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Opinion

Why Sonic Forces' Custom Hero Characters Aren't Such A Bad Thing

Not quite the Original Fan Character.

It’s certainly been a difficult few years for Sonic, nobody’s denying that, and with two new games releasing in the space of a year, it’s telling that the game facing the most uncertainty would be the one developed in Japan. Thus far, Sega have kept quiet about a lot of details, showing off only a short snippet of gameplay at SXSW. So when I was asked if I’d like to see both Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces back at EGX Rezzed, I leapt at the opportunity. Sonic the Hedgehog was the first game I owned, after all.

The first part of the session would be pleasant enough with a lovely jaunt through a reimagined Green Hill Zone from Sonic Mania on which you can read my thoughts here. We’d find a few glitches, but this just added to the charm of Sonic Mania – how much it felt like going back to being in my childhood. Once the nostalgia was out of the way, we got to the more unpredictable side of the session and Sonic Forces and the unveil of “the hero character”.

Simply put, Sonic Forces stems from the realisation on Sega’s part that some of their more recent ideas didn’t exactly work out. Reception from the Werehog in Sonic Unleashed, to the complete overhaul in Sonic Lost World prompted this decision. As such, Sonic Forces is taking a few steps further back and taking more inspiration from what Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations got right.

In the hands-off demo, I was first shown in more depth the level shown at SXSW, which was described to me as a Sonic world in which Eggman has won. In terms of the new engine – dubbed “Hedgehog 2.0”, there is a lot more focus in the little details, from how standing water shimmers, to the reflections in water showing detail from the far-reaches in the background.

Even when Sonic was running at full pelt, there were things happening in the background, such as the giant Eggman robots destroying the city. Details such as this were present in all parts of the level, from the 3D running sections to the 2D platforming, which all seemed to be as you’d expect.

Sonic himself seems to play similarly to his appearances in both Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors and things like wispons return, giving Sonic a refill of his speed boost in the demo. While I didn’t see Retro Sonic, revealed after the event in a separate trailer, I was told that he’d be similar to his Sonic Generations counterpart, which he certainly appears to be.

More ominously, the second part of the demo featured what was described as “the hero character”. I pondered what this could mean. I’d heard rumours of a third character, but no idea what it could mean. The idea of the Sonic in Sonic Boom fleetingly came to mind, but was immediately disproven when reflecting on why Sonic Forces was being created in the first place. It wouldn’t be long before I was having an existential crisis.

This was a new character that hadn’t been seen before, yet somehow there was an air of familiarity in their foxy cat-like design. The bombshell was that this character was a custom character that the player would create. My initial thoughts were overwhelmingly negative, nearly blurting out a knee jerk reaction to the lunacy of incorporating fan characters into an official Sonic game.

For those who aren’t in the know about this side of the internet, Sonic’s more “colourful” fans like to create their own variations on Sonic characters, doing some rather unusual things. To get up to speed with what I’m talking about here, just watch this video.

The custom characters you can create are all based around seven different species of animal. Wolf, rabbit, cat, dog, bear, bird and hedgehog, they all have different abilities. Whatever character you create, they’ll stick with you through the entire game, featuring in both gameplay and the story cutscenes.

Sonic has often been accused of jumping the shark since his transition to 3D. There’s been making out with human ladies, turning into the “Werehog”, having an edgier counterpart wield guns – the blue blur would make for great talk show material with his previous antics. However, the association with this particular subset of the Sonic community may be the final nail in the coffin for some.

For a while during the presentation, I was in this camp, however I was actually reassured by how they’re going about this as a little more about the Hero character was explained. Each one can be customised not only by appearance, but also their wispon attachments to use powers. The one on show was essentially a flame thrower that can be used without restriction, but when the wispon bar is filled by collecting Wisps, the Hero character can use the flamethrower to boost him/herself upwards, like a pogo stick.

It genuinely looked like decent gameplay, which is what they were going for. Stages played remarkably similar to Modern Sonic in most cases, with the character showing off moves that aren’t exactly too far from what gamers have experienced previously. Sure, it’s not wildly different from first glance, but wildly different meant gimmicks that didn’t work the first time around.

The more I thought about it however, the more I worried that my initial reaction would be replicated throughout the internet. Sonic Team are clearly trying to redeem for past mistakes after all, yet I reckoned a decent gameplay idea that’s not too far from the gameplay found within the Modern Sonic stages, would be judged at face value. I sincerely hope that people look past this and look at the gameplay.

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