The Spin: Balancing Forces

While clearing out the last vestiges of what was my old room in my parent’s house a few years back, I stumbled across a big pile of fan art I’d drawn when I was about seven or eight years old. Sonic was all I would draw, and I would impress friends and classmates alike by drawing him completely from memory. Unfortunately I appear to have (thankfully) lost all evidence of Rocky: a fan character I created, well before the days in which it was trendy to post your latest creation to DeviantArt. Rocky was a green hedgehog, with upturned green spikes and a penchant for playing a flying-V guitar. I remember pleased as punch with my “original” character, however having played the game of googling [Name] the Hedgehog today, there are plenty of other Rocky the Hedgehogs out there.

I’m sure my pre-teen self would have squealed with delight at today’s announcement regarding the build your own character feature that will be incorporated as part of the third playable game mode in Sonic Forces. Indeed, the delight has been widespread, yet like many announcements regarding modern Sonic titles, the fan base is polarised.

SEGA have made some superb decisions with regards to the Sonic franchise recently; Sonic Mania looks absolutely fantastic, and as one of the old guard, I am filled with child-like excitement at the prospect of a game that is my opinion the true successor to the classic titles of the 16/32-bit era. SEGA have listened carefully to one of their key demographics, and are set to deliver a game by the fans, for the fans.

Equally, the decision to include an original character builder in a Sonic game could be considered an equally smart move; similar features have existed in other games for years, and with a significant parts of the fan base integrated into the many online art communities, it is almost surprising it has taken this long to have been incorporated. The response on social media from these communities to this announcement has been on the whole positive, with many excited at the prospect of a highly customisable character generator. Of course, the memes have been plentiful in the wake of the announcement, and speculation as to what level of monstrosity can be generated is fueling the imaginations of those who are handy with Photoshop.

Some of the broad range of accessories seen so far set to feature in Sonic Forces! Credit: Pink Cat (SSMB)

Conversely, and predictably, there has been criticism. Ignoring the more subjective opinions on the inclusion of fan characters, there are some concerns raised that I and many others believe have merit. The most prominent of these is the fear that the gimmick takes precedence over the gameplay, something that has not only plagued the quality of past titles, but has caused games to stray from the what fans expect a Sonic game should constitute. Indeed, there is a feeling among many that recent titles featuring new characters and / or game modes have caused a detraction from valuable development time being invested in refining the more “core” aspects of these games. Many have postulated that Sonic Forces is trying to be a title that will please all; a near-impossible feat to achieve in this day and age in the video games industry. One can already see there is huge contrast in the footage shown so far; the darker theme of Park Avenue, harking back to the days of Shadow the Hedgehog/Sonic 06 seems disjointed from the jovially-themed classic Green Hill Zone. On the face of it, the game could be interpreted to be suffering from an identity crisis stemming from the “satisfy everyone” mentality. An old acquaintance of mine used to refer to clothing branded as “one size fits all” as “one size fits none”, and I feel the analogy here is appropriate; a game in which time and effort is spread too thinly across multiple modes will result in few being satisfied with any of the finished game elements.

At this juncture, it is extremely difficult to make any judgement – after all, there has been very little in the way of actual game play footage, and much of this will likely still be evolving as the game continues in its development. Undoubtedly, forums like E3 will be the trial-by-fire for this game, at which those on the ground will get a closer look at what is set to be released.

I came to a conclusion with both the Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Lost World titles that I was not the target demographic for these games. Admittedly there was some initial disappointment in this realisation, but in hindsight, I am perfectly fine with this. I can see the necessity for certain franchises to adapt and evolve with time, especially to keep up with evolving markets and trends. Indeed, the secret to success for many enduring series appears to be developing the gameplay in such a manner to keep it fresh and exciting, while retaining the heart and soul of what has become synonymous with said title.The Sonic franchise has seen success across multiple platforms decades apart, and as such the answer to “what makes a good Sonic game?” is heavily dependent on the age of the person you are posing the question to, or at what juncture the series really began to resonate with them.

