Back to the Future
With the recent success of Sonic Mania many eyes now gaze at Sonic Forces as it tries to follow up to the nostalgia trip that had a lot of people happy and returns to the 3D style of Sonic games we are used to. Sonic Forces is a title that returns to the modern Sonic boost formula first pioneered in Sonic Unleashed and also brings back the classic Sonic gameplay found in Sonic Generations. It also throws in a new avatar character with its own levels and an interesting tag team set of stages which feature modern Sonic and your own avatar. Let’s run through this new Sonic title and have a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in regards to this trio of heroes.
The story in Sonic Forces takes a different pace when compared to titles like Generations and Colours. Those titles didn’t take themselves incredibly seriously. Forces takes a very different route. The game starts off with Sonic being beaten by the latest enemy recruited by Dr. Eggman, a mask wearing bad boy called “Infinite.” I can’t really offer more insight into the character as we don’t really get a lot of information about him. It should entertain younger fans and older fans should take pleasure from the melodramatic story and get a few laughs.
I personally love the scene six months after Sonic has been beaten, presumed dead, and Eggman has taken over the overwhelming majority of the planet where Knuckles delivers a line something along the lines of, “when Sonic was defeated Tails just lost it.” My mind then pictured a Mile “Tails” Prower suffering PTSD and being locked in a padded room. This scene then serves as the basis to introduce your avatar. A rookie recruit where you get to pick their outfit and species. Depending the species you pick changes what special ability they have, but none really offer a great deal of value. For instance the bird has a small extra jump, but it doesn’t make a grand difference.
The Good, the Clunky, and the Average
After Sonic Unleashed it seemed like Sega had hit the nail on the head when it came to 3D Sonic gameplay. Having opportunities to fine tune the gameplay in titles like Colours and Generations. One would assume it that the standard found in those three titles would be present here? The answer to that question is a no. This is the frustrating mystery regarding Sonic Forces and a common thread that can be traced throughout the entire title. The core mechanics of modern Sonic are present and they are fun, but the level design just seems to have taken a large step back. No stage is awful, but no stage stands out as amazing. Speeding through levels as fast as you can, boosting past enemies, timing jumps at the right time and making it to the end of the level does offer a nice amount of satisfaction, however there are issues with the modern Sonic levels and these are the previously mentioned level design as just in general the levels seem too short and linear.
Another problem is the excess of 2D sections found in the modern stages. It just seems like Sonic Team forgot how to design the 3D segments and added more 2D parts to pad out the levels. The modern levels are fun and replaying levels to beat to a previously achieved time is a great deal of fun, but if this doesn’t appeal to someone then they can be finished fairly quickly and never really offer anything overwhelmingly impressive.
This then leads onto classic Sonic, who seems a bit out of place in this title. In terms of story and gameplay as he gets far less stages when compared to his two allies. As this is the same hedgehog found in Mania he has been given the Drop Dash first introduced in that title and is then let loose. Again the level design found here is by no means bad, but it hardly stands out as impressive. The physics also feel somewhat jarring when compared to Mania and makes some segments a bit of a chore and clunky. Just like the modern stages these levels seem fairly short and it makes me wonder how Sonic Team seem to have ended up taking a few steps back when it comes to level design.
This then leads onto the avatar. A very prominent part of the game which woud have filled most fans with trepidation as most new types of gameplay added to a Sonic title fall flat. The avatar ends up receiving the exact same reception I had for modern and classic stages. It’s not awful, but not amazing. The avatar plays fairly similar to modern Sonic, but with some changes. The avatar wields a grappling hook, can carry a weapon, has no boost ability, and most notably you can choose which “wispon” it has which will make a big difference in how some levels play out. As the abilities the wispons offer vary from being able to do a rocket propelled jump into the air to being able to dig through the ground. This helps add replay-ability to the avatar stages as you can choose a different wispon that will let you access a different area and maybe find a red ring there.
Finally the other type of stage you can play through is a tag team stage. There isn’t really a great to say about these stages as they don’t push the boat out or fall flat. It essentially just gives modern Sonic the grappling hook and wispon your avatar has set. If it hasn’t been made clear yet, I’ll just say it. All different ways of playing are absolutely OK and the majority of levels don’t exceed this bar of being simply OK. Stage design is linear, but going for a better time is offers a nice amount of fun if that appeals to you. On top of that trying to achieve an S rank and collect all five red rings scattered throughout the stage adds another layer of replay-ability. However there are two issues with collecting the red rings and that is what they unlock. Every now and then some will unlock a secret stage, but as these vary from mediocre to ok and won’t be played again as they aren’t full levels, but simply challenges and then the other thing they unlock is just more outfits for your avatar. So if the avatar isn’t your cup of tea then making the effort to find all the red rings may not be worth it.
No Sonic game is complete without some boss fights and Sonic Forces brings a mixed bag to the table. The first fight against Zavok is certainly the worst, it plays slow and really does offer much challenge. Then the subsequent ones are a decent, but again fit with the common theme of the title and that is taking a few steps back. For instance the Metal Sonic boss fight is incredibly similar to the Shadow boss fight in Generations, yet whilst being fun it just doesn’t seem to match the quality of the Shadow fight.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Sonic Forces for this Sonic Forces review.