By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn November 6, 2011 at 11:17AM
I just picked up SEGA's newly released videogame "Sonic Generations," a throwback to the original "Sonic" game released on SEGA's early platform 20 years ago. The new game aims to be a nostalgia trip and delivers on that promise in spades. By that I mean it satisfies the need for speed precisely the way the classic version did. "Sonic Generations" beefs up the visuals and some of the gameplay immersion with 3-D graphics and a wandering virtual camera, but the sheer desire for forward motion remains the same. Thankfully.
As a child of the nineties, my interest in gaming came instinctually, the result of an exploding commercial industry cranking out product aimed squarely at my demographic. But if I was reared on Mario, I found my calling with Sonic. While both the Nintendo and SEGA games offered the same basic sidescrolling action, only Sonic brought speed. These games moved fast, human comprehension be damned; the 16-bit graphics slowed down for nobody.
For years, cinema has been discussed as a medium defined by 24 frames per second, a distinction that grows increasingly less relevant in the digital age. Video usually runs closer to 30 frames second, but that's a distinction nobody really considered from a theoretical point of view until the so-called "digital revolution" of the late nineties. I don't know how the frame rate discussion translates to videogame graphics, but somebody should do the math.
A generation of young adults--as well as some older ones--came to understand moving images as not only restricted to a single format. My interest in movies formed around the same time that I spent countless hours glued to the TV screen with a SEGA controller locked into my two hands, my restless thumbs tapping away at three powerful buttons and a basic directional pad that had major ramifications for the blur of a hedgehog in front of me. It was so easy I couldn't help envy the guy. Put Sonic in a ball, let him spin, and release; speed through the level and fuck any measly robot that tries to get in your way. The ease with which Sonic could break boundaries while maintaining the same focused look of satisfaction gave him the rascally appearance of a digital punk rocker, replete with blue mohawk. For many people, this stab at poetic comprehension may sound like nothing more than shameless marketing copy, but those familiar with what I'm talking about should seek out "Sonic Generations" and take a handy trip back in time. It's worth the price of admission.
The same night I got my hands on "Sonic Generations," I also caught up with this weekend's sleeper hit: "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas." Heading into their 30's and dealing with the pressures of adulthood, Harold and Kumar belong to the same generation that was reared on Sonic and his ilk. Like every other franchise, their adventures must change with the times, and so the duo land their first 3-D adventure at the same moment that the original Sonic lands his. However, whereas I fell in love with the fantasy of Sonic's speed, I find that Harold and Kumar provide a much deeper form of identification.
In the latest installment, Harold dons a suit and tie and has grown acclimated to his domesticated suburban life. Kumar continues to dodge his responsibilities, including his penchant for bong rips and a knocked-up girlfriend. When a monstrous joint addressed to Harold shows up at Kumar's pad, the baked protagonist heads over to his old pal's home to hand it over, only to wind up torching the pricey Christmas tree that Harold's menacing father-in-law (Danny Trejo) has maintained since childhood. The subsequent adventures that Harold and Kumar endure in the search for a new tree naturally lose their narrative thread, implicating gangsters, a baby on drugs, a enjoyably trippy claymation sequence and, naturally, one very raunchy Neil Patrick Harris, who delivers a unique spin on the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and appears in a flashback that finds him getting a handjob in heaven. Oh yes.
Despite the naughtiness throughout, however, "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" never stays from the sweet vibe of a sincere buddy comedy. At the start, Harold and Kumar no longer relate to each other, but at some point they decide to accept their mutual flaws no matter what social and economic pressures may attempt to force them apart. That's an overly heartfelt message given renewed value in the context of the relentless strange and off-color cultural ephemera that defines these movies' appeal. The newest entry has plenty of farce and cruel gags galore, but the holiday spirit is genuine.
Not a stoner myself, I can't relate to the ongoing battle between getting faded and growing up, but the inane and occasionally quite surreal antics that this aging pair endure come with an oddly touching hook--that, no matter how much you grow up, some things never change.