Sonic Forces @EGX 2017 Hands On Impressions

This week was the Eurogamer Expo (EGX), I attended the convention over two days and I was able to play Sonic Forces several times across all platforms (PC was not available).

I tried and tested every Avatar weapon and power up, each stage was played multiple times and I ended up discovering all the pathways on each stage.

This will be a long read because if I were in your position, I would want a very detailed impression on this game so I have a very clear idea as to what I can currently expect.

Music

[This applies only to the tracks in the demo, not tracks released on YouTube]

Every time I listen to Forces’ soundtrack on YouTube, I really don’t like it. So why did I really enjoy the music when actually listening to it in the game? Even the Green Hill Boss fight was quite catchy.

Even after I finished the Avatar stage I found myself humming the tune and singing the lyrics for a few hours after it, it’s that addictive.

It’s down to the simple reason that the music compliments the action quite well, even the silly sounding synths during the Green Hill fight work as Eggman slowly advances towards you.

I’m as shocked as anyone, I actually like the music in Forces.

Performance & Visuals

[This does not apply to the Switch version; I will talk about that separately at the end of the article.]

Aside from the fact the colour scheme is dark and moody, graphically it’s ok. Textures are high quality; the frame rate appears to be a constant 60fps. I didn’t notice any slowdowns or issues on the PS4/Xbox One versions of the game; it’s a nice game to look at in motion.

Tiny details are scattered around, like a blurry reflection of Sonic and the surrounding scene in a puddle, grass blades blowing in the wind during Green Hill and there’s a huge level of detail on the ending models when you beat a stage.

Sadly though, if you stop in Sunset Heights and try to look at some of the ruined buildings, their textures are lower than they probably should be, shop names appear to be blurred and some details outside the boundary of the path are also low quality. Which is a shame since this is detail you can see from the playable area.

Loading times were also very fast on the PS4 and Xbox One versions; don’t have a time, but they were fast, 2 or 3 seconds at most.

Sonic Forces was running off the systems HDD, unsure if the consoles were pro or standard systems.

Controlling Modern Sonic

Modern Sonic still cannot perform a spin attack, he cannot roll and he still has the same control problems which have plagued the boost era since Unleashed.

At times the gravity in Sonic Forces seems to switch from low to high depending on the situation. For example, quite often I ended up leaving a ramp, went flying through the air only to find the falling arc is not what you expect, as if gravity is much lower or Sonic is somehow floating away, this also happened when attempting to jump across platforms too.

Other times it feels like gravity is higher than it should be. For example; in Sunset Heights after the rail grinding section if you turn back the other way, there are 3 platforms to reach a red ring. The jumps here do not feel natural, Sonic feels heavy at this section and failing what appears to be a set of simple platforms is quite common occurrence.

It does not feel natural to land jumps at all, most of the time you cheer when you make a difficult landing not because you estimated the jumps naturally, but because you finally figured out what kind of auto motion was being put on your character or natural circumstances have been put into place to create an artificial sense of difficulty instead of designing a naturally challenging level in which the physics remain constant throughout.

Sonic’s acceleration also has a problem… the following diagram illustrates Sonic’s acceleration speed if you just hold the ‘left/right button’ in Sonic Mania.

See how there is a constant acceleration until top speed is reached? Unless you go down a hill or get a power up, it’s a constant rate.

Here is how it works in Forces.

For some reason, and this is very noticeable at the start of Sunset Heights since you cannot boost at the start of that stage, Sonic begins to gain speed at a rate you expect, but the moment his animation changes there is a sudden and dramatic increased in speed, not a natural acceleration speed, this happens on two different occasions until max speed is reached.

It doesn’t feel right, it makes Sonic harder to control and it feels as if Sonic is on ice as he lurches to the left or right from the sudden acceleration. The moment you hit the higher speed bands, you suddenly lose control of Sonic and he weirs off to the left or right.

The issue of scripting and automated segments come into play here too, there is a lot of automated and scripted segments which force Sonic along a specific part of the route, otherwise when these are not enabled, Sonic hugs the left or right wall even when boosting no matter how hard you try to make him move towards the centre.

The only time this doesn’t happen and Sonic remains in the centre is during scripted or automated segments where the game itself is keeping you in the centre (The start of the Tag-Team stage does this), or if the game has a cut scene or something which puts you in the centre and you remain there unless you move (the Double Boost sequence).

Modern Level Design

Sunset Heights level design is as basic as you can possibly get. The stage is incredibly linear with absolutely no real alternative pathways and very little in terms of exploration.

You may have seen that moment where Sonic grabs a zip-line and swings through a building and grabs a red ring, below him is the section you take if you if you don’t take that zip-line? That’s about it for alternative pathways.

The only other instance of an alternative pathway comes during the camera switch to the 2D perspective section, this depends if you boost or not after you leave a ramp, do so and Sonic reaches a higher path, meaning you skip out a few badniks and a spring, it’s only a few seconds difference before the paths merge again, not a big change nor does it make for creative or inspiring level design.

Otherwise exploration in this stage is literally ‘there is a platform above me, I’ll jump on it, now the platform above that… oh there’s a red ring here.’ It’s so basic and the rewards are just red rings, no power ups, no extra lives, no rings, no destroyed statue of Fang, it’s just for red rings.

In many ways, the game feels like it was designed for an absolute basic player, someone new to games, or a child who has just got their first gaming system. There is nothing challenging or insightful here, the game forces you to go forward at all times, be it through boost pads, automated segments or being practically forced to use the boost in order to progress.

The level design also employs automated and scripted sections to guarantee a player ends up where the developers want you to go, over where you want to go or where your ability should take you.

For instance, use the boost as you approach a ramp, even for a split second and you’ll definitely make it to a higher platform. Don’t use it and you’ll fail each time regardless as to if you were at top non boost speed or not. They key to making it is if you were at ‘boost speed’ or not.

