For months, the Internet had been speculating about the mysterious third playable character in the upcoming Sonic Forces game, throwing out guesses ranging from a tail-less Tails to Bubsy the Cat. Yesterday, Sonic Team put an end to the mystery by releasing a trailer revealing that the third character would be…a customizable avatar created by the player.
For any other game franchise, this move would have been greeted with applause and acclaim—after all, who doesn’t like giving their PCs a personal touch? The Sonic franchise, however, has a rather unique history with fan-created OCs (though in truth, this sort of thing exists in any fandom), causing the reaction to be split between “this is the greatest thing ever” and “repent, for the apocalypse is coming.”
Personally, I don’t understand where all of the negative reactions are coming from. Part of my confusion stems from the fact that I only ever owned a Sega Genesis and thus haven’t played a real Sonic game since Sonic The Hedgehog 2, so I never truly came into contact with the crazy OC designs that everyone rants about, and thus I lack the historical perspective that longtime Sonic fans have. However, my primary issue with the criticism is that regardless of how you feel about people’s custom hedgehogs, as far as I can tell these designs it won’t affect your personal experience with Sonic Forces.
Based on what we’ve seen of Forces so far, the game appears to be a completely single-player adventure, with no online or local multiplayer features. While could this change in the future, I have strong doubts about this, as straightforward Sonic games like this one aren’t a great fit for multiplayer action. Trying to keep the camera focused on multiple characters traveling in different directions in a game like New Super Mario Bros. was a royal pain in the neck; with Sonic characters doing the same thing at warp speed, it would be darn near impossible. Unless Sonic Team tacks some small minigames onto Sonic Forces (for example, something like the Chaos Emerald ring runs from Sonic 2), you’ll probably be playing this game by yourself.
What the above statements means is that while players can go crazy creating wild and wacky OCs, your in-game interactions with other players and their creations will be minimal to nonexistent. No matter how well- or poorly-designed someone else’s character is, it won’t impact your personal experience with the Sonic Forces story. Let people create invincible purple-striped wolves with tragic backstories and post their designs on Twitter if they want—your copy of the game will remain a pristine sandbox for you and you alone. Why get mad over something that won’t affect your game?
This is why I think the customizable OC option was an absolutely brilliant move on the part of SEGA and Sonic Team. It empowers players to let their imaginations run wild and bring their amazing creations to life, but doesn’t force them to deal with other OCs whose designs they don’t like. Sounds like a win-win to me! (SomecallmeJohnny also makes some good points about how character creation gives Sonic Forces a) a way to stand out from other Sonic games, and b) a feature to entice players into buying the game. I couldn’t agree more with the latter point: The gameplay seems a little scattershot and not terribly interesting thus far, but I’m genuinely intrigued by the customization feature.)
In short, I fully support Sonic Team’s move to bring OCs into Sonic Forces, as it fulfills the dreams on half the Sonic fanbase while minimally impacting the experience of the other half. Now, if you excuse me, I have a super-cool cat OC to create…