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Summer Game Fest has come and gone, and with it the opportunity to preview the next entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Last year brought on Sonic Superstars, a new twist on familiar classic gameplay, and this year was… well, that but different. The return of Sonic Generations has me excited, as it represents one of the best titles in the franchise’s modern era.

Uplifting the package is the addition of a new campaign centered instead on Shadow the Hedgehog. The character, not the game, though there’s certainly some of that edgy entry. Gone are the guns and that damn fourth Chaos Emerald, but the return of alien antagonist Black Doom and the focus on Shadow’s past is bringing on plenty of 2005 nostalgia.

Sonic x Shadow Generations looks to isolate Shadow’s side, with the menu dividing up the game ala Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. Playing as Shadow is fairly comparable to Modern Sonic’s Generations iteration, so much so that it felt identical at first despite the changes to the controls (Boost is now on the right trigger, for example). I mean that in the best of ways, as that may be my favorite take on the series’ high-speed platforming, and taking on Space Colony ARK Act 1 was everything I’d hoped for – more Sonic Generations. If I’m being honest that would be enough for me, but thankfully some distinct elements came through to make Shadow’s side truer to its lead.

For one, rather than the traditional Homing Attack Shadow makes use of his Chaos Snap technique from Sonic 06 to warp between enemies. Initially I thought of this as pure flavor, but eventually I realized it actually makes you invulnerable when you vanish. A section of the stage had robots behind laser-gates, something that would knock the rings out of Sonic and force him to go under them. With the right timing Shadow could skip that extra traversal all while looking more stylish. After all, he’s the coolest.

That example has me excited for more level design opportunities and alternate routes (there was a solid amount of these already throughout the ARK) but it’s Shadow’s unique Chaos meter that seems primed to define his campaign. For the demo I could only make use of Chaos Control to briefly stop time. Not only did this make for a great set piece where Shadow JoJo pummels and roundhouses a giant rocket, it opened up more route options as well. Freezing time would pause smaller missiles, letting Shadow avoid them to reach out of the way platforms or even use them as platforms themselves.

What could come from additional powers, such as the doom-goop wings seen in the latest trailer, wasn’t quite apparent from the single stage (and boss fight, more on that in a bit) I was able to try. Rather, this appeared to be an early part of Shadow’s adventure, which became clearer during the most impressive section of the stage.

A seemingly normal hallway gave way to Doom’s Eye appearing and transmogrifying the space station instead into Radical Highway, complete with a soundtrack shift to Vengeance is Mine. Any loading was masked by the cutscene where Shadow fell into the changing architecture, coming off as fairly expressive as everything literally turned upside down around him.

Cool as the moment was (and this warped version of the red-framed streets was enjoyable to boost through) it does have me somewhat concerned for the amount of stages that could be a part of Shadow’s story. I’d have pegged Radical Highway as a lock for its own stage rather than a portion of another one. This certainly opens up the possibilities for how pieces of Shadow’s past will be woven into the story (and it’s worth noting what I played through was Space Colony ARK Act 1, implying at least one more) but it tempered my expectations a bit as far as sheer volume goes.

On the flipside, the presentation and polish on display here was everything I loved about Generations’ treatment of past stages. The moment I heard Final Rush’s Highway in the Sky playing as Shadow rode a grind rail past the Eclipse Cannon I knew we were back in the best way. Plenty of details and callbacks to the ARK’s various Sonic Adventure 2 stages, from the Artificial Chaos enemies to the green gravity gimmicks to the same kinds of unlocking hatch doors, sold this as a devoted embrace of what fans remember about this iconic local’s gameplay.

Oh yeah, I fought the Biolizard too! Details and elements of Shadow’s encounter with his prototype were woven into the fight, like being “stuck” between its head and tail and the use of tubes and bubbles to access the weak spot/life support system on its back. Those aspects (and the mix of Supporting Me playing in the background) were great but I did run into some minor camera issues during a phase of the fight when I tried to move toward the screen to avoid attacks. It was also a portion of this where I learned Shadow had access to Chaos Spear (a projectile that can stun enemies and during this fight deal with Biolizard’s bubbles) by default, though I couldn’t quite get the hang of utilizing it well before the fight was over.

Chaos Control also felt a bit useless during the encounter though, as you need to allow the boss to progress through its attack sequences to become vulnerable. I tried to freeze time while at its weak point to lay on more damage too, but alas. Hopefully later powers can have an impact here, because it felt odd to have a full meter throughout the fight that served no purpose.

That’s everything coming out of Shadow’s gameplay, and if it isn’t clear enough I’m absolutely sold on his half. Assuming it maintains the dedication to the series’ past and continues to explore the Ultimate Lifeform’s varied techniques then it’ll more than live up to Sonic Generations’ legacy.

Speaking of, I played through both Green Hill Zone Act 1 and 2. The added polish was clear (it’s worth noting my demo was on a PlayStation 5, as the Switch was not available) and all my muscle memory came back easily for these stages. Classic Sonic is now able to utilize the Drop Dash, but other than that nothing really changed as far as rushing through the stages like it’s 2011 all over again.

Also new here were three Hidden Chao in each stage. They only seem to provide similar incentive as Red Star Rings to comb over routes and find them, and to Sega’s credit I only managed to come across one while going through my “best” route for Modern Sonic’s Green Hill Zone (it was hiding under the stompable bridge, if you’re curious). It’s a fun little extra, but whether or not these cuties have any additional bearing on the game remains to be seen.

I hope we’ve barely scratched the surface on what there is to know about Sonic x Shadow Generations. This preview didn’t include Shadow’s Frontiers-inspired hub world nor did it make clear what his own collectibles (three in each stage, based on icons one seemed to be music and the other could be tied to Professor Gerald Robotnik’s journal) were. I’m hopeful that between now and its October 25th release we’ll get a fuller sense of scale, as Sonic Team finally seems poised to deliver a worthy follow-up to the franchise’s 20th anniversary celebration.

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Written by Ricky Berg

When he isn’t writing for Nintendo Wire, Ricky’s anticipating the next Kirby, Fire Emblem, or if the stars ever align, Mother 3 to be released. Till then he’ll have the warm comfort of Super Smash Bros. to keep him going.