Published on November 21st, 2018 | by Jamie Kirk
Sonic Forces Nintendo Switch Review
Summary: For every cool idea in Sonic Forces, there is a half-hearted execution, and while that may give me warm memories of my childhood, it doesn’t make for something I could whole heartedly recommend.
Sonic Forces is in many ways, my dream Sonic game from when I was 8 years old. I fanatically consumed all forms of Sonic media. I played the games over and over, I had a VHS of the animated show, I had a weekly subscription to Sonic the Comic and every night I slept with my plush Sonic and Tails. My friends and I even drew up some designs for what would be Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (yes I’m Old), feverishly staying up all night inserting extra loops on gigantic pieces of paper so Sonic Team would eventually pluck us from obscurity and anoint us the new superstars of the Sonic franchise. We even cooked up a more involved story that suited our pre-teen need for edginess while not knowing anything about edginess. We were never picked up by Sonic Team and soon our obsession with Sonic the Hedgehog faded as we got older and Sega seemed to run out of ideas with each successive iteration. Many years later and Sonic Forces shows up on my door step and I’m taken right back to that bedroom with my friends, because it IS the game we designed as children. Of course by that I mean it’s a Sonic the Hedgehog game with a bunch of really cool ideas in theory that do not often work.
Dr. Eggman has won. With the help of his new friend Infinite Sonic is beaten and taken captive aboard the Death Egg, where he is tortured endlessly for 6 months. Without Sonic to lead the charge, Eggman and Infinite quickly conquer the world and lay wasted to the beautiful landscapes of past games. A new hero is needed to lead the resistance and rescue Sonic. That hero is you. Sonic Forces lets you create your own avatar, choosing one of seven different animal types all with their own special ability that doesn’t really add any dimensions to the game. They also possess a grappling hook and something called a Wispon, which can be used as a whip or flamethrower, among others. The story idea is cool. A world where Sonic has lost and Eggman wins has at some point probably infiltrated all fans brains. It even manages to start off a little intense and dark. We watch Sonic lose. We see Eggman take over the world. New villain Infinite seems powerful and even a little scary. What follows is an incoherent mess tied together with clichés about believing in yourself, and how having a big heart will always ensure victory. Classic Sonic somehow seems to enter the fray for no other reason than they wanted him to be in the game. There are chilli dog jokes, puns and fan service galore. Nobody is comparing Sonic to the great video game plots, but it’s a shame for a game that is so story heavy to start off so brightly and then crash and burn so spectacularly.
Sonic Forces has three different main gameplay modes spread across its 30 missions. The first are the avatar missions. That’s where the character you created zips through a mix of 2d and 3 environments, using their special abilities and Wispons to defeat enemies. These missions are the worst of the three main modes, which is a shame because there are some good ideas here. Creating an avatar and decking it out is a bit of fun and there are plenty of goofy outfits to wear while taking down Eggman, even if they ultimately serve no gameplay use. The grappling hook is mostly similar, in that it sure does look cool to see your Avatar swinging around a brightly coloured map while all manner of chaos is going on, but it doesn’t really do anything. Functionally it acts exactly the same as Sonic’s homing jump and there are no exclusive uses for it that render it an essential part of the game. The same can be said of the unique special abilities of each species of Avatar. They’re all cool ideas, but none of them are integrated into the gameplay to feel like they matter all that much. After I had finished the game with my dog Avatar I didn’t instantly jump back in to see how the game differed with different abilities, because I barely remember using my own. Avatar missions are also where you will probably die the most, not due to fiendish difficulty increases but more just poor game design. Due to the breakneck pace, things will often pop up out of nowhere and you will suddenly find yourself at the bottom of a chasm. When things go to more precision platforming in the 2d segments, your Avatar seems to control noticeably worse than Sonic. There were several frustrating moments late in the game that should have been thrilling, but just resulted in repeated deaths as the Avatar failed to react to button input. The precision platforming moments in these are also found wanting, as the Avatar seems to feel much floatier than Sonic does. The worst quality of Avatar missions is reserved for the boss levels, which reach new peaks of frustration. Once again it is a case of cool concept ruined by poor execution. Infinite is a reality bending villain and when you face off against him he has a few tricks up his sleeve that are unfair and infuriating. A challenge is one thing. These are something else entirely. Considering most levels can be zipped through with no problems within a minute, the fact that boss fights had be gripping the Joy-Cons with rage did not indicate a well-designed difficulty curve.
Classic Sonic stages are pure old school Sonic gameplay, navigating remixed 2D stages of beloved locations of Sonic’s past. These are surprisingly disappointing, especially in the wake of the rather excellent Sonic Mania. Like the avatar stages these can mostly be completed in a minute or under, and while the levels feature multiple paths of progression it just doesn’t feel as expansive or inventive as Mania. As such, they’re a kind of fun version of classic 2D Sonic games. That’s really not cutting it when there are better versions of it already available.
That leaves us with Modern Sonic, the best of the three gameplay options available. When Modern Sonic really gets going, it can feel absolutely thrilling. Moving at high speeds, going through loops and springing to new heights feels exactly like what a Sonic game should. If only it were a little more playable. This has been a criticism levelled at Sonic for years and years but as Sonic runs and jumps through the scenery I often realised I’m doing little more than holding the analogue stick in the right direction and watching an elaborate series of moves. It feels the most fun but is also the least interactive. However just when you think you can put the controller down and watch the level will switch up and require fast reflexes. Once again the stages are short, very short, but in Modern Sonic it at least feels that way due to sheer speed of the blue hedgehog.
With most levels clocking in at under a minute, Sonic Forces is a very short game. There are only 30 main missions, and on the side there are various SOS or secret missions to check out. Unfortunately when the main levels don’t offer anything all that imaginative it’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm to check out more of the same, which is what they mostly end up being. You can play the levels again to achieve a better rank, the quicker you finish and less lives you lost the better, but once again there’s no real incentive to do this unless you are a real completionist. The main campaign clocks in at about 4 hours, which is almost ludicrously short in this generation of games. The bonus features of this updated edition really don’t offer up much more of an experience either.
Despite all the complaining I’ve done, there was something about Sonic Forces that kept me playing. Watching my fan fiction dreams come to life was at once thrilling, nostalgic and laughable and I couldn’t help but want to see how it inevitably would end. The brevity makes it surprisingly easy to play, and it suits the Nintendo Switch console very well. Sonic Mania is undoubtedly the better game and where you should focus your efforts if you want to play a Sonic game in 2018. As it stands Sonic Forces is an interesting mess of a game. This brings me back to me and my friends and our failed attempts to design a Sonic game. It really feels like one of us excitedly describing a cool new feature only to get interrupted or distracted by the next in our list of things that would change the face of the Sonic franchise. For every cool idea there is a half-hearted execution, and while that may give me warm memories of my childhood, it doesn’t make for something I could whole heartedly recommend.