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.
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.
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!