Opinionated Review: Sonic Forces

Yeah, I’ve been holding out on this for a while, even though it’s the whole reason I started these reviews in the first place. This game…was something. And I’m honestly not going to be sure what something means until I’ve finished writing here. When I first finished the game, I was unsure of what to think, and while my opinions have solidified a little more since then, I was hoping to have a better idea by now. So here we go—even I don’t know where.

As usual, this will be broken into five evenly-weighted categories: Gameplay, Plot, Sound, Aesthetics, and Overall Quality.

Gameplay Score: 4/10
Yikes. Not a great way to start. But let’s be honest here. Sonic Forces is everything that I dislike about the Boost formula, with everything that I actually like about it stripped away. No exploration, no fine control, just a lot of hallways and automation. Of course, some levels were much better than others, but in general, there’s not much to it, especially without Drift, Light-Speed Dash, significant use of Wall Jump, Color Powers, and everything else they removed to simplify the gameplay style. If they’re going to make simple gameplay, that needs to be made up for by a complex world, or if there’s going to be a simple world, you need to have a lot of abilities available to create variation in how that world is traversed. But you can’t do both. Especially not when the game takes control away for an automated sequence so often. As for Classic Sonic…there’s not so much of a problem there, the level design is probably more interesting than Modern Sonic’s. But the gameplay style itself is as dull and boring as ever, without even the excitement created by the proper momentum-building physics of the real classic games. The Drop Dash is an acceptable addition, adds a slight amount of variety that the Classic style is lacking, and is considerably more useful than it was in Mania. But overall, if they had spent all the time they put into making Classic Sonic levels into other styles instead, I still would’ve been happier overall. The Avatar is the saving grace here. I had many fears going in, but it all turned out okay. The Wispon adds much variety to the levels that the other styles are lacking (though it’s pretty ridiculous how some are so much more useful than others), and as a whole the style truly does feel like just that—it’s own style, not just a modified, slower Modern Sonic, while still being close enough to address the concerns of those who object to multiple playstyles on the grounds that they aren’t enough “Sonic-like”. Even the collection of the Avatar parts is a nice incentive to keep playing the game, though that’s starting to get into other categories. However, the Avatar style has its own set of flaws. The Avatar’s jumping physics are…clunky, I guess? It’s hard to get used to, but it’s also one of the major things that keeps it feeling fresh and new compared to the Modern Style. The way the Avatar’s wire homing attack works, it’s pretty much just Sonic’s homing attack with some extra time taken for the starting animation, and I find myself wishing it was more different. The grappling wire spots in general look like a cool addition, but it’s really just one more source of automation in the game. Apparently, there’s an unused version of it where you swing around it in circles like Sonic on a pole, needing to unhook at the right time to get more distance, but I guess they thought that proper timing was too much work for the player to handle in their linear, automated Sonic game. Everything good about the Avatar also applies to tag-team. It’s too bad that tag-team isn’t 100% 3D like I thought at first, but it’s still like 80%, which is a step in the right direction. Also worth mentioning before I finish here is the quick-time events. My response is…meh? It adds a very nice component to the game’s overall presentation, but that’s a different category. In terms of gameplay, it’s really just a cutscene with minuscule possibility of failure. And when I say minuscule, my meaning is, “If you’re weird, and decide to fail on purpose.” Because I don’t think it’s possible to do those things wrong if you’re actually trying to play the game. It doesn’t matter when you press the button, it can be right when the prompt appears, and you still get a “GOOD” with a point bonus. The only way to fail is to sit there and watch it for the full five-ish seconds. And even then, the “punishment” for failure is usually just spitting you out on a slightly different, maybe slightly longer, path of the level, which might even be a good thing if you’re looking for variety in gameplay. That, or the maybe one or two instances where failing causes you to die, in which case you’ll be put right back at the checkpoint that came literally just before, with infinite lives. Which reminds me about that new lives and rings system. I personally don’t see it as that big of a deal, certainly not in this game where the levels are so short anyways. I wouldn’t call lives an “outdated system,” but I see the point of them mattering much less in the modern age. And, to be fair, when was the last time you were stuck on a really hard level in a video game, and then you ran out of lives and all the progress you made in the level was gone, and you thought, “Gee, I sure am glad this game has lives and a game-over system. Now I have to play this terrible level all over again.”? I am, however, very glad that they restored ring-dropping to the game, as it was originally going to be that you never drop any rings (unless you’re an Avatar Hedgehog), and they would just disappear when you’re hit. That being said, when you do lose rings in this game, they go flying everywhere and disappear almost immediately, so you’re lucky to get even one of them back in 3D mode.

