After the stodgy spin-off Sonic Boom, Forces looks to get the series back on track
“I figured there was demand for players to put their own creations into the game”
The identity of one of gaming’s most iconic mascots has been in flux for years, bouncing around like a spinning Sonic stuck in an endless loop of spring-pads. From transforming into were-hogs in SonicUnleashed to the ill-advised collect-athon of Sonic Boom, the troubled hedgehog has been looking unsettled, but now Sonic Forces wants to bring the series home. During a hands-on event for Sonic
Forces, we got to speak with head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka. With so much turbulence in the Hedgehog’s life of late, we ask Iizuka to pin down what he considers the ‘essence’ of the games to be.
“The core element has always been speed, and the different ways in which players can experience that,” he tells us. “It’s been a while since Sonic Team made a new game ( SonicBoom was outsourced), so with SonicForces we wanted to do something familiar for the fans.”
The familiarity is palpable when we play a 3D level as ‘Modern’ Sonic, bolting through the burning streets of a city that we assume is Spagonia, the oddly Mediterranean cultural capital of the Sonic world that’s been ruined by Dr Robotnik. As robots tear up the city in the background, Sonic himself is confined to a narrow fast lane of obstacles and enemies—which is where the series has always thrived.
The mechanics are simple—spin, boost, slide—and bolstered by the now-familiar auto-targeting system. The pace is relentless, and having a run abruptly halted by a mistimed jump or hazard is as jarring as that first time you spilled Sonic’s coins all over the lime-green grass of Green Hills Zone 1. About halfway through the level, things neatly switch to the classic 2D perspective, sending you through a familiar assortment of springs, rings, and showy corkscrews.
2D or not 2D
It’s the other part of SonicForces that raises more questions. In the story, you alternate between playing 3D levels as Modern Sonic, 2D levels as Classic Sonic, then another bunch as a hero you create—using an assortment of mobian animal presets, goofy accessories, and special abilities for your weapon. Iizuka admits that historically, new characters have sometimes been detrimental to the games, but it was hardcore fans who inspired him to add this element. “Fans would create their own characters and send the illustrations to me,” he tells us. “So I figured there was demand for players to put their own creations into the game.” Iizuka isn’t shy about naming Sonic
Adventure2, directed by himself, as his favorite Sonic game, highlighting its sense of rhythm in how the story shuffled players between Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Forces looks to take inspiration from what’s arguably the most loved game of the 3D Sonic era. “I want switching characters in Forces to have a similar rhythm to Sonic
Adventure2,” he tells us. It’s a reasonable goal, though yet to be attained. While the Modern Sonic level and ‘Classic’ 2D section struck the right chords during our time with them, the ‘Hero’ level felt dissonant— slower-paced, and designed more towards generic platforming than the high-octane speeding of Sonic’s levels. The lightning and fire powerups, meanwhile, didn’t stand up to Sonic’s moveset. Thus far, as has so often been the case with this series, this is a Sonic game that feels best when you play as the titular hero.