Dreadknux – not appearing in Sonic Forces. Credit: Professor-J

I do not think that I am the target demographic for Sonic Forces, as much as I have the feeling the inclusion of classic Sonic is aiming to achieve that in some small capacity. The focus of the game has diverged beyond what I look for in a Sonic game. My hopes for the title are that it provides a sturdy experience for those who have craved a game featuring similar action to Sonic Generations (who have been waiting patiently for six years…where has the time gone?), with the fun addition of being able to bring your fan character to life in some incarnation, should you wish to do so.

I find it hard to be disappointed however, especially with Sonic Mania on the horizon – this is a game that has been created with people like me in mind, and will undoubtedly cater to the massive cohort of hardcore and casual gamers longing for the halcyon days of 90s. We are fortunate to live in times where we, the fans, have multiple upcoming Sonic games to choose from!

Regardless, I will definitely give Sonic Forces a go; I doubt I will be able to resist to allure of creating a bunch of hideous characters…and maybe a certainly green fan character from my childhood, just to satisfy my inner eight year-old!

 

Published by

T-Bird

With a decade under his belt, T-Bird is one of The Sonic Stadium's most seasoned writers, with interests in the music and merchandise of the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. T-Bird is the co-organiser for the Summer of Sonic convention.

24 Comments

  1. This was oddly rather pleasant and personal in comparison to your previous spin articles. I was honestly worried you were going to completely bash the concept of the character creation system as if there were no positive effects it could possibly have whatsoever. Not to mention a more lighthearted and (relatively) shameless fondness over the age of fan characters. Guess you never really truly know a person, least of all on an online forum like this. I guess what I’m trying to say here is, kudos!

    As for the actual topic, I have to admit that the character creation system has me utterly thrilled, it had actually erased my worries raised by the so-far iffy nature of Classic Sonic’s inclusion in this title. However that hype got immediately smashed for me once I learned that Warren Graff and Ken Pontac (well, Graff so far at least) have been confirmed to have worked on writing for this title. Whether you prefer a more humorous Sonic or a more dramatic Sonic, these guys barely have any understanding of how to effectively write for Sonic at all (I’d go as far as to say they aren’t competent at writing for anything, but then again maybe Happy Tree Friends was never for me anyway :P). Literally one of the largest common issue of the last few major Sonic games after 2009 has been a lackluster story and tone, and somehow it seems to be for differing reasons each time.

    I am now leaning more on the cautious side of being cautiously optimistic now because of the fact that probably some of the worst people you could get to write for Sonic in the series are still attached to him in yet another crucial game in his history. That’s not to say we have seen anything of the story itself to actually be concerned with, but based on their track record, we don’t really have a lot of reason to be confident in them. The best I feel like I can hope for now is that this really will be a “Sonic Generations 2” where the gameplay is surprisingly stellar and awesome, but the story is either terrible or barely there at all. Or maybe they’ve finally learned their lesson, but I won’t hold my breath too long.

    1. Thank you for the kind words Her0!
      Again, with all art, videogames are so subjective; one person’s favourite game could be another’s letdown. I’ve regularly debated with other Sonic fans on the merits of elements like storyline, and again, it seems very dependent on whether or not you came into the fandom classic era or Adventure era (I personally can take or leave a storyline).
      Cautiously optomistic is always a healthy approach to give to any new title being teased like this, but I can completely understand those who are less so, going off the track record to date.

      1. I just realized that when I wrote this I was under the impression that it was Hogfather that wrote this…whoops. Still, may statements still stand, I am happy with the more positive and open approach to this topic and the much needed acknowledgement that oftentimes whatever defines “good” in this series really depends on where you come from on the spectrum and where you started out. And your first game doesn’t necessarily dirty your opinion either. I mean my first games were Shadow and 2006 (yeah yeah, I know, “ouch” and all that), but that doesn’t mean that I think every Sonic game should be made to be a edgy-drama-fest with lost of darkness and weapons and grim tones every which way. If anything it just kind of made me more open to the idea of appreciating other entries in the series for what they are as opposed to constantly thinking “this game isn’t like Sonic 1/3K/Adventure/etc., IT SUCKS!”.

