Sonic the Hedgehog has had a busy year, as both Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces have been released to show the blue speedster’s continued popularity in the modern era. While Mania was a return to form for classic 2D Sonic games, Forces took an interesting approach to the series’ history. Whether you’re a traditional Sonic fan or modern Sonic apologist, by combining several features seen across the library of games and melding them into one experience, this latest Sonic adventure can appease fans for very different reasons, or in turn, shut them off.
Like most Sonic games, the plot doesn’t attempt to get too deep, which is a wise choice for making the custom hero an integral part of the story. Sonic and the usual gang, including Tails, Knuckles, Rouge, and many more, have seemingly been defeated by Dr. Eggman’s latest attempt to control the universe. His success comes down to pulling in villains seen throughout the series to aid him, but the standout reason comes down to the power of Forces’ new baddie, Infinite. With Sonic banished to an unknown realm, it’s up to the remaining team to take on a series of covert missions across the globe to gain control back from Eggman and his army. Part of that team is the player’s custom hero, known as the “new recruit” in the story, and is undeniably the best part of Forces’ new additions.
In the main storyline missions, players get the chance to control modern Sonic, classic Sonic, and the custom hero character they create at the beginning of the game. The create-a-hero system starts with picking from seven different animal types, all of which come with unique abilities, like the wolf’s skill to draw in nearby rings or the bird’s double jump. Apart from the innate abilities of each animal, the only practical customization option for the characters comes down to the Wispons found throughout the game, which are the different weapons at your disposal. A flamethrower, gravity gun, and drill are just a few of the options to use, but all Wispons come with an additional ability that adds a platforming mechanic. For example, the flamethrower shoots flames at enemies but can also let the custom hero boost into the air continually over a limited amount of time before needing to be recharged.
As a fun twist, other accessories can also be unlocked by completing missions and challenges, but they only provide cosmetic changes for the hero. It’s important to say, though, that acquiring and adding new items to a hero is a blast. Yes, it’s all for looks, but part of the charm of Sonic Forces is the chance to create a hero that represents who you are as a player. The game has tons of accessories to unlock and choose from, and they even include a handy “outfit creator” to store looks that can be easily put on as an entire outfit.
However, the overall success of Forces rests in the practical options available, as they continually allow for players to return to levels and try different options to overcome the platforming situations. Within the 30 primary missions offered in the game, players will experience 2.5D side-scrolling and 3D platforming levels that will continuously change up gameplay, from classic speed-based movement through levels to less linear platforming portions. While any animal type and Wispon combo can successfully conquer these missions and level designs, the different paths and collectible items hidden in the stages require the player to return to each level using the different options for the hero. In turn, the replay value for each mission is high and offers an incentive for exploring the levels’ branching paths. It’s a nice departure from the classic Sonic games’ typical speed-based gameplay without completely deviating from that well-made formula. The boss fights also utilize the Wispon/animal type pairings by making the encounters about doling out damage from weapons, instead of pure platforming like past Sonic titles.
While the custom hero character is a welcome addition, some issues come with its presence. In addition to your hero, players will also play stages as modern 3D Sonic and classic 2D Sonic, each with their own unique abilities. Sonic Generations fans will feel at home with the controls for modern Sonic, as he can dash attack enemies and, of course, speed through areas in ball form. Classic Sonic works relatively the same way, but instead of a dash attack, he can hurt enemies by just jumping on top of them, which can be frustrating when navigating Forces’ levels built around platforming rather than speed. Several of the areas require fast movement from classic Sonic to traverse, but there are enemies put in his way that are difficult to avoid, forcing the player to start and stop their speed rolling continually. It makes the overall handling of classic Sonic feel clunky and a step back from the fluid design of the custom hero. It’s clear the Sonic Team managed to bring breeziness to 3D Sonic gameplay, finally, but at the cost of successfully incorporating anything from the classic era of the series. However, even modern Sonic feels overshadowed by the player’s hero, as his in-battle movements and commands are limited and make him feel less powerful.
The custom hero also receives more attention through the new SOS missions. While the player moves along in the story, notifications will pop up with an SOS-style warning that a custom hero is in danger and needs your help. When the player returns to the stage, there are three ways the SOS quest can be completed: find a character hidden in the level, complete the stage using an online player’s custom hero, or get through to the end either using your character or another custom hero. While the online functionality of the game is limited as of now, the way the Sonic Team incorporated the use of other custom heroes online was the right move. Not only are players forced to try new animal types and Wispon combos when completing an SOS mission, but it also encourages players to add unique flairs to their characters to make them stand out and ultimately help out players looking to complete the side missions.
Unfortunately, there’s no other online multiplayer option yet, but the mechanics of the SOS stages give a strong indication that it could be a possibility down the road. Players will notice in levels that modern Sonic will join the custom hero as a playable and switchable character, and while that’s exciting, this option lends even more credit to what could be done with Forces if an online co-op or multiplayer mode was introduced. Partner up with a friend online and fight Infinite together? Yes, please.
When it comes to the various stages players will experience in Forces, there’s a beautiful diversity to the look of the locales and how they push the player along. Rail gliding, loop-de-loop segments, and scripted action sequences are placed in the team’s way, but the game makes sure to change up how they look as part of the story’s “global scale.” Space, Green Hill Zone, and even an alternate dimension allow for refreshing changeups to the look of the game and never make the five to six-hour campaign feel stale. Sadly, when it comes to level design, at this point, it seems almost impossible to get a formula for 3D Sonic perfect.
While this is easily the best design of the 3D generation, the lack of clear direction and warnings of upcoming obstacles can make getting through certain stages frustrating. Many times I was rushing through a level only to come across an open pit that has no borders or edges, sending me to my death. Granted, the levels are all relatively short, so dying and restarting isn’t a huge loss overall, but it’s a noticeable flaw in an otherwise well-developed game.
The most challenging part of weighing the positive and negative aspects of the game come down to player preference. Sonic is a long-running and beloved franchise with polarizing entries, so Forces‘ attempt to meld a majority of the past mechanics into one game has its own level of questionable complexity. Players that love classic Sonic, including the most recent Sonic Mania, will likely feel let down by the lack of care given to 2D side-scrolling, but modern Sonic lovers will be happy to see a flawed but more well-rounded level design.
Personally, I’m partial to both Sonic styles, as Sonic CD and Sonic Adventure 2 are two of my favorites from the franchise, and of course, feature vastly different experiences. I appreciated more attention being put on the 3D features since it’s been awhile since a modern Sonic game has captured my excitement, but I see the disappointments classic Sonic fans could voice. With that said, Sonic Forces is a good but fallible shake at honoring the entire franchise. It’s a fun time and houses ideas worthy of praise, but it’s not the defining modern Sonic game it could and should be at this point.
|Publisher: SEGA • Developer: Sonic Team • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.07.17|
Sonic Forces mashes together everything from Sonic’s history, from 2D/3D mechanics to over-the-top action spectacle pieces. The new customizable hero feature breathes fresh life into the franchise, but the 3D gameplay it uses overpowers the game’s attempt to combine what has made the different eras of Sonic work.
|The Good||The custom hero and its options provide great replay value for each level.|
|The Bad||Classic 2D side-scrolling takes a backseat in the level design.|
|The Ugly||Don’t make a googly-eyed hero. Just don’t do it.|
|Sonic Forces is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by SEGA for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|