On other occasions, control is completely taken out of your hands to ensure you go in the right direction or to complete difficult jumps for those cinematic like moments where you fly over a huge chasm. Other times it’s just bizarre choices; during both the modern and avatar stages, control is completely taken away to ensure you actually finish a stage. Yes the game will actually finish the levels for you.

Level design is also poor when you factor in enemies; they are simply not a threat or an obstacle. You know how in Mania you sometimes have to time your attacks or attack an enemy in a specific way to defeat it? Here you just press the boost button; you’ll just go through them.

There is no challenge, no difficulty, no tactics and no options. It’s just ‘see the enemy, boost at the enemy’ it feels like a Fisher Price my first video game at times.

You constantly feel like you are being made to go forward, no exploration and no thought into how you do it, just hold down the boost and away you go, congratulations you just won the game.

The Homing Attack May Have Changed…

Something about the homing attack in this game feels off and I cannot place my finger on exactly what it is.

In Sonic Forces, say you have this enemy set up.

You approach enemy A and homing attack it, you then lock onto enemy C, the game will not allow you to attack enemy B. Even if you can still see it and aim for it, the moment you pass it you have to go forward.

Same if you attack B first, you must go onto C.

Now can you do A, B, C? Possibly… but I couldn’t get this to work, I tried several times in different areas of Sunset Heights and Tag Team, chaining homing attacks in Forces seems to have a problem.

Previously, if you just pushed the attack button, Sonic would auto move to the closest enemy and defeat them, or if you held the analogue stick, you could ‘aim’ Sonic at the target.

In Forces, when you jump, you must aim at an enemy using the analogue stick, or else you cannot lock onto it and perform a homing attack.

But something is off about it. It’s as if, not only do you have to be in range, but the target icon has such a high margin of failure that you must be so precise with your aim or it won’t lock onto your target. For quick chaining attacks in succession this presents a problem unless the target is almost directly in front of you so the game can auto lock, hence why I’ve never been able to perform a homing attack behind me, even if I can see the target.

In Sunset Heights, the initial enemies leading up-to the Zip-Line like segment don’t have this problem, but when you reach that wider area after the boost hill going down into the park square, it’s very noticeable and very easy to miss a target.

If this was the case in Generations, feel free to discard this section since I genially cannot remember it being there, certainly not this bad, but the homing attack definitely felt off, it felt much harder to aim and chain attacks, I can see enemies I want to target, sometimes being right next to them but I’m unable to do so. Something is wrong with it.

Controlling Classic Sonic

It’s very hard to judge this, it’s the Green Hill Zone boss fight again with a twist. There is very little to do here, but for the most part, Classic Sonic pretty much controls as he did in Generations with one key difference.

You how have to hold ‘down’ and mash the jump button to perform a super spin attack.

That’s about it, Classic Sonic has all the benefits and problems from Generations otherwise, he still feels a bit floaty at times when you jump at speed. But otherwise, it’s very hard to judge since this is a highly restricted boss fight.

He controls as you should expect him to, but it’s way too hard to judge in a level with a flat surface in which you cannot move for long periods of time and are fighting a boss which barely requires you to actually jump at him.

Classic Level Design

Again just judging the boss here… there’s nothing that can be said, it’s a flat plane for the majority of the fight. There are issues though when the level design meets the interface.

Aside from constantly being yelled at by Sonic’s friends, the radio obstructs both the boss and the player in the GHZ fight, meaning you have to guess where you are if you perform an attack at that moment.

Enter the Avatar

Sega had a number of randomly generated Avatars for you to play as, all had exactly the same abilities despite being different species, all moved the same and played the same.

The only difference in gameplay is based on the weapon you pick.

So, armed with a gun and a grapple hook, what’s the avatar like?

Controlling the Avatar

It’s pretty bad.

Considering how much has gone into marketing the Avatar as being the big thing of this game, controlling him is horrendous. He suffers from feeling sluggish, his jump distance at times feels random as does his jump height, he is not a fun character to play as and just begs the question as to why this was implemented?

There are moments where you have to jump on a platform or over a series of platforms over a bottomless pit, above you is the Giant Spider foot waiting to stomp on you, meaning you have to use precision platforming and speed to navigate this section.

The problem is the same as modern Sonic, at times the gravity feels either too strong or too weak, it’s almost dynamic depending on the section of the level, what worked in an earlier part of the stage will not work later on, even if the platform is exactly the same and the distance to it is exactly the same.

Often the Avatar will either float too far or seemingly drop like a brick despite what you do, often your momentum comes crashing to a halt as you have no choice but to stop at an edge and before basic jumps just to ensure you make it, you constantly feel like you’re fighting the physics instead of using them.

Avatar Gameplay

I feel that I have been very much mislead when it comes to the gameplay for the Avatar character, this character is nowhere near as cool or interesting as the trailers make him out to be. The main issue here is with the weapon you use and the Wisp power ability the accompanies it, your fun mileage varies greatly depending on the weapon you pick since it feels that stages have been designed with specific weapons in mind over others.

The options available to you in terms of how you progress through a level are also dictated by the weapon you use. There is a standard non power pathway, but there is also a specific one to each weapon type.

However, for the Cube Hammer power, I could not find a single use for this one. Even it’s standard attack special is completely useless, yes it takes out enemies faster than the homing attack and it gives you rings for doing so. But there’s no point to them, the levels are flooded with rings so it’s very unlikely that you will ever be pressed for finding rings.

You can only attack enemies by using weapons, you cannot jump onto them, you cannot roll/spin to attack enemies, despite the fact the avatar can roll down S-Tubes. You must use weapons or the grapple/homing attack.

Grapple Hook Gameplay

This is a contender for most pointless grapple hook in any game of all time. This is how you use it.

  • Scripted sequences which you have no control aside from QTE events.
  • Very rare occasions when there is a specific point that you can use to access a higher path or in some cases, continue with the stage, you push one button when the target indicator blinks.
  • Homing attack enemies.

That’s it. There is no free use of the grapple hook, you cannot use it to swing over pits, you cannot use it to reach higher platforms, climb vertical surfaces, or do anything interesting or fun.

