Welp. That’s all I have to say, really. After all the goodness and happiness we felt, radiating from Sonic Mania, Sonic Forces came out and… well, there’s a reason we won’t be publishing a review. Folks who’ve played it are responding to it in extremely divisive fashion, from screaming about it being trash, to comparing its story to unhinged fan-fiction, to finding little nooks and crannies they like about it.
Regardless of what an individual thinks about it, it’s clear that Sonic Forces is not being met with the same open arms that received Sonic Mania. 3D Sonic may just up and expire after this; the game already released in budget price format, there’s not much further you can fall, even for an IP as big as Sonic the Hedgehog. But let’s assume, for fun, I magically ended up with the keys to the kingdom. The red shoes, so to speak. Let’s say I got to whip up a design doc for a new Sonic pitch. Or we could pretend I’m drunk at a bar and the creative director for the next 3D Sonic game stumbled in and asked me for advice. Could 3D Sonic come back from this disaster? Perhaps, if the following suggestions came to fruition.
First, chuck the story. Toss it all in the garbage. I say this with the utmost respect for the folks who legitimately enjoy the goofy “fan-fictiony” Sonic lore. Hold that close to your heart, but let it go for the good of the hedgehog, people. The 3D games should function, in terms of storytelling, more like the 2D games. Tell the game’s story in brief, in-game scenes that don’t disrupt the flow of the game too much. Look at Sonic 3 or even Sonic Mania for examples; brief, visual storytelling is key here. Ditch the cutscenes, the spoken dialogue, and the drama. Zany anime stuff is fine, but doesn’t work for the wide reach Sonic truly has. Mario games mostly do the same thing, and that’s part of the reason they endure.
Second, pick a style and iterate. One of the biggest problems with these games is Sonic Team doesn’t ever stick with an idea long enough to develop it. Each game has to have several major new gimmicks that sometimes even work pretty well, albeit with a caveat or two. Ideas like the cylindrical terrain of Sonic Lost World almost work, even garnering some praise, but ultimately are abandoned when the game gets 6's and 7's instead of 9's and 10's. But imagine if Sonic Team took those nuggets of positive feedback and went back to the oven instead of the drawing board.
Third, get the physics down. Another huge inconsistency with the modern Sonic games is physical. Sonic never quite handles the same in any game, each one feeling slightly different or off; even when a game like Sonic Forces shares DNA with Sonic Generations, the two still manage to feel off from one another in different ways. This especially holds true if Sonic Team wants to keep going with the classic Sonic crossover thing. It’s a real bad look that the chubby little guy somehow feels worse in to control in Sonic Forces.
I think these are the core pillars for what Sonic needs to continue to function in 3D. As much as a beating Sonic Team took, the best way to course correct is to, well, stay the course. Keep the things people liked about Forces – the arcade feel and pace, the character customizer, the crazy soundtrack and the connection to the Sonic Generations style. Then iterate on them, making improvements, patching up holes and adding that sweet, sweet polish. Finally, take time to fix what’s wrong, and don’t be afraid to try to translate classic Sonic feel and tone into 3D. Ditch the anime stuff, ditch the cutscenes and voice acting. Then we could have the foundation for a great game.
Oh, who am I kidding? Just make Sonic Mania 2.