There’s a lot about the modern world that young me would find surprising, but given who I am and who I used to be, I think one of the biggest surprises would be the proliferation of Sonic the Hedgehog games on non-Sega consoles. Well, the fact that there aren’t any more Sega consoles would probably be a close second, but the point is that you can play Sonic on a Nintendo system these days and it works pretty damn well. The newest entry in the long-running, sometimes-maligned Sonic series, Sonic Forces, is another step to reclaiming the Blue Blur’s lost honor and perhaps helping him return to the glory that young me would have remembered.
Eggman’s at it again! He’s trying to take over the world! Unfortunately, it looks like this time he’s actually managed to pull it off – he’s got the whole cast of recent Sonic villains behind him along with a new baddie called Infinite, and all of that evil combined was enough to take down even the blue blur himself. The Sonic heroes aren’t done yet, though – with the help of their own mysterious new ally, they’re going to form a resistance, get Sonic back in action and retake the world.
Sonic Forces stays pretty close to the “Boost Sonic” formula we’ve been familiar with since Sonic Colors on the Wii back in 2010; your other Sonic styles are, of course, “Adventure Sonic,” which was unceremoniously murdered by Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), and “Retro Sonic,” the classic sort of platforming that saw a glorious revival with this year’s Sonic Mania. Anyway, in Boost Sonic you run, jump, bounce and so on, but the most important button of all is the Boost button, which consumes a rechargeable meter to give your character an immense burst of speed that also allows them to shred enemies. If you want to get pretty much anything done, you’re going to be using and rationing Boost in order to clear your way through enemies quickly and cover a lot of ground fast. When it comes to clearing stages, as a wise rabbit once told me, you can use the Boost to get through. Later, you might want to come back and look for collectibles, at which point Boost isn’t quite so necessary.
Forces mixes up the concept in several ways, though, and one in particular bears mention: you don’t always control Sonic, Classic Sonic or one of Sonic’s hanger-ons in this one. Instead, for the first time in the series you’re able to create your own Sonic character called the Avatar to control. I’ll spare you any attempts at humor regarding DeviantArt and instead say that this is a fantastic idea that’s been a long time coming and it’s bound to appeal to fans and more casual players alike. Avatar creation isn’t as in-depth as something like an Elder Scrolls games, but you’ve got several animals to choose from, you can color them and choose from different faces, ears and so on and you can give them a goofy victory pose. What’s more, you’ll collect accessories and clothing to dress your Avatar as you proceed through the game and complete missions. Sonic Team knew what they were doing here and it shows.
Avatar creation is such a great idea, in fact, that it’s a little disappointing that you have to play as Sonic or Classic Sonic at all. All of the characters do feature somewhat different styles of gameplay; the Avatar uses a grappling wire and various gadgets called Wispons to take out baddies, while Sonic’s all about the Boost and Homing Attack we know and love and Classic Sonic is, well, classic, with a focus on platforming and precision. The Avatar’s gameplay style and stages were clearly where most of the attention was paid, with plenty of interesting level design and cutscene choreography; by contrast, Classic Sonic was a drag and his stages in particular felt like a step backwards in a game that’s reliant in no small part on automated spectacle.
Still, something must be said that even at its worst moments I was still having fun with Sonic Forces. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do; along with the 30-odd stages, the game offers optional missions to complete like S-ranking stages and finding collectibles. Completing these missions is the most effective way to gather new customization options for the Avatar – and, again, customizing and playing as the Avatar is the front-and-center feature of the game, so anything that places more focus on that side of things is great. Aiming to complete missions adds a lot to Sonic Forces’ longevity and gives the game much longer legs than you’d expect from a $40 title.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen many complaints about the presentation of a Boost Sonic game; the focus on using Boost means that carefully avoiding enemies and precisely dodging around obstacles is less of an issue, so more attention can be paid to making sure the environments look nice. That’s certainly the case here, as Sonic Forces looks great in motion and feels great to play on top of that. Switch owners, in particular, should be pleased with how well the game does in handheld mode. Sound-wise you’ve got the sort of early-2000s pop-rock that’s characterized the series for years now, and frankly I’d be a little concerned if Sonic games tried to go in a different direction at this point since that style of music is so integral to Sonic’s identity these days.
The whole Avatar thing adds so much to the Sonic formula without turning this into something that’s not recognizably a Sonic game that it’s a little shocking that it hasn’t been tried yet. It makes Sonic Forces one of my favorite entries in the series, notwithstanding that the actual platforming is pretty damn solid if you aren’t die-hard against the Boost Sonic formula. The lower-than-usual cash outlay for this one means that it’s a great call in general, particularly for Switch owners who might be looking for their next post-Mario platform adventure.