2017 was a big year for Sonic, with two big games, Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces. However, these two games couldn’t be further apart. The former takes a more fun approach, not taking itself too seriously and returning to the roots of the franchise. While Sonic Forces continues the unnecessary experimentation that has plagued Sonic since 2006.
At its core, Sonic is a very simple concept. It’s a platforming game that focuses on speed-running through appropriately designed levels. The Sonic Adventure games tried to shift this format into a 3D space. While the boost formula is absent from the Adventure games, already you can see the seeds being planted. Finally, we have the boost games, arguably the most divisive category. The boost games can be enjoyable to play, such as Sonic Unleashed’s day stages, but are held back by the automated feels of levels. You aren’t actively engaging with the level anymore. You’re instead watching the various set-pieces, while occasionally pressing a button.
However, Sonic Forces raises another issue: Sonic’s identity crisis. What is he supposed to be? Naturally, you can expect many answers depending on who you ask. For me, the blue-blur has always been about fun. I don’t expect to see a wide cast of characters, nor do I expect to see a game-changing plot.
Sega has marketed Sonic Forces as having a more focused story, with a darker tone. But is that really needed? Just take a look at Super Mario Odyssey. It’s the same old rescue the Princess trope, because they know that no one plays Mario for the story. While I would like to see them do something different, it ultimately doesn’t matter, because Nintendo knows what Mario is. Sega still doesn’t seem 100% confident in their vision. If Sonic Mania is anything to go by, fans still appreciate the more lighthearted, fun-filled tone of older Sonic games. And let’s be honest here, Sonic was never known for deep, well-written storylines and characters.
That isn’t to say that no one enjoys the story from Sonic games. Yes, they’re incredibly cheesy and exaggerated. Yes, it has a whole bunch of annoying characters that don’t stop talking. But there’s still a bit of charm in there. In fact, I found Sonic Generations to have several funny moments which had me laughing. Then I take one look at the trailer for Infinite, and I have to question, why? I thought we were done with “Phase Edgy”. I thought we were embracing fun, simple and engaging platforming.
Sonic started out with only a handful of characters, but they all had a lot of personality. And this was done without any dialogue whatsoever. Just from the way characters would move (or didn’t move), you could see so much personality. Or seeing Knuckles turn from foe to friend in an effort to stop Dr Robotnik (“Eggman”). Not to mention the beautiful transitions between levels that gave the stages context. How did we go from clever, silent storytelling, to having over 10 characters, who constantly talk about friendship, while you’re trying to play the damn game?
If anything, Sega should consider itself lucky that the Sonic fanbase is keeping the character alive. So many amazing franchises have died, even after producing critically acclaimed hits, yet, Sonic continues to somehow live. At the end of the day, we all just want the poor hedgehog to succeed. Being too generous will make Sega complacent, while being overly harsh can discourage their developers. Regardless, if they make a mistake, they should be called out on it. Otherwise we’ll be stuck in the “Sonic cycle” forever.