop ahead -- as you're dropping off said deadly drop.
This game isn't forgiving when asking you to quickly press Y to save your life. Players are often given less reaction time than most "God of War" games require.
Sonic is less about solving puzzles as it is making split-second decisions that can mean life or death. Memorizing the courses are the only way to get by. Go too fast and you'll fly off a cliff, too slow and the game's platforming becomes tedious.
The levels feel too long, often with four checkpoints along the way. It would have been better to split these into multiple courses, especially when memorizing the routes that become the only way to get to the finish line. Modern Sonic levels particularly took me forever to complete, and their length ensured I would not be returning to any particular level for a replay.
The Sonic team has succeeded in making a challenging game, but at the cost of much fun. It can be exhilarating to experience old levels in a new dimension, even more to visit recent Sonic locales on a mobile platform.
Levels played with classic Sonic are the best of the bunch. They prove that the series is best when it's not focused on pure unbridled speed over intelligent obstacle design.
The game has some moments that will make you smile. You'll be kicked by dolphins and flung from fireworks with satisfying results. The Chaos Emerald challenges feel out of a different, better Sonic game and each one is a joy to complete. If you already have this game, don't give up. The final boss and credits are worthy of pursuit.
"Sonic Generations" for the Nintendo 3DS is the best way to have Sonic fun on the go without replaying games you may have already mastered years ago. It feels like a "best of" compilation, only with modified courses.
The most enjoyable Sonic games offer a smooth, flowing experience with little slowdown. In those games, when you have to slow down, you are rewarded with platforming and hidden treasures like extra lives. Unfortunately, this title's treasures are few and far between.