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

Sonic Mania Review

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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

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U – A Retrospective

The latest Super Smash Bros. released a little over a year ago. First of course the 3DS version came out, which was certainly fun. The big one however is the one that could be played on the TV screen, which was the long awaited Wii U version. You can find this game being played at some of the biggest fighting game tournaments on the planet, such as EVO and CEO. The series is endearing mainly because we get to see Mario, Link, Pikachu and thanks to Brawl even Sonic duke it out. Since Sakurai officially stated in the last Smash Nintendo Direct that there would be no more DLC or patches coming, I thought it would be good to take a fresh look at the game after all this time.

First, the Gameplay

The main reason why one buys a fighting game is for its gameplay. This of course can be applied for most games, but mainly fighting ones. (For example on the flip side, one buys Beyond Two Souls not for its gameplay, but for its intriguing story.) Smash has kept the formula identical from the first one on the 64 17 years ago. Even to this day, it’s remarkable how unique and frantic the gameplay is. Usually with 2D fighters the characters are closed in with little space to move. (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear.) But in Smash the characters are generally portrayed small in comparison to the big environment. This gives the player freedom to move around and plan strategies as opposed to just button mashing. The concept of rolling adds another dimension. Another thing is the way a character wins. In the default mode, a character wins not by draining health, but by sending them out of the stage. (Basically a ring out.) The goal is to keep building up damage until one is able to use a powerful attack to send the opponent away. It’s a unique system, and a fun one.

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The gameplay is so good that over the years copycats or games trying emulate the feel of it have surfaced. Some are okay (TMNT Smashup) but some are just bad. (PlayStation All-Stars.) Even with the okay ones, they’re never as good. So the question is why play an average game like Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion when you can play the real deal? Unless one is a big fan of a series, there’s virtually no reason to play any of the emulators.

After playing Smash for Wii U this long, I’m definitely inclined to say that it has just about perfected the formula. After going back to Brawl, Melee, and 64 over the last year, they just feel, for a lack of a better word, dated. I have immense respect for each individual entry and their unique differences. The latest version I feel however combines all the best elements of the entries and removes/alters the worst ones. Brawl for example introduced the concept of tripping. When it first came out it was noticeable, but now after playing Wii U it is supremely noticeable and just bad when going back to it. Interestingly, Brawl also plays slower than Melee. Wii U combines the quickness of Melee and and slowness of Brawl for peak efficiency. One could argue that Melee’s extremely fast gameplay makes it more of a hardcore experience, which could be true. There is no denying however that Wii U is the most easily accessible for newcomers. Characters don’t die as fast, and the addition of  “Max Rage” gives a player down even a hundred damage a shot at making a comeback.

Character balance has always been a key feature in fighting games. Sadly some games feature at least one overpowered character which gives him/her an advantage over others. (Kratos in PlayStation All-Stars.) Smash Bros. has for the most part kept it well balanced. There are however some obvious imperfections. In Melee Pichu’s attacks literally harm the little guy, so there’s no reason why one would want to play as him when Pikachu basically does the same things with no aftereffects. In Brawl Meta Knight had some very overpowered attacks and recovery options which literally made him banned for sometime in competitive play. The new game, while not perfect in this regard, definitely is the best when it comes balance and improvements. For example, I’ve played Mario since 64, and it’s easy to notice the big differences between him in the previous three games and here. Simply put, he plays better. Like I said however, there are some things which aren’t perfect. Mewtwo is so severely light that a counter with Corrin at even under 50% damage is dangerous. (Thankfully, an unexpected balance patch fixed that.) Still, just about each character is on fair ground and brings something unique to the table, which is incredible considering the large amount of characters in the game.

All in all, while maybe not as intense as Melee, I think the gameplay here is certainly the most fun.

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OFFLINE FEATURES

Smash and all other fighting games are made under the premise that you will be battling other people. A game however isn’t a complete package without features one can do by himself/herself. Classic Mode has been a staple in Smash since the very beginning. It’s a fun take on Arcade mode as the player battles through different characters and eventually comes face-to-face with Master Hand. Wii U might have the best one yet, if only because of the twist at the end: Master Core. This fight on higher difficulty settings gives an incredible challenge to even the most seasoned of players. Of course, Classic Mode can become repetitive after awhile, so what else do we have? Like in the previous two games, there’s a lot of fun modes such as Home Run Contest and Multi-Man Mode. Break the Targets also returns in a new form, but is actually far less engaging than previous installments, being basically Angry Birds.

