Infinite Possibilities, Limited Presentation
The Switch finally has a 3D Sonic game in its roster, following a long tradition of Sonic on Nintendo dating back to the GameCube. Sonic Forces is a game with a very mixed overall reception, and with good reason; It’s a very mixed bag. What it does well, it does very well. However, there are things that are missing that really keep this game from reaching the same heights as, say, Super Mario Odyssey.
Sonic Forces plays very much like every other modern Sonic game (Colors and Generations, specifically). Modern Sonic stages are usually fast-paced, boost-filled sprints from area to area. Classic Sonic’s stages play much like Sonic Mania, albeit with slightly less polished and tight controls. And the Rookie, the player-made character, has a variety of weapons that change how they play. Their segments play much like Modern Sonic’s stages, only slightly slower and with more of an emphasis on platforming.
All three types of levels are really enjoyable. The biggest problem with Sonic Forces’ gameplay is how short the levels are. Throughout the 30 or so levels, every one can easily be cleared within 2-3 minutes. Just when you start to get a feeling for how a level is structured, it’s over and you’re on to your next adventure. This short level design might be a conscious choice to prevent boredom or repetition, but time and time again the levels end up feeling too short.It should also be mentioned that some bits of the game, mostly the 2D segments with the Rookie, just don’t play as well as they could. Controls are often floaty and just don’t feel as tight as they should. It’s nothing new in Sonic games, but it’s a shame these little blunders couldn’t have been fixed this time around.
The decision to include certain bosses while ignoring other is also a big point of concern. While the game advertises Sonic encountering all of his old foes, you’ll only really battle two of them: Zavok from Sonic Lost World, and Metal Sonic. The 0dd choice to omit boss fights with Chaos and Shadow feels really unsettling, considering the large role these villains have in the main plot. Boss fights with Infinite, the new big baddie, are VERY enjoyable, and his reality-manipulation abilities are used in an incredibly fun way during his fights. The only exception to this is the third and final Infinite fight, which is literally just a re-skinned, harder version of the Metal Sonic fight. That was probably the most disappointing segment in the game, and those few moments that display laziness on the part of the developers really keep this game from reaching its full potential.
That said, the new character-creation mechanic is an absolute blast. The game makes a point of constantly rewarding you with new items to deck your custom avatar out with, and while they are all purely cosmetic, there are a ton of outfits to unlock that give you a lot of potential for character design. Obviously this mechanic’s importance depends entirely on how much you enjoy the idea of customization Sonic characters, but the ability to create look-alikes for many characters that have never been playable in a Sonic title is surely something longtime fans will enjoy.
The story is one area where this game really shines, though even it isn’t without its problems. The plot is full of really fun, Sonic Adventure-style storytelling, with a resistance force occupied by Sonic and friends battling a dominating Eggman Empire. This story really hits some high points early in. Sonic gets captured and is presumed dead, which leads to Tails developing a dependence on Classic Sonic, who has appeared in the Modern universe following the events of Sonic Mania. Meanwhile, Sonic is being tortured by Eggman and is awaiting execution before the team realizes what’s happening and sets off to save him. That’s all pretty much the first act of the game, and the plot just keeps expanding after that.
The big problem with this otherwise-epic story is that it is presented much like other modern Sonic plots, which often had much simpler stories to tell. This results in cutscenes that end rather abruptly, which put a limited emphasis on storytelling and animation. In fact, much of the story is told simply by speech bubbles from other characters while in speech form while you’re playing through levels or selecting stages. There is also a lot that is implied but never outright stated. For example, during a battle between the Rookie and Infinite, the villain mentions that he’s seen you before, sometime in his past. This is never expanded upon further, essentially making it a null point. There’s a lot of moments like that, little things that make a veteran gamer think “Oh, so now THIS is going to happen story-wise”, only for it to be dropped entirely.
The story leaves a lot of loose-ends, often going for a simple resolution instead of really putting in the effort to deliver a full tale. The main villain Infinite, for example, receives an incredibly simple backstory in the free dlc story, Episode Shadow, and is quickly spirited away after his final defeat, without any final speech or moment that makes you as the player feel anything emotional. It’s so different from those experiences in the early Sonic games, such as Shadow’s death at the end of Sonic Adventure 2, and it just leaves you wanting more.
With all that said, by far the most upsetting thing is hearing all of these other characters discuss how they’re fighting their way through enemy-controlled territory, or how these epic battles are going on, only for you to never experience them. Forces follows the storytelling philosophy of telling rather than showing, and it really leaves you the player to imagine instead of experiencing. That’s a shame, because out of all the Sonic games in the last 10 years or so, this plot is easily one of the best. The game just doesn’t get to really flesh it out enough for it to be as rewarding as it could be.
One point just about everyone agrees upon is that Sonic titles have amazing soundtracks, and this game is no exception. Modern Sonic’s stages are full of exciting instrumentals that really set the tone of the game. Classic Sonic’s stages have music that could easily fit in any of the old Genesis titles, and the Rookie’s stages all have really beautiful vocal tracks that feel like a creative mix of the 80’s synth of Sonic R with the fun Crush 40 tunes from the Adventure series. The two main themes, Fist Bump and Infinite’s Theme, are also just fantastic. There really isn’t anything else to say regarding the soundtrack; Sonic Forces continues the legacy of exceptional music in Sonic games.
Sonic Forces does a lot right. It delivers a really enjoyable experience that’s just a bit more serious than past Sonic titles, which is all the better. In terms of gameplay, it probably falls just short of Sonic Colors, but the differences from level to level really help keep the game moving at a quick pace. The entire game can probably be finished in a day or two, and while there is some incentive to 100% the game, nothing in this one is going to keep players coming back for more outside of just looking for some fun Sonic gameplay. All in all, this is a game for the fans. Those who are just looking for a light action title might get some enjoyment out of Sonic Forces, but Sonic fans have the most to get out of this game. Hopefully, future Sonic games learn from this one and improve upon it. Forces is definitely a step in the right direction for the series as a whole, even if it lacks AAA status as a game.