Teetering over a fine line.
Sonic Forces is almost upon on us and while Sonic Mania has left a good taste in the mouths of both critics and fans alike, the 3D games still have some work to do.
The 3D games have been a divisive subject for fans and critics. While there are some games that fans and critics agree are good or bad, there’s often a fundamental disconnect between what reviewers think and what loyal followers of the games think. This disconnect is a common source of debate within the Sonic fan community and there are many that have grown to distrust reviews on the games because of a perceived bias toward the 3D games since Sonic the Hedgehog ’06.
That said, not all of us game writers are crazy. There are some common points of contention toward the 3D games that have continued to exist since Sonic ’06 and have yet to be addressed. If Forces doesn’t address and improve on these fundamental issues, it shouldn’t come as a shock in a few weeks if reviews are again mixed or worse.
So what we’re going to do is look back at some reviews of some old and generally objectively bad Sonic games, and get a sense of what writers have complained about with the 3D games for literally years now. As a fan myself, it’s sobering (and sad) to see the same problems constantly rear their ugly heads.
This is not a fruitless exercise, though. After you’ve let these scathing hot takes settle in, we’re going to break all of it down, and get a sense of whether or not Forces appears to be heading in the right direction based on our play time and what has been shown, and then map out a future plan for success for the beloved, but at times beleaguered 3D games. Without further ado:
Speed Boosts, Lack of Momentum, the Game Playing Itself, and Other Boring Gameplay Elements
“Take the major player, Sonic. He accelerates slowly and only starts going with the help of speed pads on the floor.” – IGN on Sonic ’06
“The camera adjusts for cinematic impact while you tear through loops and grind rails as Sonic, and though you’re doing little more than pushing right on the analog stick during these sections, it is entertaining to watch Sonic swoop by. It’s sad that Sonic Unleashed is only enjoyable during the moments when you’re hardly in control of it.” – GameSpot on Sonic Unleashed
“The normal Sonic stages, on the other hand, are much the same as every other modern Sonic game – impressive but inconsistent 3D rollercoasters in which you hurtle through pre-rendered loops, grind down rails and run smack into a wall of spikes because the game seems more interested in distracting you with things that go whoosh and whiz than actually coming up with level design that turns Sonic’s speed into an asset rather than a hindrance.” – Eurogamer on Sonic Unleashed
“Worse still, the best bits often come when control is taken away from you, either partially or entirely: the moments when a boost pad prompts a brief cutaway as Sonic pulls off a spectacular move, or when you’re merely called upon to press the jump button a few times as the ‘hog hops across several enemies to clear large gaps, or accelerates down a ramp as you let go of the analogue stick and simply let momentum take its course. Sonic Lost World is at its best when player involvement is at a minimum.” – Eurogamer on Sonic: Lost World.
Sonic Boom is a boring game at its very best, with its simpleton’s idea of progress. You trudge along the kind of platforming environments that felt old-fashioned by the time of the PlayStation 2, then punch robots for a bit, then do more trudging, then punch more robots. Along the way, Sonic and pals will clip through the floor and walls, get stuck in certain animations, and generally feel awkward to control. There’s no real sense of impact in the combat, and the camera is absolutely worthless. It’s a game that frequently doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. It’s ugly. It exists to sell toys and a cartoon series. It’s depressing to try and play. – The Jimquisition on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
Unfortunately, while Rise of Lyric tries to be several types of games at once, it fails to be competent at any one of them. Combat is a repetitive affair of hitting the Y button over and over again until everyone is dead. You can occasionally take the time to dodge attacks, but with the exception of boss fights, that’s rarely necessary. Collectible rings are your health, and if you lose all of them, you’ll pass out, but that’s meaningless because you respawn exactly where you were in whatever battle you were waging, with the enemies’ health exactly where you left it. The only punishment for death is losing gear, a currency used to upgrade your characters, but you’ll have so much gear that it’s less than a slap on the wrist. – GameSpot on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