Melee introduced another mode alongside Classic known as Adventure Mode. In the aforementioned game it was fun as it had the players go through dungeons & unique situations such as battling the ReDead in Hyrule, running into the Metal Brothers, and finally battling Giga Bowser. It was a fun sequence of events. Brawl however did something few fighting games have done: provide a cinematic story mode. The Subspace Emissary brought together the characters with incredible cutscenes and an engaging plot. (Which was written by Kazushige Nojima, the Final Fantasy VII writer himself!) This set the bar which few fighting games have raised since. Sadly, Wii U is part of those. Apparently Sakurai didn’t want to do another Subspace-like mode because “Cutscenes can be leaked to YouTube.” That was one of the silliest things I had ever heard. Going by that logic, not many games should have story modes. Instead here we get modes like Crazy Orders, Master Orders, and Smash Tour. The prior two, like Classic, can get repetitive. Smash Tour is only fun with a few others, otherwise alone it greatly drags on. Really, I don’t think anyone would have minded if those three things were replaced by a proper Adventure Mode.

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ONLINE

Playing games online has been a staple for many years now, but it wasn’t until the DS when Nintendo started making use of the technology. Brawl was the first Smash to utilize online features. Sadly if you were looking to play with three others there would almost always be brutal lag. Plus, there wasn’t any kind of trophy or ranking system, which is sad when compared to the online of PlayStation and Xbox. The new game sort of fixes this with the addition of For Glory. For Glory is great in that it provides a fast way to have a one-on-one, doubles, or free-for-for all. Matches literally come usually less than a few seconds. Sadly again there’s virtually no ranking system. We can see our win percentage and our victories/losses, but there’s no way to compare. There’s no sense of leaderboards, which is a true shame. Nintendo really needs to embrace the competitive aspect and let go of the notion that this is a party game.

Later in the game’s life cycle a free update included the addition of Tournament Mode. This was greatly anticipated, because not everyone can make it to in-person tourneys. Sadly, Tournament Mode ended up being a disappointment. The main thing is that the way to win besides KOing the opponent off the stage is to do the most damage. This system has proven broken to the point where you’re not even sure sometimes if you’ve won. It can be fun once in awhile, but it’s just really a wasted opportunity. To add even more disappointment, the tournaments a player can host aren’t even real tournaments. If Nintendo had given more freedom to the players in this mode, the complaints would have quieted down.

The absolute worst aspect however of online is that lag is present. It isn’t there all the time, but you’ll almost certainly run into it on a daily basis, sometimes to the point where even the inputs are delayed. You won’t find this almost at all on Sony or Microsoft fighting games. Nintendo truly deserves a thumbs down for not providing dedicated servers. At the very least, playing online with friends always provides some of the most fun one can have.

CHARACTERS AND STAGES

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The main appeal of crossovers naturally are having characters whom don’t normally interact come together. In the case of Smash, it’s a dream to be able to have Mario duke it out with Sonic. This game features the largest cast yet, and that’s not even counting the DLC fighters. The most impressive aspect as I mentioned earlier is that just about every character brings something unique to the table. From PAC-MAN’s mix-ups with his fruit selection to Mega Man’s onslaught of projectiles, there’s an amazing variety. It’s still not perfect however. The logic in having some of these characters in it is questionable. For example, Marth and Lucina literally have the same exact moveset. At least with Mario and Doctor Mario they’re at different speeds and have a couple of different attacks. That’s not the case here. One of Olimar’s alt costumes is Alph, and Bowser Jr. has seven different alt costume characters, but they don’t take up different slots. There’s no reason why Lucina couldn’t have been an alt to Marth; she’s the definition of wasted space. It’s the same with Pit and Dark Pit. How does Dark Pit get to be in the game and Dark Samus (a character whom has appeared in three games) just an Assist Trophy?

Despite some of these complaints, the cast is still impressive. It’s fun learning the different movesets, and then picking your main. There’s never been a fighting game with characters as diverse as in here. Now, let’s talk a little bit about the DLC characters.

