There has been a lot of discussion in recent years of certain subsets of the Sonic Fandom who, devoted to the world of Sonic the Hedgehog, have created a wealth of interesting and varied fan-content. From original characters (pls don’t steal Coldsteel) to strangely erotic fan-fiction, the Sonic community has been a point of ridicule to many for many years. In 2015, an unofficial game, Sonic Dreams Collection, commented on the declining reputation of the franchise and the nature of its fans, but brought with it an OC creator, which piqued the interest of many.
In Sonic Forces, SONIC TEAM have seemingly taken this idea and ran with it, providing what some are calling fan-fiction in official game form; but is it enough to save the ailing 3D aspect of the franchise?
From the get-go, Sonic Forces has the feel of a 90’s tv show. The intro plays like it could easily fit into any fan-fiction or Saturday morning cartoon. The setup is simple; Dr Robotnik (I refuse to call him Eggman, SEGA) gathers together a team of Sonic’s greatest foes; Metal Sonic, Shadow, Chaos and Zavok (Sonic Lost World) to conquer the world. With the help of the powerful Infinite, they defeat Sonic and his friends, before capturing him and successfully taking control of the planet. In the months following, Sonic’s allies form the Resistance, who fight the “Eggman” Empire with little success, until they encounter YOUR ORIGINAL CHARACTER (OC), who you control in a mission to save the world and become Sonic’s best buddy!
Facetiousness aside, despite this being a bit of a mega-fan’s wet dream, it’s handled surprisingly well. They play the story straight, with plenty of enthusiastic dialogue and earnesty and it works. It’s everything you would expect it to be and more, with appearances from most of the Sonic cast and a somewhat interesting exploration of the OC’s backstory. This attempt at gritty Sonic may come across as a somewhat campy experiment, but it’s clear that SONIC TEAM knew what they were aiming for and followed through to create an experience that tickles your inner Sonic fanboy fantastically.
Levels themselves are split into a few different types; OC/Avatar, Sonic, Classic Sonic and Tag Team.
Avatar levels star your Original Character; a Bear, Bird, Cat, Dog, Hedgehog, Rabbit or Wolf who left the city after the invasion and joined up with the Resistance. Referred to as “Rookie”, the OC can be dressed in a variety of clothing and use a Wispon (a weapon powered by Sonic Colour’s Wisps) to traverse levels and battle enemies. These levels play as you would expect from a Sonic Game, as you run through various environments platforming and fighting robots. Whilst the player character doesn’t have all the abilities of Sonic, they are able to dash and attack in a similar way to the titular Hedgehog using the Wispon’s wire whilst using a variety of elements based on the Wispon’s type to battle and traverse the stage. These levels feel refreshing and different from the standard Sonic formula, although at times they do break under the strain of the different options. Whilst I haven’t encountered many bugs, at times they can feel formulaic, with clear arena and traversal areas designed for the Wispons which don’t exactly blend with the rest of the level.
3D Sonic levels are arguably the best they’ve been in a 3D Sonic game for a long time. His dashes and boosts feel organic and powerful and it’s incredibly satisfying to rush through an area as him, jumping and weaving through enemies and taking part in awesome set-pieces. A highlight for me was a boss battle taking place on a giant snake which utilised a cylindrical battlefield and environmental obstacles. These are the best levels in the game; well designed for multiple paths and always fun to traverse.
Classic Sonic, on the flipside, isn’t as well done. After the astonishing Sonic Mania’s mastery of the 2D formula this feels like a real step back. Granted, they did bring forward the jump dash, but it just doesn’t feel as fresh or responsive as it was the last time they combined it with 3D Sonic in Generations. Whilst Classic Sonic’s levels aren’t the worst element of the game, they feel like un-necessary filler. One exception to this was a boss battle in Green hill against the Doctor. I won’t spoil what happens, but it isn’t the run-of-the-mill boss it seems to be…
Tag Team levels are…strange? In these your Avatar runs alongside 3D Sonic utilising both of their skill sets. Good idea in theory? Not in practice. You control both at once and it just doesn’t feel right. At times it is an awesome combination of elements, but more often than not it becomes a confusing mess of imprecise controls.
Overall, the single character 3D levels are the better ones, though they still have their issues when they transition to 2D sections. The most grievous is the lack of a mechanical change. Whilst the perspective of the level changes, the way the character controls does not and as such the physics just don’t fit. Characters continue to slip around the level despite the need for precise controls, leaving them feeling unfair and badly conceptualised. It’s an issue that we’ve seen before in this series; it’s a shame they haven’t learnt from their mistakes.
Graphically this may be the best Sonic has ever looked. The logo and menu design is fantastic, faithfully presenting the feel of a resistance movement. The cartoon-like aesthetic has been well realised in 3D with a great level of fidelity across the board. I’m also a fan of how they have mixed up the returning Sonic areas to make them fresh; an example being Green Hill Zone, which has become somewhat of a destroyed desert following Robotnik’s takeover.
Whilst short, Sonic Forces does feel rewarding. After each level you are given a variety of costume pieces for your OC, with more awarded for getting better ranks and multipliers awarded for completing daily achievements. These are fun to equip on your character despite the limited number of Avatar levels, though I would have liked the ability to put them on the Sonic characters additionally.
Overall, I’m afraid to say that technically this isn’t the best Sonic Game; it isn’t even the best 3D Sonic game. There aren’t as many flaws overall or the number of bugs present in the others, but I can’t argue that it’s anything other than mediocre; as much as I’d like to. Regardless, I had a lot of fun with it. The environments are fresh and colourful. The Avatar customizer gives you a lot of options and it is enjoyable to go back through certain levels to unlock the red coins and get a better grade. The story is genuinely told with a lot of heart, and that’s appealing to me as a fan.
It’s inconsistent, varying wildly from 9/10 moments to 3/10 moments, and it’s frustrating to see. If you love Sonic games, want an entertaining story and a ton of fan-service and can see through a few mis-steps, pick this up. Otherwise, you may be somewhat disappointed.