Sonic Forces – A Step in the Right Direction

Today’s game is a bit of an interesting one because.. it’s of a franchise that I haven’t played in well over a decade. Sonic the Hedgehog.

I got into video games sometime after the video game crash, my first console being the NES, though for us, it related more to the Japanese Famicom (We called them Famiclones). However, it wasn’t too long after that I transitioned over to Sega with the Sega Megadrive (Genesis in the US), so naturally I played a lot of Sonic games as a result. I never FINISHED any of them, but I was a Sonic fan mostly from his second game onward. However, I wouldn’t improve on Consoles until the release of the Playstation, so I ended up falling out of the ring.

The Playstation was where I truly discovered my love for story in games, and especially my favourite genre of RPGs (again, even though technically I played Pokemon before then). So, as you can imagine, I ended up falling out of touch with the blue blur… mostly for better as I understand. The Sonic games coming out around the time were TERRIBLE, or at best, gave people mixed reactions, while Mario had still been going strong.

My theory as to why is this: Sonic’s major problem is he wasn’t really as flexable as Mario. Mario was pretty fleshed out to the point where he even goes well in genres outside of platforming. RPGs, racing games, hell, even the fighting genre technically. Mario was able to fit extremely well in most games throne at him. This is probably due to him just being a basic character with a simple design. Sonic, on the other hand, only had the gimmick of going fast. How could you update Sonic to a new era of consoles, especially going off of the 3D craze, and still have that? The results were… interesting.

That’s kinda the word of the day: Interesting. Each Sonic game brought interesting ideas to the table, but couldn’t quite catch up with Nintendo’s little red plumber. In fact, many of them tended to suffer bugs or have crippling design flaws. Even Sonic Boom, a reimagining of the sonic characters, spawned a good TV show, but the game is infamous as one of the worst Sonic games yet, practically painful to go through. The best of the bunch being Unleashed, which had fans split down the middle, but runs HORRIBLY on PS3. This brings us to today’s game, Forces.

Much like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Forces had fans split down the middle. Some loved it for its darker tone and fixed gameplay, while others hated how braindead easy and short it was.

So, having just been reintroduced to the Sonic franchise after a 20 years absence, I can throw my thoughts into the ring here.

One of the new features Sonic Forces boasts is the ability to create your own character. Truth be told, I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. I’m always in on games that allow you to create your own protagonist to the story. So, withut further adeiu, I presnet Ahklys the Wolf:

She’s very excited to be here.

Unfortunately, the character creation aspect makes DC Universe Online’s character creation look like Dark Souls. It’s so basic and bland, with limited customisation until you unlock options while you play. Now, to be fair, while Sonic Team is no stranger to character creation (Hello, Phantasy Star), this IS the first time it’s been applied to a Sonic game, so it’s not bad for an experimental feature, but they could’ve at LEAST given you the ability to NAME your character.

How it works is, you pick a species, each with their own special ability, most revolving around rings, then customise their gender and basic colours. The Wolf, for example, has the ability to draw nearby rings to them. However, the lack of definition in body types does make it kinda awkward placing them next to the more defined Sonic characters.

While the concept of having each species having different abilities is novel, they could’ve done more with it. Your avatar uses a weapon called a Wispon to attack enemies and move around the level. Admittedly.. I don’t really like this as a mechanic. There’s nothing wrong with it, as the Wispons are varied and you can try them to your liking, but I would’ve liked it more if your character had powers that made them more definable amoung the Sonic cast. For example, how cool would it be to be a Speed type, like Sonic, or a Strength type like Knuckles. Then, you could have a tech type like Tails and that would be where you would use the Wispon. Still, for a first attempt in a genre that generally doesn’t do character creation, it’s not too bad. I could easily see this becoming standard to the series from here on out like it did for Soul Calibur.

As for the story, and how your character gets into the team, Robotnik, or Eggman, whichever you prefer, unleashes a new weapon, a new villain named Infinite, who defeats Sonic. In the hedgehog’s absence, the world is taken over by Eggman, and the remaining members of Sonic’s team form a resistance, of which you are the latest member. The rest of the game from here on is discovering the nature of Infinite’s powers and retaking the world from Eggman.

Now, despite what Jirard thinks of this story, I think it’s perfectly fine, aside from some hiccups. It did a fine job of reintroducing me to Sonic and introducing me to all the characters I’d missed since the Mega Drive era. And while some would complain about the whole ‘Sonic is dead’ plot lasting almost no time, did you really think they’d seriously kill off the title character the game is named after? Or to not play as him for the whole game? Why, that would be like a Megaman game where you don’t get to play as Megaman. Isn’t that right, Megaman X7?

Though, the game does offer a second Sonic to play as. Classic Sonic. Now, why he would be included in the main story, I have no clue, but one thing is made clear to me during the course of the game. Classic Sonic, and his levels, are a love letter to to golden age of the blue hedgehog. No joke. I felt familiarity in each of his levels, right down to the recreated and updated music. Each level was crafted with love and care, and to me, it didn’t feel at all like they were just trying to play off nostalgia. While some of the same levels were recreated, or even reimagined, it felt like each one was a product of love.

