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Sonic x Shadow Generations is the best of 00s Sonic with a big dash of nostalgia

It’s the early 00s. I’ve finally got myself a copy of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on GameCube, having previously done an all-nighter with friends to collectively complete the first game in one sitting. I’m wearing my emo baggy jeans. Linkin Park plays in the background.

Except I’m actually sat playing Sonic X Shadow Generations in the year 2024, a re-release of an anniversary celebration that was all about nostalgia to begin with, but now doubly so with the inclusion of its Shadow campaign. Sonic Generations was released in 2011 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Sonic’s first Mega Drive game, but this fresh remaster adds a new, separate set of levels for his edgier nemesis Shadow.

Within seconds it all comes flooding back to me. I’m racing through the Space Colony level, seemingly inspired by the end of Sonic Adventure 2, homing in on enemies, speeding down grind rails, and seeking out hidden routes to maintain flow and speed in search of that elusive S rank. Sonic Adventure is back, baby! “This is sick,” I write simply enough in my notes like a horrible millennial.

After playing the demo, I was able to put questions to head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka. I had to ask: as in his 2005 standalone game, will Shadow wield a gun?

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Sonic X Shadow Generations – Summer Game Fest Trailer | PS5 & PS4 GamesWatch on YouTube

“When we thought up the concept for the Shadow the Hedgehog game, we really wanted to make an action-shooter, because they were a popular game genre at that time,” says Iizuka. “Since Shadow is an anti-hero character that would use anything at his disposal to get the job done, we had him use a gun so we could incorporate that action-shooting gameplay.”

That’s not the case for Sonic X Shadow Generations, though, with gameplay fitting the typical Generations template. “Instead, we wanted all the levels to make the most of Shadow’s iconic move, Chaos Control, to stop time and find new platforms to run through the worlds or find new ways of attacking the bosses,” says Iizuka. “In addition to Chaos Control, Shadow also has brand new Doom Powers that allow him to attack enemies and traverse the world.”


Shadow’s gameplay is an absolute rush

Chaos Control allows Shadow to momentarily stop time, adding an extra gameplay layer to his levels beyond running and jumping really fast. Time it right and Shadow can scoop under floating pillars, line up moving platforms to create new runways, or – in one particularly outlandish but wonderfully ridiculous moment – punch a missile into oblivion like Chris Redfield vs a boulder. All the while electro rock music pounds in the background. This is 00s cool through and through, and Sonic at its best.

The addition of Chaos Control does separate Shadow from his blue counterpart, along with his more staccato homing attack, and the adorable way he skates rather than runs, his limbs flailing to keep up with his own velocity. The Doom Powers Iizuka mentions weren’t part of this demo, but I’m intrigued as to how they’ll influence Shadow’s moveset.

Of course, narratively Shadow is a foil to Sonic too. “Sonic is a true hero character – he will stand up for others and fight for justice,” says Iizuka. “When we were designing Shadow, I was living in America and dark heroes were very popular at the time, and I thought that would be the perfect contrast to Sonic.”

Beyond Shadow’s moveset, what really impresses is the uninterrupted flow of the level design. This particular preview level has everything from high speed grind rails to platform challenges and set pieces in a tightly designed five minute rush, but that’s aided by a generous (and crucially accurate) homing attack that has me launching through the zone with ease, all without the frustrating camera angles and sudden stops of previous 3D Sonics.

Shadow the black hedgehog floats in space sprouting black wings
Shadow will seemingly sprout wings as part of his Doom Powers | Image credit: Sega

I ask Iizuka how Shadow’s abilities impact that typical Sonic sense of speed and flow. “For the Shadow Generations level design, the team makes sure the levels are fundamentally created to be similar to the Generations-style level design with lots of high-speed action platforming that also incorporates additional features that work when Chaos Control is used,” he says. “From there, they continue to build upon the level design through iteration to add in things that can be done with the new Doom Powers as well, so you can not only run through in the traditional Generations-style gameplay, but also find new things to do with Chaos Control and the Doom Powers.”

Just don’t expect any “Classic Shadow” levels as with Sonic, although Shadow’s perspective will still shift to 2D at times. Levels will also be taken from throughout Shadow’s appearances in games, “featuring a lot of iconic moments from Shadow’s past in the new gameplay,” says Iizuka. “We wanted to tell a new story using a lot of these familiar locations to really present Shadow as a character to players that may not have gotten the full backstory of the character, as that happened over numerous different titles, and also make sure this single title could properly introduce Shadow as a character and highlight some of the important moments in Shadow’s history.”

Another part of that is the hub world for Shadow. In Sonic Generations, the level select is a playable side-scrolling zone; for Shadow, this has been expanded using the Open Zone gameplay from Sonic Frontiers, though wasn’t part of this preview. Says Iizuka: “We wanted to include a White Space for the Shadow gameplay as well, and the Open Zone gameplay from Sonic Frontiers was so well received that the team decided to use that as the inspiration for the Shadow Generations White Space playable hub world that had a level of gameplay depth and exploration deeper than in Sonic Generations, but still familiar and fun for players.”

Shadow the black hedgehog in white environment firing an arrow of light
Shadow’s White Space is inspired by Frontiers | Image credit: Sega

In that sense, Sonic X Shadow Generations is blending together Sonic past and future. Unfortunately, the boss battle of this preview brought back less favourable elements from the past. The giant lizard fight makes use of Chaos Control to target weak points, but with awkward camera angles and movement too fast for such a small arena, it’s a struggle compared to the freedom of the main stage. Bosses have long been a weakness of 3D Sonic games and that won’t change here.

I also got to play through two Green Hill Zone levels from the main, and improved, original Sonic Generations campaign. And, well, it’s just as you remember, just a little sharper visually. The old shortcuts from 2011 come rushing back to me and I slip straight back in, with it appearing to be as smooth as you’d expect on PlayStation 5.

Cute chibi blue hedgehog Sonic runs towards the camera with Metal Sonic in pursuit
The old Sonic Generations levels are just as you remember | Image credit: Sega

For most fans, though, it’s the Shadow campaign that provides the main draw here. Generations was well-received by players old and new, which has given it lasting appeal, though Iizuka admits the forthcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 3 film provided impetus for this re-release as part of the Year of Shadow celebration.

“As you know, we have the third Sonic the Hedgehog movie coming out this December and there will be a spotlight put on Shadow in this movie,” says Iizuka. “We also have the Year of Shadow going on to celebrate and highlight the character, and we needed a game out at the same time to not only support everything going on with Shadow, but dive deeper into Shadow as a character and introduce players to Shadow’s backstory and legacy game moments. We felt creating a new game for Shadow and adding it in with Sonic Generations would be perfect for a game to bring to market for that movie audience, and for fans that love Shadow and the Generations gameplay.”

So what is it about Shadow, first introduced in Sonic Adventure 2, that makes him such an enduring character in the world of Sonic?

“I think a lot of the appeal for Shadow is because he is a dark, anti-hero who is going to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals,” says Iizuka. “That gives him qualities that really work in contrast to Sonic, which makes him cool and edgy while also being strong, heroic and a little bit dangerous. It’s harder to tell what Shadow is going to do, and that adds to the mystery of the character, and I believe that is what people find really exciting about Shadow.”

I guess fans just love a bad boy.


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