It seems impossible to bring up Sonic Forces without mentioning that other great Sonic game that came out very recently. You also may think that two Sonic games in a year, let alone the same season, would be overkill. That may be true. However while Sonic Mania satisfies the fans hankering after a pure Genesis/Megadrive-era experience, Sonic Forces caters to those weirdo masochists who actually like Sonic’s 3D adventures and who actually hold out hope for a great 3D Sonic game.
I count myself one of those masochists. Having played through four levels of Sonic Forces, one for each of the game’s modes, I can’t tell you it’ll be the greatest Sonic game ever, but I can tell you - I enjoyed myself. A lot.
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There are four modes in Sonic Forces, and I got to try them all out. These are Modern Sonic (mix of 3D and 2D, all with Sonic), Classic Sonic (2D only, meant to evoke the 16-Bit era, Sonic only), Avatar Only (like Modern, except only with the player-created character), and Tag Team (like a simpler version of Sonic Heroes, 3D only, with both Sonic and the Avatar teaming up).
Modern Sonic, the one thing I have to say is – it’s both very cinematic, and very chatty. Things would be happening all around me, explosions, robots whooshing past, and what seems like every single Sonic character ever created was talking to me and saying how important it was that I kept running forward and doing stuff. Seriously, every character, from Amy Rose to Vector the Crocodile. Even feckin’ Silver The Hedgehog was in there as if he was just a member of the team. And the objective? Find Shadow. As if I wanted to. One of the joys of Sonic games is listening to the awesome level music, and with all the talking I couldn’t hear it.
That said, in terms of actual gameplay, I enjoyed it. It absolutely ditches the exploration of some 3D Sonics, which the engine, controls, and design usually can’t deal with, in favour of constantly pushing forward and making quick decisions. In that, things haven’t really changed since City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2. You can’t even rotate the camera anymore.
Is this bad? Well, it’s not Sonic Mania, but if you accept that… it’s still fun. However, it is a little shocking in places how Sonic Team have ditched certain parts of the Sonic formula, especially so soon after Mania. For example, getting hit? You still lose Rings, but crucially – you can’t pick them up again. Even in the Classic Sonic stage. And I’m not sure I like this. It does make bosses and certain areas a lot harder than they needed to be, and if you collect all the Rings in a boss stage and get hit – you’re screwed. Lives are gone too, which is the less bad news.
Anyway, yeah, it was about quickly moving through the stage (Sunset Heights I believe), homing attack on enemies, collecting Red Rings (for no purpose in the demo), and pushing on while the city exploded around me – with the classic Green Hill Zone in the background. There were even 2D areas. The Spin Dash has been replaced with a Boost which recharges, and I really like how when Sonic jumps he looks like a 2D spiky ball. There were Wisps from Sonic Colours too, but they did nothing for Sonic on his own. Then the stage was over, and honestly – I wanted to carry on.
Classic Sonic was, frankly, the weirdest. It was a boss fight (just 2D of course) against Eggman in the Green Hill Zone, who starts off in the ball-swinging form from his very first appearance before a few hits makes him up his game and bring out the gigantic Egg Dragoon, last seen in Sonic Generations. This stayed in the background and either fired a chaingun, spikes, or rocks at Sonic. Brown blocks hurt, black blocks could be bounced back at Eggman.
It was a pretty straightforward boss fight, only made more difficult by the inability to pick up Rings after getting hit. Tails and Eggman were also constantly chatting, which got a bit annoying, but at least this time the music (which was intentionally Genesis/Mega Drive-like) was actually terrible so I didn’t mind not hearing it. The most significant chatter was revealing Classic Sonic as being from another dimension, and that the Sonic heroes were part of a Resistance, which reminded me of the classic “SatAM” Sonic cartoon.
It was still the shortest of the stages, so let’s move on to the Avatar stage. While I couldn’t customize my appearance (I was stuck with some brown cat-guy in goggles), I could choose my attack type – Cube, Lightning or Burst. This choice determined what type of Special Attack my Avatar could do and what Wisp power they could perform when charged (by picking up Wisps). ‘Cube’ can turn enemies into cubes, with a Wisp power to create a platform anywhere, even in mid-air. ‘Burst’ has a fire attack, and a Wisp explosion power that launches them into the air. ‘Lightning’ was the one I went with, as it had an awesome Lightning Whip attack and the Wisp ability to shoot through lines of Rings – which were everywhere in the Avatar’s stage, leading to various secret areas.
The Avatar’s stage was entirely 2D and set once again in the Green Hill Zone, and was easily the most frustrating of the four levels, just because there were moments where the Wisp Dash ability sometimes wouldn’t work and would lead me plummeting to my death. There were multiple tricky jumps trying to avoid the legs of a crab-like “Multi-Legged Battlemech”, as Amy called it, before they slammed down and killed me instantly. There was still a lot of chatter, mostly about the Chemical Plant Zone and how that Battlemech couldn’t be allowed to reach the others there, which again distracted from the music – and this time the music was an original song. I’m a fan of Sonic’s silly Stan Bush Transformers: The Movie-style songs, so this was a bit annoying for me.
Then when just as I thought the level was about to end the crabby Battlemech appeared, pushing me into a 3D perspective and had my Avatar running constantly into the camera. All I had to do was sidestep with the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons to avoid the blocks flying in my direction, then do a quick QTE to (very cinematically) tie the poor crab robot up.
On to Tag Team, in some sort of Egyptian/Factory hybrid. This features both Sonic and the custom Avatar character together, although unlike Sonic Heroes you don’t actually manually swap between characters – phew, as that was the most annoying part of Heroes. Instead you mostly control Sonic and just can use the Avatar’s unique attack or Wisp power whenever you like. The Avatar also has a grappling hook which they can use to swing off certain grapple points, usually to reach secret areas.
It mostly played like a straight 3D Modern Sonic level, with the exception of the part when I was granted a “Double Boost” power that’s basically Invincibility and Speed combined, all to the main Sonic Forces theme song. Then that bit finished with a Ring-gathering Laser-avoiding plummet into the Factory, all pistons, cogs, and death drops – which meant I was glad I chose Lightning for my Avatar. There were many Ring Dash moments to take advantage of, and I’ve watched players try the infinite jump Burst power and – as usual with 3D Sonic games – be unable to see where they’re going to land. And die.
Then the stage was suddenly over. These were all shortened versions of the final stages for sure, and left me wanting more each time.
Sonic Forces is out on November 7 and can be found on Steam, priced £34.99/$44.99.
It’s still puzzling to me why SEGA would want to release Sonic Forces so soon after Mania, but the good news is they’re very different games. Whereas Mania went for pure nostalgic joy Sonic Forces is going for the grittier, dark edge of Sonic fandom, where the SatAM cartoon and comic series lies. It’s sort of a sequel to Sonic Generations, but I’m worried the Avatar’s Wisp powers are going to make the formula – and the level design – too complicated. And in all honesty, it wouldn’t be the first time Sonic Team did that. The appeal of Sonic, as Mania proved, is in keeping things simple, which is something that Sonic Team fail at time and time again despite literally every fan and publication in the world screaming it at them.
Nevertheless I totally am a 3D Sonic fan and I long for a perfect example, and Sonic Forces seems to be getting the closest. In fact the 2D sections were the least fun. I’m not sure about the constant chatter, which seems like an attempt to make Forces a more cinematic experience, but we’ll see once the game releases. At the very least, I can say for the most part I enjoyed my time with the game and I already want to play more of it.
Sonic Forces will be out on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on November 7.