Sonic’s back, babies! Shout it from the flaming, post-apocalyptic rooftops. Thanks to a little something called “incredibly long delays,” two highly-anticipated Sonic games are landing this year: Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces. Mania is almost assuredly good, we keep telling ourselves, but Forces seems a little more complicated.
Borrowing elements from Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors, Forces will feature three main characters and their respective gameplay styles: 2D Sonic (cute, goes sideways fast); 3D Sonic (cool, goes forward fast) and your Original Character (Do Not Steal), who uses spy gadgets powered by alien ghosts. Simple, clean game design.
Kidding aside, Sonic Forces has a serious chance to be a defining moment for the future of Sonic the Hedgehog. Mania is the past, but Forces might be the future—if Sega has learned the right lessons from Sonic’s messy history.
Will Cool Sonic, Cute Sonic and [Your Name] the [Any Animal] finally beat the toughest villain of all: their own franchise? We’ve got the intel, Rookie.
When it comes to stories, Sonic is at his best when he’s resisting the establishment. He is an agent of disruption, a weapon for good and a sledgehammer with a homing attack. Sonic makes the most sense when he’s toppling an empire, and Eggman’s more fun to fight when he’s effective.
Sonic Colors works because it lets the blue guy loose in Eggman’s space station, but Sonic BOOM undercuts Sonic’s strength by tasking him with keeping the peace. In Sonic Forces, he’ll go up against the ultimate establishment: a fully-roboticized future. We’re ready for Eggman to be more than BOOM’s bumbling punching bag.
The wide cast of Sonic characters are part of the series’ appeal—even if you don’t love them all, there’s someone for you. But they don’t all work in one game. You might start out excited to play as your favorite fast friend, but end up controlling Silver, Shadow, Rouge, Amy, Blaze, Omega, Knuckles and Tails. (Seriously. That’s all just one game.) It winds up feeling like a mess.
As far as we know, Sonic Forces is limiting control to three characters, two of whom are Sonic. Less is more, in this case. Let’s leave Vector in the computer room where he belongs.
The Sonic Team is clearly having a good time revisiting Sonic’s past, and this fight is a great example. Eggman starts off in a very familiar pattern: swinging a dangerous ball (this time with saw blades) and floating back and forth like he’s forgotten how to do anything else. But then, what’s that? The Egg Dragoon from Sonic Unleashed? Somebody call the werehog!
This speaks volumes about how the team is approaching Forces. It’s a game about mash-ups and shake-ups—we hope every stage has this same sense of style and playfulness.
This is actually the number one reason we’re excited for Sonic Forces: Original! Dang! Characters! The Sonic fandom is famous for its extensive and massive collection of OCs, and it’s frankly surprising Sega waited this long to tap into that well.
Face it: you want to be a green bear with Vegeta’s power-level reader and boxing gloves for hands. We want to be a purple bird with laser eyes and an incredibly good backpack. Por que no los dos?
There is no best Sonic. He is a lot of things to a lot of people, and we think that’s great! Fans want classic side-scrolling platforming, but they also want Shadow to edge his way into the story. 25 years is enough time for several generations of fans, and they all have different (and sometimes contradictory) expectations.
Like the chaos emeralds uniting at last, Sega wants to bring together fans of two dimensions, three dimensions, and Chadwick the Hedgehog™ (who is an angel, and he’s tougher than my dad). That’s admirable, and we hope it works.
We are super excited about Sonic Mania, which looks like an ultra-focused return to form for fans of 2D Sonic. And maybe unfortunately, it’s also coming out later this year. That means we’re going to have two distinct takes on similar concepts released nearly simultaneously, and to be honest… we’re worried about Forces.
Worst case, half of Forces feels like a Mania knock-off. Best case, Forces builds an identity and style strong enough to survive comparison.
The Forces trailer released at E3 showed basically every major villain from the series, and that’s a red flag. While the Superhero Film Sequel Method can make for an exciting, crowd-pleasing trailer, it usually results in a messy plot. This is supposed to be Eggman’s time to shine! Let’s all pray to Solaris that Shadow, Chaos, Metal Sonic, and this new infinity bat don’t take up too much story time.
Sonic Forces could revive 3D Sonic, or be another nail in his coffin. There’s a lot of buzz around Sonic Mania being “real Sonic,” or “what Sonic needs to be,” and a successful classic game next to an unsuccessful modern one could make a lot of fans give up on that third dimension for good.
We believe in all of Sonic’s dimensions, despite their rocky history—if Forces can pull this off, it’ll probably be GOTY material. The hype is real, and the risk is too. So come on, Sonic Team: it’s juice and jam time.
Caleb Zane Huett and Nick Splendorr are based out of Athens, GA and co-host You’re Too Show, a weekly podcast investigating Sonic the Hedgehog’s big wide world.
Caleb is a bookseller and children’s novelist; his debut novel, Top Elf, releases this fall. You can find him at calebzanehuett.com or @czaneh on Twitter.
Nick is a developer and designer for websites and games. You can find his work at splendorr.com or @nosplendorr on Twitter.