Sonic Team is one of the strangest developers in the video game industry. With over 25 years of developing games for the blue blur, they always like to experiment with their games or follow modern trends when they make a game.
This has resulted in many games of questionable quality, whether just average or straight up terrible. With their newest title “Sonic Forces” – available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC – this doesn’t seem to be stopping.
And while this game was an enjoyable experience for myself, it still has glaring problems that hold it back from being as good as I wanted it to be.
Forces is a partial sequel to the 2011 game “Generations; Takashi Iizuka,” the head of Sonic Team describes it as a “brand new experience.” It’s built with a new engine, known as Hedgehog Engine 2, and is the first next-gen title for the team.
Fans and gamers alike expected that similar to Generations, Forces would focus on Classic and Modern Sonic in all new levels instead of revisiting old ones. But what sets this apart from Generations is a new mechanic for Forces; you can now create your own custom hero.
So, when you have three playable gameplay styles, a development period of four years and a team that seems to know what they are doing, why does the game end up being average?
The first and most important thing to not ruin in any video game is the controls. All three characters suffer from stiff movement, and their jumping feels heavy.
As Modern Sonic, this isn’t noticeable until you are forced into 2D sections and have to jump across platforms slowly and carefully. Rather than feeling instant and controllable, the game feels slow and rigid.
Modern Sonic’s other problems stem from his weakened moveset and level design. Modern Sonic no longer has a drift, and this ends up with a majority of 3D segments being straight lines with no challenge.
The level design takes a major hit from this decision, and in an effort to be “cinematic,” the game adds quicktime events.
During certain stages, the game takes control away from the player to press a button within a timer while a long, scripted animation plays out. They can look epic, but repeated playthroughs of the level brings them down a lot.
While Modern Sonic has taken some steps back, he does take a few steps forward with certain levels. Levels such as Egg Gate and Mortar Canyon have very open level designs that encourage repeated playthroughs to view all the different pathways.
Classic, or Retro, Sonic has no reason to be in the game.
Classic Sonic is one of the worst aspects of Forces. He feels shoehorned in at the last second to satisfy the retro audience, but the game implements him clumsily. He only has five levels in the game, but those are the lowest points of it.
The physics of the game are not done well. No one was expecting a pitch-perfect representation of the classic games, but they also were not expecting him to feel slow and have no concept of momentum. There is a section, for example, where you can run down a long downward slope and appear to be gaining speed just to reach a tiny ramp and not even reach above it.
It’s frustrating seeing that “Sonic Mania,” a perfect representation of classic games, was just released three months ago. The Classic Sonic you play as in Forces is the same one from Mania.
Because of this, Forces includes the drop dash from that game, but it doesn’t add much to Forces, and the levels aren’t built with it in mind. Luckily, the new character added to this game wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
A major selling point of the game is that you get to create your own custom Sonic character. You can choose from different types of animals, clothing and power-ups. This system feels fun and deep to experiment with and can offer a lot of replay value.
There are endless combinations to come up with, and the routes you take can depend on what power-up or weapon you choose. The alien creatures, the Wisps from “Sonic Colors,” make a return as “wispons,” or weapons that are powered with the Wisps used by your custom hero. This can be a flamethrower that can cause mid-air explosions to get to higher areas, lightning whips you use to follow a trail of rings and more that you will unlock as you progress through the game.
I found the avatar character fun to experiment with and customize. I played as a hedgehog for my first play through, which allowed me to pick up multiple rings after being hit. After finishing the game, I made a cat who holds on to one ring after getting hit every time. There are several other animals to choose from such as a bird, dog, bear, wolf and rabbit.
There are also certain levels where you team up side-by-side with Modern Sonic and work together to reach the goal.
These are reminiscent of 2003’s “Sonic Heroes,” which had team-based gameplay. These levels can be forgettable; Null Space was the only one that stuck out due to the multiple pathways and exciting music used.
The soundtrack for Forces is mostly okay. While Classic Sonic tunes have this weird gimmick retro feel that is not appealing on the ears, Modern stages are very string-heavy, resulting in unmemorable songs. However, he Avatar stages have synth-heavy vocal tracks that are upbeat and fun to hum to.
The other biggest letdown for me was the story.
“Sonic Forces” tries to go for a more serious tone than what was present in the past few games. Eggman has taken over 99 percent of the world and has a new creation named Infinite who has been wreaking havoc along with him.
The game starts off with Sonic being defeated and taken prisoner as Eggman takes over the world. While I am fine with this approach to the story and some of the returning characters, the dialogue can either be taking itself way too seriously, or just plain stupid – especially during the final moments of the game.
The new villain, Infinite, is one of the most underwhelming villains this series has seen. This is coming in a post-“Sonic Lost World” game where the main villains were six literal stereotypes.
Infinite has an extremely lame motivation and leaves the game without having any effect. He was hyped up by marketing for the past few months with a new song by rock band Dangerkids that ends up trying way too hard to be evil.
They also brought back villains from the older games like Shadow from Adventure 2, Chaos from Adventure, Metal Sonic from CD and Zavok from Lost World. They barely do anything with these characters; Zavok and Metal get their own boring boss fight, and Chaos is shown in the first cutscene but then killed off in the next.
Overall, it is a story that had wasted potential, and what was presented was silly, even for the Sonic series.
“Sonic Forces” was a game that was only four hours long but left me with a lot of aspects to talk about during that time period. It was great in concept but poor in execution.
I enjoyed certain aspects of it and wouldn’t call it a bad game. However, I still would recommend a $10 or $20 price drop, just for some of the fun gameplay and the silly story. Sonic Team has it in them to make another really great Sonic game, but I think some restructuring and buildup needs to be done to reach that goal.
For now, what was supposed to be Sonic’s big return from the four-year gap of Lost World ended in another mediocre game from the team. That doesn’t make me angry, but it still makes me sad.