The Best Sonic Game Released This Year Wasn’t Sonic Mania

Sonic Forces has been out for over a month now, to dubious accolade. Many have discounted Sonic Forces as another bad 3D video game in a franchise filled with ’em. This opinion on the game is shared even with long-time “Sonic Heads” that hang out in Discord servers dedicated to discussing Sonic’s eyes (they were the best in Unleashed, I’ve come to understand). I believe that these opinions are wrong. I ain’t trying to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge here, the game isn’t perfect, but I believe the venom against it is wholly unwarranted. There are several elements that make Sonic Forces stand out beyond the “3D Sonic” classification into “standout amongst gaming”.

The Setting

It cannot be overstated enough how well Sonic Forces’s setting works. Sometimes two tastes taste great together, you got seaweed and sushi rice, cigarettes and beer, and cartoon animals in a grim war setting. Reader, I ask you to please think back to the two competing Sonic cartoons of the 1990’s. Adults argue to this very day about which was better, the “silly” daily cartoon about chili dogs or the more serious Saturday morning cartoon that invented furries. I got the answer for ya, Jack: neither! They needed to be in the same universe as one another to be truly great. Sonic Forces proves it. 

The photo to the left serves as a stellar example of how Sonic Forces’s setting is a step above most video games. As the OC jets across the screen, the camera pans out to offer a glimpse into the conflict permeating this world. The overwhelming presence of the robot stands in stark contrast to the resistance’s tracer bullets feebly attempting to stop its rampage. Key information is conveyed to the viewer wordlessly thanks to this quick camera pan: Dr. Robotnik poses a serious threat to the world when Sonic isn’t around. His power and resources are more than the citizens can handle, yet they still attempt to fight back. It also conveys a very active war happening right on people’s doorsteps and adds to the mission’s initial premise of rescuing civilians who were unable to evacuate the city in time. This all occurs while the OC wears a hat with the word “Gamer” on it and a dumb crocodile with a stupid voice praises you for jumping over robots.

You may think that last line is dismissive, but reader, it is not; this is good storytelling. In the culinary world, perfect flavor is achieved through balance. Sweet and salty, spicy and savory. Cartoon animals is the “sweet” to the war setting’s “salty”. To further illustrate this point, I will dissect Sonic Forces’s Robotnik and how he’s different than any Robotnik seen previously, as well as how even the music in Sonic Forces contribute to the experience.

Dr. Robotnik

I’ve been a Sonic fan my whole life and always had the view Dr. Robotnik was a comical buffoon. Even the Robotnik from the “serious” Saturday morning cartoon seemed to have accidentally fallen-in to the world conquering business. We finally get to see what a Robotnik that wins looks like thanks to Sonic Forces, and he is dark and twisted with his newly-gained success. The resistance fears the worst for Sonic after losing contact with him at the beginning of their war, making one fact totally clear: Robotnik is killing civilians and soldiers alike. Civilian centers are deliberately targeted and bombed. Sonic has been tortured during his six months of captivity.

Robotnik’s first boss fight occurs about midway through the game and the stakes have never been higher. It’s up to classic Sonic to stop this murderous maniac from further perpetuating his blood-soaked war against the dumb cartoon animals. And, once again, Sonic Forces combines sweet with salty through a comical aside of Robotnik egotistically de-emphasizing the damage his ship has taken during your fight against him, to which Tails admonishes him for lying.

The Music

The music in Sonic Forces is excellent; there are good beats and hot jams to be found in nearly every stage’s track. Not only are they catchy, but they help fill out the war setting as well!
My first example comes from the stage where we see the giant robot as previously discussed. Here’s a snippet of the lyrics from this song:

Here come the enemy, strike 'em down.
We can't let evil win, take 'em out.
This is justice, this is what's right.

Here come the enemy, mess 'em up.
And bring 'em to their knees, do your stuff.
Time for justice, time to go fight!

The emphasis to not let evil win sums it up perfectly: Robotnik, the war criminal and obviously the opposite of justice, clearly has the upper hand and is dangerously close to winning the war. However, it seems that the resistance is starting to have the abyss stare back into them by suggesting the enemy must be brought to its knees and have unknown “stuff” happen against it. A sober reminder of how war changes even the good among us.

