15 March 2018

Sonic Forces Review


The term “it’s so bad, it’s good” has been used in video games for a long time now. Heck, even I used it to express my thoughts on Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) two years ago. Speaking of Sonic, last year was one of the more notable years for Sega’s soul franchise in recent times thanks to their being a truly quality title in the series that people outside of the fanbase found enjoyable. I’m of course talking about Sonic Mania, which isn’t the game I’m reviewing. No no no, while 2017 had Mania, it also had Sonic Forces: Sonic Team’s newest seemingly yearly entry in the almost 27 year old franchise. While Sonic Mania was created by fans, Forces was made by the actual developers, which in any other case, would result in a more well designed and well thought out game, but this being Sega and Sonic Team, that’s something that rarely happens. Since it has almost been two years since my last review of a Sonic game, why not take a look at another one of these glorious games; might as well be the most recent one.

Back when I got my Switch late last year, there were two games I was looking forward to playing: Super Mario Odyssey which I ended up picking up along with the system, and Sonic Forces which I ended up getting as a Christmas gift. After watching trailers and Let’s Plays of the game, I was looking forward to playing Forces and it ended up being a delightful experience from start to finish but not because of the same reasons as to why ’06 was and certainly not because it was a genuinely good game. Rather Forces gave me a feeling I’ve never really had for a video game: it was so mediocre that it was awesome. Usually when I find a game to be mediocre I forget about it and move onto something else but Forces was different. The biggest thing in my opinion that saves Sonic Forces from being a bore is its writing, so I’m going to start there.

To put it bluntly, the writing is a mess; a cheesy stupid mess. I’m really not sure what the writers of the game were going for with the plot of Sonic Forces. At points it tries to be dark like Shadow the Hedgehog was with lines like “None of this is good, Vector. That’s why it’s called war”, “My spy there says he’s (Sonic) in a solitary confinement cell, and they’ve been torturing him for months.”, and “Sonic is gone, Amy. And Tails is…Tails has just lost it.” Now when you see Sonic at the start of stage five--who’s supposedly been tortured for six months by Eggman--he looks perfectly fine, still cracking the same dumb jokes he does in any other game. Tails, who you see in a cutscene in the previous stage, is acting normal too even though he shouldn’t be according to the script of Forces. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sonic Forces also has lines that make me want to hurl with the most notable one being “The things that can’t be defeated are the heart, soul, and bonds of friendship.” Lines like that really conflict with the tone Forces is trying to set up. It makes me wish Sonic Team went all the way with a dumbly edgy story like Shadow the Hedgehog or even better, go the Metal Gear Rising route and have a hilariously over the top violent game with comedic bits rather than this weird restricted plot that reeked of re-writes.

The other part of Forces that I loved for the wrong reasons was its music. The corny vocal music you’d find in the final fights in the Sonic Adventure games are in full force in Forces. All of the Avatar stage themes have vocals as does Infinite’s theme and the main theme of Sonic Forces. All of the music is wonderfully cheesy and I love it; except for the classic stages as those mostly sound horrible because it sounds like the composer crammed actual music for a stage through a Genesis/Mega Drive sound font.

Like with how Sonic Generations had two types of gameplay: modern and classic, Forces follows suit but adds a third type: Avatar. Modern and classic Sonic stages play somewhat the same as they did in generations (I’ll get into that later) while the new Avatar stages function like a modern stage but if Sonic had a weapon; a cartoony weapon this time, not some weird sci-fi-ish weapon or alien sex toy looking gun like in Shadow the Hedgehog. These three types of gameplay add up to a game with 30 stages, with a few boss fight stages in there. Sonic Forces continues to use the boost style gameplay that has been used in many Sonic games since 2005’s Sonic Rush on DS. However unlike previous games, levels here feel very short with many of them seemingly ending as soon as they started; most levels take around two minutes to finish, diminishing the impressiveness of 30 stages.

Getting back to how modern and classic Sonic play, classic Sonic feels off in this game. You’d think this would be the best part of Forces but thanks to stiff controls and wonky physics, it ends up becoming the worst of the three gameplay types. Modern Sonic can boost and do everything he can in previous boost installments except for drifting. The drift ability has been given to the Avatar…sort of; it’s only used in scripted events. Speaking of scripted, Forces seems to really love them. Quick time events are more or less just scripted events; unlike Unleashed, failing QTEs results in nothing more than receiving no points, so their isn’t much incentive to mash that Y button to have Sonic and your Avatar do the fist bump dash unless you care about your rank at the end of the level. The controls overall…work…when Sonic or the Avatar are going in a straight line (which is about 90% of the levels in this game) but in the few places where you have an open area to “explore,” movement felt very sensitive like the characters wanted to go back to full speed if I held a direction on the joystick for longer than one second. A problem, but with how rare you’ll be moving in a direction that isn’t straight ahead, it’s not a huge issue.

