Sonic Mania came and went a couple months ago, and it was an absolute blast! It’s not the only Sonic game to come out this year. SEGA has recently released the other half of the Blue Blur’s belated 25th Anniversary celebration, Sonic Forces. This is the latest of the 3D Sonic titles, finally serving as a successor to the games before the Hedgehog took a detour with the Sonic Boom show and licensed games. Is it as good as Sonic Colors and Generations, or is it at the bottom of the barrel? Well…Just read onward.
This game’s story is a weird mish-mash of the lighthearted Colors/Generations tone and the more serious Sonic Adventure-style narrative. Dr. Eggman plots his latest scheme to take over the world, but this time alongside a distorted creep that seems like he could do anything with his unstoppable-looking powers. This creep is named Infinite. After Sonic and Tails catch up to the Doc, the former is confronted by previously fought villains Metal Sonic, Zavok, Shadow, and Chaos, as well as Infinite. He takes a massive beating from them while Tails was too busy being useless. Because of this, Sonic gets knocked unconscious and the story suddenly fades to a series of lines of text explaining more exposition.
During this time, Sonic is rumored dead and Eggman’s army took over the world. Immediately after the game introduces the Avatar character (more on that later), Sonic’s friends realize he’s actually alive. It turns out he’s been tortured by Eggman’s army for six straight months. By the way, all of this happens between Stages 1 and 2. And none of the 28 other stages have such a time gap. As the Avatar is tasked to save him, one could only wonder just how traumatized Sonic must be after all the pain and agony he exper-
-Oh, never mind. He’s just fine. What was the point of any of this? I feel like it would have been far more effective if Sonic Forces just inexplicably started out with Eggman taking over the world and Sonic and co. fighting against the army. The rest of the story is straightforward stuff, really; find ways to stop the army, then destroy Eggman and Infinite. Only some moments in between it all are where there’s any more brain-numbing nonsense.
For example, we have the entirety of Classic Sonic’s role in the story: None. Chaos attempts to attack Tails in one cutscene; Tails, being totally useless, just cowers before Classic Sonic suddenly emerges out of a portal to bop Chaos on the head to beat him. Now, if you played and beat Sonic Mania, you would know why Classic Sonic came from a portal. What you will never know is why the portal led there and how you’ll ever understand this without playing Sonic Mania. After that, he doesn’t do anything plot-related and vanishes into thin air when the game is over. There may as well be a giant hand tossing him onto the set, because that’s what it feels like. My favorite line in the game is Modern Sonic saying “Don’t worry, Tails. We’ll probably see him again in the future,” because I know for a fact there are fans screaming in frustration from the implication that Classic Sonic may continue to get shoehorned into future games.
Admittedly, I haven’t played the free DLC that contains levels dedicated to Shadow’s reason for being in the story. I don’t really want to, there’s only so much I could really get out of it. I’m sure it wouldn’t change a lot of the other nonsensical parts of it.
One thing that remains consistent throughout the 2010s Sonic games is that the visuals are pretty excellent; the level of graphical detail. The characters are as recognizable as they ever are, and there is a lot that goes on in the background during gameplay. There are some cool environments in here, but others are actually rather on the bland side of things. Casino Forest was easily the most unappealing of the worlds featured in-game, and Metropolis just looks like any average robotic future city setting seen in games and animations.
Some of the lesser things about the graphics could be remedied by the fact that Sonic Forces runs in a super-smooth 60 frames per second framerate…on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. For the Nintendo Switch, the framerate is cut in half. There are noticeable differences in detail between the three versions. It’s odd since the formerly Wii U exclusive Sonic Lost World does run in 60 fps, but I imagine Sonic Forces was built with other consoles in mind before the Switch was ever revealed. Thankfully, the game at least runs consistently; it is a great improvement over what I saw of the Switch version at PAX West. If you’ve played Sonic Colors or the console version of Sonic Generations before, you’ll at least be relieved that Sonic Forces runs as well as those.
