Gaming Critique of Sonic Mania vs Sonic Forces
It was as inevitable as the trailers for their respective titles since the 'celebration' of 25 years of the Blue Blur, Sonic the Hedgehog. Two games for his 25th Anniversary: Sonic Mania, a fan-based initiative said to have been spearheaded by a small group of indie developers with experience in Sonic games in the past (the remakes of Sonic, Sonic 2 and CD come to mind), and Sonic Forces, said to be the next step in the modern take of the Hedgehog's gaming franchise, backed by none other than Sonic Team themselves. For this critique, I'm going to have to break it down into four parts. There is a LOT to talk about and so we'll start with this format:
- Part 1: Preliminaries: Passion vs Company Project, Introductory Impressions
- Part 2: Gameplay: Strengths and Weaknesses on both ends
- Part 3: The Ensemble: Music, Story, Impact
- Part 4: Conclusions to this LONG Journey
With that said, let us begin this road trip with:
PART ONE: THE PRELIMINARIES!
Little did these two games realize there is one critical difference between them. As I have now played both games from start to finish, one truth struck out to me: There is a difference between a passion project and a company project.
Passion Project vs Company Project
This could not be a better example of the core differences of what a passion project is, and what a company project is.
To better explain, a PASSION project focuses on creating a product that perfectly meets or (at the very least) provides a satisfying experience to the audience/consumer. They work with purpose, from their expectations, to make sure that the work they provide is worth the time, money, and energy of that product. These are the likes of Miyamoto's Mario, Aonuma's Link, and the early era of Sonic Team (Pre-Saturn) to name a few.
A COMPANY project is simply fulfilling the objective of that company. So long as the game has recognizable features, it will be sold as part of that franchise. While the above developers could easily fall into this category, the reason they are on the passion side is simply due to how much effort they put to making their games memorable. Whereas a company project is more in line to simply crank out a product to meet a quota. The Call of Duty and Sports Franchises come to mind as they are near yearly products that come out with simply updated rosters or slightly improved graphics. It was never a focus to ensure the work is of quality, but should it be that way, it would be a benefit not listed on the quota.
Keep this in mind as I continue to show the subtle differences between Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces.
An intro to a game can make or break the experience and I have to say: sometimes less is more. Take Sonic Mania's introduction. First and foremost, they start strong with the traditional SEGA logo and the jingle of the past. Got my attention from that moment. Also, how the graphics of the fan groups' company logos were simulated to look like they would be from a 90s TV was a nice homage, then finally the title SONIC MANIA, after a short little animation reminiscent of the first Sonic game. From the offset, we would experience a taste of things to come. It's upbeat but there was a subtle dark tone to it. Shortly after clearing the main menu you get into the game intro:
Heading back to Angel Island after hearing that something is out of the ordinary, Sonic, Tails and Knuckles (the island's residential guardian) find some Egg Robos (later transformed into the Egg Heavies) taking a gem emitting a strange yet MASSIVE surge of power. So much so, that it warps the fabric of reality itself. Then all of a sudden you're back at (for the umpteenth time) Green Hill Zone and your adventure begins, though not quite the same way as it was in the past. That gave a new and fresh take on a used stage. Yes, they could have started completely new but they chose (for now) to play safe. It worked. The subtle changes to the stage give it a new life and that's just from the starting point. This makes me enjoy the fact that I'm not bogged down by the story but just as involved. I am immersed by the subtleties and reminded of the threat that lies ahead. And even though there is little dialogue, the overall impression is clear: Eggman is up to no good and this time, it's serious! It's also gonna be a wild, yet fun ride!
Next up, Sonic Forces. This one is a mixed bag. To begin with, they go with a reserved but minimal tone of a quick flash of the Sega logo...in small print...then Sonic Team's logo shortly afterward...followed by the words "Sonic Forces" in a simple black background with white lettering. It doesn't get me involved in the game but it DOES let me know that this isn't going to be a roller coaster ride. I get that this is to convey the darker undertone of overcoming despair, but the next problem is how the title shown in the trailers isn't front and center (near the top left, actually) and then we are greeting to what looks like an underground bunker (where the Resistance is located, as you later find out) but the screen goes back and forth like we're viewing it from an oscillating fan. Well, from the offset I feel this game isn't up to par. Not because of the studio, but because nothing is engaging about it. Unlike Forces, the premise is too reserved. Also, when they start giving you the information you need, it's done in an exposition drop; on a black background, no less. I felt they could have done much better with the introduction, especially with the severity of the situation. Also, there should have been a little more care in such important information.
Two completely different introductions. Two completely different feelings. So far, it's not a great start for Forces, but that's just the tip of the spearing iceberg. In the next part, I'll ramble on about a core aspect of any Sonic game, or game in general, the gameplay. Thanks for reading THIS part and looking forward to seeing you soon for Part 2.
03/28/18 Edit: First off, it's been a while, to say the least. Second, For the Sonic Mania portion, I am correcting my naming of the Hard-Boiled Heavies from the Egg Heavies. The italicized words are the correct naming of those enemies. Thank you.
04/30/18 Edit: There was an error after publishing in regards to comparison starting with the sentence "Unlike Forces[...]"; it should read "Unlike Mania[...]" Thank you.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Michael Rivers