Plot/Character Score: 6/10
So sad. So very sad. This game had some really incredible potential. A powerful, threatening villain, just begging for a deep, emotional backstory. The proper return of a wider Sonic cast for the first time in over a decade. And of course, the Phantom Ruby, an easily world-building mystery made all the more interesting by its early introduction in Mania. But somehow, they managed to mess it all up. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is by far Sonic Team’s best attempt, at least since Unleashed. Infinite got…a backstory (Episode Shadow is being considered part of the game for our purposes), which is, once again, more than I can say about any character or entity since Unleashed. The Sonic cast…was actually used, which is more than I can say about Generations. The Phantom Ruby…did some things, and got some level of explanation. And when you get right down to it, there was quite a bit still going for this story. The Avatar got some really respectable character development, which occurred over the course of some very exciting, plot-heavy events. It had its problems, but the war story as a whole was handled pretty well, with a real sense of turning around an impossible situation, slowly building towards the destruction of the Death Egg, the thwarting of Eggman’s sun plan, and finally the defeat of Infinite. Oh, and you also beat Eggman too. I guess that was…a thing that happened. Hard to remember, seeing as Eggman didn’t speak a word during or after the fight. Seriously, what even happened to him? If I were to go over every single problem I had with the story, we’d be here for a very long time, and I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. So I’ll finish here by saying that I was tempted to give a considerably higher score in this department, before I realized that my opinion was being skewed by my own headcanons. I was thinking that Infinite, the Ruby, and even the Avatar had more development than they actually did. Though, perhaps there is something to be said for that. No number of headcanons could ever salvage the stories of Lost World or Colors, so you could at least say that Forces was successful in opening the possibilities for better story. And by the way, I originally marked the Sonic Mania review in this category as “to be reconsidered”. In the light of Forces, I’ve reconsidered, and no alteration is necessary. Just as I predicted in that review, Classic Sonic hopped out of a portal, no questions asked, thus ending any connection between the two games. (The recently announced Sonic Mania Adventures will be considered their own separate entity despite the story connections, because they were not originally an intended part of the story.)

Music/Sound Score: 7.5/10
This game’s soundtrack was a bit of a mixed bag. Many of the tracks, such as the Theme of the Resistance heard on the title screen, were performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and that talent really shows. That sort of dramatic orchestration was instrumental (pun not intended) in setting a perfect tone for the game. On the other hand, Classic Sonic’s themes were…very odd. I appreciated the attempt to replicate Genesis instruments, but there was something very off about it. That being said, Casino Forest was catchy, Death Egg was…funky, I guess, but in general I found myself growing fond of the themes, despite their oddity. The opposite can be said for Modern Sonic themes. They all share this enjoyably harmonic sort of background, but it’s all marred by screechy, overused synth. It’s a shame, because the tunes are generally very catchy, but hard to enjoy listening to. Possible, especially for the best of them, but hard. Then there’s the Avatar themes, which are just fantastic. I’ve long missed having vocal themes featuring in Sonic games, and they came back with a bang. I mean, they’re not all perfect, “Set in Motion” for Guardian Rock goes way overboard with the autotune. But for all the rest, I love how the lyrics tell the Avatar’s story, and in general they’re just really good songs. Because I don’t think there’s any better place to put it, I also have to mention Imperial Tower here. It was a 100% 2D level, which I would whine about under any other circumstances, but instead this will go down among the top most memorable Sonic levels of all time in my view. It’s the setting, combined the immense plot importance, climax of the Avatar’s story, world-ending danger hanging right over your head, all topped off by by “Fading World,” the incredibly dramatic and heartfelt song remixed straight out of Infinite’s theme into something entirely new. And speaking of Infinite’s theme, we have the stars of the show, that and “Fist Bump.” And wow, are they impressive stars. I did a lot of hating on Fist Bump at first, but it grew on me pretty quickly. But then the full version came out with the game, and wow, it was suddenly ten times better. The calmer second verse, the fantastic guitar solo, the upbeat ending, everything about what wasn’t in the original reveal made me appreciate the song so much better. Infinite’s theme was…sort of the opposite. I absolutely loved what they had in the initial reveal, while everything else…didn’t really add anything to the song at all. Maybe it’s for the best that those extra parts weren’t even known to the public until the official soundtrack came out a while later. Not there’s anything bad about the second verse, it just doesn’t add much. Either way, both are fantastic songs which are sure to stand out in the series even a long time from now. And of course, I can’t forget about The Light of Hope, the unbelievably emotional credits theme. I mean, I don’t even know what I can say about it, it’s just such a powerful song. Then we have Episode Shadow. Consider me impressed. As you know from my Shadow the Hedgehog review, I was quite fond of that game’s music. But the game is so tabooed, remixes of its music was the last thing I expected. But the main Episode Shadow theme is a very impressive remix/mashup of Shadow the Hedgehog level select, Infinite’s theme, and the usual Forces map theme. Then there’s Enemy Territory, a mashup of Westopolis and Radical Highway, something that I never could’ve imagined being done officially. I was expecting everything to be more like Eggman’s Facility and Virtual Reality, basic remixes of standard songs from Adventure 2. Even the cutscene theme (there’s only one cutscene, unfortunately) was a fantastic remix of Infinite’s theme remixed with Throw it All Away from SA2.

