When people first saw images of Sonic Forces, fans of the series and former fans of the series saw an opportunity for the blue hedgehog. The game looked good, there was a character creator, and the music featured in the trailers harkened back to the Sonic Adventure 2 classic, City Escape, the best song in video games. But, everyone knew to keep their expectations low.
And sure enough, Sonic Forces is mediocre, it is a poorly written, buggy, uninspiringly designed, mess of a game, which learns nothing from the mistakes of Sonic Boom, the last major installment in the series, and one of the worst. 3D Sonic games have been bad for a long time and each new entry in the series seems to completely forget the mistakes of the last game.
But I think it’s important to ask ourselves, as gamers, a very important question, were 3D Sonic games ever good? Going back to the first 3D Sonic Game, Sonic 3D Blast, it played poorly, the intoxicating speed of 2D Sonic was completely lost, and it was extremely repetitive. Sonic Blast introduced the issues 3D Sonic games would be plagued by to this day. For the most part, there haven’t been many 3D Sonic titles to escape these flaws, Sonic Colors being the main exception. But, that doesn’t mean these games have been disliked since the 90’s.
When people think about a good 3D Sonic game, two titles probably come to mind, Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2. People remember these games very fondly, myself included. From the catchy soundtrack to the variety of playable characters, Sonic Adventures and Adventures 2 were and are beloved. But, sad as it is to admit, they too, are not good games. In retrospect, both games suffered from lackluster combat, wonky control sensitivity, and repetitiveness, and it should have been as unforgivable as it is for modern Sonic titles. But, we forgave it. Why?
Because of the Chao Garden. The Chao are a small, rotund, bipedal species in the Sonic universe. In a rather random addition to Sonic Adventure (and Adventure 2), there was a mini-game where players could raise these Chao and train them to compete in various competitions against other Chao. Raising them required that players played the main game to collect different types of fruits and animals that, if given to a Chao, would alter their stats. Then players would need to strategize about what kind of Chao they wanted, and raise them accordingly. It could be rather in-depth if you wanted it to be, and it was very fun.
The Chao Garden quickly became something that people loved and put a lot of time into. After beating the game, people kept with it, to check in on their Chaos, and work on breeding even better ones. The fun of these games was in tolerating grinding the main stages so you could nurture these small, stupid creatures. Some of the most rewarding moments in my early gaming career were when I finally saw one of my Chao learn how to walk, fly, or swim after carefully raising them. These experiences made two mediocre games, actually, fun. And then, Team Sonic never included anything like it ever again. Chao Gardens are dead everywhere but, in the hopeful hearts of Sonic fans.
Team Sonic doesn’t make good games and their attempts at 3D games, are just terrible. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make enjoyable games. Sonic Forces is a bad game in nearly every imaginable way but, more offensive than that is that it’s not enjoyable. There are about a million ways that this could have been different but, most have to do with good design choices, which I don’t think they are capable of. So, I guarantee, if Sonic Forces had a Chao Garden, more people would be focusing on that. While it’s nice, that Sega listened, momentarily, to the Sonic fanbase, long enough to know that people wanted to make original characters, perhaps they need to reevaluate their stance on Chao.
But until then, there's a fanmade Chao game named, Chao Resort Island, which is great. And you don't have to play through a poorly made game to enjoy it.