The reveal of Sonic Forces, formerly known as Project Sonic 2017, capped off the Sonic 25th anniversary party during the summer of 2016. The trailer showed off Sonic running through a burning city not too dissimilar from Sonic 06’s own Crisis City, before being joined by his rotund and lovable Classic counterpart.
Dr. Eggman has conquered the majority of the world in Sonic Forces, and it’s up to Sonic and the Freedom Figh… er, the Resistance to stop him from achieving total domination. To this end, the Resistance needs your help to overthrow Eggman’s empire.
Sonic Forces allows players to make their very own original character, and they actually play a small role in the events of the story. The game starts with Sonic traveling to a city under siege to stop Eggman, and he is promptly defeated by a group of villains from his past, as well as newcomer, Infinite.
Fast forward six months, and the Resistance is one the defensive against Eggman’s army. With no Sonic (Eggman took him as a prisoner), the Resistance and their leader, Knuckles the Echidna, are doing all that they can to survive, while at the same time looking for a weak spot in Eggman’s forces.
The main plot device of Sonic Forces is the Phantom Ruby, the very same jewel that was the source of Eggman’s power in Sonic Mania. In what is probably the weirdest move this franchise has ever made, Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces are directly tied together, and the Phantom Ruby is the reason Classic Sonic is back in the first place.
Having said that, Classic’s appearance doesn’t really amount to much. Outside of a small side plot with Tails, the character is barely a presence in the narrative, and he has basically zero meaningful interactions with the rest of the cast, his Modern self included.
I don’t wanna spend too much more time on the story, but I will say it was surprisingly enjoyable. It strikes a good balance between comedy and drama, and is more akin to Sonic The Hedgehog SatAM rather than Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
It feels like a story ripped right out of the Sonic the Hedgehog comics, something I think is a welcome addition to the series. It doesn’t have the best writing I’ve seen in a Sonic game, as there are a handful of points in the story that aren’t well developed, but it’s definitely the most enjoyable Sonic story since at least 2010’s Sonic Colors.
Sonic Forces has pretty solid presentation across the board. It has a consistent 60fps, and I never saw it stutter a single time. But this excellent performance does come at a cost, namely, the visual fidelity. Outside of the quality of the character models, Forces doesn’t look nearly as good as Sonic Unleashed or Generations, and backgrounds are much less detailed.
Many level aesthetics also feel way too same-y for my taste. The designs for Chemical Plant, Death Egg and Eggman’s Empire all just look like chunks of metal stuck together, and lack any real distinct sense of identity.
Although I do wish the game was more visually impressive, I think opting for a rock solid 60fps over high fidelity graphics was the right call. It was just hard for me to ignore the fact that nothing very interesting was ever going on in the levels, with the only major exception being the burning city.
The music in Sonic Forces ranges from bland and forgettable to amazing. Modern Sonic is a mix of guitars and electric synths, while the Avatar is full on EDM. Classic Sonic’s music is very reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, meaning it tries way too hard to emulate the sounds and tones of the Sega Genesis, leading to almost all of his music sounding really generic.
But when Sonic Forces has a good song, it’s an absolute joy to hear. I loved tracks like Sunset Heights and Park Avenue, and my personal favorite was Aqua Road. The free Episode Shadow DLC had great music too, as well as some genuinely cool callbacks to the black hedgehog’s most famous tunes.
Gameplay in Sonic Forces is split between Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic and the Avatar, and I’ll start by going over Classic Sonic. The cute and mute dude was just sort of there in the story, and the same can be said of his gameplay.
Just to get this out of the way, no, he doesn’t play nearly as good as his Sonic Mania counterpart, and he’s actually not even as good as he was in Sonic Generations. His rolling physics have been slightly improved from that game, and he also has Mania’s Drop Dash, but the level design almost never lets you play around with these mechanics.
Classic Sonic’s stages are littered with boosters and springs that keep you moving forward, and there’s very little in the way of meaningful alternate paths to explore. His gameplay as a whole is largely inoffensive, and nothing special to write home about.
Now for the Avatar. Players can choose from a handful of different species to create their very own Original the Character such as hedgehogs, wolves and birds. Each species has their own unique ability such as the wolf being able to draw in items, and the cat being able to double jump. These additions are fun, but don’t have too big of an impact on level progression and challenge.
The real source of variety comes from the Wispons, special weapons powered by the alien Wisps that have been featured in the last few Sonic games. Each Wispon has a basic attack to deal with enemies, as well as a special skill that can only be used upon finding specific Wisp capsules, and these can range from having multiple jumps, using the light speed dash and gaining temporary invincibility.
The Avatar controls like a slightly worse Modern Sonic. He lacks the former’s boost, and his jump doesn’t damage enemies, but he does have his own quick step, stomp, slide and homing attack thanks to his grappling hook.
When levels simply ask you to defeat enemies, explore the area using different wisp abilities and chain together grappling hook attacks, they can be pretty fun. But the few times they ask you to do actual platforming can be a nightmare. The Avatar’s jump is abysmal. He’s stiff as a board, and you can’t really influence his direction once you commit to a jump.
Level design rarely asks you to be precise with your movement though, and you’ll probably breeze right through them on repeated playthroughs when you have the appropriate Wispons, but his awful jump was a real hindrance at times.