Do you want to swing over those enemies? You can’t.

Do you want to climb up that wall? You can’t.

Do you want to swing through the stage? You can’t.

Do you want to use the hook to pull items towards you? You can’t.

Do you want to do anything remotely fun with it like you can do in any game that has a grapple hook? You can’t.

Early on in the stage I was running down a hill, hit a ramp and right at the peak of the jump I pressed the button to use the hook, it felt like exactly the right moment to do that and feel amazing except…! Nothing… I just fell to where the game wanted me to be.

I then find a section with a platform above a pit… can I use the grapple hook to swing over this? No… Nothing.

I can only think of one grapple hook in gaming which is even less fun to use is the grapple gun from Resident Evil 0 because it takes two inventory slots and usually requires a player to backtrack through the entire mansion to pick it up because most people discarded it after the train!

You can use the grapple hook to attack enemies, but this is completely pointless and boring. The Avatar can only destroy one enemy at a time doing, yes it can chain attack like Sonic’s homing attack, but this move is far slower and you will not want to do this as it ruins the pace of the game.

This is how Sonic’s homing attack works.

  • Jump into the air.
  • Lock onto enemy.
  • Attack enemy (zoom into it).
  • Recover/Lock onto 2nd enemy, repeat.

This process is less than a half a second long. Here is how it works for the Avatar.

  • Jump into the air
  • Lock onto enemy
  • Fire grapple hook at enemy.
  • Zoom toward enemy.
  • Kick enemy/defeat it.
  • Recover/Lock onto 2nd enemy, repeat.

This is at least half a second long, whilst that may not seem like much, when you take into account there are normally 4-5 enemies in a row, this is a slower attack by a few seconds vs just 1 which would be what happens if Sonic were in the same situation.

Whilst you press the same buttons for the Avatar as Sonic, the process to defeat just one enemy is so slow, you will eventually resort to using the guns since the pace of the game collapses and the gameplay becomes amazingly boring by using the grapple hook to attack since it’s so slow and there is no ammo/cool down for the weapons.

When the grapple hook does lock onto an enemy, the distance on it is also broken. I was able to lock onto enemies not even on the screen yet and zoom to them, even if I didn’t know they were there, it felt at times like I wasn’t playing the game but just watching stuff happen.

How to make this grapple attack more fun: Do it like Sonic 06 where if you grapple attack an enemy and kick it, it could fly into another enemy and blow it up.

Weapon Types

The game practically forces you to use weapons and there is absolutely no consequence for doing so which basically turns the game into boost 2.0 or turns on a pseudo invincibility mode.

Lightning Whip

The lightning whip attack launches the avatar forward and whips the enemies, it’s range is huge, it can easily take out 10+ enemies together on a 2D plane, in a 3D setting it’s arc is well near 180 degrees if you wiggle the analogue stick at the right time.

It’s also very broken, in 2D view mode, you can clip through enemies using this attack, but the whip won’t have impacted them as you pass through, yet they will still blow up with the others. This also happens in 3D view mode.

Flame Thrower

The flame thrower is also broken. You can hold down the attack for the entire level, there is no consequence to doing so, the range on this thing is somewhere between 1 quarter to half the screen and every enemies dies the moment they get struck by it.

There is no fuel for this gun or cool down time, so holding it down you effectively turn on an endless boost mode that only turns off if you jump and you can then activate it again.

Cube Hammer

This weapon isn’t broken… just boring. There is absolutely no reason at all to use this unless you are going for a 100% stage completion.

This was the last weapon I used when testing the characters, so after beating this stage with the fire and lightning weapon I was very familiar with the stage.

I was forced to take the standard path in the pyramid section; the attack from the hammer was so boring and repetitive that I quit the stage because it was that dull. It’s by far the most dull weapon, in the Avatar stage I could not find it’s accompanying wisp power nor a unique use for it. In the Tag Team section, there was one Wisp power up for it, but I couldn’t find where I was to use it.

Wisp Powers

Each Avatar can be equipped with a weapon, a Lightning Whip, a Flame Thrower, a Cube Hammer (turns enemies into an Ice Cube).

Each weapon can be super charged with a specific Wisp.

But here is the catch; if you have the Lightning Whip and you pick up a Red Wisp… it does nothing. You need to find a Yellow Wisp. Same goes for the other weapons.

How much fun you have on a stage radically differs to the weapon type you use. Here is what they do.

Flame/Burst: Launches your character up into the air, in 3D mode you can move in all directions.

Lightning: It becomes the Light Speed Dash or Light Speed Attack, only you must hold down the activation button to maintain it.

Cube: Creates blocks that you can climb on.

Personally, I found the burst the most fun, the reason being is that you at least feel like you are playing the game and making some progress. You choose when to activate it, you choose the direction you want to go in, you need to time the bursts in order to reach your target.

The light dash is cool to look at, until you realise it’s another automated attack which can go on for several seconds in some stages. In the Tag Team stage, you can clear the entire pyramid by doing only this attack and one homing attack section.

The Cube, if the demo had any moments that you could actually use this I’d be more than willing to comment on it. Right now it’s completely useless.

Artificial Replay Value

So you might now be thinking… why not just use the one you find the most fun? Well… there’s a catch to that.

If you want to get 100% of the collectables, you must replay the Avatar & Tag Team stages using different weapons! Even if you master a stage with one weapon, the game forces you to replay using another weapon.

Take the Avatar Green Hill Zone. Using the burst enables you to get to the very top of the stage and you can find a red ring, but from what I can see, it’s impossible to do this as the Lightning or Cube, they cannot make that distance and the level design doesn’t allow you to get there through any normal means.

Later in the stage a bridge collapses over a bottomless pit. There is a number of rings here and a red ring. I was only able to get this ring if I used the Lightning Wisp power. It might be possible with the burst if you save it and the cube… if they add cube wisps to this stage!

The Tag Team level has the same problem, the lightning special allows you to collect one red ring, but you have to go through the slower/normal route to get at least an additional two.

