Earlier this year, Sega revitalized its biggest blue mascot by giving it a fully revamped 2D game: Sonic Mania. Produced by a group of independent devs (not Sonic Team), the blue hedgehog’s newest outing was quite the stir, and for good reason. It mixed and matched all of the wonderful things fans found great about the series and left out some of the inconsistencies. Things like the soundtrack, colorful art, and callbacks to the original Sonic games made Mania one of the most liked and well received Sonic games in the past few years. My first question upon entering the 3D world of Sonic Forces was: Could they do it again? Could Sega do what they did for 2D Sonic and transfer that same spark and passion over to a new 3D Sonic title? More than that, could they come anywhere near the fun of the biggest 3D platformer of the year in Super Mario Odyssey? I’m not happy to report that though Sonic Forces offers up some useful ideas, it ultimately lacks the greatness I needed to renew my interest in 3D Sonic games. It also proved that my personal preferences lie in precise platformers that treasure methodical jumping rather than combos and quick action.
We start where every classic Sonic adventure does: in Green Hill Zone, with Eggman’s armies being destroyed by Sonic. Slowly you begin to realize something is really off about the areas in Green Hill Zone: It’s not quite so green. As Sonic keeps smashing robots and goes really, really fast, we get the image that something’s not right about this usual Eggman plot, which is that it seems overly ambitious. It is, and the villains all plotting against Sonic are pushed to incite some actual danger when they reveal their newest ally. The plot sees Sonic jailed and a new mascot animal taking his place: You!
One of the newest, and honestly most fun, features in Sonic Forces is the ability to create your own hedgehog, wolf, or other animal type and tag up with Sonic and his gang. Upon creating your character, you are introduced to a myriad of choices, including different body colors, eyes, and ears. This all adds up to a decently deep character creator but nothing too complicated to catch fans of the series off guard. I’m happy Sonic Team decided to add a character creator this time around as it gives the game a bit more customizability and makes room for yet another feature I endlessly toyed with: wardrobe changes.
That’s right, after running so fast around enemy strongholds, my character (and me for that matter) needed something to spice things up, something that would add to an already much needed sense of progression besides the all too common ranking at the end of missions. That change was the addition of earning clothing items after several missions. These items could be equipped at any time. They could also be worn simultaneously and made into quick “outfits” so that your character can switch between combinations faster. It all seems like a gimmick, something to just add at the last second so that the game has another selling point. It is all of that, but it’s also easily the best thing about Sonic Forces.
This is because Sonic Forces is confusing at best. Its story, like its gameplay, represents a very chopped up and inconsistent experience. We start off okay, even good when the new villain is first introduced, but the plot soon dissolves into an all around mess that assumes you’re caught up with classic Sonic characters and their tropes. It tries to take itself serious by delivering apocalypse-styled stories and mixing in cheap one-liners from the blue hedgehog himself. Throw in a Sonic from another dimension, along with your wacky customized character, and you have one of the most irreverent Sonic stories of all time. There may be one or two lines that caught me, but largely this game was filled with criss-crossed objectives and corny dialogue. One thing I did like was the fact that every single word in Sonic Forces was voiced, even the menu conversations your pals had before you went into new missions. It added some effort that I thought was lacking from the narrative aspects as a whole. I’m not saying Sonic should have a heart-tugging story attached to it, or even a slightly serious story, what I am saying is that Team Sonic didn’t commit to a single one of the aspects they chose to put into the story. Sonic Forces wasn’t a comedic, serious, or traditional Sonic game, it was a blend of all those things, which made it something a Sonic game never was and never should be.
Effort in story wasn’t the only thing holding Sonic Forces back. The presentation of the game looked as if it had begun development in the last gen and was never made any prettier. Textures looked flat and meaningless, the color pallette contained atrocious browns and bright greens, and the animations only occasionally matched the dialogue coming from any given character’s mouth. That being said, sound design was a tiny bit better than graphical work. Every now and then I’d hear a sound that sparked interest and wanted me to keep going on in this new Sonic adventure. The classic sound of Sonic flipping in the air, the collection of rings, and the load up to see if I obtained that coveted S ranking at the end of each level, all these features at least felt like something out of a classic Sonic game. If only Sonic Team would’ve left it at that. Big explosions and set pieces sounded not so great. A train scene reminded me that most 360 titles could definitely come up with some better sound design than Sonic Forces has. It’s a shame, especially since I didn’t even need those big set pieces to pull me along for the ride, only good gameplay.
Speaking of, what about gameplay? The one thing most Sonic games are usually played for. The “different” and more stylized platformer. Well, again, a miss in Sonic Forces. You’ll get your average Sonic gameplay, and using the hedgehogs (both of them) feels a little awkward at moments. Controls felt heavy as it felt like Sonic ran more than he glided like in many other games. The need to keep track of speedy sections and moments of control were more difficult than usual as well. This weight and lack of precise controls gave Sonic Forces some of the worst handling the series has ever seen. I still enjoyed some parts, as connecting with a series of jumps can be rewarding in its own way, but these instances were rewards won by playing against the oddness of the controls rather than rewards won by having good platforming skills.
The gameplay got even worse when playing as the customized character I had so faithfully created, who was given a hand cannon and a rope to swing with. Both of these fundamentally broke the way I was used to playing, making some areas more about spamming my shoot and swing buttons rather than focusing on what was in front of me. Yes, my character didn’t feel like Sonic, but sadly that also meant that my character felt like a much cheaper version of him. Playing through long stretches just as this created character was quite frustrating. Luckily, I could switch between Sonic, Sonic, and my created character (keep up, there are two Sonics, remember?).
Last but not least, the boss fights. The oh so long and pointless stretches of gameplay that took me from the mediocre aspects of the game and dropped me into a predictable mess of simplicity and boring design. Whether circling around a hexagonal platform, traveling on a Temple Run-esque road, or escaping attacks in the 3D rendered 2D throwback levels, boss designs were terrible. There was nothing that surprised me, nothing that made me think, and everything made me question why Sonic Team had even put these messes inside of their newest entry. Yet another piece of Sonic Forces that let me down.
When my time was up with Sonic Forces and all was said and done, I looked at my TV sideways. This was it? The follow up to one of the best Sonic games available on modern consoles? Sonic Forces had disappointed me on all levels. It’s not bad, surely ranked somewhere in the middle of 3D Sonic titles, but that spot in the wider scope of platformers in 2017 means that Sonic Forces came out to be a huge letdown for fans and first time players everywhere. I hope Sonic Team can come back with another swing at the series, but then again, they always do.
Developer: Sonic Team
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 7th November 2017