Release Date: November 7, 2017Platform: NS (reviewed), PS4, XBO, PCDeveloper: Sonic TeamPublisher: SegaGenre: Platformer
With its initially darker storyline, catchy music, and handful of remixed classic levels, Sonic Forces occasionally shows flashes of brilliance. But for every truly great moment in Sonic Team’s latest, there are long stretches of tedium. The 3D levels offer little exploration, and at times feel like they play themselves. The few bosses take just a couple of techniques to defeat. Opportunities for mini-boss fights are reduced to quick-time events. And while the storyline initially shows promise, it quickly devolves into the typical Sonic vs. Eggman tale we’ve seen dozens of times now.
Sonic Forces opens with Sonic finally being defeated at the hands of Eggman and his newest ally, Infinite. Sonic is feared dead and Eggman quickly takes over the world, leading Knuckles to form a resistance made up of Sonic’s numerous animal friends. The resistance soon finds a powerful ally in the Rookie, a player-created avatar new to the long-running series.
You can choose several different species for your avatar, including bear, dog, cat, and hedgehog. These come down to minor cosmetic differences and a small bonus to gameplay such as a double jump or respawning with a few rings. While initially only a handful of customization options are available, completing levels soon rewards you with dozens of shirts, shoes, accessories, and weapons to create the Sonic character of your dreams.
If you don’t want to play as your own avatar, you have the option of trying out a handful of randomly selected avatars made by other players. Just a couple days after release, there’s a lot of variety in how these characters look, they just don’t play very differently. The avatar adds a little variety to a fairly traditional Sonic game, but I ultimately found myself just not caring about my mute Rookie. Every avatar just ends up feeling like Modern Sonic with a grappling gun and a weapon. I’d have much rather played more levels with Sonic – or maybe Tails or Knuckles (who are sadly unplayable in Sonic Forces).
While I’m ambivalent about the Rookie, I was downright annoyed with the new antagonist, Infinite. This villainous jackal has a cool design, but his “virtual reality” based powers are never really explained very well and just come across as silly.Apparently he can turn the screen red every now and then and fill it with annoying and frustrating lasers and red blocks. At least the encounters with Infinite during gameplay are few and far between.
Besides Sonic and the Rookie, the third and final playable character in Sonic Forces is Classic Sonic, the shorter, quieter version of the iconic hedgehog. He sticks to traditional 2D levels based on some favorites from older games in the long-running series. Oddly enough, Classic Sonic barely seems to fit into the story and exists purely to cram a few of these levels into the game. It’s almost like Sonic Team wanted to make a sequel to 2011’s awesome Sonic Generations, but couldn’t fully commit to it. It’s hard to complain too much though because these levels, with their loops, classic music, and multiple routes, are an absolute joy to play.
Still, classic levels don’t make up for two of Sonic Forces’ biggest faults: length and lack of difficulty.
The story mode is made up of 30 levels, but on average these can be completed in 3-4 minutes. I whizzed through a few in just 90 seconds on my first playthrough.Sonic Forces also ditches the series’ lives system, so you can fail the same level repeatedly and just restart at the latest checkpoint. There aren’t too many tricky parts in Sonic Forces, but when I occasionally did run into trouble, the new respawn system made it a breeze to get through any level quickly.
For those who are looking for a reason to go through Sonic Forces‘ levels more than once, any replayability is going to come from seeking higher scores and ranks on each level. But even without really trying, I scored S ranks on many levels on my first run. The Episode Shadow prequel DLC, currently available for free, does add a few more stages and a little more difficulty to the game, but even this can be blown through in about 20 minutes.
Playing through the storyline also unlocks a few secret levels and new SOS missions for previous levels where you’re tasked with rescuing specific animal capsules, but I doubt these will hold the interest of players for long.
Ultimately, Sonic Forces is a game that can be completed in 4-5 hours, with little reason to ever go back. At least the $40 price point makes that an easier pill to swallow.
Sonic Forces is not a bad game. It looks good, it runs well on the Switch (docked or in handheld mode), and some of the pop songs that play throughout are infectiously catchy. It’s just not a very memorable game.
Hardcore Sonic fans will pick this up no matter what, and probably get a lot of enjoyment out of it, and I can also see younger gamers having a lot of fun with it, but for the more casual Sonic fan, you’d be better off picking up the cheaper and much more enjoyable Sonic Mania this holiday season.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor.