I don’t know a proper analogy to compare how my experience with Sonic Forces went. I’ve been racking my brain, and either it was something that doesn’t make a lick of sense (asking for ketchup and getting tomato juice) or damn offensive (hearing you’re in remission and then getting spots on your next checkup). I was a Sonic fan way back in the days of the Genesis, missed the CD and 32X era, and then abandoned ship shortly after the Dreamcast pumped out Adventure 2 and I never looked back. Nothing ever looked fun or interesting, and reviews and secondhand account confirmed this idea. But Sonic Mania really got my hopes up. Everyone, and I mean everyone, seemed to love this title. “Maybe,” I thought. “Maybe there’s finally some balance back in the world.” So I wasn’t too hopeful for Sonic Forces, but I had an inkling. A small glimmer. A tiny, fraction of a prayer.
And it died.
Sonic Forces is a convoluted tale about how Dr. Eggman (I miss saying Robotnik) has created the ultimate bad guy, Infinite, who is like the overpowered superhero your brother makes up during playtime and he can do anything he wants. In the process, we’ve also torn dimensional riffs between every Sonic game ever, bringing together a rogue’s gallery of familiar faces (Chaos!), slightly confusing faces (a different Sonic, from Generations, apparently) and shit no one cared about (the weird animals from the 32X game, great). They’re all working together in this surprisingly dark timeline, and Tails is crazy, I guess, and all these other characters are unimportant next to YOU, player, who gets to make your own fursona to begin the game. Yay.
Right out the gate, I knew there was something wrong. I do enjoy the visuals of Sonic Forces, don’t take this game as a total loss. The voice work is carrying over a lot of talent from Sonic Boom (a funny show, if not a great game) and there’s a lot of pop and pizazz to how the different areas, from ghost towns to underground labs and beyond, work with your character. I can’t fault the game for not looking good. I even appreciate the world map that shows you where different missions take place, and you see the full level of Eggman’s dominion and how you slowly take it back.
But Sonic games are never about stunning cut scenes, they’re about the gameplay and the speed, and here’s something that I feel a lot of developers, even Sonic Team themselves, missed in the process. Yes, Sonic is fast. That’s literally what he’s known for, and his major selling point. But Sonic is also in control, because why the hell would you drive 200 miles an hour if you were going to hit a wall every time. For a lot of the missions, be they side scrolling or the pseudo 3D effect levels, you don’t feel like you’re totally in control of your character. From Avatar to Sonic to whomever is the helm, you end up in this weird limbo of control. Sometimes you trudge along and take wide, almost bated turned in order to maintain where you’re going. Other times, you’re rocketing wherever the game shoots you, feeling like you’re seriously not in control and then being SHOWN you aren’t when your character magically does a well timed flip, jump or whatever in order to push the scene forward. I get the use and importance of animations and storyboarding: you can’t possibly expect the player to know exactly what to do for every little thing and dying over and over sucks. But it was the equivalency to playing a game with an older sibling sitting next to you, and they just keep impatiently grabbing the controller when “you’re not doing it right.” After it happens a few times, you simply don’t wanna play anymore.
Sonic Forces also tries really, really hard to make itself look like an amazing game, but there’s inherent flaws in how it’s done. For one, they have these settings of Normal and Hard, with the stress that Hard is for people who’ve played Sonic games before only, and that scores and such will only count to leaderboards if you’re on Hard. There’s also this looming warning that you gotta be fast and tight if you want to score S on a stage, and that the best of the best get S. But here’s the thing: I’m terrible at video games. That’s why it takes me so long to write reviews, because it takes a lot for me to figure out how to do things that aren’t regularly in my wheelhouse. But despite careening off robots, losing my coins CONSTANTLY and getting suck just walking into walls, I had no problem scoring a minimum of A on each stage. Like, at least give me a C. I would be ok with that, knowing that I was doing average or even mediocre. But the A for being a failure feels like a participation trophy when you’re playing rock paper scissors. Then getting S unlocks a ton of clothing and stuff for my Avatar, but I honestly couldn’t care less about dressing up my creepy rabbit bear.
Finally, the daily missions. This feels like such a textbook play from a mobile game, and it’s shoehorned in here like a bridesmaid’s dress after a bachelorette party at Golden Corral. The missions are generally insulting, like “finish level four” or “get S on this stage.” But my daily mission, the one that I had a limited, 24 hour time limit to accomplish, was “change gloves.” A process that required the breakneck speed and skill of going to the Avatar menu, moving the joystick left, and confirming my choice. To hell with Superman 64, this game is SAVAGE. I get that players enjoy the little victories and it helps incentivize people to keep playing, but that’s when the game is cheap or free. When I’m playing AAA prices for a beloved and admired mascot (who’s had some arguably rough iterations), I want to be wooed with wine and violins, not malt liquor and a cracked cassette tape of the Rembrandts Greatest Hits.
I may be too hard on Sonic Forces, and I understand that, for many, this game is still better than what other Sonic games have been in the recent past. But the issue is, I didn’t play those games, and I’m not going back to play even worse games to temper my review of this one. It would be like dropping a cinder block on my foot so I see that my papercut is actually pretty ok. Despite some interesting story ideas and a good set of graphics, Sonic Forces commits a cardinal sin by being simply boring for fans of the game. If you really enjoy the Sonic extended family and want to see every colorful sidekick bounce around, then it’s not a bad little title, and I’m sure some people will even love it. But if you wanted to enjoy some Sonic action, then you’ve come to the wrong neighborhood.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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