The few orchestrated pieces in the game are great stuff. But the rest of Sonic Forces‘s soundtrack? A wide range of mediocre-to-awful compositions. Classic Sonic’s levels will trigger PSTD from anyone that hated Sonic 4′s soundtrack. They feature the same obnoxious use of the Sonic 2 drum sample, among other primitive instrumentals that ruin any potential the melodies have. In fact, I prefer Sonic 4‘s OST over this. There are games out there, including Sonic Mania, that proved Classic Sonic can have genuine-sounding instruments play in the background. Why does this game ignore that?
Modern Sonic has the best of the soundtrack, but it’s still not enough. Each of his levels usually have synthesized pieces that lack any real energy to them. There are also some levels that have dubstep. Very typical dubstep. The kind of dubstep the artist doesn’t bother blending in with the song because he or she feels like it can be the basis of the song by itself.
The Avatar character’s levels, for some reason, have vocal songs. Despite that the levels play out much like Modern Sonic’s, the songs have this weird out-of-place vibe that doesn’t bother trying to fit the actual gameplay going on. Basically, it’s like Sonic R‘s soundtrack except with more forgettable tunes.
Sonic Forces brings back the winning formula that made Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations modern classics. As the Blue Blur himself, you can Boost through the levels to your heart’s content. Sonic can do all the moves he can do in those games, like the traditional Homing Attack to kill enemies, the stomp to break through some blocks, and he can grind on rails with his feet. Unlike those games, though, he can’t drift or use power-ups.
The latter is now in the hands of the Avatar character. For the first time in the series, you can make your very own Sonic character. I can imagine kids and Sonic fanboys/fangirls obsessing over this feature, and it actually does do a good job providing everything one would want to do with it. The game very consistently rewards players with loads of gear to suit the Avatar up in. Different types of species provide different benefits, and there are different kinds of “Wispon” guns he or she could carry into a level. There are also a few levels that feature both Sonic and the Avatar; it plays out like Sonic Heroes, except you don’t need to manually switch between the two to use a certain attack.
The Avatar’s gameplay plays out like Sonic’s, except less speedy yet it retains his kind of momentum. It can be sluggish at times, especially when trying to hop from one platform to another. He/She’s also got a grappling hook which can be used for flashier jumps, as well as a Wispon gun that can shoot projectiles inspired by the Wisp power-ups from Sonic Colors and Sonic Lost World.
In theory, it sounds like there’s a lot that could be done with these characters. In practice, however, Sonic Forces feels completely uninspired. All of the levels are totally short; Sonic Colors had a lot of short levels, too, but that game was a lot more well-intentioned with its level design. Here, every level in this game always feel like it’s over before anything interesting could happen. It’s all a series of platforms and flashy running sequences without the extra depth and flavor that the earlier games in the series incorporated to make the formula work. This even applies to Classic Sonic’s levels. He may play like the SEGA Genesis Sonic games, but the levels are as run-of-the-mill as they come. Right down to the pitiful enemy designs. Gone are Badniks unique to each level, in are Badniks that appear in nearly level. Many of them can’t even attack you unless you’re directly in front of them. Even then, they shoot in a limited arc, so you can stand next to them all you want and you won’t be hit. You have no idea how many pictures I took doing just that.
With that said, Sonic Forces isn’t a bad game. It really isn’t. In fact, if you stroll through the levels in this game as you would in the aforementioned Sonics without thinking about it much, you are sure to find enjoyment here. That’s the highest praise I could really give it, though. The problem is that there are a lot of issues with the game that pile up. What we have here is a game that hardly ever feels lovingly crafted. It was likely just made for the sake of there being another new Sonic, and the developers just went along for the ride to satisfy the publisher.
Feel free to proceed this one with caution. If you had to pick between Sonic Forces and Sonic Mania as the Sonic game to play this year, I say go with Mania. It’s half the price, but crammed with so much more to offer in terms of substance and fun. I’m actually very interested in seeing more 2D Sonic in the future, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the 3D games take a break. Sonic Team probably needs one if the feel of Sonic Forces is of any indication.