Tag-Team Gameplay

The above video is of myself playing through the Tag-Team section, it includes an analysis which helps compliment the issues I raise in this section.

Changing things up from tradition, Sonic and the Avatar team up to take on a level, that’s the idea, here is how it works.

You start off as Sonic locked into a scripted/automated section in which your options are to either use the boost button or the slower homing attack to defeat a few enemies… you hit a ramp, the Avatar then has the option to grapple swing to a higher platform.

That is the extent of the complexity of tag-team.

  • There is no switch in/switch out.
  • There is no choice to make a character active or primary.
  • The game auto decides which character is the primary character.

For example, outside the pyramid, the player is practically forced to use, long straight corridors, boost wisps and speed ramps practically force you to use his abilities. Only once does the Avatar have the option to use his grapple attack, this move is tied to the jump button, meaning Sonic could have and has done a similar move using his homing attack and has done this exact ranged jump before (Generations/Chemical Plant Zone).

Inside the pyramid, it’s another story, you are practically forced to use the Avatars powers, grapple hook jumps to move to the next cog, to then instantly become surrounded by enemies, use the weapon (it’s faster than the homing attack by a long way) to defeat enemies or else you cannot progress through the stage.

Given how you cannot set a character as being active or primary results in some strange behaviour. Despite being on very restrictive circular platforms, Sonic can still use the boost meaning you can fly off the stage even though you’re under the impression that you are using the Avatar as a primary character.

There is nothing that suggests a symbiotic relationship in the tag team mode, not even a partial one, it’s literally “Here is the Sonic part, here is the Avatar part, here is the Sonic part.”

What’s the difference? One is boost to win; the other is use the weapon and wiggle the analogue stick to aim.

The following video is of myself playing through the tag team section of the game, I used the lightning wisp to show you the fastest way through, you can see in the video most of the issues I wrote about here.

When you watch it, it looks cool. But to play; it’s amazingly simplistic and dull.

Edit: Just as I was going to press, according to the Tokyo Game Show livestream, you can switch in and switch out Sonic/Avatar as the ‘leader’ but based on the stage I played there is no point in doing so, the stages seem to be clearly designed for ‘this is the Sonic part, this is the Avatar part.

Tag-Team Level Design

As I said before… it’s literally ‘This is the Sonic Segment, this is the Avatar Segment’ there is nothing clever here which means you’ll use both their abilities in harmony, it’s essentially two levels stuck together with tape.

The design is so basic it’s hardly worth reporting on, the initial Sonic section has a few higher paths, but they’re simple to get to, your options are literally ‘use the boost, or the slower homing attack’.

If you have seen official playthroughs of the interior of the pyramid, the impression you get is that there are loads of pathways, that you can jump on different cogs to progress… You cannot.

If you take the basic non wisp power pathway, you follow a strict route, each instance is the same dull gameplay.

  • Jump on a cog.
  • Defeat enemies
  • Jump on next cog
  • Repeat

The Lightning Wisp power allows you to bypass this, but again, you are effectively holding down one button to do so, it looks cool, but it’s boring to play.

The Burst Wisp power allows you to bypass the cogs, it’s much more enjoyable than the lightning, but only because you actually feel like you’re finally doing something and having control over your game in a non scripted or automated segment.

The Pyramid section is full of automated sections through the use of the grapple hook, you do not decide where it takes you, the second ends with a boost pad sequence and loads of rings, so even if you did badly you’ll still get a ring bonus.

Another really odd design choice was the very end, when you fall into the bomb room, I took my hands off the controller because I wanted to see what was behind me when I landed, but Sonic and the Avatar automatically ran forward and finished the level without my input.

Double Boost Is Pointless

This Double Boost move… You hammer the button to do a fist bump within a time limit and off you go!

Ever wonder what happens if you don’t do that? Do you get less boost power? Do you fail the segment?

What happens? …Virtually nothing.

My partner tried this before me and she mashed the button, succeeded and the double boost section began.

When it was my turn I said “I’m going to deliberately fail this, I want to see what happens!”

What happened made us both laugh, Sonic and the avatar fist bumped, Sonic yelled ‘Double Boost’ they stumbled a little, but that was it. I got the exact same double boost power and the segment played out exactly as it did for someone who bothers to do it.

You do not even need to move the characters or touch the controller in order to complete the stage, predating this section is a scripted section which lasts for 5 seconds, you then enter the double boost section which lasts for another 25 seconds before you regain control in the pyramid free fall.

So for 30 seconds you are not playing the stage, it’s virtually completely automated.

The only difference I could see was that you don’t get a point bonus if you fail the fist bump, but it’s still possible to get an S rank even if you fail this section!

During the double boost even though you have the ability to move left and right during it, there is no point in doing so since the game immediately centres you on the pathway, you might as well stay there since you’ll still hit all but maybe 3 enemies only this time you’ll collect all the rings at the end of the segment.

You are literally rewarded for doing nothing!

Overall Gameplay Thoughts

This is one of the most scripted and automated Sonic games I’ve seen. I want to actually be able to play a Sonic game, not watch an automated or scripted section. I want a Sonic game where I’m not just sat there waiting to turn off the boost button or push jump at the right time and that’s the extent of my decisions.

Modern Sonic still has all the problems he previously did; it’s still boost to win, only now the homing attack seems to be a little broken.

Classic Sonic controls exactly like he did and you’d expect, nothing else to really report until we can finally get a level to play instead of an easy boss fight.

The biggest disappointment comes from the Avatar. Aside from being sluggish to control, his one unique selling point is barely used, all the weapons are fantastically over powered, the Wisp special attacks are either boring or appear to do nothing.

Other universal issues are just baffling, there seems to be a lack of shadows under the characters at times, which means that it’s very hard to see if you are directly over a platform or not during platforming segments, this is basic game design for 3D games which has been around since the days of the N64, why is it not here in Forces?

Characters jumps can either be floaty or their arcs cut shorter than you feel they should be.

