Sonic Forces got a lot of bad press when it first launched. Part of that is because of how poorly Sonic Team handles the Sonic franchise, but part of it was due to being released after Sonic Mania — an excellent game that set the standard for what a good Sonic game is. 3D Sonic games have always been received somewhat poorly, often with good reason; unlike Mario, Sonic didn’t exactly land on its feet when it made the jump to 3D. There have been a handful of decent 3D games, like Sonic Colors, but never an excellent one. Sonic Forces is not excellent, and I would struggle to even call it great, but it’s got more going for it than most people give it credit for.
Sonic Forces is split into four different types of gameplay: 3D, 2D or “classic”, Avatar missions, and Buddy missions. If you’ve ever played a 3D Sonic game before, you know pretty much exactly what you’re getting into with the 3D sections. You run forwards, sidestep into one of three loose “lanes” and tap jump twice to zoom into an enemy at high speeds to defeat them. The first 3D Sonic game came out in 1998, so Sonic Team has had 20 odd years to get this right, and it’s about as good as it’s ever been. Not flawless, but enjoyable enough. It’s the most polished of the four gameplay types, which, depending on your perspective, is either a positive statement or a damning indictment of the rest of the game.
2D missions are a little more complex. See, after the fantastic Sonic Mania, there’s not really any excuse to be getting 2D sections wrong. But Sonic Forces does. All the hallmarks of 2D Sonic are there; there’s ramps and loops and spin-dashing, but it’s all using the same physics used in 3D levels. That means you don’t speed up quite as fast, you stop a little too fast, and jumping feels crippled by the lack of a homing attack. In short, it’s not fun. I got the feeling while playing that Classic Sonic was added at the last minute, to try and tie the game into Sonic Mania, and it leads to levels that are not just frustrating, but disappointing.
Avatar missions might be where the game shines the most. Sonic Forces starts by having you create a player avatar, letting you pick from a wide range of different animals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There’s something special about creating a character that fits into the Sonic world, especially if you’ve been a fan of the series for as long as I have, and seeing my adorable lilac bear in cutscenes alongside characters I grew up with is a deeply nostalgic experience. Missions in which you use your avatar play mostly the same as 3D levels, but the lack of momentum feels like it makes more sense when you’re not a speedy blue hedgehog. You also get a wide variety of abilities, called Wispons, that let you tackle levels in whatever way you’d like, though some levels are clearly built for one Wispon more than another, and not knowing what Wispon is best before the level starts is frustrating at times. It’s good to give freedom to players, but don’t punish them for exercising that freedom in ways you didn’t expect.
Buddy missions are the worst of the four mission types. In Buddy missions, your avatar character and Sonic team up as you control both at the same time. This might seem like a clever idea, but it causes a few issues, mainly down to the fact that avatar characters play differently to Sonic. Because of this, the game strikes a balance between the two playstyles that it doesn’t quite pull off, and it leads to a lot of frustrating deaths, a lot of restarted levels, and more swearing than I’m comfortable admitting in this review.
Look, I’ll be honest here, nobody plays Sonic games for the story. They’re barebones at best, and totally nonsensical at worst, and Sonic Forces is no different. There’s a lot of clumsy writing, a lot of text on screen that should have been voiced cutscenes, and a lot of tonal inconsistency. In Forces, Eggman has created the ultimate evil minion called Infinite to take down Sonic and his friends (where have I heard this before?). And to an extent, Eggman succeeds in that goal, beating and capturing Sonic in Infinite’s first encounter with everyone’s favourite speedster mammal. In Sonic’s absence, Eggman has taken over much of the world, and circumstances look dire.
Of course, Sonic’s friends don’t sit around all day waiting to be conquered, they’re fighting back using guerilla tactics, and the player’s avatar is the newest recruit to Knuckle’s forces (pun intended, probably). Stage by stage, you take over more and more of the areas Eggman has conquered, and it’s a nice little way of showing progress as you play your way through the game. There’s a convoluted side-plot including Tails and Classic Sonic, as well as some pseudo-scientific nonsense about Phantom Rubies and virtual reality, but neither feels more than a way to pad the runtime and justify the wacky missions you’re on.
That said, Forces manages to bring a rich history of Sonic characters into the present day. Characters like Charmy Bee and Espio the Chameleon don’t get a lot of love in Sonic media, but they’re present here and as charming as ever. Strangely, a few fan favourites are mysteriously missing, like Cream the Rabbit and Blaze the Cat, which is a little disappointing, but the cast is so huge that I don’t blame Sonic Team for focusing on a smaller group. Villains are back in force too, with familiar faces from Adventure all the way up to Lost World (but not Boom, which is decidedly non-canon). Basically, if you’re a fan of 3D Sonic games, there’s a good chance you’ll come across someone you recognise.
I said earlier that progression is based on how much of the world you take back from Eggman, and that’s fine, but it’s not the progression I cared about. No, for me, progression was measured in the amount of clothing and accessories I’d gathered for my avatar character. Forces gives you a tonne of different missions, like clearing particular levels with certain Wispons, or getting an S rank in certain levels, and when you complete those missions, you’re rewarded with a neat little stack of random accessories.
There are over a thousand different accessories, so there’s almost always going to be something you like in any given reward, but it can make trying to complete a set a bit annoying. That said, playing dress up with a character you created is endlessly entertaining, and I found myself replaying levels over and over to earn more goodies for my adorable bear son. I’m still not entirely happy with his outfit after finishing the main story, but there are bonus levels and plenty more missions to go, so there’s still time to make him the cutest bear on earth.
3D Sonic games have always gotten a bit of flack for their soundtracks, and I feel a bit like it’s a little unearned. Yes, it can be a bit goofy at times, but it’s genuinely fun to rock out too, and Sonic Forces probably has the best music of any 3D Sonic game. It’s high-energy, fast-paced, and genuinely wholesome music. The main theme, Fist Bump, wouldn’t feel out of place in the final battle in a child-focused anime like Digimon or Yugioh, but it’s one of my favourite videogame tracks in history, and it feels perfect for the mood that Forces.
The tracks without vocals are also generally excellent, with each fitting the world in which they’re featured perfectly, with the right balance of uplifting tones and dire circumstances littered throughout each track. It’s hard to be bored when the music itself is cheering you on, and there’s never a dull moment, thanks in part to the incredible execution of the music.
Sonic Forces isn’t as good as Sonic Mania, but it doesn’t try to be. Much like Mania was a celebration of 2D Sonic, Forces is celebration of the rich and varied history of 3D Sonic — and everything good and bad that comes with the territory. At the end of the day, it’s still just another 3D Sonic game, which means it is deeply flawed, but if you can put aside your desire for a high quality experience and just lean into the silliness the game has on offer, there’s a lot of fun to be found.
Is it worth the money? ($59.95 AUD – Switch eShop, PS Store, Xbox One Store, Steam)
Is it worth the time?