Sega's embrace of original characters in Sonic Forces is brilliant
Sega is brilliant. Absolutely, positively, one hundred percent brilliant. The release of the new Sonic Forces trailer will stand as perhaps the greatest example of a company understanding their fanbase in gaming history. It was a trailer that I watched giddily, laughing with eyes wide at the realization that Sega has finally figured out what has kept Sonic alive all these years.
Sega… has read the fanfiction.
For the uninitiated, let me introduce you to the world of Sonic OCs (or Original Characters). Over the years, Sonic has befriended such a huge variety of multicolored woodland creatures that Sonic fans can’t help but create their own. There are millions out there, and they all walk the borders of hilarity and insanity, because for some reason Sonic OCs are always super over-designed, super-powerful, and often times super-dark.
Lazily scroll through the pages of DeviantArt (if you dare) and you’ll find Sonic OCs that are the spawns of gods and demons, Sonic OCs that are martial arts masters, Sonic OCs that are part cyborg, even Sonic OCs with multiple heads! No, I’m not kidding. This is the world that the casual Sonic fan never sees.
In fact, there’s a game about it that spread around the internet a few years back. Just type your first name followed by “the hedgehog” into Google image search and see what comes up. Here’s mine:
Sweet vest, Angelo the Hedgehog.
What does this have to do with Sonic Forces? Simple. Sonic Forces is the first Sonic game to include a character generator. That’s right – all the bizarre, dramatic, over-designed Sonic OCs are going to actually come to life!
In normal circumstances, this would be a fairly small story. Slap together the same connected pair of eyes on an animal body, hit the random button on a color generator, and you have a halfway decent Sonic OC.
But Sonic Forces goes the extra mile. Sonic Forces wants your OC to be as over-designed as you could possibly imagine.
Just look at the character showcased in the trailer itself! It’s a wolf that’s taller than Sonic, but just as fast, and he wears high grey and black boots, and robotic gloves that fire out grappling hooks, and he wears cool hipster glasses that cover his eyes at all times, and attached to his glasses is a headset that allows him to constantly stay in contact with his teammates, and, when he really gets mad, he can harness the power of raw elemental fire to throw fireballs at his enemies!
Original character. Do not steal!
And if this was all aesthetic that would be one thing. But it’s not. It’s mechanical, too! Flame the Wolf, or whatever dumb name this OC has, can actually shoot grappling hooks and fireballs, and can even use his fire powers to double jump. In the world of fanfiction this is all just fan-wankery, but in the world of gameplay this is actually really deep. Characters with a double jump, for example, will take completely different routes through stages than characters without one. Characters with a ranged attack will fight in a totally different way than characters with a homing attack. Sega has managed to turn this joke of the fanfiction world into a deep and complex element of platformer gameplay
They have readily exploited the ludicrous and bizarre nature of their fandom, and it’s awesome.
Choose Your Species, Choose Your Adventure
Details about the character customization system are still slim, but we do know what species you can be. Players will choose between being a Wolf, Rabbit, Cat, Dog, Bear, Bird, and, of course, Hedgehog. Each species will come with its own special ability. Wolves constantly draw-in rings, like the Lightning Shield from previous games. Rabbits are invincible for a longer period of time after getting hit, which is useful if you are a bit of a reckless speedrunner. Cats keep one ring after getting hit. They have to get hit again while holding their one ring to be brought to zero, and then get hit again to die. Dogs start each fresh life with five rings, allowing them to take a hit without picking up any. Bears can use a powerful homing attack that can knock enemies back. Birds can naturally double jump. Finally, Hedgehogs can “collect rings while getting damaged.” This makes it appear as if all other species won’t have a chance to pick up the rings they lost when they get hit. They will just have to find new ones.
In addition to these species abilities, each hero will also be equipped with a “wispon” – a weapon that channels the powers of one of the wisps from Sonic Colors. This is where Flame the Wolf got his fire-throwing abilities. Each of these wispons will grant characters new ways to attack and move throughout levels. Finally, every custom-made character has access to a grappling hook. It would have been nice if these characters had slightly different methods of mobility, but we will take whatever variety we can get.
Then there are the aesthetic options themselves. You will be able to alter three pieces of your character’s headgear, gloves, footwear, body, clothing, skin color, fur color, and more. Wanna be a cyborg furry that wears sunglasses? You can do that. Wanna deck yourself out in space marine gear? You can do that, too. Swimsuit, biker gloves, and a scarf? Sure!
And it’s this custom-made character that will be the third playable character in Sonic Forces. So you will have classic Sonic, who plays like he does in the Genesis games, modern Sonic, who uses the boost meter and homing attack from modern games, and Original Character Do Not Steal (or whatever), with a gameplay style customized to your liking.
And I for one applaud Sega for embracing the weirder, darker parts of their fanbase. Not only will this play right into the hands of Sonic fanfiction writers everywhere, but it will also give casual fans new and interesting ways to play the game. Who knows, maybe it will inspire casual fans to dip their toes into the bizarre world of Sonic fanworks.
Just beware…that hedgehog hole runs deep.