Poorly Designed Characters, Story, and Other Gimmicks
“Not only that, but when playing as one of the central hedgehog characters, you’ll end up switching over to other members of the supporting cast for no apparent reason and will be forced to play as them for a few minutes. A good example is in the ice-themed zone, where playing as Sonic, you’ll suddenly see Tails pop up and announce “I’ll take over from here!” – which is the cue for five minutes of interminably boring flapping around with Tails’ imprecise controls and braindead combat mechanisms, while all the time, Sonic runs along behind you. So why not let you play as Sonic?” – Eurogamer on Sonic ’06
Shadow can ride vehicles and blast stuff better than Sonic can, while Silver uses telekinesis to move giant blocks and build broken bridges. He can also whisk incoming missiles and laser shots and fire them back to enemies. It sounds fantastic in theory and it works to some degree, but games have done this all before. More importantly, they’ve done it all better. Again, there’s nothing wrong with implementing new elements into the Sonic universe, it’s just a shame that none of them actually improve the experience. – IGN on Sonic ’06
“Sonic Team attempts to sprinkle in variety with several atrocious diversions. High among these offenses is a winter level where Sonic is rolled up into a snowball. Steering the cumbersome sphere past obstacles feels like a drunken version of Super Monkey Ball. Attacking foes sends Sonic bouncing off in random directions, usually off a cliff. I also received multiple game overs during a mundane mandatory pinball sequence in a casino level. Getting stuck due to an awkwardly laid-out pinball table is incredibly frustrating.” GameInformer on Sonic: Lost World
“Retrying tricky sections sometimes subjects you to hearing repeated taunts from the new agitating and stereotypical boss enemies. For example, the emo one discusses the pointlessness of existence, and the female one talks about her nails and dieting. These idiots are bound to test the patience of even the truest Sonic fans. ” – GameInformer on Sonic: Lost World
“Sonic also has some new moves like the wall run which I frankly wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t read the back of the box. At no point do you need to use this new move to complete a stage. Touchscreen-controlled “Color Powers” are a much-needed break from the regular gameplay, and can actually be fun when they work. One power requires you to tilt the Wii U GamePad to aim Sonic to the next area. I’d think the motion sensor in my GamePad was broken if I didn’t use it in other games, because aiming was impossible. Instead the reticule sloped to the left and shook like a stroke victim.” – GameRevolution on Sonic: Lost World
“Sonic himself, though, has become a rude, mouthy, rebellious teenager who treats his friends like garbage. I’m not sure if the writers think that this is “cool” or if that’s just “the way kids are these days” and that’s who they’re targeting with SONIC LOST WORLD. Maybe I’m out of touch. Either way, the dialogue is appallingly bad across the board.” GameRevolution on Sonic: Lost World
” ‘Look ramps,’ yelled Sonic, immediately after using the gigantic ramps he saw.
‘We can use these as ramps,’ was Tails’ reply. He too said this after having already used the ramps. The ramps that he declared could be used as ramps.
This exchange of dialog, truly a meeting of the minds, came after an hour or so of Sonic and his three malingering chums acting as if every single bounce pad was the first one they’d seen. There are many bounce pads in the game, and you’ll know that they can be bounced on, because Sonic’s friends will remind you all the time. They regard each new bounce pad as the most surprising innovation ever, declaring every time that the bounce pad is indeed a bounce pad. See, Sonic Boom thinks its audience is stupid.” – The Jimquisition on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
“The most criminal change of all is the decision to make Knuckles a lumbering idiot. As a once-respected protector of the Master Emerald, I enjoyed Knuckles’ proud nature and his ability to bravely take on any problem head-on. He was a great counterbalance to Sonic’s carefree attitude. But in Sonic Boom, he is a complete moron, billed as the “brawn” of the operation like a poorly produced Saturday morning cartoon (and it does have a cartoon now, which may explain things a bit). Case in point, this conversation between Sonic and Knuckles:
Sonic: “And as we know, there’s no time like the present!”
Knuckles: “Wait, there are presents?!” Ugh.
