Sonic has done it all. After getting his start in the world of 2D platforming, there aren't many video game characters who have crossed the genre lines like the Blue Blur. Sonic has taken part in 3D adventures, racing games, fighting games, party games, and even a trip to the Olympics now and then. He's even been a pinball on more than one occasion. While many of these journeys have left people content there have been more than a few in recent years that have players doubting the quality of new entries in the series such as Sonic Forces. There's always hope though for a return to the Sonic you remember fondly, but with so many to please what else could be done but have a Sonic game that has everything?
In Sonic Forces players are introduced to a world where Eggman, with the help of a mysterious jackal named Infinite, has already defeated Sonic. After this Sonic goes missing for months prompting Tails, Knuckles, and the regular cast to create a resistance to try to slow the rise of the Eggman Empire. As well as many other side characters an Avatar of the player's creation is the latest of those to sign up to help turn the tides of battle. Classic Sonic also makes his return and while it's nice to see him, there's no real reason for him to show up, Tails poorly explains it away as "maybe the power that Eggman is using is somehow affecting other dimensions." After the brief shakeup though the plot gets back on its usual track with Sonic and friends working to discover the source of Infinite's power and take down Eggman once again.
Allowing players to begin in a world where Eggman already is in a place of power was a great idea. Immediately there are thoughts of Mobians scared or in hiding, a slow technological transformation of the world, and all kinds of strange egg-shaped monuments being erected. Sadly, it's nearly impossible to tell what this world of Eggman's looks like because we get to see none of it. Aside from cutscenes at the resistance headquarters or stage backgrounds, practically nothing is known of the world before or after Eggman takes over. With no knowledge of the damage, there are no stakes to bring depth to the simple plot. While the story is predictable, those familiar with the franchise will get a kick out of small references like Modern Sonic telling his 2D counterpart that he hasn't seen him in 'Generations', or Shadow talking about the presence of fake hedgehogs.
There are three different gameplay styles that players will experience while playing Sonic Forces. In Modern Sonic stages, it's all about going as fast as possible either running with the camera behind you or side-on akin to classic Sonic platforming. This has been the playstyle for 3D Sonic titles since the infamous Sonic '06 where Sonic can now achieve even greater speeds. These high-speed situations are then broken up with the use of platforming or enemy based segments. Boosting gives you a great sense of what it's like to be Sonic, but also lead to a lot of situations where you miss branching paths or even boost right off the stage causing more frustration than joy. Any player will be able to complete each level without difficulty but if you want to keep your speed or search for collectibles it's less about your reaction speed and more about memorizing where you'll be going next. There are also frequent side-scrolling sections to Modern Sonic stages that give you access to all of your Modern abilities like homing attacks but played out on a 2D plane. While this change caters to both Modern and Classic Sonic fans the juxtaposition between racing at top speeds to be slow enough to time a jump almost gives players whiplash in the process.
Classic Sonic also gets his time in the spotlight as you play through side-scrolling stages filled with new and returning concepts. The chemical plant returns with a rising water level, bounce through pinball inspired arenas, and time your spins perfectly to try to follow the correct light path. These levels return Sonic to his origins with a variety of power-up monitors and enemies to bounce on as you work your way to the goal plate. While it's good to see Sonic going back to his roots with no real explanation to his presence and Modern Sonic already having his own 2D levels there is a question of why Classic Sonic was even included in the game, if not to fuel nostalgia.
The third type of gameplay in Sonic Forces is the Avatar stages, where you can take your own anthropomorphic creation out into the world to take on Eggman. Unlike Sonic here the aim isn't as much speed but a mixture of platforming and action. Avatar stages offer the same types of levels as Modern Sonic with less of an emphasis on finding a long enough stretch of road to hit max speed. With a wider variety of combat options and branching paths, you might not travel at Super Sonic speeds but you're able to control your pacing and take in the world around you. By not allowing your Avatar to go as fast and creating less of a slowdown it makes the levels flow more evenly without recreating the issue from Sonic's stages. This kind of gameplay is a lot closer to the Dreamcast's Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic could retain his title as "the fastest thing alive" but there is also a lot of fun to be had when dealing with enemies and puzzling through the world.
