Sonic returns to wage a war, but is it worth fighting for? When I was in middle school, back in the mid-90’s, I drew my own fan character for Sonic the Hedgehog. It was not a great drawing, and it basically was Sonic with his spikes replaced by Mickey Mouse ears, but I still remember that drawing fondly. I’m not the only Sonic fan to have done this. Sonic’s art style, both in the classic and modern eras, have always been one of its most loved aspects, and inspired fans to flood the Internet with tons of artwork. I get the feeling that’s one reason Sonic Forces was created.
The game’s story is a new one for the franchise. Dr. Eggman has gotten his hands on the Phantom Ruby (the plot device item from Sonic Mania), and has used it to empower his robot forces and create a new lieutenant, the sinister and enigmatic Infinite. With the Ruby’s powers to play with reality, the villains are poised to take over the world, and after the first level, Sonic is defeated, captured, and presumed dead by his friends. Six months pass, and what’s left of the Resistance, led by Knuckles and the rest of the old gang, are struggling to fight back. They’re now joined by a new recruit, your Custom Hero character, and start their counteroffensive. Meanwhile, Tails has spent the time trying to make up for failing Sonic and finds himself teamed up with Classic Sonic, who has arrived from the ending of Sonic Mania in pursuit of the Phantom Ruby. All three heroes’ stories entwine as they battle to free their world from Dr. Eggman and Infinite. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it does harken back to the Archie comics and classic cartoons, which was a nice touch. It also helps justify the levels and aesthetics of the game.
Graphically, this is a gorgeous game, both in terms of design and animation. I played this on a PS4, and at no point were there any slowdown or graphical issues, something that can happen with 3D Sonic games in the past, as they try to match the speed the gameplay is moving at. None of that this time. I was also particularly impressed with how well-integrated the Custom Hero was in all cutscenes, no matter what outrageous outfit I put them in. No weird hiccups in the animation, no moments of clothing or items phasing through the bodies, it was genuinely stunning to witness. The music is pretty decent while missing memorable level tracks. Some of the songs, in particular the main theme (the enjoyably cheesy Fist Bump), are really fun to hear during some of the game’s major action moments.
The Custom Hero is fun to design, with each species having its own unique ability. While things like height or build can’t be changed, players have plenty of options in terms of head/facial wear, clothing, shoes, gloves, and bodysuits, as well as body, skin, and eye color. I often find myself playing around with the appearances and seeing what looks good both in-game and in the cutscenes.
There’s a lot to play with to make your Avatar your own.
The game itself is divided into four gameplay types. Classic Sonic is essentially a 3D version of Sonic Mania, down to having access to that game’s Drop Dash that helps maintain momentum. Modern Sonic is the latest version of the gameplay from Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, with the ability to boost at high speed and homing attack enemies, making for the fastest gameplay. The Avatar stages are similar to Modern Sonic’s stages, only utilizing the Custom Hero’s grappling hook and Wispon item for combat and platforming. The Wispons come in quite the variety, making for repeat playing to fully explore the stages for all their secrets, and more unlock as more stages and missions are completed.
The final gameplay model is a team style with Modern Sonic and the player’s Avatar, mixing both characters’ abilities for combat and exploration. The old extra life system is gone now, instead each death results in a point penalty during a score at the end of the stage. In addition, there are secret stages that open up as items are collected in the main stages, and every once in a while there’ll be an SOS from other players online, allowing for an additional mission, as well as get a chance to play with other players’ Avatars. Plus if a rental hero is called upon, others will get a chance with yours.
Throw in both the achievement missions and the daily mission, and there always seems to be another challenge that pops up while playing this game beyond the main campaign. Every level beaten, every S rank achieved, unlocks even more options for customizing your Avatar to suit your style, with the ability to save favorite outfits to switch between them on the fly.
It isn’t all good though. There were a few moments of strange, loose control with the Avatar in their stages during the campaign’s endgame. The main story, without the worry of running out of lives, doesn’t take long to beat (I finished it in about 6-7 hours), and that was on Hard Mode (special note: Hard Mode is essentially like all Sonic games, where you can collect as many rings as you can and lose them all with a single hit, while Normal Mode caps the rings off at 100, but Sonic loses rings in increments with each hit). Outside of a few exceptions, the bosses aren’t anything special, especially in comparison to Sonic Mania. It’s a good thing that there’s a lot of replay value in the game, or I’d be a little unhappy.
Sonic Forces, much like Mania, was made for fans of the franchise. Its story connects it to fans of the media spawned from Sonic, the Custom Hero embraces the fandom and its creativity regarding the series, and the game, despite how quickly one can get through it, rewards speed runners and explorers with more rewards and challenges. It’s not the best 3D Sonic game (although it is the best looking on PS4), but it’s still a lot of fun, and even after beating it I’m still playing it to plunge into the depths of its challenges further.
I have to admit, that middle schooler who drew his own characters back in the day got super giddy when Sonic fist bumped the Custom Avatar and called him partner.