        Though I guess I didn’t really have a standard to compare against until I played Unleashed, I really loved that game, still do, despite some flaws. Even then, I’d still rather judge a game on it’s own merits and really identify what it is about Unleashed that I felt actually fit Sonic and how whatever game in question does or doesn’t meet that expectation. And even then I only apply that to titles that came after it anyway, since it was from that point on that I was “on track” with the series.

        So because of that I was still willing to give plenty of games a chance right up until I actually got to play them, even if it deviated from Unleashed’s natural evolution. Lost World I seem to do nothing but bash these days, but even before it was out I was still willing to welcome it’s…uh, “unique” take on the formula, knowing that I really REALLY couldn’t tell if it fully felt “right” to me until I actually got to experience the whole thing all the way through. So whether this game turns out to be great like Unleashed, hard to swallow like Lost World, or even just mixed like Generations, I’ll be giving it as much benefit of the doubt as I reasonably can up until I truly get to test it with my own two hands.

    2. I agree with you 100% Her0. I feel the same way. I just hope Graff (and whoever is helping him with the writing) can exceed our expectations.

  2. I’m excited for story, honestly! It’s cool to have customization, but I just hope the already established characters are portrayed well and we get some real character exploration in the cutscenes. 🙂

  3. I agree. This is a game that for all it has going for it, just isn’t for me.

    To anyone who wants to play it, I hope you all have fun with it.

  4. You seem to be pretty excited about the custom character feature, and most are. I only ever dabbled with an OC once, and it was for a required short story that needed to be visualized. I think it was a red recolored Sonic named Blast who was stupid, both mentally incapable and completely unnecessary. I cringe every time I think back to that… thing.
    I’ve never done with that since, but this is gonna have to be an exception, I guess…

    I don’t know much about the writers for each plot of each Sonic game, but I do know that I enjoyed the more serious ones i.e.: Adventure series, Riders & Zero G, 06 (somehow), Story Book series, and, especially, Unleashed. They seem to bring out the best and, what I consider the true, character of Sonic. I don’t want to blame the cast change back in 2010/11, but the plots had become… too lighthearted and without continuity. Sonic and the others’ (including Eggman’s) abilities have become inconsistent:
    Unleashed: Sonic infiltrates and destroys Eggman’s fleet in space all on his own
    Lost World: Sonic runs away from the Deadly Six because they’re controlling old-fashioned badniks
    Forces (from the recent trailer): Classic and Modern are able to plow through three Egg Sentinels, which are several times larger than the original Egg Mech, possibly even tougher, too
    Not to mention Sonic’s sudden step-back to juvenile delinquency after his moving speech to Merlina.
    I hope this game will be boasting in a return to quality gameplay and story, cause Boom is only gonna cut it as an entertaining alternate universe.

  5. I woke up this morning and came to the same conclusion. Whilst I thought “Oh God…”, I took a step back and thought “it’s OK – I’ve got Sonic Mania to look forward to”. Therefore, what initially seemed like a disaster, on the contrary, is a smart move from Sega. People like me who want Mania and those fans for which Forces will be up their alley. Whilst I would like to be excited by both titles – getting excited over one rather than none is OK with me.

    I’ll play Forces of course, but I have to concede that it’s not aimed to me and that my expectations should accept that.

    Is this what it’s like to feel grown up??

    1. Sure, as a classic Sonic fan, I get Mania and am looking forward to that intensely. Identity-defined preteens get the rubbish that Sonic Forces is. What about the Adventure people, which includes me? The last two times we got it, they were the worst games in the series.

  6. So I’m thinking I should go for a Bear character and I want to name him something to do Gadgets and Technology or just something that fits the role in a Resistance.

    Any Ideas?

      1. I was thinking something along the lines of “Slingshot the Grizzly” or “Gadget the Black Bear”….

        But Rupert is…. cute…. I guess I’ll give you that.

