Being a child of the eighties, it feels like I’ve almost grown up with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Master System is quite possibly what got me into games big time, and since then I’ve played nearly every Sonic the Hedgehog title that’s been made. After Sonic Forces, however, I think any Sonic game made by Sonic Team is going to have to be dead to me.

The Sonic Adventure games originally released on Dreamcast weren’t half bad, but they didn’t exactly set the world on fire either, while the likes of Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic 2006 were simply awful. And even when they tried to take the series back to its 2D roots with the cooperation of Dimps for Sonic 4 Parts 1 & 2 things didn’t turn out great. Sonic Forces takes the speedy blue hedgehog to a new low though, and this time, after the great Sonic Mania earlier this year, it’s unforgivable.

Sonic Mania

I know it’s easy sitting here being an armchair developer, but I just can’t see how hard it is to make a good 3D Sonic game, especially after so many attempts. It seems as if Sonic Team goes out of its way to ignore its fan base, making games with countless unnecessary complications and characters that just spoil the fun. But more worryingly, they never seem to get the basics down either. In every 3D Sonic game you find yourself wrestling with whichever character you’re controlling and struggling to deal with a sub-par camera. If Sonic Team can’t even get those things right, just what hope do we have?

Lock-on attacks that are unreliable, a gun that’s terrible to aim and obstacles that you need to be psychic to avoid are just a few of Sonic Forces’ problems, but in reality there’s nothing even remotely decent about it at all. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing the thing as development went on thinking, “Yeah, Sonic fans are going to love this!”. It’s telling that my favourite thing about Sonic Forces is the mute, classic Sonic. That’s all Sonic needs to be; a blue hedgehog with attitude who’s all about action, not horrendously written dialogue.

Sonic Mania demonstrated that, in the right hands, Sonic games are still relevant and a hell of a lot of fun. But they have to go back to basics. Whether it’s in 2D or 3D, all a Sonic game needs is its core cast of characters – that’s Sonic, Tails, Dr. Robotnik and maybe even Knuckles – stages that are multi-layered for repeat playthroughs, responsive controls and well-designed boss fights. They don’t need a story in which Sonic is tortured for six months, a range of guns and characters you’ve never heard of; it’s all needless fluff that simply detracts from the experience.

I guess I should have known that Sonic Forces would turn out to be a dud, but after all these years I thought maybe Sonic Team could finally turn things around. Alas, it seems like they are in their own little bubble, oblivious to the opinions and wishes of fans, content in making the same mistakes time and time again until the Sonic franchise is trampled into the ground. SEGA, please admit defeat and let someone else make the next 3D Sonic game. Or, just give them up entirely and let Christian Whitehead run riot with new 2D titles. Sonic Team has let us down too many times to be given yet another chance.

  • Lodmot

    Making a 3D Sonic game is actually much harder than you would think. I worked on a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game engine and there’s a lot going on in the backend that people take for granted. Unlike Mario games, the classic 2D Sonic gameplay had an emphasis on momentum-based physics. That’s part of what made them so fun and exhilerating to play. So first, you have to program a realistic physics engine for your 3D Sonic game if you’re trying to emulate that style of gameplay.

    Next, there’s of course the signature loops which Sonic games are well-known for. To incorporate loops into a 3D Sonic game means that you need to have a specialized camera system in place that detects when a player is about to enter a loop and go around it. You obviously don’t want the camera to be obscured by the loop’s 3D model, so it has to automatically know to position itself accordingly for a loop. You then need to decide as a programmer the different situations that could happen in the 3D environment: what do you do about the player going upside-down; should the camera go upside down too? What if the player tries to jump across the loop, thus effectively skipping having to actually traverse around it? Should there be a path system that keeps the player going along the slope of the loop? Should the loop just have scripted movement (this is generally what Sonic Team does in the official games).

    So while Sonic Forces may not be the best 3D Sonic game, and while Sonic may have not had a smooth transition to 3D in general, if you take into account what I mentioned above it’s actually pretty understandable. Sonic just works better in a 2D environment. But I think Sonic Team did put in their utmost effort to make decent 3D Sonic games. They feel like Sonic should be in 3D because that’s what modern audiences expect out of games today.

  • Simon Cox

    Oh dear. Not another person that thinks Sonic first came out on the MS….