During Sonic’s 25th Anniversary Party in 2016, SEGA announced two new Sonic titles: Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces. While Mania was a return to true Classic Sonic gameplay, Sonic Forces promised to bring back the Modern Boost gameplay present in games like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colors, and Sonic Generations. Sonic Forces also touts a darker and more serious story this time around, similar to Sonic Adventure, Adventure 2, and even Sonic 06. To top it all off, for the first time, Forces would allow players to create their own Sonic OC and insert themselves into the Sonic universe as a playable character. It had plenty of promise, but as more information and gameplay was shown, the more divided fans became on the game. Although Forces had plenty of interesting ideas, the overall execution was messy and it ends up feeling like a significant step backwards as a result.
Presentation and Music
One thing I will praise the game on are its visuals. The game looks great with a nice use of colors and dynamic background details. Boosting through stages is thrilling and glorious to behold, especially in 60fps (unless you’re on the Switch). However, while the stages look great, the variety is disappointing. There are only a handful of unique locations and you’ll be revisiting them throughout your playthrough; two of which include the familiar Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone, which I’m sure fans are sick of seeing by now.
Characters are modeled and animated well in cutscenes, with varied facial expressions and lip movement that matches the dialogue. Voice work itself is also very good. Working with what they had, the voice actors deliver their lines well and honestly sound the best that they have since the cast change in Sonic Colors.
The music, like with most Sonic games, is also great… for the most part. There are three gameplay styles: Modern Sonic, the Avatar, and Classic Sonic, each with their own style of music. Modern Sonic stages combine a mix of synth, techno, and electric guitar that’s always upbeat and match the pace of his blazing fast levels. The Avatar stages also have pretty techno based music, but with added vocals mixed in. They’re pretty cheesy vocals, but it’s that endearing kind of cheese that reminded me of Sonic R or Sonic and the Secret Rings. Then there’s Classic Sonic… it’s not great. Classic Sonic stages try to emulate the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive era of music, but it doesn’t sound right at all. It sounds like someone was trying to use the Genesis/Mega Drive soundfont to compose some original tracks, but couldn’t properly utilize it well. There was maybe one Classic Sonic song I enjoyed, while the rest ranged from forgettable to ear grating. Also, the game’s main theme, Fist Bump, is a grower.
As I mentioned before, Sonic Forces promised to deliver a darker and more serious story than recent Sonic games, as games like Sonic Colors, Generations, and Lost World had pretty simple stories with light and comedic tones. When they first revealed the game, it showed a world in ruin with Eggman’s robots causing all sorts of destruction. Eggman finally succeeded in taking over the world, so Sonic and his friends must form a resistance and stand up to Eggman’s tyranny. It was definitely a serious set-up that would offer a more dark and engaging story…right? No. Despite trying to be deep and serious, it’s actually pretty basic and disappointing.
It starts off with Sonic getting the ever-loving crap beaten out of him by Zavok, Metal Sonic, Shadow, Chaos, and the new mysterious villain Infinite; who’s working for Eggman. After Sonic’s defeat, six months pass, and we’re told that Eggman successfully took over the world (through a lazy text screen I might add). That’s when your OC, the Avatar, is introduced to join the resistance and undo what Eggman’s done.
It never gets any deeper than that and a lot of the initial conflicts are resolved too quickly. For example, the characters act as if Sonic was killed during the beginning fight, but in the very second stage, he’s revealed to actually be alive. They also mention that Eggman’s been torturing Sonic for the past six months, but the next time we see him, he’s just as energetic and wisecracking as ever. It’s stuff like this that make you never really feel the weight of Eggman taking over the world. Despite the initial set-up, the story really is no different in tone than past Modern Sonic games. The difference is, those past games weren’t trying to be anything big and serious story-wise, but Forces was and it fails. The returning hero characters that fans all know are fine with nice interactions between stages, but certain new and returning villains (that brought a lot of hype in the fandom upon reveal) are just as disappointing as the story.
Here we have the big one. Sonic Forces combines elements from past 3D Boost games like Colors and Generations along with new ideas. There are three characters to play as and three gameplay styles: Modern Sonic, the Avatar, and Classic Sonic.
Modern Sonic plays pretty similarly to how he was in past Boost games. He can Homing Attack enemies and boost through stages at blazing speeds. Sonic’s stages are definitely the fastest and most speed oriented stages in the game. Boosting through stages can be very fun and exhilarating, but can get tiring after a while if the levels themselves aren’t interesting.
