Developer: Sonic Team
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
There’s a bit of a stigma associated with the 3D Sonic games that they just aren’t very good, and probably never will be. You’ve only got to look at the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog on last-gen consoles or Sonic Boom on the Wii U to see prime examples of why people would think that, whilst a lot of the other 3D Sonic games haven’t really managed to hit the mark either.
Naturally then, Sonic Forces didn’t exactly have me feeling overwhelmingly excited. I’ve always had an appreciation of Sonic that stems from my childhood so I’ve never skipped a game in the series, but I’ve also been able to acknowledge that they’ve not been particularly great.
Then I started playing Sonic Forces and I… liked it. I mean, I really liked it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from perfect and it certainly has its flaws, but there’s something about the fast-paced action-packed platforming that hooked me in from the get go.
Sonic Forces puts you in a world where Eggman has actually won – his new super-fast and super-powerful creation named Infinite has defeated Sonic, leaving the world in disarray. After a few months, a group led by Knuckles decides to make a stand, bringing a new player-created character on board as they look to rescue Sonic and hopefully the world. It doesn’t take long before you encounter a ton of familiar faces (including classic Sonic) and face off against the villains of the series’ past. It’s actually a bit dark to begin with, but don’t worry – it eventually hits the levels of cheesiness we’ve come to expect, with plenty of ridiculous one liners and, of course, references to chilli dogs.
Listen, no-one ever comes to a Sonic the Hedgehog game for the story, so don’t go expecting some narrative masterpiece – if anything, it plays like a fan-fiction with plenty of classic characters returning to join the custom character that you create. The script is incredibly cheesy, a lot of the stuff that happens is stupid, and character interactions are lame and may have you cringing at times. Despite this, it’s all very fitting and works perfectly within the universe of Sonic the Hedgehog – it’s one of those ‘it’s so bad, it’s good’ sort of things.
Being able to make your own character is one of the hooks of the game this time around. You get to choose which species you want to be (you’ve got the choice of a dog, cat, wolf, bird, bear, rabbit, and hedgehog), with each one having their own unique ability – the bird can do a double jump for example, whilst the cat will keep a few extra rings after it has been hit.
Whilst you decide just the species and colours of your character initially, you’ll eventually be able to dress it up in the assortment of costume pieces that you’ll unlock from completing levels. There’s some real odd combinations you can come up with and in fairness there are a ton of different items available, so you should be able to make the character of your dreams. It does look a bit peculiar that your character is clothed but everyone else is essentially… well… naked, but hey, it’s always fun to play dress up, right?
You can also change your character’s weapon choice, with the likes of a flame thrower, lightning whip, energy blast, and even a gun that turns your enemies into big cubes available. They all allow you to play in a different way, though in honesty you could just stick to the default flamethrower and have no problems at all given how easy the game is. It’s nice to have a variety though, even if you won’t necessarily have to take advantage of it.
You’re not stuck exclusively using your created character though, with Sonic Forces also putting you into the classic red and white sneakers of Sonic and Classic Sonic across a mixture of 2D and 3D levels. Sometimes, you’ll even get to use both your character and Sonic at the same time, with them tag-teaming in and out of the action as you utilise both character’s skillsets across a few levels.
It’s a similar system to what made Sonic Generations work so well with a nice little mixture of the two perspectives, yet this time it’s the 3D levels that stand out more. There’s no denying that the 2D Sonic game have traditionally been the pick of the bunch, yet I found that the action-packed design of the 3D levels were more enjoyable to play through. Sonic Team have managed to nail the controls too, so you get the satisfaction of going fast without the worry that some ridiculous pitfall or horrible element of level design is going to cause you to unexpectedly (and often frustratingly) die.
In fact, you shouldn’t expect to die much at all; despite playing on the ‘hard’ difficulty (and that’s using the term very loosely there), I think I died less than five times. Sonic Forces is an incredibly easy game to play through, with even the boss battles proving very little in the way of a challenge.
The only problem is that despite the fact that the whole point of Sonic the Hedgehog games is to go fast, you’re almost punished for it a bit. I was blasting through some levels at a hell of a speed (which is a lot of fun), but at times I was skipping out on entire little sections because of it. I never knew if I was missing out on something cool or totally skipping what would be an enjoyable platforming sequence, yet the fact I knew I was meant to be going fast pushed me to always do so. Maybe it’s just my mentality, I don’t know, but what I do know is that when you’re Sonic the Hedgehog you’re meant to be fast.
However, with the short length of levels and the fact they’re made up of multiple routes, it’s easy to go back through them again to take everything in. Each level has an assortment of collectibles to find that are scattered across the stage too, so you’re going to have to do some exploring if you want to find them all. It kind of defeats the point of the game though – you’ve got to completely slow things down if you want to see everything Sonic Forces has to offer. It’s not so bad when you’re playing as your custom character, but as Sonic it’s almost difficult to actually slow down at times.
Whilst the 3D levels were fun to get through, the 2D levels were a little underwhelming. They lack the personality and action-packed sequences that you see in the other stages of the game, whilst they’re also presented on a very small scale (don’t expect the huge and multiple paths that we’ve just seen in Sonic Mania). None of them are particularly bad, but they’re too easy to play through and simply lack those thrilling ‘wow’ moments – except maybe on the Mystic Jungle stage, which is superb.
With thirty stages in total (or thirty-three if you include the free ‘Shadow the Hedgehog’ DLC) you’d think that Sonic Forces was a fairly lengthy game. However, most of these stages are easily beaten in around three minutes, so it won’t take you too long to get through the game – I managed to do it in just one afternoon sitting. There are collectibles to return for as well as high scores to chase for those best rankings, whilst there are plenty of smaller secret levels to find too, so there’s still plenty to do after you’ve beaten the game. Just don’t expect to be coming back to it for too long.
Also adding to the longevity are the series of missions on offer throughout the game, which challenge you to get specific rankings or complete levels as certain characters. There are daily challenges too, so there is something to test yourself with if you do decide to randomly hit the game now and then to try and unlock some of the extra avatar items. None of the missions are particularly difficult, but it at least offers a nice incentive to re-visit the game and go through some levels again.
I absolutely must mention the music of the game. Now, I’ve always been a big fan of the music of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, be it the catchy tunes of the 16-bit era or the over-the-top pop anthems of the 3D releases. Sonic Forces is loaded with both varieties, so there’s plenty of great little pieces to go along with the action of the game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all ridiculously cheesy, but some of the tunes are incredibly catchy and will be stuck in your head long after playing.
The game also looks fantastic too, with some pretty slick and vibrant visuals joined by a consistent 60fps frame rate. Everything in the game looks great, with locales like Green Hill Zone (or should I call it ‘Sand Hill Zone’… euch) looking the best that they ever have.
Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that there are no Chaos Emeralds to be found in the game. I know their importance isn’t such a big deal in the modern era of Sonic, but it made me sad that there was no mention of them at all. There aren’t any bonus stages to leap through giant rings to access either, which is a shame…
I wouldn’t call Sonic Forces a true return to form for the Sonic franchise (Sonic Mania did that, but we’re not talking about 2D games here), but it really is a deceivingly fun little game that’ll certainly keep you hooked in throughout its fairly short runtime.
I can appreciate that it’s got its fair share of flaws and that it’s certainly no Mario Odyssey – this definitely isn’t a game you’re going to be talking about it for years to come – but those who enjoy a colourful platformer and are willing to indulge in the cheesiness of the world should have a good time with Sonic Forces. Maybe 3D Sonic games CAN be fun, after all…