Sonic and friends are still speeding along, but they also made a couple wrong turns.
Sonic Team’s latest entry draws a great deal from relatively recent Sonic releases like Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors, while also attempting to fix some of the series’ flaws. While Sonic Forces succeeds in some regards, there are enough negatives and strange design choices that ultimately result in an uneven, but still fun platformer.
The story is told in a similar manner to many recent Sonic adventures although this tale features a much darker tone. Sick of repeatedly failing, series stalwart Eggman has created a brand new reality bending villain called Infinite. Early in the game, Sonic is defeated by Infinite and the world is completely overtaken by Eggman’s robot army. However, all hope is not lost because Sonic’s friends like Knuckles, Amy, and Vector the Crocodile have devised a resistance squad. The absence of Sonic allows the introduction of the brand new Avatar character. Affectionately nicknamed “rookie” by Knuckles, the Avatar character is seamlessly integrated into the world of Sonic and allows the player to root for a protagonist that they design themselves.
Creating your Avatar is a very simple process. Players must first choose, which type of anthropomorphic animal they wish to be. Choices include cat, bird, rabbit, and even hedgehog. Further customization options include victory pose, skin color, and a whole slew of clothes that range from suits of armor to trendy shirts. As players progress through the game, they will constantly be unlocking new items to accessorize their Avatar.
Three distinct play styles are featured in Sonic Forces. Modern Sonic features the boost gameplay that first debuted in Sonic Unleashed and was refined in Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations. These stages feature both 2D and 3D sections and see Sonic grinding on rails and boosting through hordes of robots. The Avatar levels are similarly designed to the Modern Sonic stages, but must be traversed using the new weapon-like Wispons. Avatar’s can only utilize a single Wispon at a time and they come in multiple varieties such as Lighting, Drill, Hover, and Burst. The third gameplay style is Classic Sonic, which mimics, but doesn’t quite feel like the 16-bit Genesis Sonic titles.
The 30 stage main campaign took me approximately 5 hours to complete. A great number of the game’s stages felt like they ended way too quickly. Along with some super short levels, the frequent change of playstyle led to some awkward moments where I would mistakenly attempt to use a move or ability that didn’t belong to my current character. The biggest fault I found was undoubtedly the lackluster level design. That’s not to say there aren’t certain highlights throughout the adventure, but by and large there seems to be a lack of creativity in their design especially when compared to previous Sonic titles. In addition, there are times where the game’s controls seemed to be working against me. For example, Modern Sonic’s lock-on attack seemed to often not work properly. The physics of the Classic Sonic stages work contrary to how one would expect, with Sonic often having trouble maintaining momentum. Possibly to alleviate some of Classic Sonic’s speed issues, the development team added a Drop Dash move (first seen in Sonic Mania) that allows you to immediately boost upon landing on a surface.
Graphics were fairly consistent, in both docked and undocked modes the resolution remained at 720p and stays at a very steady 30 frames per second almost all of the time. At times you may notice some low resolution textures, but overall the graphics look very good on the Switch screen. The music in Sonic Forces is wonderful, but certainly not for all audiences. You’ll either be pumped up when the game’s main theme, “Fist Bump” starts playing in a stage or be bewildered that you’re listening to the lead vocalist of Hoobastank in 2017.
Sonic Forces strangely reminds me in many ways of 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. That DS game was the first original 2D Mario platformer in a very long time and while it was great that Mario was returning to his roots, the game was plagued by some of the worst level design in the entire series. Nonetheless, after completing the game I found myself seeking out the star coins in every single level. Similar to Mario, there’s a variety of hidden trinkets such as red rings and silver moons hidden in every stage of Sonic Forces. Levels that originally felt way to brief in the original campaign are now a perfect length for additional exploration. In addition, the portability factor of the Switch makes seeking out these rings a quick, but fun activity for me while commuting via the New York subway and has greatly increased the game’s replayability.
The short campaign, uneven level design, and imperfect controls all put a hamper on the overall experience. While Sonic Forces may be far from the perfect Sonic game, there’s still an enjoyable adventure worth experiencing especially for platformer fans and those who’ve enjoyed Sonic Team’s recent efforts.