Overall Level Design Thoughts

The level design is poor, it feels like it’s just recycled parts from previous games masquerading as something new.

It’s like running through a movie back lot and seeing all the old scenes that we’ve seen before in movies past, here is that platforming segment, here is that free fall segment, here is that boost segment, here is the chase segment. Done it all before, it’s boring now.

How does this happen? Especially with the debut of a ‘new’ character with ‘new’ gameplay. Here we go playing the Avatar stage, a new idea with a new gameplay mechanic; instead it’s just pound shop Modern Sonic. The first boss for this character is literally a QTE chase sequence which involves the quick step.

You know, I think we’ve played this boss before… wasn’t this done in Unleashed, Generations, 06 and Rise of Lyric?

Hang on, we have a character here with a grapple hook fighting a giant spider, why is this boss not an open area in which you have to use the hook to grapple onto the Spider Bossswing between its legs as it tries to grab at you, climb onto the top of it and use your weapon to try and break parts off it or open it’s head to rip out its circuits. The boss battle ends with the robot crashing down, you leap off it as it explodes and pull a victory pose.

That would be fun!

That would be giving me something to do! Instead I’m watching a chase sequence which is feels lifted and recycled from Sonic Unleashed that ends with a QTE. And at the time I forgot to check if failing that sequence results in a death or if it’s just a point bonus since you still win if you fail the double boost so why not here too?

Here is our Modern Sonic stage, it’s another linear corridor/path like level, here are our enemies which do not present a challenge, your options are boost through them or use the slower homing attack. You don’t need to think, you don’t need to react, just hold the boost button and you’ll do it, maybe press jump on occasion.

If you are wondering about the length of the stages? Based on the fact the demo levels let you find all the red star rings, they really are between 60 and 90 seconds long, with up-to 30 seconds of automated segments in some stages.

You want to explore the stage? You want to go back, tough, there’s boosters everywhere to force you in one direction, only now we don’t even allow you to go back to attack enemies with a homing attack.

There is something wrong with a level when you can hold down 1 button and either boost or fly over the entire thing and still come out with an S Rank. It’s catastrophically wrong when on my estimation when you can beat the Tag-Team stage in under 1:30 get away with only 10 presses of the controller buttons, collect nearly 700 rings and still get an S rank after only two playthrough’s of the stage!

There are also some perspective problems with some objects, take a look at this part of the Avatar Green Hill.

At this section of the stage, below you is a bottomless pit, you have to use these platforms to get past it (unless you have a yellow wisp power). Due to the positioning of this platform, it lines up perfectly with that checkered wall. It looks like it’s a wall preventing you from progressing… but it’s not!

I saw other players get very confused here, even I made an error the first time I encountered this part of the stage. Some players tried to use the weapon to break through the wall, I saw others trying to jump left (blue arrow) to what looks like a ledge, others just stopped and were killed by the spiders foot because they had no idea that you can just walk right off the block, because it looks like a solid barrier when you actually sit down and play it.

The Nintendo Switch Version…

…Is absolutely atrocious in it’s current state.

The Switch version was so poor when critiqued both as a stand alone product and directly to the PS4 and Xbox One version I question why it has been let out into the public demo space in it’s current state.

It was not just the worst of performing Sonic title, out of all the Switch games I played at the entire convention, it was the worst performing game of the lot.

The loading times on the Switch version are long, much longer than all other counterparts, which is to be expected since it’s running off a cart and not a hard drive but still, the difference in time is not just the odd one or two seconds, we’re talking around 5-10 seconds of extra time waiting at loading screens in some cases.

Technically, the Switch version is ugly, both graphically and in terms of performance. Graphically, the low res textures are poor, the comments from E3 and Gamescom are not an exaggeration, it really does look like an early PS2 era game, it’s an ugly horse. Blurry low quality textures in a ruined city blur together in a brown bury mess add onto of that a blur filter when boosting, it’s hideous to look at.

Even when not using the boost, it’s hideous.

Frame rate is also a problem, whilst there is no way I can accurately measure it in a demo pod, it’s certainly no better than 30fps, I was also sure that I saw some drops during Sunset Heights.

This might explain one of the worst offenders in the Switch version, the controls are much poorer across all characters compared to their rival system counterparts.

Platforming becomes much harder, precision jumping is much harder and frustrating, even basic things like the homing attack become a problem. Remember how I mentioned that the homing attack seems to have altered slightly? Combine that with the lower performance of the Switch and homing attacks become an utter mess.

There was also some noticeable input lag during certain levels which becomes a nightmare for avoiding hazards and bottomless pits and chaining the homing attack.

Based on what I have played, there is absolutely nothing positive to say about the Switch version of Forces at all, it’s not fit for purpose in any respect.

There was no portable version available to play anywhere in the convention, Nintendo had a booth but I did not see Forces anywhere in it. They did however have Mania.

The Switch version also lacked the Tag Team stages, which adds more questions as to the Switch versions current quality and performance.

It’s extremely concerning to be nearly 2 months away from release and seeing the Switch version at a public demo in the state its currently in missing an entire level/gameplay mode and yet it’s currently at a much higher price point worldwide.

Final Thoughts

Based on the demo I played…

If you have already played any Sonic game since Sonic 06, you have already played this game, there is nothing new or interesting here, it’s the same old level design which if you can believe it feels even more tired than it previously did.

If this is your first Sonic game, it’s going to feel amazing and new because to you it is new.

It’s a highly automated game which results in dull automated and scripted gameplay, the player is limited in what they can do and is forced to proceed in one direction through automated moments and deliberate design choices.

I’ve been waiting since 2011 to play a new 3D Sonic game on a system that I own, I think I’m still waiting.

Positives:
+ Music is pretty good.
+ PS4/Xbox One versions are technically fine.
+ Sonic’s animations when you S Rank a stage are really good.
+ Very accessible experience, no high difficulty/experience level required.
+ Low price point.