Forces most notable feature is the already mentioned Avatar and character creation. Very early in the game the player gets to make their own Sonic OC (original character) and dress him or her with the dankest clothing like a Gamer hat or Sanic shirt. As dumb as it may sound, it was fun making a character. One neat thing though about the character creation is that each species of Sonic OC has their own special ability; like wolfs can grab rings from a distance and rabbits invulnerability periods are longer when hit. As the player completes stages and gets A and S ranks, new gear for the Avatar is rewarded. Also free Sega themed DLC is available letting players dress their Avatars in outfits from other franchises like Persona 5.

One of my biggest problems with Sonic Forces is its recycling of past locations. Yet again Sonic Team re-used Chemical Plant Zone and although expected at this point, Green Hill Zone; with both zones being revisited multiple times. This problem is exacerbated since both Sonic Generations and Sonic Mania re-used both of those zones. The recycling of ideas from Generations doesn’t stop there either as it also applies to many of the boss battles. While Forces shows off Metal Sonic, Chaos, Shadow, and Zavok as villains, you only end up fighting Metal and Zavok with the other two being defeated in a cutscene. Other bosses like the Egg Dragoon and the Death Egg Robot are re-used again from Sonic Generations. The final phase of the last boss is more or less identical in strategy to the last bosses in Sonic Colors and Sonic Lost World as well. All of this recycling of past elements makes me wonder if Sonic Forces is more or less a heavily edited version of Sonic Generations. Something that could’ve worked since Capcom did something similar with Mega Man 6 as it’s more or less a heavily edited version of Mega Man 5. If that ended up being the case, I feel it fails here because Sonic Forces lacks the same level of polish and design that Sonic Generations had. The only boss fights I enjoyed were the fights with Infinite, the new villain in Forces, with each of the three fights being fun. Although the second fight can be a bit annoying thanks to the zero to one-hundred movement controls.

Visually the game looks nice. Not necessarily amazing, especially on Switch, but still nice. While on topic of the Switch version since that’s the version I own, I noticed how compressed the pre-rendered cutscenes look, especially when in docked mode; almost like I was watching a pre-rendered cutscene from a PS1 game. Overall the presentation is a step back from Lost World and Generations at least in how cutscenes look with many just being two characters heads talking with a text box over the stage select screen. Best cutscene for me was one of the first ones you see where Sonic gets the crap beaten out of him with the villains kicking him around like a soccer ball.

In terms of extra content, Forces has some additional free DLC called Episode Shadow along with bonus stages and online score ranking/challenge stuff. The Shadow DLC has the player in control of Shadow for three stages where you learn of Infinite’s origins and can be finished in around fifteen minutes. One other bit of DLC that is now free is the ability to play as Super Sonic in already cleared stages.

I feel it is pretty clear that Sonic Team was trying to catch lightning in a bottle with Sonic Forces; trying to replicate the success that Sonic Generations garnered. However while the character creation idea was neat, Forces lacks the level design and overall quality that made Generations such a quality title. Outside of the Avatar stuff, Forces lacks an interesting/memorable gimmick that makes people remember other Sonic games like Unleashed and Shadow the Hedgehog. The game is also made competently enough where it won’t be remembered for its crap factor like Sonic ’06 or Superman 64 are. So what’s left is a game that will likely just end up getting forgotten overtime. What kept me playing Sonic Forces and made me look forward to playing it again a second time for this review was again, its cheese factor. Its mess of a plot combined with the vocal and techno heavy music is what will keep me going back to this game from time to time. I also enjoyed Dr. Eggman as usual even though he was less goofy this time around (a nice change admittedly) and Infinite who felt like an edgy spoof of the already edgy hedgy Shadow. Forces did have some fun stages and set pieces but they were over almost immediately once they started.

Now would this game be worth playing? I’m not sure. Again, it lacks anything remarkable gameplay or quality-wise, so it might be best to wait until a sale to purchase the game or rent it if you still rent games. If you’re looking for a good Sonic game or platformer, Sonic Mania is still the better option between the two. Mania understands what people want in a Sonic game more than Sonic Team and Sega.

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