They did it. They finally did it. Shadow The Hedgehog is playable in Sonic Forces. Let’s talk about it.
First of all, this is big news because no one other than Sonic has been playable in a mainline Sonic game in over a decade (wow, has it really been that long?). I’ve seen so many fans asking for multiple playable characters for years now…and rightfully so! So many of us have fond memories of games like S3&K, where we loved using different characters and trying out their unique abilities and play styles. Shadow, who at one time was voted the most popular Sonic character other than Sonic himself, is certainly a fan-favorite (though I have my own opinions on his rise and fall in quality). While the jaded journalists of games media were busy making “lol guns and edginess” jokes, this announcement was making a lot of people very happy.
Second of all, it’s completely free. In a world plagued with microtransactions, Sonic Forces comes with Episode Shadow out of the gate (though it does play into Pre-Order culture, which can be also be gross). I feel like Sega could’ve easily charged for this, especially with Shadow’s name on it.
But perhaps there’s a reason it’s free. Let’s talk about the negatives for a second. The level design shown is the trailer is blocky and bland. It looks like it was cheap and easy to make, like it was thrown together quickly with leftover layouts from Sonic Colors’ “Sonic Simulator” levels. I mean, it makes sense; this a free add-on with no premium price that could justify premium development. You get what you pay for, so we can’t complain that much.
But even if Episode Shadow’s three new stages are throwaway, let’s not forget that you can play as Shadow in any of Modern Sonic’s levels. This was going to happen via modding anyway (probably a week after release), so it’s cool to see an official way of doing it on day one.
Thirdly, I’m most excited about the promise of additional narrative content. We currently don’t know what this entails (additional cutscenes? new voice clips? a cobbled block of scrolling text?), but Sega told us that Episode Shadow would focus on the “mysterious backstory” between Shadow and Infinite. Considering we had a whole discussion about Shadow’s motivations in Forces’ narrative, it’s pretty clear that fans care about why Shadow has sided with Infinite (yes, narrative does matter).
It would have been easier for Sonic Team to slap in a playable Shadow with no context. If this had been Mania, new playable character DLC would probably have been thrown in “Knuckles in Sonic 2” style, where the new character is just plopped into the game without context and exists for gameplay purposes only. And that’s fine. As long as it’s sold as such, there’s nothing wrong with just giving us a new character to play with, devoid of any in-game world building, as fun little bonus. And so many people would have been fine with that.
But we’re getting extra backstory. That’s awesome. I can’t stress that enough.
I have to say, this announcement took me by surprise. It’s been ten years since we’ve played as Shadow (or anyone other than an alternate form Sonic, for that matter). I, for one, view this a good sign of things to come. I just hope and pray that Forces doesn’t get a 20 on Metacritic, because then we’ll have to wait another ten years befor Sonic Team tries something like this again.
Noah Copeland is a somewhat interesting human. He makes music/games/films, and stands at exactly average height. You can follow him on Twitter @NoahCopeland