A Lesson In Mediocrity
I have been enjoying Sonic games since I got my very own Sega Genesis way back when I was around 7 years old. At that point in time, I thought that Sonic was better than Mario, his main competition in every way. He was faster, had an attitude, and everything about the game was just plain cool to my adolescent eyes. I started to lose interest in the series right after the first Sonic Adventure was released. The 3D Sonic games just didn't have the same magic. Every now and then I would try a new game but I was always left more disappointed than the previous attempt. Earlier this year, the hype surrounding Sonic was at a high I hadn't seen since my childhood. This was all because of the stellar Sonic Mania, which was a critical hit among the press and fans alike. I loved it myself, but this isn't about Sonic Mania. I'm here to tell you about Sonic Forces.
Forces reinforced every fear that I ever had about modern Sonic games. It isn't the failure that Sonic '06 was. It's not littered with glitches and the game performs very well but the parts that make up the whole are a mess of bad game design. It runs from truly awful and boring to fun and fantastic at points. The fantastic bits are just too few and far between to save the game. I would go as far as to say that this game could be the poster child for mediocrity. It's not completely awful but it certainly isn't going to win any awards.
Running Beside The Blue Blur
One of the biggest draws for me when I saw coverage of Forces was the opportunity to create your own character who then joins Sonic and team on their quest to take the world back from Dr. Robotnik. I was very disappointed with the end result. There was a certain novelty to creating an animal avatar that could team up with these characters that I've known for over two decades but it was extremely short-lived.
The character creation mode is as thin as a piece of paper. You choose an animal type, which also dictates your character ability. You choose from things such as a wolf, bird, hedgehog and more. Then you play a short game of dress up. You earn new pieces of clothing over the course of your adventure but none of it ever excited me. I definitely think that this mode will be a hit with the younger crowd but there isn't much there for the average gamer.
A Torturous Tale
In my opinion, Sonic does best when the story is kept to a bare minimum. He's a lot like Mario in that way. He doesn't need a deep story with a ton of exposition. Just show me Dr. Robotnik up to no good and let the game begin. Sonic Mania hit the nail on the head earlier this year and Sonic Forces misses it by a mile. In Forces, Dr. Robotnik has finally beaten Sonic and it's up to all of Sonic's friends, with a little help from the animal resistance (you), to help Sonic save the world. It's a bit over dramatic and I feel Sonic Team pushed the edginess a bit too far, especially in the beginning. The campaign is split into 3 different stage types plus the boss stages and a handful of challenge stages. You have avatar stages, modern Sonic, and classic Sonic.
During the avatar stages, you take control of your custom animal hero and run side by side with Sonic and crew, fist bumping each other along the way. These levels pack the most potential for greatness but fail the hardest. I feel like they lacked focus, probably due to having to design the stages with all possible customization options in mind. During these levels, you traverse lots of branching paths covering a wide range of play styles and combat the baddies with wispons. Wispons grant your character special abilities such as a double jump or lightning whip. While I enjoyed the wispons, I don't think that Sonic Team thought the idea through enough. There are far too many types for the amount of use you get from them.
The stages featuring modern Sonic were the fastest and most insane stages of the game when dumb level design wasn't making me come to a screeching halt. The enemy placement was horrible. Most of the time there was no way of avoiding an obstacle or enemy until giving it a few more tries. Memorization became my best friend. These stages focused on spectacle above all else and really pushed the graphics and performance of the game. When I was moving, I was in awe of everything that was going on onscreen. It was quite the roller coaster ride.
The classic Sonic levels were probably the biggest let down to me personally. There is only a handful of them, and the physics are completely wrong. I felt like I was jumping on the moon in every stage. The jumping feels more like floating and it's very inaccurate. Sometimes the most simple platforming sections would take me countless tries to get right. Good thing the game gives you infinite lives because the controls will surely make you need them. It's bizarre that Sega got this part so wrong after perfecting it in Sonic Mania. I know that that game was made by a different team, but this is Sonic Team, which makes it even more pathetic.
Regardless of the type of stage I played, I felt that the tiniest mistake messed up the entire stage. I lost momentum time and time again. All the levels were short. If you somehow manage to get through a stage without making a mistake, you will easily finish it in 1-2 minutes. Every single stage is like this. I was able to complete the entire game in under 4 hours. That is counting all the times I got frustrated and slowed down by poor controls or level design. The boss fights were the stand out stages in my eyes, but like classic Sonic, there just weren't enough of them.
Sonic Forces isn't a complete bomb but everything it does right gets overshadowed by its flaws. The graphics, sound, and game performance are the best a modern Sonic has ever been. The awful controls and poorly designed levels bring all of that down to nothing. What good is a pretty, nice performing game if it controls like crap and is over before you've had a real chance to dig in? Between the control problems, the game's short length, and boring unlockables, I don't see many gamers getting a lot of mileage out of this one. It didn't even feel like a complete game. It felt like a 40 dollar beta.