This is part of the whole style of the game. Each level, you either play as Classic Sonic, Modern Sonic, the Avatar, or team made of Modern Sonic and the Avatar. And I’ll be honest, I had a great time. As someone who hadn’t touched a Sonic game, it was challenging enough that I needed to learn what I was doing, yet forgiving enough that I wasn’t stuck on the same level for several hours. I had to learn mechanics that Sonic players up until this point were used to.

That said, the game is rather short. While having over 20 levels, you’re not likely to spend more than a few minutes in each of them, and once I learned the mechanics, it wasn’t hard to get A and even S rankings. And while there are alternate paths, you only have one chance to take them, and the case of the Avatar character, you will often need a different Wispon, and have it powered up, to access them. Miss it and you’ll need to redo the level if you ever want try again. No backtracking. Despite this however, I was done with the main story in two days, and not even that. Most of the second day was just me replaying levels, and the only reason it took that long was I kept dying near the end because I suddenly needed to master walljumping, which was never a thing in previous levels.

That said, the controls are pretty solid… for the most part. The mix between 2D and 3D movement works really well and adds a nice cinematic angle to the game. However, I have had times where such things had lead me to death because I couldn’t make a turn sharp enough, though partly this was my fault, as it didn’t click until much later that the game wanted me to made those sharp adjustments with the shoulder buttons, which was much more responsive than trying to turn with the stick. At the same time though, I’ve noticed that your movement IS more slippery in 2D when using the stick as opposed to the D-pad. This has also lead me to many a death.

Ontop of that, Sonic also has a new boost ability, which allows him to speed through most of the level that fills up either by hitting Wisp pods, or defeating enemies. Thing of it like Speed Break in Sonic and the Secret Rings, only it actually works as intended. In defeats all enemies in your path, which continues to fill the gauge, but leaves you vulnerable to environmental hazards, so knowing when to boost and for how long is helpful skill to learn, lest you end up running off the stage and into a pit of doom.

The avatar’s Wispon gives various combat and platforming abilities depending on what you use. In my case, I favoured the Lightning Wispon, which allows you to attack with an electric whip, or speed through rings like Sonic’s Light Dash in Sonic Adventure 2. The void Whispon, another favourite, allows you to create a black hole that absorbs enemies and rings, and allows you to float through the level as long as the gauge lasts. While this does allow afford you many options, again, I would prefer it if your character could have powers or abilities worthy of the Sonic crew.

After the main campaign was done, I had the desire to tackle the DLC, since it was free… This was..,. less stellar. The Shadow of the Hedgehog DLC details the events before Eggman’s take over, and fleshes out Infinite’s character… But not in a satisfactory way. The DLC only consists of three levels, some Sonic levels made a little harder, and.. it doesn’t exactly define Shadow for me. He just came across as exactly like Sonic. He had no elements that really set him apart. So much so that even though you can play as him in any Sonic or Sonic/ Avatar stage wasn’t really a satisfactory pay off. I didn’t know Shadow that well as a character, so what was the point of playing as him if he was like Sonic anyway.

Not only that, the payoff for Infinite’s backstory.. didn’t make him compelling at all. I came up with something a little better when talking about it with my brother-in-law, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

As for the Super Sonic DLC… well, I used it once and never again. Same Sonic jargan. Collect 50 rings and you turn into Super Sonic, and your Boost gauge becomes infinite. But instead of adding levels that allow you to earn Chaos Emeralds, you just have them and you choose Super Sonic in character selection. I didn’t like it because I felt I didn’t earn it.

However, the biggest problem with this game, is it failed to keep me invested. Now, I’ve been known to play the same game and beat it SEVERAL times before putting it down. I’d calmed down on that for the sake of the blog, but in this game… I couldn’t really keep playing. The game wouldn’t let me experience the story again with the things I’d unlocked so far, so what was I really playing for anymore. Even the SOS missions and their extra challenge of ‘one chance only’, wasn’t really holding my interest. After all, what was I playing for now? To improve a ranking I didn’t care that much for in the first place? This could’ve been fixed SO much with a New Game+ option. But without the option, I ended up finishing my session early because I just didn’t want to keep playing the same short levels over and over.

Even playing as my own character got old because the lack of polish to the character creation and the blank slate style of it ended up making me feel that my character was less a member of the team and was just there. I felt like she was just someone who happened to be running with them, just your average joe, and the lack of being able to experience the story again kind of weakened the growth of being too frightened to pick up a gun to being a badass who could stare the source of her fears in the face and not flinch.

However, with all this, I can’t really say this is a bad game. It brought a lot to the table, and is easily one of the best modern Sonic games considering what I’ve seen other people play. It was probably an experiment on where to take the series next. I’d say that this game wouldn’t be a bad template for future Sonic games, be they classic or not. If you’re a Sonic fan, or someone who’s interested in the series, I’d say it’s at least worth a look.

That said, my own absence is something I shall not excuse, so before I resume Tales of Berseria, I’ll delve into the game that made people fall in love with Sonic all over again.

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