The only aspects of your Avatar that makes changes to gameplay are the type of animal that you pick and the Wispon (Wisp powered weapon) that you choose. There are seven different types of animals that you can create including bear, bird, cat, dog, hedgehog, rabbit, and wolf. Some examples of the abilities that each of these animal types grants you is the bird's ability to double jump, or that as a Cat you always retain at least one ring after being hit. These differences aren't too noticeable over the course of the game, especially when you have no way of swapping between different animals, but might help you pick between your two favorite animals if push came to shove.
There are seven different types of Wispons each with their own basic attack and a special action. The basic attack might be something as simple as a flamethrower from Burst or a gravity sphere that pulls in enemies and coins with the Void Wispon. The real benefit from picking a Wispon is in the special action. After collecting a Wisp of the same color as your weapon you'll be able to use this action to navigate the stage in a new way, after collecting an Ivory Wisp you can light dash through lines of rings while the Green Wisp allows you to create a balloon and slowly rise. Normally as soon as you see a Wisp of a certain color you'll be able to use their ability but with so many different types you're more likely to find yourself running by Wisps that you can't use. At times it can be frustrating to complete a stage and not be able to find a single Wisp of your color but this, in turn, promotes replayability in the game. If you want to explore each stage to its fullest or collect all of the red coins then you'll need to head back to most stages multiple times ensuring you have the right loadout for the job.
As you clear missions you'll see SOS symbols appearing next to previously completed worlds. This is an indication that another player's Avatar has sent out an SOS beacon, you can then decide if you want to save them or not. SOS missions come in three different colors giving you different conditions and goals for each of the levels. In Red SOS missions you play as another player's avatar, Green SOS allows you to swap between your own and another player's Avatar, and the Blue SOS stages allow you to play as the stages regular character where your aim is to find another player's Avatar and free them. The Red and Green stages give you a good reason to revisit old stages to not only to play as a new Avatar but use it to try out their equipment and reach new areas. The Blue stages give you an even greater emphasis on that exploration forcing you to take each stage slowly checking every nook and cranny. While the aim for the Red and Green SOS missions require you to only finish the level Blue is a bit more difficult. If you finish a Blue SOS Mission and don't find the missing Avatar you fail the challenge. There is no additional content locked behind completing SOS missions but give players a good incentive to revisit old stages for red coins or better scores.
While Sonic Forces has an overall grittier tone when compared to previous games, the different environments that you visit during your adventure show off a wide variety of locations and their inhabitants. From the beginning of each level, you're immediately sucked into your environments whether it be a city in chaos or a deep jungle. The levels themselves are the only chances that players have to get a look at what Eggman has done with the world and as well as the enemies the set pieces and background shots of giant robots give players a bit of an idea what is happening, even if not much. Getting paired with each of these locations though is normally a fantastic piece of music. The soundtrack to Sonic Forces is one that does a great job of not just emulating the environment but also serving to build excitement in a mix of techno and vocal tracks.
When breaking down each of the aspects of Sonic Forces such as the multiple gameplay styles and attempts at a gritty storyline you can easily see the vision that Sonic Team were aiming for as they created the game. Each individual part has its own positives and negatives, in the case of the Avatar stages, it's even overwhelmingly positive, but once you put them all together what really begins to shine is the negative aspects. This title faces the same issues as recent 3D Sonic titles that it tries to be a game with something for everyone instead of finding what it wants to become and stick to it. There's hesitation in how far Forces wants to take what could be really interesting unexplored topics like what in the world has changed while Eggman took over, this ultimately just makes it the same story as ever "Eggman has a new creation and strange power, Sonic and his friends save the day."
Our Sonic Forces review was conducted on Xbox One with a copy purchased by our reviewer. It is also available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
There's certainly something in Sonic Forces for fans of the franchise and there are some steps in the right direction. However, the story, world, and characters never come together into a cohesive whole.
- Interesting Story Idea...
- Sonic Generations Gameplay
- Avatar Stages
- ... But It Needs To Go Further
- Sonic Becomes Uncontrollable
- Nonexistant World Building
- Short Campaign