Voice acting is also a part of this category. And for once, I’m actually pretty okay with it. Roger Craig Smith Sonic is prone to say things that make me cringe, and that isn’t likely to ever change, unless they completely overhaul the writing team. All of the characters who have performed in Sonic Boom, Vector included, all did pretty good jobs, now that they have some practice, though it seems like Amy gave up on sounding like the older voice actress and just wen with the Boom personality instead, but I’m okay with that. The voices for characters like Silver and Charmy were…a lot less consistent. I found some lines from those two to be good and believable, yet others almost sound like the voice actors were trying to play completely different characters  for no apparent reason. It gives me bad flashbacks to the inconsistent voice acting of Sonic Adventure. Speaking of the Adventure games, Shadow is also a key player here. I know I’ve hated on Kirk Thornton, Shadow’s current voice actor, once or twice before, but I tried going into this game with a very open mind. I thought that Episode Shadow especially owed it to me to deliver at least one line that sounds like an irrefutably perfect Shadow, and if I had gotten that, I would’ve happily accepted the voice from then on. So I played through Episode Shadow. While it was a clear improvement on his performances in Boom, I never got that clear “wow” moment. Until two months later, when I learned about some radio chatter that was cut from Virtual Reality. “I thought you said he was destroyed three months ago…” It was a pretty simple line, but it alone could’ve added quite a bit to the already creepy feeling to the level. But that’s not even what I care about right now. Because that line was delivered stupendously. When I heard him say that, the only thought I had was, “That’s Shadow. That’s Shadow himself saying that, not some poorly-fit voice actor.” And Sonic Team went and cut it out. Sometimes I wonder if they want me to give up on the Sonic franchise. Because it sure seems like it sometimes. Either way, I now know what Kirk Thornton is capable of, and I won’t be so quick to complain in the future.

Graphics/Aesthetics Score: 8.5/10
This one’s technically a little hard for me to judge, since I technically only played the graphically inferior Nintendo Switch version. But even there, the graphics were absolutely phenomenal, better than anything I’ve ever seen out of a Sonic game, and certainly high up in stylized fantasy games. The new Hedgehog Engine 2 graphics engine clearly did its job, the lighting, shading, and reflection was all truly stunning. Water looks gorgeous, which is a weird but true thing to say. And of course, I’ve watched plenty of videos from the other versions of the game, so I have a pretty good idea what the differences are. This all being said, this game actually ended up suffering from a lot of the same problems as Shadow the Hedgehog. The darker, more serious tone of the game ended up clashing a bit with the smoother, lighter textures of most of the characters. Occasionally, due to the new lighting and reflection systems, this would actually make Sonic sort of glow, perhaps most noticeable in the Eggman Empire Fortress area, which was a really weird effect, that once again sort of broke immersion with the darker tone of the scenes. Another complaint about this game’s graphics is the cutscenes. Technically, about half of the cutscenes in the game are pre-rendered, meaning that they’re stored and displayed as a series of still frames played in order, rather than as 3D models that play out a series of movements at specified times. The only scenes that weren’t pre-rendered were the ones that include the Avatar, since pre-rendering those would require recording those scenes over again with every single possible combination of parts, colors, etc. Typically, when scenes in a game are pre-rendered, it means that they far surpass the graphical quality of the game itself, with far more detailed models, textures, and animations, that the game itself doesn’t actually have to load, since all it needs are the still frames recorded from the actual machine that stores those assets. Think like the opening scenes of Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic Unleashed. But for this game, the “pre-rendered” cutscenes are literally just straight recordings of game-rendered footage. I can hardly begin to explain why they might’ve done this. Maybe they thought, now that their graphics are so good, they don’t need anything better than the regular game’s graphics? Sure, that’s more true now than it ever has been, but it’s such a complete waste. We’re still not at the point where it really compares. Shadow the Hedgehog, a game nearing 15 years old, has cutscenes that are graphically superior to anything that appears in Sonic Forces. Nevermind waste, that’s just sad. And technically, there was a scene along these lines made for Sonic Forces. It can be seen in many of the pre-release trailers. And it’s gorgeous. But it doesn’t actually exist in the game itself, which makes me sad, because there seem to be parts cut out between each of the three trailers that we’ll never be able to see. Obviously it doesn’t work to appear anywhere in the story, but something for when you wait too long on the title screen, or just a bonus movie for the Theatre or something, would’ve been just fine with me. Of course, having one or two more of those such scenes made for the story would’ve been much better.