Tails, Amy, and Sonic are more than tolerable, but a lot of soul is missing, particularly when it comes to the titular hero. There’s absolutely a way to make Sonic cute and campy and get away with it. Although a large group of people are always going to find the character annoying, I’ve found the “you’re too slow” finger-wagging cockiness of Sonic endearing and sometimes unintentionally funny. In Sonic Boom, he’s milquetoast, which is a shame.” – Destructoid on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
Gameplay is Hard to Control and/or Terrible Camera Angles
“Very often, an utterly unhelpful angle which simply doesn’t let you see what you should be doing next is chosen; better again, when you try to manually adjust the camera, it will snap right back to its original unhelpful angle at the slightest movement. The camera controls are locked into an inverted setting which can’t be changed (and I do mean inverted – the Y-axis is inverted as well as the X-axis, which feels utterly wrong to many players), and often there will be whole segments of the play area you can’t even look at because the camera gets stuck on a solid object. Genius” – Eurogamer on Sonic ’06
“Then there’s the real culprit behind the next-generation Sonic dilemma. It’s a two-headed beast that would have destroyed the game even if all the previously mentioned problems didn’t exist. It’s the camera and control. Both aspects need to work in any game if it’s going to be fun and rewarding. As the gaming gods would have it, neither does in the case of Sonic. Players will die countless times as Sonic and friends plunge into the depths of the abyss thanks to unresponsive and plain whacky controls. In the few instances where control isn’t an issue, the camera shows up and spoils the party.” – IGN on Sonic ’06
Sonic’s controls are twitchy, unforgiving and unpleasant, with a touch of the stick in the wrong direction often sending him hurtling to his doom. Attempting to adjust your trajectory when moving at high speed regularly makes him fall over or simply slow down to a staggering stop for no apparent reason; trying to gauge jumps so that you land on a platform accurately is a matter of pure trial and error, which is a real shame in a game which insists on giving you a small, limited number of lives, loads of ways to die instantly, and is willing to put you back a good 20 to 30 minutes to the last save point every time this happens. – Eurogamer on Sonic ’06
“The biggest issue with the daytime levels is that the jump button is not as responsive as it should be. With a game moving this quickly, you need to have jumps initiate the moment you put pressure on the button. But Sonic is often so slow to jump, you have to go a second earlier than you would normally.” – IGN on Sonic Unleashed
“Sonic is slippery, all but impossible to control at top speed and inevitably prone to zooming to his death at a moment’s notice” – Eurogamer on Sonic Unleashed
“The camera loves to swing in odd directions, making you completely unable to see the next platform you want to hit. Enemies and spikes like to hide out at the end of collapsing walkways or series of bumpers, making them impossible to dodge without trial and error, and making you flinch back just enough to fall off a ledge to your doom every time you hit them. Every death you experience in this game feels cheap, either a result of a camera glitch, a frustrating platforming segment, or a portion of the game where Sonic can’t stop running. The only good parts of the game are the 2D levels, which still have frustrating platforming and unfair enemy placement, but at least you don’t have to deal with Sonic’s clunky 3D controls.” – Cheat Code Central on Sonic: Lost World
“Sonic reaches into his familiar move set to take on evil robots. Homing attacks are useful for taking out multiple enemies, but lining up your shots is unreliable and sometimes propels Sonic off a cliff. Holding a trigger makes Sonic automatically run along walls, but the new mechanic is a death trap. Leaping between walls and using the spin dash for an extra boost is unreliable, leading to frequent falls.” GameInformer on Sonic: Lost World
“The sluggish mechanics even manage to break the one area that is Sonic’s bread and butter: the high velocity speed runs. On several occasions, you’re dropped on a pre-determined track and sent running at top speed. You dodge and jump over obstacles and collect rings and crowns, and at no point do you feel like you’re in total control of your character. The frame rate chugs to unacceptable levels and you simply can’t move with the precision you need to consistently land on the tiny spaces the game leaves for you to survive unscathed.” – GameSpot on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
If you’re not too depressed after reading all of this, head on over to the next page as we discuss what this all means, and whether or not Forces is destined to avoid the same ire.