As much as we like a good platformer, we have a little bit of a… troubled history with everyone's favourite blue blur, Sonic. It's not for a lack of want - we were big fans of Sonic Adventure, and any of the slower Sonic games - it's just... well... we never seem to want to "gotta go fast". Preferring to play at the pace of a geriatric snail, searching every last nook and cranny for collectables and the like, it's fair to say we're less a blue blur, and more a blue rinse. And while his latest adventure, Sonic Forces, does little to remedy his speed addiction, it's still a surprisingly solid outing for the suspiciously coloured hedgehog and his pals.
Speaking of the colourful worm eater, it turns out things aren't looking too good over in Sonic land in Sonic Forces. With the titular blue blur having finally been defeated, he's taken his rings and disappeared, leaving that dastardly Dr Robotnik to take over the entire world in his absence. Their only hope is an undercover resistance, headed by Sonic's pals both familiar and… not so familiar (Charmy Bee and Espio the Chameleon anyone?), and, with the help of a stellar new recruit, it's up to them to save Sonic, and put a stop to Robotnik's reign of terror once and for all. It's an interesting premise for a Sonic game, given that in Sonic's absence, you now get to create your own super-powered character to join in the platforming fun - and thanks to some dimensional weirdness going on, retro 'fat' Sonic also gets in on the whole shebang, because, well, why not?
A fairly standard Sonic-y platforming adventure, Sonic Forces sees you speeding through stage after stage, bashing enemies, grinding rails and making many a death-defying leap along the way. Mixing up 2D and 3D areas within the same level, one minute you'll be shifting left and right on a path to avoid obstacles and pitfalls as Sonic speeds into the screen, infinite runner style, the next you'll be making your own way across a series of rotating gears in a factory, before finishing up by leaping between several grind rails to avoid Eggman's laser-shooting ships. It's all suitably flashy and over the top, and all to the tune of various classic Sonic remixes, and of course, plenty of cheesy 90s-inspired pop rock.
Creating your own avatar to play as is one of Sonic Forces strongest aspects, even if most of the bits you can change are purely cosmetic. Perhaps one of the most important choices you'll have to make is in picking the species for your custom character, as each comes with a unique ability of their own, from cats being able to retain more rings when damaged, to birds having the ability to double jump, and hedgehogs giving you more time to pick up dropped rings. Outside of that, you're mostly just tweaking colour schemes, voices and victory poses - and of course, costumes. In fact, Sonic Forces has an impressive array of outfits and accessories to unlock during the course of the story, from tie-dye t-shirts and cowboy hats, to sunglasses and wrestling title belts with which to deck out your custom character. Currently, our pink cat is sporting a slick Sanic t-shirt, courtesy of a free download from the Playstation Store a few weeks ago, and a matching pair of trainers.
More interestingly, custom characters are all armed with a Wispon - a special weapon - with several different versions on offer, each with their own distinct attacks and extra abilities. For example, the flamethrower is not only great for dispatching crowds of enemies, but it can also be used to give you a bit of an extra boost when jumping; a Lightning Wispon, meanwhile, smacks enemies into shape with an electrically-charged whip, as well as letting you zoom along lines of rings in levels. Experimenting with the Wispons is a great way to liven those level replays up, as you'll often find new paths and secrets when wielding a different weapon - in particular, the elusive Red Star Coins, of which there are five to collect in each stage.
However, although your avatar does play a major role in the Sonic-less story, you don't always get to play as your creation. Given that it's impossible to keep a good hedgehog down, within a few levels modern Sonic will be back and raring to go, his levels flashy and fast-paced, with plenty of homing-attack-powered leaps, and a devastating Boost move that renders you temporarily invincible, charging through anything and everything that stands in your way. Following the aforementioned dimensional rift accident, classic Sonic also joins your team, leading to some retro-inspired Sonic fun - these stages are (somewhat strangely) a bit slower paced than their modern equivalent, with more branching paths to find along the way. Of course, many a boss fight crops up during the course of the story too, and for the most part, they're much easier and fairer than some of the encounters that have blighted Sonic's history - there's a familiar battle against Robotnik and his Egg Dragoon mech, as well as a funky dimensional-changing battle against Robotnik's latest creation, Infinite, as you chase him along the back of a humungous snake.
Level designs may be fun and flashy, but they're not flawless. Unfortunately, you'll all too often find yourself running head first into a group of enemies, or falling straight down a hole, because the game moves at almost too fast a pace (and we're not only saying that because we're a bit of a speed-phobe either). Regardless of which characters you're playing as, the game doesn't do a great job at foreshadowing danger, and often before you've even noticed a hazard, you'll have gone head over heels into it, losing all your collected rings or worse. Sonic Forces' saving grace is that you don't actually have any lives to lose, so you can retry as many times as you need to without fear of getting a game over, with helpfully frequent checkpoints to save your progress - even if it can still feel a little unfair at times. Levels - and indeed, the game as a whole - are also fairly short and sweet, with racing through everything, from start to finish, taking around six hours or so in total. Of course, with secrets to find and extra challenges to tackle, you'll likely get some more out of it, but it still feels noticeably shorter than the good old days of Sonic Adventure and co.
With an inventive avatar creator, and some equally creative levels, Sonic Forces is an impressive outing, but one that can still feel a little bit inconsistent at times. A comparatively short story mode, coupled with some sometimes hit and miss level design let it down, but on the whole, the character creation and unique Eggman-has-already-won story mode are well done, making for a bit of a different take on a traditional Sonic game. An all round solid, and fairly fun entry, Forces is a game that feels like an all round better game than some of the blue blur's earlier missteps.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4