The most fun part about the Avatar is being able to customize them to your heart’s content. The Avatar can equip a number of pretty cool items, and you can even unlock clothing from other characters such as Sonic’s Soap shoes from Sonic Adventure 2, or the scarf worn by the hedgehog in Sonic Boom.
Last but not least, Modern Sonic. What Sonic 4 was to the Classic Sonic games, Sonic Forces is to Unleashed, Colors and Generations. It features the return of the boost gameplay after being absent in Sonic Lost World, but only on a superficial level.
Modern Sonic in Forces lacks all of the little nuances that made him fun to play, and this especially sticks out to someone like me, whose favorite Sonic game is Unleashed. His control is noticeably worse this time around, and many of the moves that define the boost games are either changed for the worse, or a complete afterthought.
The boost itself remains much the same, with the only major difference being the fact that the air boost has an upwards arc to it, and no longer fizzles out. The quick step is back, though its uses are few and far between, and the returning slide is never required, and doesn’t offer any real utility. In addition, the drift maneuver has been removed entirely.
Sonic Team made an interesting change to Sonic’s homing attack this time around, as you have to be almost entirely centered in front of an enemy to use it. I think I understand why they did this, as it eliminates the problem of targeting something that you can’t see off screen, but I never really found this to be an issue in previous games.
In fact, not being able to attack enemies directly to my side would often lead to death, or not being able to access a rail or spring that leads to a different path.
Sonic Forces also epitomizes the “boost to win” complaints that have often been wrongly attached to previous games. Modern Sonic’s 3d sections are almost entirely straight line boosting paths, with practically no obstacles in the way to stop you. 2d sections don’t fare much better, as they usually consist of homing attack chains and basic platforming challenges.
There were some levels that I beat almost entirely one handed, something I was never able to do in previous games. I have no problem with a linear game, but the linear path has to be interesting.
Sonic Unleashed was a linear game all about going fast, but the fun and challenge came from how well you were able to do so. Levels were often filled with spikes, quick step sequences, obstacles to slide under, and drifting challenges. All of these things and more made levels in Unleashed really fun and engaging, something Forces completely misses.
Modern Sonic’s levels are also way too short, and always feel like they were just getting started when they end. Most of his stages can be completed in under 2 minutes, and that’s on your very first playthrough.
I’ve been really hard on Modern Sonic so far, (mostly because I’m a student of the boost games), but I still found enjoyment in his levels. While they lack the thrill and challenge of previous boost games, it was still kinda fun to just blast through them.
I’m just disappointed that they brought back the boost gameplay style, and left out the control accoutrements and level design mentality that made it so rewarding to play in the first place.
Sonic Forces also has a handful of Tag Team stages that have the player take control of both Modern Sonic and the Avatar at the same time. Controlling both characters is surprisingly fun and easy, and it felt pretty natural to switch between boosting and the Wispon abilities.
There are a handful of other activities to partake in outside of the main campaign. Each level has 5 Red Star Rings to collect, and doing so allows you to collect Numbered Rings and Silver Rings upon revisiting them.
The Numbered and Silver Rings don’t do much of anything, but the Red Star Rings unlock additional clothing options for the Avatar, as well as few secret levels.
The game also has SOS missions, and these require you to either play through one of the main levels with a random Avatar, or search for a hidden capsule that’s usually pretty easy to find. There are also challenges and daily missions to complete, and these award a score multiplier that helps you obtain easy S Ranks.
There’s also the free Episode Shadow DLC. It consists of three levels unique to Shadow, as well as a short prologue to the main events of the story that gives background to Infinite. I enjoyed this extra little bit of content, and I especially love the remixes that came with it. As a bonus, you also get to play as Shadow in a few of Modern Sonic’s stages.
I was initially really hard on Sonic Forces (mostly Modern Sonic), but my opinion softened the more I played. While I still hold strong to the fact that it doesn’t come anywhere close to the quality of games like Generations and Mania, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have at least a little fun.
My final thoughts are as follows. Classic Sonic’s inclusion is harmless, but I think he should stick to his own games (or dimension, which is now a thing by the way) for future installments. The Avatar was a cool idea, and a great show of fan service, and I wouldn’t actually mind them trying the idea again, just fix his jump and overall control.
As far as Modern Sonic is concerned, I really hope that Sonic Team goes back to study what made earlier boost games work if they want to continue with this gameplay style, as Forces demonstrates that their understanding of them is cursory and superficial at best.
Although the boost games are my prefered style for 3d Sonic, I wouldn’t at all mind them giving the Sonic Adventure style of gameplay another chance. It’s been years since they last attempted to do so, and I’d at the very least like to see what they would come up with.
Sonic Forces is just fine. It’s not great, and I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s very good, but it’s definitely not bad. But I’d be hard pressed to recommend a game that’s just fine when there are so many other amazing titles to play like Sonic Mania, Super Mario Odyssey and Cuphead to name a few.
It’s a totally serviceable game, and the $40 price tag definitely doesn’t hurt, just don’t go into this expecting to have a grand old time. Hardcore Sonic fans have most likely already bought the game, and kids can probably find some enjoyment out of it. I’d say give it a try if you’re curious, but I’ll also say that there are much better games to spend your money on.