Another year, another Sonic the Hedgehog game — well, two, actually. Earlier this year, Sonic Mania wowed long time fans and those who had temporarily abandoned the blue hedgehog for other AAA pastures. The game, led by a group of longtime classic Sonic fans who built it to specifically cater to nostalgia for the series, received high praise. For many, it was just what they needed to restore their faith in Sonic and developer Sega, proof that the company has been listening and knows what the fans want. But on the other hand, we have Sonic Forces.
The game was introduced in the summer of 2016 with a trailer featuring the destruction of a city and a lot of explosions, and of course, Sonic’s clenched fist. Immediately people began labeling this a “gritty” version of Sonic, a game that would perhaps skew darker than the last few entries in the series — the campier, modern-Sonic starring Sonic Boom games and Sonic: Lost World — had been.
We’ve Been Down This Road…
The last time we saw Sonic veer into darker — weirder — territory was the 2006 misadventure that was the simply named Sonic the Hedgehog, released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Or, as gamers tend to refer to it, “Sonic 2006.” The game pivoted around an overly-complex central narrative involving time-travel, a post-apocalyptic future, and the infamous scene of Sonic and a human girl sharing a kiss.
Sonic 2006 was universally panned, with critics calling it the worst Sonic game ever made — and sometimes one of the worst games ever made, period. Glitches, unfavorable design, very long loading times, an unreliable camera system and poor controls, in addition to the plot, marred the game. And Sonic never really bounced back from this disappointed, as what would follow would be years of titles following the Sonic Adventure strain, a series of games that focused less on the classic-style Sonic gameplay and more on playing with the formula and experimenting with story.
But that’s not what Sonic fans want. They want to go fast, collect rings, and jump on enemies heads. They don’t care about smooching human girls or angsty character development with redemption story undertones.
There Is One Thing…
So after the success of Sonic Mania, made by fans for fans and capitalizing on what made Sonic great in the first place, should we be cautious about Sonic Forces? The game is in development with Sonic Team, the same team that has committed itself to the Sonic Adventure type of games for several years now.
Based on press previews on Sonic Forces, the game seems to have taken a cue from this love of classic Sonic. Gameplay is less about trying new things and more about making old formulas look good — you’ll still be throwing yourself up against enemies, bouncing on their heads and speeding through levels to collect rings. But there is also a story in a play, one that’s already got fans up in arms due to the apparently evil role of Shadow the Hedgehog.
But the major thing setting Sonic Forces apart from its predecessors is an element that should make fans hopeful: you get to make your own player character. After decades of a vibrant, still-growing fan culture around Sonic involving the creation of your own original characters (called OCs) stylized to fit the Sonic universe, the avatar creation system is a nod to these fans. So Sonic Team has been paying attention, and like the Sonic Mania team, wants to bring fans something that the will identify with and enjoy.
Whether or not this story or other elements will weigh down the experience is yet to be seen. We’ll find out when Sonic Forces launches on November 7 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.