Probably the biggest disappointment to mascots across the globe is the trajectory Sonic the Hedgehog’s career has followed. Being one of the most iconic characters in video game history, to dishing out disappointment after disappointment in 3D games, Sonic has great potential that goes unrealized time and time again. The kicker is, I actually like the latest installment, appropriately titled Sonic Forces, as this one comes out in full force. While I experienced moments of unmitigated enjoyment, the game falls a little flat in some very important ways. I wanted so desperately to love this game, to see Sonic make a comeback in the video game world; however, it should not be approached with high hopes that will more than likely be dashed; rather, to go in with low expectations and be pleasantly surprised.
The game starts off in a predictable manner, Eggman hatches a plan, Sonic and friends oppose him, blah blah blah. The truth is, Sonic has never carried a strong story in almost all his games across the last 28 years. It’s been Sonic vs Robotnik in nearly all these games. Sure, new characters are often introduced, like Chaos, Shadow, etcetera; but they have always been allied with Eggman, and Sonic Forces continues this tradition. A new character, Infinite, is introduced and may very well be the strongest foe to fight the blue blur yet. Again, this new character is under the direct orders of Dr. Eggman. Nothing new here. The introduction shows Sonic being defeated by this new enemy. Jump several months later and there’s an all-out war between Eggman’s army and a resistance force led by Knuckles. Shortly after, you are recruited as the new rookie on the team. That’s right, YOU. Sonic Forces has, for the first time, allowed the player to customize his own character to be dropped into the game. Your custom character, along with the rest of the gang, attempt to take the world back from Eggman’s control. All in all, it’s a cookie cutter story that really doesn’t do much to enhance the gaming experience. In fact, most of the story is dealt outside of cutscenes, in little dialogue bubbles between characters. These conversations would have served the narrative way better if they had been part of cutscenes and it all seems lazily put together. There is something left to be desired in terms of narrative here. What it lacks in story is made up for in gameplay. After only 4 hours this is probably Sonic’s fastest adventure yet.
There are three different game variants that you are thrown into in separate stages. You can play as modern Sonic, boosting through enemies on what seems like a race track, flipping from 3D to 2D, reminiscent of the day stages in Sonic Unleashed. These levels are fast, most often allowing the player to boost through most of the action, with a few hazards sprinkled here and there. You can also play as your custom character in stages similar to the aforementioned gameplay. In this mode, you are given a weapon and wisp abilities you can use to navigate the stage, and depending on your weapon you are granted different passive and active effects. These were my least favorite segments of Sonic Forces as I found they were so similar to modern Sonic, without the insane speed. Lastly, classic Sonic has been shoehorned into the game with very little rhyme or reason. The only explanation that is given is that somehow, Infinite is messing with different dimensions. It very loosely fits together. However, I actually enjoyed these stages where I imagine most gamers will be turned off. The glaring issue is the game’s physics when controlling classic Sonic. Jumping seems a little floaty, and momentum works differently here than in previous Sonic games. I personally enjoyed these new changes; I felt the controls were fresh and unlike the mechanics I have seen before. It takes some getting used to, certainly, but if you give it a chance these physics may grow on you too.
I’ve always been a strong believer in the importance of level design, especially regarding Sonic games where the whole point is to get to the end in one fast and fluid motion. It can’t be easy to develop these stages knowing that it has to be long enough to appease players all while the character is travelling at the speed of sound. I actually think the devs did a good job here. The levels weren’t too long to bore me, and they were just short enough to leave me wanting more. While it is a common complaint that these levels may be too short, I don’t see how they could have done it any other way. What’s most important here is that fun is distributed in short bursts over a decent period of time. There are over 30 different stages (albeit some within the same locale) that keep the fast and furious playstyle from growing stale. And if that’s not enough, there is the added challenge of getting S rank and collecting all red rings in each stage. There is plenty here to enjoy and even go back to should you so wish.
I have never really been disappointed by music in Sonic games, in fact, Sonic Adventure 2 holds so much musical nostalgia for me that it is a contender for one of my favorite video game soundtracks. Somehow though, I don’t believe Sonic Forces appeals to me that much. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the music and sound effects immensely, but nothing has left a lasting impression on me. I can’t recall a single song that sticks in my head. Ultimately, an okay soundtrack is just that: okay.
Graphically, Sonic Forces does nothing wrong, with a colorful pallet that is visually pleasing, but it doesn’t do anything exceptional either. It’s very average compared to most other cartoony triple A titles. This is saying a lot considering I always felt Sonic pushed the envelope when it came to its graphical style. Even from the early Genesis years, the colors popped so much that it was one of the best looking games on that console. When I saw Sonic Unleashed for the first time my mind was blown. I wasn’t quite as shocked this time around, but that might be the fault of the graphical style itself. It’s hard to imagine the visuals being improved upon, and it may be the case that cartoony graphics such as these have plateaued. In comparison to other graphical styles, this cartoony aesthetic doesn’t bring anything that we haven’t seen before to the table. That being said, the colorful aesthetic is easy on the eyes at the very least.
While there may be no bigger disappointment than Sonic’s evolution, this title is solid enough as a standalone game to provide some enjoyment. While the idea is new, creating your own character to be thrown into the story is not as great as it sounds conceptually. In the end, it’s the fast-paced action within short snippets of levels that make this game hold up as a solid Sonic game. It does some things better than its predecessors but is far from recapturing the essence that made Sonic so fun when I was young. This game is very much average.
Replay Value: 4/5
Total: 17/25 or 68/100