“Join the resistance” — following the much-anticipated reveal of Sonic Forces character creation mode, the game’s tagline now suddenly makes a great deal more sense. SEGA is appealing to the player, embracing a Sonic fanbase that has, for years, lovingly made their own characters and fanart, and now they can bring them to life in a canon Sonic title. Cue applause.
If you aren’t yet up to speed, the recently revealed Sonic Forces Hero character mode allows players to create and customize their own playable character. SEGA have showcased plenty of aesthetic variety for fans to essentially build their own characters from scratch. There are also new elemental weapons (SEGA referred to them as wispons in our interview) and a grappling hook, adding lots of new gameplay mechanics for these characters.
Of course, introducing “OC” (original characters universe) characters into a Sonic storyline won’t garner nods of approval from every camp but provided it’s done right, it seems extremely promising from both a gameplay and business perspective. Indeed, the Custom Hero mode might well prove a brilliant strategic move from SEGA; allowing Sonic to resonate more with a wider, younger audience. The “second coming” of Sonic the Hedgehog might be going a bit far, but Forces certainly has the potential to reinvigorate the brand.
3D Sonic games gone-by have given rise to much disagreement among fans about the gameplay mechanics and narrative direction that the franchise should move forward with. Forces does feel largely like an attempt to bring together a significant and passionate, but often divided, Sonic community. On the one hand, Modern and Classic Sonic modes are a safe-play, polishing a blueprint that was received well by the majority of Sonic fans in Generations. On the other side of the spectrum, Hero mode is a riskier concept that speaks to those who yearn for something new and exciting to give the series a bit of a lift.
Ever since its first reveal tease, Forces certainly wowed us with its impressive visuals. Running on the Hedgehog 2 engine, the game looks stunning. Indeed, speaking with Twinfinite at EGX Rezzed in London, SEGA Europe product manager Jim Dyer called it “the first time ever there has been a lot of work gone into the design to build immersion in a Sonic game.” Yet despite our positive impression of that aesthetic, the game didn’t look overly different from what we’ve seen before in games such as Generations. The intention from SEGA, Dyer went on to explain, was to “look at the modern Sonic catalog” and establish that “what fans resonated with were Generations and colors. It (Forces) is about taking the onus from those titles, building upon them and making the best modern Sonic game.”
As cool as that both looks as sounds, though, it essentially meant Forces was a bit of a conservative play. That is, however, until Hero Mode was thrown into the mix. Now you have a completely new spin on Sonic that brings with it the potential for great new gameplay mechanics with the wispon weapons, grappling hook, and all the variety that brings with it. In fact, variety is the key takeaway — I’ve seen the mechanics working in tandem together and I have been thoroughly impressed by its depth. Hero Mode should give players a very decent amount of content to enjoy between the shiny new renditions of Modern and Classic Modes, with the new opportunity to play-through the game as multiple different characters.
For the record, we asked SEGA Europe at EGX about whether “wispons” (weapons/wisps) and characters were essentially just re-skinned assets, to which we were told “No, each is exclusive to one specific character. Characters are made from scratch and to your own vision.” Hero Mode, then, is more than surface level detail. There is substance to its composition.
Quite apart from gameplay possibilities, however, the biggest boon about Hero Mode might well be its potential to resonate with Sonic’s younger audience. Perhaps an aspect to Sonic that is often lost on forgotten by its nostalgic, veteran fans is that the franchise is largely driven by children. And what child is not going to fall in love with the concept of creating their own kickass, playable Sonic character? SEGA is banking that younger fans will eat this content up, which if that’s the case, ultimately gives the franchise the best possible chance of moving significant units and bringing it back into the mainstream. If that is to prove an effective strategy, Hero Mode might well be the single most important innovation in 3D Sonic games.
Forces, therefore, is an attack on three fronts; adding sheen to a formula that works, introducing some potentially exciting new gameplay mechanics, and speaking to the wider Sonic community that includes its youngest fans. I am not expecting every fan to be on board, but you have to admire SEGA’s solution to give back to its community while simultaneously trying to achieve its business goals. At the core of what is most exciting, though, Forces is shaping up to be the most ambitious attempt to establish a direction for 3D Sonic and innovative gameplay features that could define the franchise moving forward.