Negatives:
– Level Design is poor, feels recycled from previous games, stages are painfully short.
– Avatar gameplay lacks ambition & potential.
– Modern Sonic still suffers from decade old problems.
– Switch version is currently abysmal.
– The most automated/scripted Sonic game in years, makes the gameplay feel boring.

Fun Fact I Learnt: The Green Wolf Avatar is actually female. You can tell by the noise it makes when you perform the stomp move.

PAX 2010 Preview: Sonic Free Riders, Part 2

As mentioned in part 1 of my hands-on preview, Sonic Free Riders was only set up at the very end of the show and, as a result, was only demoed by about ten people at the show. What was surprising, though, was that the opinions of everyone who got to play it were universally positive. Given the small number of people who got to play the demo, I decided to record their impressions just as they got off of the demo for the compilation video you see below. I regrettably wasn’t able to record the first two people to try the game, but they shared the positive opinions of the people below. Be sure to stay tuned for more videos later in the day of some of these people in action!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-FHNVPLyNk[/youtube]

Update: I’ve uploaded some game play I took at the event.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzVRj04q7v8[/youtube]
This next video highlights a problem many people – though not everyone – had with the demo: the menus. I might be doing one more preview regarding these menus, provided I still have the video I took of someone having serious problems with selecting their character.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7cX6x-2deY[/youtube]

Sonic 4 Playtested By Community Member, Impressions Inside

This kind of article is usually relegated to the community blog, but I believe that it is newsworthy enough to sit up here.

One of my fangaming buddies from SFGHQ, Endri (creator of Sonic Attitude), got the chance to play Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1.  How?  He was invited to playtest the X360 version of the game on a Developer’s Console.  He had to run in and out, but he managed to post his impressions at Sonic Retro.  He will be elaborating further, but here is what he has said thus far (keep in mind that he is from Brazil and English is not his native language):

Early in the morning today, I, and a other few (un)lucky people, had the opportunity to playtest the X-BOX 360 version of the game. In fact, any of you could do it as well, provided you own a Developer’s Console, or a J-TAGed system.

I’ll try to give a very briefely analysis of what were my thoughts about this game.

Graphically (and artistically, I must say), the game is very beautiful, even thought I can’t really eat that celshading effect they put in Sonic’s model, to make it look like a differed shaded Genesis sprite.Something important to notice is that, the 3D models are not really 3D models, instead, they are sprites of pre-rendered 3D models. SO we are pretty much dealing with a 2D game here. That goes for everything else but Sonic, since I’m not sure as if Sonic is really a sprite itself, but I pretty much think it is. THat might explain the akward animations.

The level design. I played through Splash Hill Zone entirely up until Casino Street Zone. Splash Hill ZOne is pretty much Neo Leaf Forest Zone (for those who don’t know, Sonic Advance 2’s first stage). Everything about it looked like Leaf Forest. Hell, even the level art itself reminds Leaf Forest some way or another. The level design pretty much encourages the player to keep going to the right, except when the levels abruptuly decides to force you to go in the opposite direction by inserting unexpected walls, making you jump, jump to the left, jump to the right, keep running to the right. It is especially strange, considering the level layouts encourages you to keep running right. The acts are actually considerably huge in size, but quite short in time, much like Sonic Advance 2 stages. I don’t remember any level especific gimmick on the first stage, which is pretty unfortunate. You gotta love Casino Street Zone, since it’s freaking Casino Night Zone. It’s exactly identical. The colors, the tiles, everything. The level layout however is much like Music Plant Zone from Sonic Advance 2. A level that right encourages speed. Ha, about the Special Stages, they are quite fun actually, it is Sonic 1’s Distorted Dimension, but with a new twist: instead of controling Sonic, you control the stage itself. So yeah, my oversight was right after all. In terms of difficult, I found it harder than Sonic 1’s Special Stages (and provided, they were rathereasy). I belive they are going to be even fun/harder with the motion controls of the Wiimote/Six-axis/DualShock3, since you have to rotate the stage using the trigger buttons in the X-BOX 360 version (RT rotates to the right, LT to the left, etc). Looks like a pinball of sort. Oh, don’t let me get started on the bossfight. You might already imagine how it is by now.

The gameplay is pretty solid, actually. Which is a great thing. However, the game pretty much have the physics of Sonic Rush. I hate I hate I hate I hate I hate, I can’t stress enough how I hate the jump!  Fucking jump! It’s the worst jump I’ve ever seem in a Sonic game to date. Apparently they tried to mimic the ‘the longer you hold down the jump button, the longer you accent’ mechanic of the classic games, but as a result, they fucked the freaking cake with it. The jump is all over the place: if you rapidly tap the jump button, Sonic almost don’t jump; if you hold a little and release, Sonic starts accending, but hebreaks to the floor as soon as you release the jump button. If you hold the jump button all the way down, Sonic jumps like if he had touched a spring, he jumps so high and almost no gravity, it’s like you are jumping on the freaking moon. And I thought the jump ing the Rush series was bad. This one is even worse. The jump is so bad that I preffer to keep running right to win really. Don’t let me get started on the spin dash. THe spin dash don’t have enough power, no matter what. It behaves much like Knuckles’ Chaotix spin dash. Running rewards you with much more speed than spindashing.

My final remark of this game? It’s freaking Sonic Advance 2! It’s written Sonic Advance 2 all over the place. It is Sonic Advance 2 all over again. In fact, they could have named this game Sonic High Speed, and I wouldn’t mind it at all. But it is supposed to be Sonic fucking 4. To be honest, the name Sonic High Speed would fit this game better.

I am afraid to say that we are actually dealing with the very final product here, folks. Since the developers already sent the software for the Microsoft Evaluation Proccess. Additionally, the game’s software was sent to ESBR game content analizys team. Considering the game is already been analized and rated by ESBR, the development team cannot overgo any significative change in the game, visually or otherwise, which therefore pretty much means that this is what the game looks like.

I’m in a hurry here, and I’m sorry to not give a better insight on the game, but I’ll make sure to edit this post or whatever, whenever I have the time.