Overall Quality/Appeal Score: 7.5/10
In terms of appeal, at least for me, this game is just about as high as it goes. The tone, the presentation, the story, the characters, even the Avatar customization, all seem to be exactly what I would want to hear out of an ideal, perfect Sonic game…assuming nothing is said one way or another about the gameplay style, but that was already discussed above. Replay value on this game is also surprisingly high, as mentioned above, where Avatar parts serve as a pretty good motivator to complete missions. This game’s bonus levels, on the other hand, aren’t so great. I mean, they’re meant to be more for challenge than for fun, but after the very structured level design that came before, I was hoping for some fun. The challenge is also appreciated though, as the prior game was definitely on the easy side, even in “hard” mode. Of course, the lack of Chaos Emeralds is also disappointing. But it’s primarily on quality that this game takes a bit more of a hit. I certainly wouldn’t describe the game as glitchy, I know I didn’t come across any major glitches at all during my initial playthrough, though like any game it certainly has its fair share. I’m more referring to the game’s length, which was a little worse than disappointing, the lack of control during gameplay, and the false advertising/shoehorning just for a cash grab. Why was Classic Sonic there? Why were Chaos 0 and the Shadow replica there? The answer is purely to sell more copies of the game, and that disappoints me severely. But still take note that 7.5 is a pretty respectable score. Because in the end, I still think there’s a lot to be said for this game.

Final Score: 33.5/50, or 67%
Well…there we have it. Averaging out the good with the bad, that makes Sonic Forces a pretty mediocre game, apparently. I’d like to give Forces some extra credit for its great potential and forward-moving direction, but I don’t think fan reaction to the game really warrants that. So the score stays right where it is, still not even as good as Shadow the Hedgehog after penalty points were taken away there. But, notably, this game still does fall above Mania’s base score, even if only by a small margin. Considering the fact that Classic Sonic isn’t my cup of tea, but a serious story is, that small margin can only mean that Sonic Team must’ve messed up pretty badly. But I say again, this game has its merits, and in terms of Sonic games worth skipping, this is far from the first on the list.

I’d like to mention here, that this whole grading scale isn’t exactly what it may seem. On a traditional scale, a game couldn’t really be considered “good” unless it scores at least an 80, but that isn’t necessarily true here. Technically, 50 would represent a game which is neither good nor bad, just there. Technically, if you’re spending money and putting in time and effort, “neither good nor bad” is definitely not a good thing, but hypothetically, there is entertainment to be had. I would probably rate most mobile games that I play in the range of the 40s, where the bad outweighs the good, but those are free, so… As for a game in the 50s and 60s, that just means that the good outweighs the bad, where Forces falls under. I would call anything that surpasses 60 a “good game” and anything past 70 a “recommended game”. The rare game that makes it as high as 80 would have to rank among my favorites in all of video gaming. I’m sure there’s probably a game or two out there that surpasses 90, but for the most part, the 90s are reserved for a hypothetical near-perfect, near-flawless game, which, as far as I know, doesn’t exist. On the opposite side, we have the 30s, a “bad game,” where I would like place Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric, and then the 20s and below, which marks a game that’s so bad, it has no right to exist. There are once again probably games out there in the 20s, but I would hope that anything below 20 would never even make it to store shelves. But I can say, thankfully, that Forces was indeed more than good enough to make it to store shelves.

-So until next time, the light of hope will always shine in your heart…

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