Moving on to another stage’s set of lyrics:

Who is it we're fighting for
inside this crazy firestorm?
No one's left to save the world.

In the distance I see the light of home
shining.
Can't give in or we'll lose it all.

Never before has conflict been illustrated with such a hot beat behind it. The cynical/fatalistic attitude that comes naturally to those trapped in a long-running conflict, forgetting what the point of it all even is. But the song offers redemption as the singer is reminded of a return to life before war, metaphorically described as home shining in the distance. Maybe that ideal state of life he took for granted can be achieved again. He redoubles his effort as he realizes giving up the fight means losing what little he still has. This is the music for the OC’s first stage, which allows me to move on to another area I think makes Sonic Forces shine…

OC (original character) Customization

The amount of customization available in Sonic Forces is staggering. I believe there are over 40 unique models per each category of clothing, some of which have their own subset of colors available for customization to boot (and for boots). This ensures every mission you undertake, every S you rank, you’ll be getting a new set of clothes for your OC to wear. I’ve seen clothing options ranging from overalls to flippers and everything inbetween with still yet more to unlock. It’s very impressive how much time and care went in to making your OC look the way you want him to look, from a clothing standpoint.

I will admit, the choices for the OC’s body itself are a bit disappointing, but the amount of custom clothing available remedies this downfall.

For years the internet has mocked the Sonic OC concept; it’s been an easy target for a long time with “Coldsteel the Hedgehog” dominating the conversation of anything remotely Sonic related. But why does this ubiquity exist? The OC is something fans want, and even those of us who do not personally want an OC for ourselves can appreciate the inherent entertainment SEGA acknowledging OC culture brings. SEGA did right by canonicalizing the OCs, and, personally, I was legitimately sad to see the OC in Sonic Forces part ways with the resistance and Sonic after all was said and done. The OC worked very well and it makes me hope SEGA takes away one success story from Sonic Forces.

If you still do not agree with me that Sonic Forces is a very good video game, I have one fact I can convince you is true:

Sonic Forces is at least better than Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania has seen praise far and wide across gaming websites and gamers alike, but I think we will see the backlash against that in about two years’s time. My reasons for this are also why I think Sonic Forces is a better game than Sonic Mania.

Sonic Mania relies too heavily on the past

Out of Sonic Mania’s twelve stages, a startling eight of those stages come from the early-era 2D Sonic games. Sure, they’ve been tweaked here and there, but it’s clear where the source of inspiration comes from. But even among the remaining four “unique” stages:

1. Press Garden Zone – a mish-mash of Marble Garden Zone and Launch Base Zone from Sonic 3 that is unremarkable once finished.

2. Studiopolis Zone – strong level and obvious why it is the first “new” stage seen in the game. Great mid-boss and main-boss fights and a unique spin on the Spring Yard Zone and Casino Night Zone veins.

3. Mirage Saloon Zone – a forgettable zone only redeemed by featuring Bark, Bean, and Fang who are characters from the past that have been neglected, so not so much an endorsement of this stage so much as those characters.

4. Titanic Monarch Zone – bad.

 

Sonic Mania’s one good new stage, Studiopolis Zone, alone can’t compete with the positives found in Sonic Forces. This is not opinion, it’s numbers.

Sonic is inherently unreplayable

Sonic’s appeal in 2D and 3D has always been “I wonder what the next level is going to look like” which obviously disappears the moment you clear an act. When you replay a stage in any Sonic game, how often does the thought “ah, I remember this stage being bad, but the next one is… oh no that one’s bad too.” Sonic Forces brilliantly side steps the replayability issue by dangling the carrot of new clothing for your OC upon each and every success, and even offers extremely challenging time trials requiring you to reach speedrunner-level completion times. Sonic Mania is under the mistaken assumption Sonic levels are inherently fun to play through more than once.

With that, I hope you found my arguments agreeable or at least entertaining. Polygon, please give Sonic Forces at least a 7, it deserves it.

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