Back in 2011, Sonic Generations felt like an attempt to win back long-time Sonic fans. Whether they grew up with 2D Sonic or the 3D adventures, both sides of the fanbase were becoming frustrated with the attempts at experimentation, and the supposed abandonment of what made Sonic great – fast, frantic, flowing action.

Sonic X Shadow Generations comes at a similar time. While Sonic Frontiers is certainly no Sonic '06, and Superstars is leaps and bounds better than Sonic the Hedgehog 4, it feels like Sonic is missing something. So, why not go back to what many fans consider one of the best 3D Sonic games of all time?

At Summer Game Fest, we spent 30 minutes with this rejuvenated version of a PS3 and Xbox 360 fan favourite. And it might seem easy to say that Sonic Generations is still good, but the new content featuring Shadow makes this package really pop.

The demo consisted of four levels – two Sonic levels (one classic, one modern), and two new Shadow levels. As far as we can tell, Sonic plays exactly the same as he did 13 years ago. 2D levels are more about platforming while 3D levels see Sonic boosting through them at lightning-fast speeds. Disappointingly, the Sonic levels were both Green Hill Zone, looking better than ever on PS5 mind you, but we were quickly reminded how good Sonic Generations is at making those classic levels feel oh so different. Yes, even playing Green Hill Zone as Classic Sonic with the extra momentum and speed feels magic, and the level layout of Green Hill Zone varies plenty from the original Mega Drive stage.

But the draw of Sonic X Shadow Generations is the Ultimate Lifeform himself. Shadow plays fairly differently to Sonic – his homing attack is more like a teleport, and is activated with a different button. Shadow’s dash isn’t powered up by collecting rings. And he also has some unique attacks and available to him, depending on the level.

Both stages we played were based on scenarios from Sonic Adventure 2. The first level is titled Space Colony Ark, a location all too familiar to those of us who’ve played the Dreamcast or GameCube game. It’s an amalgamation of the many space-based levels from SA2 such as Crazy Gadget and Final Chase. Bombastic grind rails hanging above space and gravity-shifting walls where you can run along ceilings, all while hanging upside down above planet Earth, capture the over-the-top essence of SA2.

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Image: Sega

One thing we loved is just how Shadow’s Chaos Control is implemented in the game. To use Chaos Control, you need to collect a certain number of rings to power up a gauge. Then you can use it to free time for five seconds, leaving enemies vulnerable, or allowing you to get past traps or solve puzzles. It’s a simple addition, but it helps differentiate Shadow from Sonic even more.

Overall, Space Colony Ark is fantastic, full of the same GUN robots and weird space aliens from SA2. It sells Shadow’s scenario – at least what we’ve seen – as a love letter to Sonic Adventure 2. But it’s also full of more than just the Dreamcast game’s lore. Doom’s Eye is a prominent presence, and Shadow has to chase him through the level. Not before punching a huge missile, though. It’s clear that Sonic X Shadow Generations is fully embracing the shadow-y hedgehog in all of its edgy glory.

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Image: Sega

The second Shadow-based stage was very different, but still showed the same care and appreciation for Shadow’s history. It’s a boss battle against one of the most iconic bosses from SA2, the Biolizard, which is also a boss for Sonic in the 3DS version of Sonic Generations. This creature terrified this particular writer as a kid, and seeing it again – huge, slobbering, and vicious, in full HD – was no less frightening.

The boss has been adapted perfectly to fit the Generations template with plenty of callback to Bioizard’s attack patterns in the Dreamcast battle. It’ll start by shuffling its head or tail towards Shadow, snapping its toothless jaw at you, or flapping its huge fin-like tail. Then, once it’s tired, you can grind up to the core and attack it to deal damage. In the second phase, Biolizard changes it up by generating pink bubbly wings that you need to avoid taking damage from before they disperse and you can homing attack up to the core again.

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Image: Sega

In the final phase, Biolizard clings onto the wall and attacks Shadow from a distance, and once again it’s a waiting game until you can go in for the kill. There are elements from every section of the original Dreamcast boss in this new iteration, but there are also plenty of new surprises that fit with Generations’ boosting and Shadow’s Chaos Control.

But Chaos Spear, a brand new attack for Shadow, becomes available during the fight, which allows Shadow to throw an unlimited amount of spears for a set amount of time. All of these elements really help Shadow’s levels and scenario feel like a worthwhile investment, and we’re excited to see what other levels we’ll be able to explore.

In the build we played, however, we can’t deny that some of Shadow’s movements and level design felt a little…clunky. At first, it was almost charming, reminding us of the janky days of the Dreamcast, but particularly in the Biolizard fight, some of the more homing attack-based sections felt particularly frustrating. We also struggled to get the Biolizard to even attack us at the start of the fight, having to walk right up to him to trigger the confrontation. It gave us virtually no time to escape from damage.

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Image: Sega

But the game looks fantastic, and it sounds even better – the diegetic music used in Sonic Generations, where the soundtrack will change to fit the tone of the environment or the progress through a boss or level – is present here. And if Sonic’s levels are all the same high quality as the original release, then it will at least be as good as it was. As we only played the PS5 version, we do have concerns about how the game will look and run on Switch, but it’s certainly pretty on console.

The main takeaway is this, though: Sonic X Shadow Generations is all about the black and red hedgehog. It’s giving the fan-favourite character some well-deserved time in the spotlight ahead of his movie debut later this year, and also serves as a reminder of his janky past. And luckily, Shadow’s levels are separate, so even if you don’t want to check out the Space Colony Ark and beyond, then Sonic’s own fantastic base game is still here. Let’s hope more 3DS levels are included.

Sonic X Shadow Generations launches on Switch on 25th October 2024. Are you ready to use Chaos Control with the Ultimate Lifeform? Let us know down below.