Despite its fan community already producing an excellent Sonic game this year, SEGA and Sonic Team have decided to release their own attempt with Sonic Forces. Utilising both its history and modern sensibilities, Sonic Forces hopes to capture the essence of the franchise but also offering a fun and different take on previous Sonic titles. Sonic Forces polishes up previous issues and implements some great new features, but it can’t help but feel like it’s running on the same old track with just smaller hurdles slowing it down.
The “Join the uprising” tagline is accurate, as the story is set to take a darker spin on the Sonic franchise with the formation of a new villain called Infinite. Rather than simply being stopped at the last second, Dr. Eggman, with the assistance of Infinite and his ability to summon previous villains, manages to defeat Sonic and take over the world. At this point, Sonic and his friends must fight back to restore order.
As cheesy and often cringe-worthy as the dialogue can be I found the narrative serviceable for the adventure if not perhaps underutilised. The potential of revisiting classic Sonic stages now completely overrun with Dr. Eggman’s influence would have been an intriguing experience, but only a few returning zones are featured in this game to showcase this idea. In general the locations visited are entertaining, offering plenty of visual spectacle to enjoy as you speed past them.
Unlike past games where you visited each environment once, Sonic Forces has you returning later with other characters. This change of formula was mostly unsuccessful, making the levels where you returned too feel more repetitive and less exciting then when speeding through a different stage. The overall scope of the game just felt smaller than before, which is odd considering the global crisis setup in the story.
Additionally, the implementation of three separate playable characters caused revisiting areas to happen more than usual. Following from Sonic Generations both Modern Sonic and Classic Sonic are featured, plus a brand new fully customisable character. This was a feature I expected to be merely a gimmick, but to my surprise was actually a well implemented and interesting addition.
Several different options are available such as being able to change your gender, hairstyle, and clothes, with your chosen character’s animal species granting different abilities such as being able to double jump or not lose all your rings upon getting hit. In terms of accessories and clothes there is practically an endless amount as you are awarded new items for doing basically anything. I didn’t expect to change my avatar much but often cool new gear lead me to switch up my appearance. There is almost certainly something for everyone to enjoy equipping.
Other than customising your character’s appearance there are also different weapons to equip called Wispons, granting a variety of effects in combat. In general combat is overly simplistic regardless of the weapon chosen, but they also grant traversal abilities such as dashing through rings or being able to fly briefly. With the exception of the Wispons and a grappling hook to quickly swing through areas, the custom character plays the same as Modern Sonic.
Modern Sonic’s move set is essentially unchanged from previous entries, performing homing attacks and quickly boosting his way through enemies as he sprints through a level. Free DLC content featuring Shadow at launch is also available granting the ability to play as him instead of Sonic for most levels, but his move set is exactly the same. Some missions also have the avatar character joining Sonic to combine their abilities together, making some of the best levels featured in the game.
The 3D stages are the best they have ever been by simplifying the track’s obstacles and delivering responsive controls. Often it can feel as if you’re on rails with the occasion direction to pick or move to perform, but it most certainly sells the sense of speed and prevents the feeling of being out of control that has plagued past Sonic games. The 2D platforming sections of Modern Sonic levels do still feel a little awkward, though Sonic and your avatar character’s abilities mitigate some of that frustration.
The modern levels by far take up the bulk of the game’s runtime, with occasional 2D focused levels where you play as Classic Sonic. These sections offer the most options of paths to traverse but just aren’t as enjoyable as what can be found in old school Sonic games. Oddly Classic Sonic often feels very slow, so I found using the Drop Dash ability from Sonic Mania was the best way to get Sonic’s pace going even if it often leads to death.
Death is nothing to be concerned about though as there is practically no punishment at all for dying, other than potentially not getting an S rank upon completion of a level. The levels are so short with barely any clocking in over two minutes even on the first play-through. This mission length is a big disappointment and the game is definitely one of the shortest main Sonic experiences, but what is here is at least enjoyable and doesn’t suffer from performance issues or overstaying its welcome.
The graphics and environments all look good when Sonic is running through them, although the cutscenes look very low quality and cheap overall. Most of the bosses were visually impressive and a blast to fight, but there are some confrontations that don’t happen which seems odd considering the villain’s setup in the narrative of the game. The accompanying music is a bit of mixed bag, with only a few tracks being a standout and most a disappoint from what’s come in previous entries, but for the most part the music is serviceable.
Although overly short in terms of the main story, featured locations, and levels, there is plenty of extra content to be enjoyed. A checklist of challenges are included that can involve getting S rank on a level or using a certain weapon a number of times, all of which grant a collection of avatar items for completion. SOS missions appear randomly, tasking you with trying a previously completed level with additional criteria such as using a specific avatar or without dying. These act as a reasonable excuse to visit old levels periodically.
Of course Red Rings return giving an incentive to replay levels and take all the alternative paths to find the five hidden in each stage. Bonus EX levels are unlocked for collecting a certain amount, but these are focused on platforming challenges and general aren’t compelling. Collecting all Red Rings in a stage unlocks the Number Rings which must be found and collected in the correct order, although they are typically very easy to find and do.
Finally, once you have done all that, Silver Moon Rings appear in a stage which, like the Number Rings, are only featured in a specific location and require the quick recovery of all pieces. None of these are particularly challenging. I liked the fact that there are lots of reason to play old stages using different weapons and taking new paths, but I wish there could have simply been more stages with longer lengths. Thankfully it is also possible to turn off hints and dialogue options so you can just enjoy exploring old stages without having to be annoyed by the constant chatter of Sonic’s friends.
Sonic Forces actually manages to nail the best parts of Modern Sonic games, although greatly simplifying them in the process by limiting path options. The key new feature of a customisable character is implemented quite well and, with the exception of some bland combat mechanics, is the best part of this game. I can’t help but feel the game wasn’t fully realised though. With a very short average level play time and not even Super Sonic being featured at launch it just felt rushed. The ideas and gameplay improvements are a step in the right direction, and perhaps with more time and adjustments to the game’s structure going forward a truly excellent experience could be presented.
Editors Note: Tails says “True Dat” and it’s the single greatest moment of
6 out of 10 “Good”
Written By Russell Collom
Reviewed on PS4 Pro
Available on Switch, PC, and Xbox One