So, to recap:

  • Sonic 4 is pretty.
  • Sonic 4 plays like Advance 2/Sonic Rush.
  • The special stages are the Sonic 1 levels with a twist, rotating the special stage instead of controlling Sonic.
  • Spindash… still gimped.
  • Casino Street Zone looks exactly like Casino Night Zone.

I’m going to catch up with Endri and talk to him about his playtest.  If he posts any more information, I will update the entry here.

Sonic Unleashed TGS Footage, Positive Impressions

Like many on The Sonic Stadium, I have been fairly pessimistic regarding Sonic Unleashed. With severe frame rate problems being reported from several sources, as well as “boring looking” Werehog levels, it seemed like Unleashed may be more of the same. What’s more, due to bad magazine scans, the Wii version appeared to be a shoddy port.

The more I see of the game, however, the more it begins to win me over. Are the first, incredible looking videos from the Wii version enough to win you over? Is the latest preview good enough to get your hopes up? Decide for yourself. Here’s the first video. Two more videos and a preview after the break:

Continue reading Sonic Unleashed TGS Footage, Positive Impressions

Sonic Rivals: E3 2006 Playtest

TSS was able to play Sonic Rivals for the PSP at SEGA’s E3 booth.

I was handed a PSP by the co-producer (I wish I remembered his name). He informed me that this is an early build of the game, and there were some rough edges in the stage and that’s very understandable. I noticed some bugs, but nothing that I am sure won’t be fixed before it’s released later this year.

In this build I could only play as Sonic or Shadow, Knuckles and Silver were not avaliable. I chose Sonic for the test.

Sonic Rivals is a 2D racing game with 3D graphics. There was only one stage avaliable, that reminded me alot fo Green Hill Zone, from Sonic 1. The controls were very basic and easy. If I got too close to Shadow and pressed the triangle, I could do a kick attack on him, as well as jump on him, punch him to get him out of the way, and that was definetly a lot of fun.

There were stars around the track you could collect that would fill up a gauge. Once full, Sonic can perform a dash movement and run real fast which also was a form of attack, if an opponent was on the way, he’d get hurt.

The track was quite long as well, for my surprise, with lots of different paths to take. Definetly a plus. I was told also, that depending on what character you choose, you’ll be able to take different routes, similar to Sonic Riders and Sonic Heroes.

Sonic Rivals looks definetly good, and looks beautiful on the slick PSP Screen. Check back with TSS for more information until it’s release later this year.

IGN reveal new details on Shadow The Hedgehog

IGN have recently posted another preview of the eagerly awaited Shadow the Hedgehog, writer Jeremy Dunham records positive impressions of the early version of the game, as well as disclosing more details relating to the gameplay style. A link to the article has been posted to the left.

New details from this article include more information on the weapons, further emphasis on branching storyline and the games faithfulness it felt to that of the Sonic Adventure series.

Continue reading IGN reveal new details on Shadow The Hedgehog

Preview Log: Shadow Shaping Up

The announcement of Shadow the Hedgehog to the world was certainly a shock to the system. For those Shadow fans it was finally a chance to see his past, what really happened, fill in those plotholes. For those who didn’t like Shadow, they took to it with disgust (and even some fans spat at it for the implementation of guns) and refuse to look at it. Those who just aren’t bothered, weren’t bothered though. So at least that’s progress.

Since the trailer, TSS voiced its opinions on the game, wondering how well the gun system would be implemented. The graphics really did look sore and dated, and really didn’t look like things had progressed from Sonic Adventure 1 on the Dreamcast at all.

001.jpg 002.jpg 003.jpg 004.jpg 005.jpg

Recently however, SEGA were kind enough to send us five high resolution screenshots for the game, that look, we must say, absolutely gorgeous. There is no way these graphics were produced on a PlayStation2, so there is hope for a release on other platforms too (although it has NOT been confirmed, rumour has it that Shadow will be PS2 only).

Even more news on the game that we can tell you, that Shadow fans will 50 missions to blast through. We will be seeing Shadow caught in a huge battle involving aliens, good old favourites GUN and, excellently enough, Dr. Eggman will be pitching in an appearance too. Players will be able to grab more weapons than previously imagined, with a huge list of guns apparently noted for disposal, as well as objects and vehicles. Yes you read, vehicles.

We were under the impression that Sonic Team USA was developing this title. And of course, TSS was correct with its prediction – although the studio now seems to be under the rather coi name of SEGA Studio USA, most likely a result of the SEGA merge-in over in Japan, there. Takashi Iizuka, Game Director of the studio, will be heading the project up; his noted work includes Sonic Adventure 2 itself and Sonic Adventure DX. Here’s what he had to say on the Sonic spinoff:

“Since we first introduced him in Sonic Adventure 2, we have wanted to feature Shadow in his own game… we maintained Shadow as a mysterious character and now fans can control his destiny by engaging in a unique gameplay experience that offers a multitude of possibilities!”

Hoo-hah, here comes the bomb. Those waiting to hear about how Shadow ‘survived’ and what the real deal is with the plotholes may come away disappointed, as it appears that Shadow the Hedgehog will feature multiple endings! Although an excellent gameplay mechanic, this can only come as very confusing to Shadow fans and anti-fans alike. Surely fans won’t be thrown into the frustrating situation as to be confronted with five different explanations for the events that passed since Sonic Adventure 2? But maybe it’s a feature SEGA Studio USA may produce tactfully. We can only hope.

So, is Shadow a robot? Is he suffering from anmesia? Lord knows the real reason now, it appears SEGA don’t really want to say anything official on it, but what matters is that YOU control the ending, via many different routes at many different points in the game. We’re assuming how you play the game – how much you use your guns over your agility, for example – will help decide in how “good or evil” Shadow really is.

To top this all off, we have a treat for you. A brand new Shadow the Hedgehog trailer, woo. You can download it for free in the Movies section, but it appears a little strange.