Mewtwo, Lucas, Ryu, Cloud, Bayonetta, and Corrin are the downloadable fighters. Interestingly Nintendo had always been seemingly against the concept of DLC until recently. DLC has definitely worked out for this game. I do not understand why if Lucas and Mewtwo can be brought back, Wolf couldn’t make it. Corrin to me is still questionable, since Fire Emblem already has enough representatives while Metroid still only has one. (Zero Suit doesn’t count as a separate character in my book.) Having Ryu and Cloud definitely makes up for that. It’s intriguing how Smash has managed to acquire so many third party characters. At this rate, we’ll have Master Chief interacting with Crash Bandicoot in the next one.

How can I forget the Mii Fighters? We have Mii Brawler, Mii Swordfighter, and Mii Gunner. They’re fun little additions but I don’t think anyone would have minded if we got 1 real character over them.

On the outside the stage selection looks impressive. When you look at them individually however you can see that at least half of them are old. Hyrule Temple and Castle Siege are must-haves of course, but do we really need two Mario circuits? And Earthbound’s only stage is an old one? This aspect of the game appears more on the lazy side. This is not to deny the fact that there are some impressive new additions. Orbital Gate Assault always provides an intense amount of fun, and Palutena’s Temple surpasses Hyrule Temple for Smash’s biggest stage! (Not to mention the unique Great Cave Offensive.)

DLC also added a few new additions. 64 got an especially amount of love, bringing back Peach Castle, Temple, and Dreamland. While each stage we got was unique and fun, it seems like there could have been a lot more put there since the “extra” section looks like it can hold a bunch.

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CUSTOMS

Customs might be the most controversial aspect of the game. On the outside the concept is fun: we get to see different versions of the attacks for the characters. (Mario can shoot a giant, slow fireball or a tiny quick one for example.) These are fun with friends, but the question ever since the backlash at last year’s EVO is should they be allowed in competitive play? I’m inclined to say no, because it’s virtually impossible to train against custom movesets. (They aren’t allowed on For Glory for example.) So while customs is definitely a fun thing, I don’t think anyone will really miss it too much if the next game didn’t have it.

COMPETITIVE SCENE

I’ve been a gamer for over 15 years, yet I’ve almost never been in actual competitive play, until this game. (I did however participate and win a local Brawl tournament back in the day.) So it’s been quite interesting to be part of tournaments such as KTAR, and soon APEX. It’s a shame Nintendo, or at least Sakurai, seemingly wants the game to not be in competitive play. There are tournaments all over, which shows just how much of a cultural impact the series has. I attend a bi-weekly tourney at a Friendly’s restaurant some minutes away, and it’s always great to test my ability against others. Even if you’re a casual player, I think it would be good to attend at least one tournament. It’s always a worthwhile experience.

Like all fan-bases, nothing is perfect. Almost at every tournament scene you will find people whom get “salty” and make it an annoyance  to play against. Instead of helping out other players and giving advice, sometimes the very experienced and winners can have a superiority attitude, which is unfortunately found a lot on the Smash Ladder website. Despite these things, the community is still great to be a part of. What beats talking Smash?

Everything Else!

Brawl introduced the idea of creating your own levels to fight on in the form of Stage Builder. It was really neat, and Wii U took it another step since we can actually draw the stage out. This has led to incredible creations such as pixel art and remakes of older stages, such as Corneria. While I do miss the ability to add ice platforms, moving platforms, and ladders, the possibilities for drawing make up for it. The music selection is, as always, fantastic. We have a healthy mix of originals and remixes. The items are some of the best yet. We have for example Master Balls in addition to the normal Pokemon ones. (Seeing Goldeen pop out of a Master always brings quality laughter.) The most monumental item however must be the S-Flag, which completely changes the game every time it appears.

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Super Smash Bros. is one of the few games a people can go hours and hours playing without the fun level dropping. As a whole package it lacks in a few areas, but at its core the gameplay is some of the best, if not the very best in the genre. Almost every day I play online with my cousins and the fun never for a moment ceases. A little over a year later and the game has only grown. If you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s definitely one of the biggest highlights on the console.

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