If you ascribe to certain philosophies, the universe is in a constant state of flux, perpetually trying to attain some sort of cosmic balance. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The Ying and Yang; opposite forces that create complementary, interconnected and interdependent states of causality because it seems that for every great Sonic the Hedgehog game we get, we get something lesser.
Sonic Mania was released this year, with a back-to-basics platforming focus on Sonic in his 16-bit glory. Critically acclaimed and a hit with fans, it’s a masterclass in thoughtful level design that celebrates Sonic’s history, while also looking toward his future.
Sonic Forces is its counterpoint then. The newest game from Team Sonic continues the Ruby Phantom storyline from Sonic Mania, with an interesting hook; for much of the game you’re not playing as Sonic himself, but as one of the odd animal members of a resistance group. After succumbing to defeat at the hands of Eggman’s new creation – a creature called Infinite who has the power to conjure deadly illusions – Sonic is missing, and his menagerie of friends have come together to form a resistance. Six months into the opposition movement, you show up as a rookie. You’ll create your own Avatar from a selection of animals, each with their own special ability, as your customisable hero. As you play through the game, you’ll unlock new bits of gear to make your anthropomorphic animal your own.
Sonic Forces consists of four types of levels. The ones I had the most fun with were classic 2D ones, with a bit of a modern twist to them. For reasons that are inadequately explained, the shorter and stubbier (and best of all, mute) “classic” Sonic is drawn into the same world inhabited by the wise-cracking, long-legged “modern” one and his ever-increasing collection of friends, and the stages where you play as that version of the blue blur play as you’d expect them to. They’re straight-forward platforming jaunts that usually have you going as fast as you can from left to right, jumping over spikes and avoiding enemies as you collect coins. Simple, effective – and exactly how Sonic should be, though he controls a bit like a tank.
The modern levels don’t fare well either. In them, you’ll play either as Sonic, your custom hero – or sometimes, both of them together. They’re unbelievably fast 3D spectacles that offer some genuinely jaw-dropping set pieces as they move from the familiar Green Hill, through to more exotic outer-space levels. At a smooth and constant 60fps, they’re quite lovely to look at. Unfortunately, they’re just not very much fun to play. The physics just feel off, with no real precision in your character’s movements. Not that you really need precision, because unless you’re aiming to collect all of the red coins or get an “S” rank, it almost feels like the levels play themselves.
It feels like a paradox, as Sonic’s focus has always been on speed, but for most levels you’re zipping through them too fast to appreciate anything. There’s no real opportunity to explore levels, looking for secrets, which is a consequence of its uninspired level design. There’s no real flow to anything, with uneven pacing and an unbearable sense of monotony. It’s made even worse by levels that bask in their brevity, with most clocking in at under two minutes. With 30 or so main levels to play through (plus a few secret ones), the game can be clocked in a few short hours. There’s little incentive to come back and replay them. Levels are punctuated on the odd occasion by boss battles, but those are also largely dull affairs that relies too heavily on the same tired and simplistic quick-time events.
Sonic Force’s single redeeming feature is the customisable avatar, and there’s a cheap thrill in unlocking new items with which to outfit your hero. Avatars can also wield special weapons called Wispons with primary and secondary effects, that confer unique offensive and locomotive abilities. There’s one that lets you create temporary explosions, letting you catapult yourself into the air, or set enemies on fire. Another might let you ride up and down walls, or drill through entire swathes of enemies. They’re fun to experiment with, but even that fun is short-lived; once you’ve settled into a groove with one or two Wispons, it’s unlikely you’ll dabble further.
The biggest problem with Sonic Forces is that it’s just not fun. It’s yet another example of modern Sonic games trying to do too many things, and nailing precisely none of them. Sonic Mania presented a sort of redemption for the beleaguered blue blitz, but Sonic Forces does well to convince anyone but uberfans that Sonic might be better left forgotten.
Last Updated: November 13, 2017