In 2011 Sonic Generations heralded a return to Sonic the Hedgehog greatness. It was short lived. Developer Sonic Team has tried to recapture some of that magic in Sonic Forces, and riding off of the success of the recently released Sonic Mania (here’s our review) it looks like they were poised to do just that. Unfortunately, I can’t help but get the feeling that Sonic Team doesn’t really understand what makes Sonic fun.
Sonic isn’t alone in this outing. Not only does he have the usual cast of Tails, Knuckles et al., but through Chaos Ruby mumbo jumbo he is rejoined by his shorter, chubbier version which is supposed to represent his appearance in the original games ala Generations. In addition to the mingling of the two Sonic playstyles, another character is introduced which you can customize. Forever regarded to as “the newbie” or “buddy” or some other nameless affectation, this new customizable avatar eventually fights alongside both Sonics, matching them beat for beat.
Gameplay mixes between contemporary 3D Sonic levels and 2D side-scrolling levels. Some of these levels and environments can be absolutely gorgeous, but the art direction is inconsistent, with some levels looking like they came straight out of Mighty No. 9. Contemporary Sonic has his lock-ons and dashes and will switch between 2D and 3D perspectives. Chubby, short OG Sonic has none of those tricks, stays in a 2D environment, and plays more like a classic Sonic would. There was a certain charm when Generations did it. Original Sonic would play on reimagined levels with newer Sonic playing similarly themed levels from a different perspective, celebrating Sonic both new and old. Sonic Forces feels less like a celebration and more like shameless exploitation. Even worse, the OG-Sonic side-scrolling sections pale in comparison to the inspired level design of Sonic Mania.
In a move that nobody asked for, you are also able to create your very own Sonic-themed avatar. You can choose from a variety of different animals like foxes, bears, cats, etc. Instead of spin moves and dashes you have available to you a number of different grappling hooks that also double as weapons. These “wispons” have different abilities, like the power to shoot fire or the lightning ability that allows you to zip along coins like they were a railing. The player-made avatar also has a grapple shot that acts like contemporary Sonic’s dash. And yes, the avatar you create regularly teams up and can keep up with either Sonic, which makes me wonder: is Sonic really that fast? By far the best part of the new avatar is the ability to dress them up anyway you like. Unlike Super Mario Odyssey, finding costumes aren’t really a consideration in gameplay as you are absolutely inundated with them after every mission. I would often take just as long looking through my new clothing options as I took completing the preceding mission. Unfortunately, you can’t dress either Sonic up in your new clothes – only your avatar. Still, clothing customization is easily the most fun part of the game.
There is really nothing good happening in Sonic Forces. The story revolves around Chaos Rubies and a new villain working with Eggman named Infinite. Infinite is a super-edgy fox-like thing that hates Sonic and everything he stands for – or something. I guess I wasn’t entirely sure of the bad guys’ motivations. Everyone in Sonic’s team seemed to be able to stand around and talk to you on the radio to give you motivation, but despite the importance of the mission, none of them can be bothered enough to do something. The voice acting is done with anime-style voiceovers and it is horrible. The soundtrack is nails-on-chalkboard at best, consisting mostly of J-pop rejects. I would like to say that the gameplay or graphics are redeeming factors, but the Sonics and avatar all suffer from the same “too fast” or “too sluggish” problem in precise jumping situations and Sonic Forces really seems to love instadeath platform sections. Let me remind you, Sonic and platforming doesn’t always mix. On top of that, Sonic Forces is short, taking me less than five hours to complete. That’s even with me checking out “secret levels” and other missions and points of interest that showed up on the world map.
I really feel like Sonic Team tried to recapture the magic that was Sonic Generations, but it feels like it’s missing something. Oh yeah – it’s missing good music, responsive controls, and a singular art direction while also having an awful story and insufferable voice acting. Sonic Forces is just another unfortunate Sonic game that can be safely thrown onto the heap of other failures and forgotten. Sonic Forces is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows and Nintendo Switch.