An atrocious 25th Anniversary of the Blue Blur last year saw the announcement of two brand new Sonic games: the first of which was intended to be a revival of Classic Sonic and the other the next entry in the mainline modern Sonic games. The classic revival has since come and gone with monumental success in the form of Sonic Mania, but that wasn’t going to ensure the success of Sonic Team’s latest project, Sonic Forces. It’s no little-known fact that Sonic the Hedgehog is a franchise of very mixed quality, and having such fond memories of Sonic as a kid, I want nothing more than for the Hedgehog to return to his former glory. Forces looked to be taking the same route as Generations with a combination of Classic and Modern Sonic levels, only this time with a custom Avatar thrown in the mix and another attempt at a somewhat dark plot, but sadly, Mania’s momentum hasn’t carried across into this latest Sonic adventure.
Right out of the gate, the narrative of Forces is a steaming hot disjointed mess with the only good thing about it being a few one-liners from Modern Sonic which admittedly made me laugh. The gist of it is that the world Sonic and friends live in has been thrown into disarray after Doctor Eggman employs the help of a newfound ally, Infinite. All that’s left now is the Resistance, and the original character you create is the Resistance’s last hope of overthrowing Eggman and regaining freedom. It sounds similar to the one-and-done style narratives of Lost World and Colors, but the attempt at a darker situation and setting ultimately fails. There’s so much jumping around and failure to explain what’s going on, and it mostly feels uneven and incoherent. Everything about it also just feels so cheesy, and the villains that are set up to be so threatening and “world-ending” ultimately end up being pushovers.
There are at least a couple of fun character moments in Forces, but that’s not saying much. Your created avatar doesn’t say a word for the entire game, Infinite is edgy, Eggman is as ridiculous as always, and Sonic never misses an opportunity for a joke. Tails is the same as he’s always been, and there are a few other characters present who have so little impact on the story that they aren’t even worth mentioning. Knuckles, however, comes across as entirely one-note as the supposed Resistance Leader, acting as if all is lost. The fact that he’s the commander of all operations is honestly a little cringe. It all climaxes feeling weirdly like Sonic Generations, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t a good thing either. Everything about the plot and characters feels half-finished and disappointing, and almost as if Sonic Team put no effort into making any of it work.
The game itself is split into three different types of stages: Classic, Modern, and Avatar. Each stage type also has its own unique play style, levels, and obstacles to tackle. This may sound like it makes for a lot of variation, but none of the different styles ever fully come together. There’s still fun to be had, albeit in some stage types more than others, but it’s important to note that they all share a few common flaws. For example, all the stages in the game are far too short, ranging from one-to-two minutes each, so they never really feel like they get going. Further to this, even when they start to get somewhere, they end somewhat jarringly. As a general rule, most of the levels feel poorly designed and are mostly lacking in alternate pathways. This also means some stages end up being one button wins as a result.
I honestly still can’t get over how much Sonic Team have messed up Classic Sonic’s gameplay here. What they had in Generations was completely fine, and with a few tweaks, it could’ve been made better. In Forces, however, it feels like they’ve taken more than two steps back. Not only do the physics not work, Classic Sonic feels way too heavy, and this makes platforming tedious, slow, and overly precise. Rolling and running down slopes carries no momentum, so there were times when I was genuinely shocked that I couldn’t make it over a ramp after such a long run-up. The lack of elemental shields and thoughtful level design also leads these stages to feel repetitive, monotonous, and just a drag to play. Classic Sonic has the least amount of stages by far, but that doesn’t make them any less painful to play.
Fortunately, the Modern Sonic stages are much more enjoyable, though they aren’t without flaws as well. Part of what made Generations so replayable are the numerous pathways you can take to complete a level – which could often lead to new sights and faster complete times. It was a good way to provide some replayability for these simple yet enjoyable stages. The set pieces found in these levels in Forces are entertaining albeit unsurprising, although speeding through them at blisteringly fast speeds is undoubtedly a highlight of the game. Sadly, however, the loose controls of Classic Sonic slip into the Modern Sonic stages, making some of the platforming far too precise and inconvenient.
The final type of level in Forces, the Avatar stages, are, in my opinion, where this game works best. They handle the same as Modern Sonic stages with 2D and 3D segments, but with a few additional mechanics that open up levels and allow for alternate pathways. Your Avatar has access to a hook-shot, and using the hook-shot with adequate timing can lead to faster routes, more verticality, and other threats to tackle. Aside from this, your Avatar also has access to a Wispon. Each Wispon is its own weapon type, with varying types of projectiles and abilities to use once you unlock Wisps in stages. The inability to change Wispons mid-level, however, can lead to some frustrating moments. Some Wispon are just plain better than others, and it’s not worth taking a crappy Wispon you don’t enjoy using so that you can utilise one Wisp to get to an alternate pathway. It’s a good idea, but it’s not executed very well.
If it seems like I’m wailing on Forces a whole lot, that’s because I am, and I’m far from done. The boss fights. Oh my God, the damn boss fights. Aside from utilising old assets from past games like the Egg-Dragoon, the first few are relatively fun and challenging to an extent. However, it doesn’t take long for a few encounters to be recycled, which feels lazy and tedious. It all caps off with a final boss that teeters on being a copy of the final boss from Sonic Colours. Aside from this, it has some unnecessarily cheap attacks and feels like one of the least engaging fights in the game.
At the very least, I can say Sonic Forces looks and runs very well – even on the Switch, which is locked at a lower resolution and frame-rate. One thing Sonic Team has always been consistent with is sharp visuals, and this is no deviation from that trend. I didn’t experience any performance issues in either docked or handheld mode. I admit it’s boring to see some of the same stages again, but the aesthetics of the new ones are both colourful and feel fresh. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is perhaps weak by comparison to other games in the series, but it’s still solid overall. It has an excellent vocal theme that plays in a few of the stages, and the orchestrated version is phenomenal.
At the end of the day, I can’t recommend Sonic Forces unless you’re a fan whose learned to look past the shortcomings of these games – especially when Sonic Mania is so good at half the price. I can see what Team Sonic was aiming for here, and they had some solid ideas (in particular, the ability to create an original character). However, there’s simply nothing beyond the game’s presentation which fully comes together. If you can accept this as a game that’s merely average, you may still have a good time as the boost formula still works with its adrenaline-pumping high speeds, and the Avatar levels play okay given it feels like a lot more effort was put into them than the rest of the game. Ultimately, though, two Sonic games released this year, and there is no question as to which one you should play.