  7. I just kind of wish the general reaction to this wasn’t merely “LOL DEVIANTART”. It sounds like a very vapid attempt to dodge actually looking at the concept.

    1. That reaction is a perfectly valid one to a ‘feature’ that no one save for yifflords, furries and Mary Sue/Gary Stu OC fetishists have ever asked for in a Sonic game.

  8. I agree with Her0, I thought this was a good article, especially because I expected it to be totally against the custom character element. I’m really glad that even those who disagree/aren’t excited for it still respect that a lot of fans *are* excited and overjoyed. And the acknowledgement that ‘what makes a good Sonic game’ really depends on the type of fan you ask is so spot on. I feel like the crappy side of the fandom needs to understand and accept this – that not everyone will be pleased.

    Personally, I’m super excited about Forces and I don’t care if it ‘gives more fuel for the haters’. It feels like a big middle finger to the haters tbh. Sega’s validating and supporting all the fans they’ve inspired to be creative and IMO no amount of “cringe” jokes will take that away.

    1. Same here, lol.

      Really the only worry I have at this point lies in Graff’s (and possibly Pontac’s) involvement with the story. Somehow they have managed to find ways to make even the funnest (or uh, not as funnest) Sonic experiences and drag them down 2 or 3 tiers based on their awkward dialogue and pacing alone. This makes me worry that they will make all of our character’s interactions with the main cast will be done in such cringey ways that it will only validate the haters’ salt towards the very idea. It’s like if you got the best candidate for an election ever but all his speeches were being written by Donald Trump (if he can actually write for more than 2 sentences), you know the subject is good but the creative force behind it’s presentation is pure garbage. I really hope they don’t botch this up for all of us OC-supporters out there. :/

  9. Character Creator is a bold move, but a good one. I have no qualms with most of the aesthetic choices of the game, but serious concerns about the gameplay from what has been shown so far. I hope I’m wrong, but it looks like the gameplay is shaping up to be serviceable for many but ultimately lacking.

  10. When it comes to the type of story, I believe that Unleashed did it right. There was just the right amount of dark tone and comic relief in the entire game. While having the werehog as more of a way to see Sonic’s personal side to what everyone thinks of him, when Sonic was himself, he was energetic, excited, and passionate of what and who he was surrounded with. Also that chip was a one time character that didn’t have to be used in future games (also his comic relief was hilarious). I just felt like everything from Sonic Colors and on there was no emotion. All I saw was Sonic as a comedic, cocky, smart alack who was kind of a complete jerk to some of his friends.

    That’s the problem I have with the current writing. The teaser trailer that got me so hyped at the 25th Anniversary Party gave me a warm feeling that Sonic is going back to a darker, but more satisfying tone. Until the recent announcement about the custom characters and that Graff was back, I lost the feeling. Though I am curious to see what the custom character has to offer, with Graff on the team, I scared to think that he will make Sonic careless of what’s happening. The world is being destroyed, devastation is everywhere, and if I here a baldy McNose Hair joke, it’ll ruin it for me.

  11. Can I just say the OC-loving preteen in me would’ve been way happier by the announcement if they had included FOXES and ECHIDNAS in the selection? I mean, cats and bears, but no foxes or echidnas? Doesn’t that seem off to anyone?

    1. It seems way off to me, but until I know more I guess I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

      Maybe there is a reason to be revealed in the story – oh wait, Graff is part of the writing team again, so maybe not :/

  12. It’s all about the gameplay and we’ve still barely seen any of it. So E3 remains the true sink or swim moment. If the gameplay really took a backseat to incorporate the character creator, then the whole project might be dirititive. There’s really no point in making your own hero, if its lackluster to actually play as them. Same applies for any gimmick sonic team could possibly think of; if the gameplay isn’t evolved and solid, then there is just no point to any of it. Running straight, through hallways just isn’t fun or interesting. Having springs appear out of nowhere in order for the game to basically say “To worry about the hassle of jumping, here we’ll do it for you”, is just bad design and i need to see if anything past the tutorial levels has any of this in it. Sonic Team, get your sh** together.

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