Unfortunately, Forces has some of the blandest level design I’ve seen in a Modern Sonic game. Most of the 3D running sections amount to boosting down very linear pathways with little going on until you get to the 2D platforming sections, with awkward and clunky movement. Sonic feels unusually heavy when he jumps and when running in 2D he can go from slow to top speed (without Boost) in a second. This makes platforming awkward, and I’ve had my fair share of deaths because Sonic suddenly ran off a cliff and his heavy jump wasn’t enough to save him. The levels are also extremely short, often ranging from 1 to 2 minutes, and more often than not suddenly end just when the level actually starts getting interesting. The levels rarely feel like a fully fleshed out experience. You’ll be saying to yourself “Oh…that’s it?” more times than you’d like. Sonic Generations, for example, had Boost levels that felt more complete, had a more equal amount of 3D and 2D, had 3D sections that were a bit more open allowing for platforming and interesting alternate paths, and a better general sense of flow. Forces, in contrast, has levels that are too short, favors 2D over 3D, has 3D sections that are too linear and restrictive, and a lot more stop and go. Some levels near the end do get a bit more interesting with several alternate paths and a tad bit more open 3D sections, but they aren’t enough to save the majority of what came before.
Many of Modern Sonic’s problems in level design are shared with the Avatar as their gameplay styles are pretty similar. Like Sonic, you’ll be running down straight lines in 3D and doing awkward platforming in 2D. The difference is in the Avatar’s customizable abilities. The Avatar is equipped with Wispons, weapons based on the Wisp power-ups from Colors. The Avatar can’t Boost, so they instead use whatever Wispon they have equipped. Some are more fun to use than others: The Burst Wispon is a simple flamethrower that wrecks anything in front of you, while the Lightning Wispon is a whip that awkwardly jerks you around every time you use it. One thing all Wispons have in common though are how overpowered they are. Enemies in this game are already a joke, so why not add OP weapons to the mix? While this may sound bad, it’s actually quite enjoyable. Also, depending on which Wispon you have, you can use certain Wisps in levels that grant you temporary abilities such as a multi-jump, hovering, or following trails of rings. They’re mostly used to either bypass certain parts of the level for a faster time or accessing secret areas. Honestly, although I expected to dislike the Wispons, I found them surprisingly fun to use overall.
Another aspect I found surprisingly enjoyable? Customizing the Avatar. You can choose from different species with their own unique abilities, along with eye shape, voice, fur and skin color. The initial choices are alright, but the game is constantly rewarding you with new clothing options and gear to truly make the Avatar your own. Simply beating a stage rewards you with new gear, but completing certain tasks or getting an S rank will get you even more gear. I found myself going back to levels to complete missions and get S ranks just so I can see what other gear I could get. The game itself is very short, around 3 or 4 hours, but my playtime was extended because I really wanted to unlock more stuff for the Avatar. I was pretty skeptical on the Avatar at first, but they ended up being the most enjoyable and well thought out part of the game.
I call him “Black the White Wolf”.
There is one other gameplay style that has Modern Sonic and the Avatar team up in certain levels, however there isn’t too much to say about it. It really just feels like playing Modern Sonic with a Wispon or playing the Avatar with a Boost.
Finally, there’s Classic Sonic. Ugh. I really wish he had just stayed in Sonic Mania because Classic Sonic is easily the WORST part of this game. His levels are all in 2D, but they’re very bland in design with none of the elements that made Classic Sonic memorable. If you were expecting the perfectly replicated Classic Sonic physics seen in Sonic Mania, think again. Not only is he nowhere near on par with Mania, but Classic Sonic in Forces controls even worse than he did in Generations. He feels much heavier, stiffer, and slower. It’s always tricky to describe exactly how a game feels, but it’s like Sonic can’t carry any momentum without the aid of a boost pad. He’ll speed up with a boost pad temporarily, but then slow right back down to his restrictive top speed after a little bit. The Spin Dash is less useful, it’s no longer used with one button and you can’t jump out of a Spin Dash to utilize the speed boost. Instead, the Drop Dash returning from Mania is a better tool. He can sometimes speed up when going down a hill by rolling into a ball, but the moments are very situational and sometimes don’t even work right.
Classic Sonic wasn’t perfect in Generations, but at least carried momentum, had a useful Spin Dash, and wasn’t so heavy. In Forces, he’s totally messed up, and it’s even more jarring coming right off the heels of Sonic Mania, an amazing game released just months prior. Classic Sonic has absolutely no reason to be in Forces (he doesn’t even have any story relevance) and really holds the game back. His only purpose is to pander to Classic Sonic fans, but with controls this bad, nobody wins.
Although Sonic Forces has some interesting ideas and a few moments of legit fun, it’s ultimately disappointing and a significant step backwards from what came before. I don’t think it’s an awful game, but doesn’t improve at all from previous entries, and actually makes things worse. Aside from aspects of the Avatar, which were the most inventive and fun parts of the game, Forces doesn’t offer anything you can’t get better elsewhere.
If you want some fun Boost gameplay, play Sonic Generations. If you want some true Classic Sonic gameplay, play Sonic Mania. If you want a deeper and more serious in tone story (despite their own share of story flaws), you’re still better off with Sonic Adventure 1 or 2. Sonic Forces is a very middle of the road game that just kinda came and went, and I’m ready to move on.
An unfortunate step backwards. While the Avatar is an interesting and fun idea that was implemented well, Forces doesn't offer much else that you can't get better in past Sonic games.