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.
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.