Sonic Forces Review

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Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the biggest names in the video game industry. Back in the 90s when SEGA still made consoles, the Blue Blur was a rival to Super Mario. It’s unfortunate that quite a few of his later games were mediocre. Secret Rings, Unleashed, and more recently Boom, all helped to sour the name of Sonic when it came to quality platforming. This year looked to reverse the trend. Sonic Mania, a throwback to classic Sonic side-scrolling, released to positive reviews. Of course, the time was right for a new 3D installment as well. Sonic Forces released this past week and is the first “big” game in awhile. It brought back familiar faces and was to feature a grand storyline. Combine that with fast-paced 3D and 2D gameplay, and we have what should be a platformer resurgence for the franchise. Sadly, the concept of Forces is better than the actual product. It’s a fun game, but lacks in some key areas.

The story begins when Sonic is called in to stop Dr. Eggman once again. The hero races through Green Hill and arrives in the city. Unfortunately, Eggman seems to have recruited Chaos, Zavok, Metal Sonic and Shadow. There’s also a new villain called Infinite working alongside the doctor. Sonic is defeated, and fast forward 6 months, Dr. Eggman has taken over the world. The resistance, led by Knuckles, has to somehow win the day. Though with Sonic seemingly gone, this could get hard.

Let’s discuss the story, arguably one of the game’s primary selling points. The concept of Dr. Eggman finally winning and taking over sounds awesome. The opening scene is filled with tension as Sonic is struck by his old enemies, and also a new powerful villain that Tails says is even faster. After this, the screen goes black with the text, “With Sonic defeated, Eggman’s army quickly took over. Within months, all but a few isolated areas in the world were under their control.” …What? Instead of telling me that happened, show me. The game is incredibly short, only a little over three hours long. This is due in part to the story taking shortcuts. According to the dialogue, Sonic was captured and tortured for months. Once again, don’t tell me, show me. Later in the game, Infinite traps Sonic and the Avatar in “Null Space.” Some time should have been spent in there, but the two heroes escape a few seconds later!

As one can see, the story seems to rush itself for no reason. Back in the early 2000s, the Sonic games had excellent, well-paced stories. Adventure 2 still stands above the rest when it comes to quality storytelling with actual emotion. Forces often lacks that emotional punch (Sonic was tortured for months, but when we find him, he has no bruises and gives no indication that he endured hardship) and has rushed pacing. Also, Sonic’s old enemies returning ended up being a massive disappointment – almost false advertising even. The story is still fun, but it’s a shame to think about what could have been. Infinite gets quality dialogue and is an interesting character. His last scene was anti-climatic sadly; he should have come back and be the true final boss.

The gameplay is another primary reason why one would pick up this game. The main Sonic gameplay uses a refined engine from Sonic Unleashed. This is sometimes a good thing, and a bad thing. It’s fun to blast through levels, but I can’t say there’s quality level design at work here when it comes to the main Sonic’s gameplay. The problem isn’t really in the levels themselves: the problem is the length. Just about every level you can beat in under two minutes. So, it’s hard to enjoy a level because it’s over incredibly quick. Ironically, the boost mechanic ends up almost being a negative, because it speeds up already short levels. (You can almost blast through Mystic Jungle completely with boost.) Why were the levels so short? It’s baffling.

Classic Sonic returns for retro gameplay. Again, the levels are too short. It’s a shame, because there is some quality design here. Iron Fortress late in the game was genuinely challenging, and even featured a nice auto-scrolling section. Just when I’m really enjoying the platforming, the level ends. This could have been better if each level had a second act, but that isn’t the case. There is a third type of gameplay, and that’s the “Avatar’s.” For some reason, Sonic Team thought fans would want to create their own character. To be fair, the Avatar’s gameplay isn’t bad. Personally, I would have rather been playing as Sonic but the Avatar’s levels were solid. (They are also sadly short as well.) The ability to customize Avatar’s weapon is a nice feature.

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Sonic Adventure 2 still features the best platforming of all the 3D Sonic games, and that came out over 15 years ago. The gameplay was fast, but not too fast where you’re zooming through the entire stage. The stages were of great length and memorable. (We all still remember City Escape and Metal Harbor.) You won’t be remembering many, if any, stages in Forces because they’re over before they get really good. Also, the gameplay mechanics didn’t seem very tight at times. Classic Sonic and Avatar in his/her 2D sections seemed loose, thus making some simple jumps seem almost risky.

