Sega releases its second Sonic title of the year, and first mainline 3d game since 2013’s Sonic Lost World. Is this a triumphant return to form for the blue hedgehog? Well… not exactly.
The story opens with Doctor Eggman taking over the world with help from Sonic villains of the past, and his new weapon, the mysterious creature calling himself “Infinite”. Infinite defeats Sonic and forces the rest of the gang into hiding in order to form a resistance. After freeing Sonic, before he is banished into space(?!), you are then tasked with defeating Doctor Eggman before he and Infinite crush your meagre resistance. It isn’t an incredibly deep story, but serves its purpose to guide you through the games stages. Oh, and classic Sonic is back for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
Human eyelids?!? The horror!!!
There are three distinct gameplay styles based on the characters each stage is designed for. These characters consist of modern Sonic, classic Sonic, and a character of your own creation. Modern Sonic uses the, now established, boost style of gameplay reminiscent of Sonic Colors. In these levels, you run straight ahead in sections consisting mostly on rails. These sections require minimal efforts of dodging left and right and occasionally double tapping jump to use your homing attack. You can also use a boost which accelerates you at a faster pace and takes out any enemies in your path. These levels occasionally switch to side scrolling platforming sections, but they are generally simple and only serve to slow down the action rather than being a welcome change of pace.
Classic Sonic stages are your usual side scrolling levels harking back to the original Megadrive/Genesis titles. You race through each of these stages from left to right, platforming and spin dashing your way to the end of each level.
Then there is the avatar character based levels. Before I discuss how these stages work, I will first touch on the character creator and the ungodly creatures you can make therein. The character creator is limited, but does allow you to create something that fits the Sonic universe nicely, or you can create an unsightly abomination, complete with soulless eyes and vibrant colors. This basically allows you to walk around looking like a college students highlighted textbook. This all becomes more horrifying when you start unlocking accessories for your character to wear. For example, my player below can be seen wearing yellow crocs, a flat bill cap with “Gamer” plastered on it, 3D glasses, and I topped it off with a tie dye shirt.
You were so preoccupied with whether you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.
As for the avatar stages, they mix side scrolling and speed running sections much like Modern Sonic levels, except they are at a reduced pace. You can also equip different types of “wispon” or weapons. Each of these are equally effective at obliterating whatever enemy is in front of you. Wispon also give you a different way to traverse each stage. For example, the lightning ability lets you use a whip like attack, and the flame ability allows you to shoot toward the ground multiple times to give you more lift. These abilities are novel at best, opening you up to alternate paths through a level, but I usually found the main path to be quicker and more enjoyable.
Each stage is extremely short, usually clocking in around the 2 minute mark. This is a blessing and a curse, as the bad levels never stay too long to become unbearable, but the best levels are gone in a flash. Also, switching between the Sonics and your avatar with each new level can be disorienting considering each character has slightly different controls. This also means the story is jumping around a lot, which can occasionally make it hard to follow.
The boss fights in this game are inventive ranging from classic side scrolling skirmishes, reminiscent of the series roots, to endless runner style battles. Unfortunately, all the fights end up being a chore and are just not fun to play.
My heroic bird with poor eyesight.
As you progress through the story you unlock bonus missions which amount to little more than a minute worth of platforming stages that highlight the worst parts of the game. These bonus missions have no real involvement with the main story, and the only benefit is being able to unlock more swag for your avatar. Another form of side quests are the S.O.S missions. These essentially have you replay a level as an avatar character. Completing these missions unlocks more wearables for your created character, and that’s about it. There is also free DLC available, “Episode Shadow”. This serves as sort of a prequel as you control Shadow through 3 modern Sonic style stages.
Sonic Forces is at its best when you are blazing away at breakneck speeds, barreling through enemies, collecting rings, and finishing a level as fast as possible. The gameplay falls apart when it changes up the pace, slowing down the action and requiring precise platforming. In these sections, the finicky controls and strange inertia the characters carry with their movements dry up all the fun and excitement, replacing fun with annoyance and frustration.
Tails is unimpressed.
The game looks great in cutscenes almost like a Saturday morning cartoon. During gameplay however, that is a different story. The dumbed down graphics of the Switch version is hard to miss, especially when docked. This isn’t too much of a problem when you are going fast, but when the action slows down, the low-res textures and lower quality backgrounds become a glaring issue. Another disappointment is the frame rate of the Switch version. The game runs at 30fps, which is quite noticeable for a series that has been running at 60fps for years now. Although this didn’t impact my enjoyment too much, I know that this could be a deal breaker for some people.
All the classic sound effects you would expect from Sonic are here, and they sound great. The cast is fully voice acted and is done to a decent standard. The only character that sounds like they don’t belong is Sonic himself, but a lot of that has to do with his writing more than the voice acting. All the members of the resistance speak in a sad desperate tone, while Sonic parades around making jokes and acting like a complete jerk.
Why are you such a meanie, Sonic?
The music in this game, from the classic Sonic inspired numbers to the hard-hitting rock anthems, are largely forgettable this time around. No Crush 40 again, sorry Sonic fans, but they did manage to pull the lead singer from Hoobastank in to do some vocals (remember them?). Annoyingly they chose to use music with vocals over some of the cutscenes, making some of the dialogue hard to hear.
Despite the lackluster level design, poor controls and uninspired music, I still managed to find enjoyment in the 4 hours it took to beat the game. Overall Sonic Forces is average at best, and I can only recommend this to fans of the 3D series offerings.