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The new Sonic basically lets you play as fan art

A common complaint among Sonic fans — stick with me, friends — is that the series, over the decades following the original trilogy, has been hamstrung by a ballooning cast of supporting characters: Shadow the Hedgehog, Jet the Hawk, Espio the Chameleon, Beam the Rabbit, and Vector the Crocodile. If it sounds like I made those up, that’s because one is absolutely fake. But which one?

My point is that the Sonic brand needs better characters. For Sonic Forces, the latest entry in the franchise, Sega has decided to pass the buck. Fans will, for the first time, be given tools to create their own playable Sonic character.

The toolset is surprisingly robust for a platformer. First, you select a base animal type: wolf, rabbit, cat, dog, bear, bird, and for the traditionalists, hedgehog. Each animal has a unique ability, e.g., birds can double jump, wolves vacuum nearby rings. Then you lavish your creation, handpicking an ensemble from hundreds of accessories and threads.

If you want to be a neon pink, zebra-striped cat wearing a silver crown, a knockoff Infinity Gauntlet, a heavyweight champion belt, a brown mustache, and yellow flippers, then, I have to say, you have exquisite taste. Also this Sonic game will really appeal to you.

Sincerely, I think this decision is inspired. Yes, Sega has struggled to build mainstream appeal around its exhausting cast. However, the franchise and its collection of misfit toys maintain a niche but ultra passionate fanbase comprised of talented creators. Sonic has played muse to countless fan fiction authors, meme farmers, DeviantArt illustrators. As my colleague Megan Farokhmanesh noted last year, you should Google your name plus “the hedgehog.”

Whether your interest in Sonic is sincere or ironic, Sonic Forces will allow you to not simply design a new Sonic character, but play as that character through the game. Beam the Rabbit wasn’t part of the Sonic cannon when I introduced him in this article. But Beam the Rabbit will appear in my playthrough of Sonic Forces, wearing nothing but fresh new sneakers emblazoned with the Sega Mega Drive logo.

Yes, those shoes are actually in the game. Why wouldn’t they be? They’re pure fan service, a natural addition to a project that doesn’t so much serve the fans as it appears to get out of their way.

Sonic Forces will be available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC in “holiday” 2017.

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