At the front of Sega’s booth at E3, there were two different lines; one queue was for Sonic Mania, while the other, about half the length, was Sonic Forces. The crowds definitely seemed more excited for one over the other. Have Sonic’s recent flops affected fan’s love for modern Sonic titles, or is there enough love for both the modern era and a fun romp through the golden age? More importantly, has Sonic Team learned from the mistakes of it’s past?
First off, it should be noted that this game doesn’t try to experiment with new game types – it’s a back-to-basics formula of what worked in Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors (the better received 3-D Sonic games since SA2) and building on that. For the first time in a long time, Sega is playing it safe. Do you want me to tell you how modern Sonic plays? He plays EXACTLY like modern Sonic. Do you want to hear how classic Sonic plays? He plays EXACTLY like classic Sonic. If there are any slight differences, I didn’t notice them myself.
The new game mode is played with the avatar, a character you create and referred to as “the rookie” throughout the game. You decide how the character looks and what species he/she is. I believe you buy extra gear for your character through both common gold and red star rings, thus giving a reason for you to replay levels and giving the game a whole “carrot on a stick” feel (although I’m guessing this seeing as how you can no longer regain any rings you lose). This makes some boss battles more challenging as me and Alex watched one poor soul who just couldn’t seem to beat Eggman during the classic Sonic boss fight.
During our play through of the demo, our avatar was generated completely at random; sometimes I’d get a purple cat, other times a black bunny, and there are videos on youtube of some playing as the red wolf from the trailer. Before you enter the level, you’re given the choice between two different “Wispons”, a wisp-powered weapon. A flamethrower Wispon allows you to use the burst wisps to project your character higher into the air, while the other weapon, a lightning whip, allows the player to execute the light speed dash and quickly follow a trail of rings. There were two different stages in the demo depending on the system: the Nintendo Switch got a level very similar to modern Sonic’s stage, in which you eventually travel a slightly different path, and I found this level to be the most fun level in the demo. He/she can use their grappling hook to swing up to higher paths or attack robots via a homing attack. Alternatively, you can also use your Wispon to bring down a whole group of robots all at once. The Switch level was fast, visceral and overall, fun. This was mainly due to going through the levels a breakneck speeds only stopping to attack your enemies, with no real emphasis on platforming.
…And that’s where the PS4 level comes in to play. Oh boy.
The level sees the player racing down the Green Hill zone as it appears to be undergoing industrialization, while being chased down by a giant robot crab while smaller robot crabs try to squash you along the way. This level is entire 2-D and requires precise platforming to get through – if you read Alex’s take on the avatar character, you’ll have some appreciation for why this is a bad thing. The physics while jumping with the avatar doesn’t feel right, and it is almost impossible to turn in mid air; small platforms throughout the stage make playing the level a bit of a chore rather than fun. However if this issue can be remedied for release, then the Avatar mode could be the best new gimmick yet avatar controls much like Sonic. Personally, I don’t want to fish, I don’t want to brawl, I don’t want to pilot a mech. I want my extra character to control like Sonic as I think that is what works best in a Sonic title! It seems that Sonic Team are really investing in the avatar stages, embellished with vocal songs that are only present in their stages. These stages have the potential to be the best stages on the Switch version of the game, and if they can nail the physics, this is looking like it could be a top-tier 3-D Sonic game.
I managed to play the demo on all 3 systems, and one thing I noticed was that PS4 version of the demon was playing on the PS4 Pro…and it showed. The 1080P graphics looked incredible, and were of similar caliber to Sonic Generations on the PC with ultra-high settings. The XBox One version looked to have been running at 720P as it seemed lower resolution; this might be due to anti-aliasing and as Alex mentioned in his article. The Switch version, while still very detailed, appeared to suffer the most graphically and seemed to be at 720 or sub-720P with jagged edges due to no anti-aliasing.
Physics aside, Sonic Forces is looking to be a solid, above average Sonic title. I think Sonic Team have made the right choice to stick to proven game styles, with the new gimmick being pretty much “Sonic with weapons”. I doubt it will beat Sonic Mania in reviews or sales, but still, it appears we are getting two great Sonic games in one year.