Sonic Forces vs. Sonic Mania - Which Will Bring Sonic Back?

Which is better for Sonic's comeback - Sonic Forces or Sonic Mania?

With the 25th anniversary of Sonic, the franchise seems to be experiencing a renaissance rivaling Super Mario's during the late 2000's. 

As a video game icon, Sonic has been through his share of ups and downs since bursting onto the scene in 1991's Sonic the Hedgehog. Its initial peak came in 1994 with the back-to-back releases of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic and Knuckles. Even though everybody's favorite hedgehog soldiered on into the new millennium, Sonic's luster seemed to dull as releases became more frequent, with low visual quality and lazy gameplay. This seemed to coincide with Sonic's transition from side-scrolling 2D to open-world 3D. The love-hate mentality for 3D Sonic culminated in one of the most-loathed video games ever, the 2006 re-imagining of the original Sonic. However, the tide seemed to turn with recent releases of Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations.

Riding the recent wave of good reception - both critically and commercially - Sonic's home base, Sega, decided to give fans a double treat in 2017. They announced the release of nostalgia-filled Sonic Mania and generation-merging Sonic Forces. With these two releases, Sonic seems to be on the revival trail which fans and gamers alike have been awaiting for years. While the announcements elicited reactions of joy and excitement for fans and gamers, they did stir up an age-old debate within the fanbase: who's better - classic Sonic or modern Sonic?

A Nostalgia Trip with Sonic Mania

For old-school fans who have issues with modern Sonic, the arrival of Sonic Mania is the answer. It's a game made by fans for fans with Sonic Team recruiting the likes of Headcannon's Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley and PagodaWest's Jared Kasi, Tom Fry and Tee Lopes.  In an interview with Metro UK's David Jenkins, Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka praised the game and the team stating:

The developer of Sonic Mania – from the music to the graphics and everything – they have a really deep love for classic pixelated Sonic games. So fans who really like those past titles will be really excited about this.

With those words, Iizuka seems to understand old-school fans' desire to return to the original side-scrolling Sonic. Sonic Mania manages to build on the 1990's games while revising, remixing and adding to an already sturdy foundation.

The game manages to look and play like the Sonic of many players' childhoods. Classic levels like Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant are revised and expanded upon while new zones (some scrapped from previous games) are introduced in Mania like Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon. Players can play as Sonic, Tails or Knuckles at any level while allowing for better control of Sonic at slower speeds and fully realized Mode 7 effects reminiscent of old Super NES games.

Joining Forces in Sonic Forces

While Sonic Mania builds on nostalgia, Sonic Forces borrow from the past while pushing modern Sonic fans into the franchise's future. The game comes off as a direct descendant of Generations and Colors as it tries to correct the errors of Sonic Lost World and the Sonic Boom series. 

Forces allow the player to be both Modern and Classic Sonic while mixing it up between 2D and 3D levels like Generations. Wisp power-ups (a fan-favorite) are brought back from Colors along with the usual obstacles and elements of modern Sonic games. With tried-and-true elements in place, Sega decided to throw in a fan request years in the making -- a custom character. This is a response to years of fan-sent drawings of colorful woodland creatures to Iizuka.

Forces allow players to create a custom character equipped with different weapons courtesy of the Wisps. The character can even maneuver between side-scrolling 2D and dynamic 3D when in play.

The Great Debate: Classic Sonic versus Modern Sonic

With the facts in mind, these two releases seem to a signal a much-needed return to form for this video gaming icon. Double the Sonic should be a moment of rejoicing for the fanbase, right? But there seems to be a generational divide dampening the excitement a bit. By perusing online, one can see countless reviews and interviews where journalists seem to praise Mania while loathing or playing devil's advocate for Forces

While both games serve their purpose, as a fan of side-scrolling 2D Sonic, Mania suits the video game palette a little more. Bringing classic Sonic into the modern era seems the best way to pay tribute to the world's most celebrated hedgehog. Playing as both 2D and 3D Sonic, the original seems to be a lively, vibrant and capable friend while the modern version seems to be more of a passing stranger than an endearing buddy.  

The main complaint Forces has to combat (and seems to fall victim to) is the player is more passive than active when it comes to gameplay. Most of the time players only get called upon to hold the left stick forward, drain the boost, or use the jump button to attack enemies with the game doing most of the work for them. This seems to defeat the purpose playing a Sonic game. This consensus along with past game baggage is creating an uphill battle for the game, especially with old-school Sonic fans. 

As 3D Sonic still struggles to unite a divided fanbase, 2D Sonic has an endearing image that still translates 25 years later. Both old-school and new Sonic fans seem to crave the classic version as Iizuka mentions:

The target audience for Sonic Mania is the fans who like the Mega Drive from back in the day... But the surprising thing about Mania is that when we were conducting research, there’s like a voice from the kids that they actually like pixelated and 2D Sonic too. 

So the arrival of Mania comes right on time as the generations seem to love and adore the hedgehog in all his original side-scrolling, 2D glory. The transition from 2D to 3D has never been easy, and the reception of Mania and Forces seems to prove this. The consensus among fans and critics is that Sonic in 3D is less dynamic and player-friendly while classic Sonic is fun and thrilling in a 3D-dominated game world. 

For Sega, Sonic Mania is the best bet for a comeback with this being its 25th anniversary, the hands-on fan input, the craving for classic Sonic and the stamp of approval from Iizuka himself. 

Hopefully, Sonic Mania will be a runaway success and push Sega into restoring Sonic's tarnished legacy with more 2D releases in the future.

Which game do you think will be most successful in Sonic's return? Let us know by leaving a comment, and come back to GameSkinny for more Sonic information, news and views!

Published Jul. 19th 2017

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