One consistently strong aspect of the game is the soundtrack. From the heroic ‘Fist Bump’ to the villainous theme of Infinite, the music is one of the best in the franchise. That’s another reason why it’s too bad the levels are short: the music ends along with them. I wanted to keep listening to the amazing ‘Guardian Rock’ and ‘Aqua Road’ songs. The boss battles are solid. The Death Crab battle is well done and intense. It was lazy, however, for the big Infinite battle to be a re-skin of the earlier fight with Metal Sonic.

Overall, Sonic Forces is a missed opportunity for something truly great. I had fun playing through it – the gameplay and music is a pleasure. Some of the levels have thematic quality (the Death Egg robots in the background of Ghost Town is one such example) and surprisingly the Avatar’s gameplay is interesting. Sadly, the levels are too short to enjoy. The game is probably the shortest Sonic 3D game, clocking in at a little over 3 hours, which is criminally short. Even the story is disappointing. There’s some great cutscenes, but too much untapped potential and often lack of emotion to be invested if you don’t care about the characters. One can mock Sonic 06’s romance, but the plot there was engaging and well paced. Forces comes off as a rushed gameplay experience.

6/10

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Sonic Mania Review

Sonic Mania

In recent years, Sonic as a franchise has been out of its prime. The last main game was Sonic Lost World, which wasn’t that great. To makes things worse, SEGA then released a new version of the series called Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, which was critically panned. Things started to look up last year in July when two new Sonic titles were announced. One of those titles was Sonic Mania. Similar to the underrated Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Mania was going to bring Sonic back to his Genesis roots. Mania took it one step further than Sonic 4, using the retro art style and sprites. The game saw release this year, and it ended up being a nice nostalgic trip reminding players why they fell in love with the franchise in the first place.

Mania has an impressive 13 zones. Eight of those are remastered while five are new. First, it was an interesting idea to remake old zones and even remix the themes. It’s nice to hop right back into Green Hill Zone and Flying Battery Zone. Stardust Speedway is iconic, but like in Sonic CD, it’s still a little uneven. Oil Ocean was intense, as it forces Sonic to watch out for the smoggy atmosphere that takes over the screen. So, it’s fun seeing some of the old zones back. At the same time however, it would have been great to see more original zones. In a new game, there should have been more original zones. Generations already had the idea of bringing back older zones. But, this isn’t a make it or break it deal as the old zones are still fun to play through, and the new ones are well made. Mirage Saloon Zone is a highlight.

Like the Genesis games, Mania puts an emphasis on speed. The player will be blasting through at many parts, but there’s also careful platforming. Getting squished is easy if one isn’t careful. The last zone, (not counting the secret final zone) Titanic Monarch, has plenty of platforming, forcing the player to slow down and carefully navigate the area. It’s a tough balance the Sonic games have to maintain, because on one hand the player wants to zoom through as the fastest video game character alive. On the other hand, just blasting through would make the game easy and quick. Mania nicely balances sonic-speed gameplay and platforming.

Boss battles in the Sonic series have been more on the challenging side. (Who could forget the Death Egg Robot at the end of Sonic the Hedgehog 2?) It’s the same with Mania; each boss is well designed and provides a quality challenge. One highlight is the encounter with Metal Sonic at the end of Stardust Speedway. It’s fast paced and intense, especially if you’re not able to hold on to your rings. Another highlight is Heavy Magician at the end of Mirage Saloon, where it impersonates classic Sonic characters Fang, Bean, and Bark. Oh, one can’t forget playing a round of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine against Eggman himself at the end of Chemical Plant Zone. Multiplayer is a nice feature, and Mania also has a competition mode, which is always welcome. The soundtrack is fantastic, from the remastered themes to the original ones.

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Overall, Sonic Mania does a stellar job bringing back the original Sonic style of gameplay. It looks and plays like a Genesis title. It’s evident from the start that the developers care a great deal about the franchise. Though there’s too many old zones in comparison to new ones, they are almost all a blast to run through. Acquiring the Chaos Emeralds is a hard endeavor, so those wanting to get the true ending are in for a genuine challenge. If you’ve been absent from the series for awhile or just want some classic Sonic, Mania is worth the purchase. Sonic is finally back with a title worthy of his 25th anniversary, which looks to continue later this year with Sonic Forces.

8.5/10