Alongside showing different camera angles of exactly the same gameplay, we noted that the graphics are nothing like what we’ve seen in the high resolution shots, displayed above. We’re hoping that the high-res aren’t just PC engine test snapshots – it’s looking very much that possibility, which is a shame because the graphics now look drab again. And we get the impression that the guns, Chaos Control charge-up moves and other specials that Shadow may have at his repertoire could get boring very quickly – they seem to “do a Sonic Heroes”, in which using such moves slows down gameplay. If you hated Sonic Heroes because the team system and moves were “stop-start”, you won’t be impressed by Shadow’s new trailer, unfortunately.

If you like DragonBall Z though, you’re in for a treat with the hugh explosions that look like they take ten seconds to charge up. Kudos for SEGA for the sword for Shadow though – despite what we’ve said about the guns, we rather like the big fat meaty sword in the middle of the trailer. Other highlights of the new trailer include a big fat mutant boss that seems to spit fireballs (looking like it escaped from Doom or something) and a few rather cool homages – Shadow does his own take of Sonic Adventure’s “Sky Chase” Bonus Stage by chasing what seems to be an Egg Carrier look-a-like, on top of some kind of dragon thing. Hey, when you don’t have a fox with a plane to do it…

Overall, we’re getting slightly interested in this one. It looks rather appealing to some degree. You can never really go nuts for a game that’s in essence, a spinoff. Because spinoffs are always to be taken with a pinch of salt. Sometime they turn out great (Sonic Battle) other times they turn out a chunk of turd (Sonic Labyrinth). Shadow has enough going for it, but our main concern is the treatment of the gameplay – a return to “stop-start” gameplay from Sonic Heroes plus some charge-up moves that seem to take a rather pointless length of time look like potential turn-offs. We’ll keep you posted.

Initial Impression: Fans go “WTF?”

The unveiling of Shadow the Hedgehog took place on the 8th March in America, where the ‘Walk of Game’ celebrations were taking place. Sonic the Hedgehog was the first entry into the ‘Walk’, and SEGA celebrated and were understandably happy. Ironically, that’s where they decided to first show this little “beaut”. Hmmm.

It has come to this. It’s amazing just how much of a pull idiot gotho-choice Shadow has on teenager fanboys/fangirls. His appearance in Sonic Adventure 2 was cool. His return (from his timely death) in Sonic Heroes just annoyed everyone. And now we get a whole GAME on this bumbling whinger? You know Shadow’s only here to cash in on silly goth-compulsive-depressants anyway, but hey if that’s your bag, so be it. The popular “word on the street” is that this game was derived from opinions set in a survey organised by SEGA of America some time back. This survey asked fans what kind of Sonic spinoff game they would most like to see. This isn’t the case, as the movie shows it has been some way into production, so the survey must have just been a hint/teaser. Although I still wouldn’t be surprised to see those results and find millions of rabid Shadow loonies craving for more. He’s dead already!

Character quibbles aside, ‘Shadow the Hedgehog’ is a game starring everyone’s “favourite” sulky git. Nothing’s been revealed aside from the trailer TSS has seen, and from the looks of things it appears a lot like a ‘backwards step’ to Sonic Adventure 2 style stages, with Sonic Heroes graphics. Did we mention Shadow has a gun?

Oh yes. For the perfect case of “dumbing down”, this game also has the added “value” of weaponry. Shadow is seen with at least two guns at his arsenal, a pistol and a machine gun (…I can’t believe I’m typing this description on a Sonic website…). Looking to mix Sonic style platforming with… shooting, Shadow the Hedgehog looks like the designs we’d more likely see from a slightly demented fangame.

While we’re obviously none too impressed that SEGA and Sonic Team have decided to go downmarket with the Sonic series and selling itself to the lowest common denominator possible, there is still some aspects of the game that seem intruiging, funny as it sounds. Notably, strange meters at the top of the screen – perhaps indicating some sort of charge move. If we were to go with this assumption, the most obvious candidate would be a Chaos Control maneouvre. More moves include something akin to his ‘Sonic Battle’ actions, and some sort of “hyperspeed” mode where Shadow is flying across a plane of obstacles at high speed. Again, probably linked with Chaos Control. The idea of guns may be some sort of inspiration from Ratchet and Clank, but to be honest when the idea of guns is crap anyway who gives a toss? And again with the whole “Choose to be good or evil” rubbish. Seriously SEGA, it’s getting old. The whole thing reeks of 2001 again. With guns. And 100% more “Shadowy” (cringes).

We’re hoping upon hope that if anything, this game will at least shed some light on all the Shadow plotholes that Sonic Team created in Sonic Heroes. Because that way at least all questions are answered and he can just sod off to where he came from (his crater-shaped grave). If this isn’t the last Shadow game (or last game with Shadow IN IT), then we’re in for a very sad end to the Sonic the Hedgehog series as we know it.

Good news though, is that this game is NOT the new Sonic the Hedgehog game Yuji Naka is banging on about for Nintendo Gamecube. He’s stipulated time and time again that the new SONIC will be revealed (and playable) at E3 in May. Which only calls to question who had the brain fart that spawned this idea. Hopefully Sonic Team Japan aren’t paying too much attention to this; an easily forgettable spinoff that’s likely to be as dull as the character starring in it. As always though, we remain open-minded and won’t give you definitive reactions until we’ve played it. Just don’t hold your breath for anything special. Or good. Stay with TSS for updates.

IGN Playtests Sonic Heroes

IGN has reviewed Sonic Heroes at TGS 2003. From IGN:

Sonic and heroes made their Sonic Heroes debut in Japan earlier today as the Tokyo Game Show kicked off just outside of Tokyo. Sonic Team’s latest take on the Sonic franchise was first shown at this year’s E3 through a demo of a single level that showed off the game’s cooperative play mechanics. The Tokyo Game Show version of the game featured the same level and its team of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, but also had another level featuring Shadow, Rouge and E-102.

We first tried out Sonic, Tails and Knuckles level and were very much impressed. The level moves fast, has lots of sections to show off the series’ trademark blazing speed, and offers up good chances to make use of each character’s abilities. We honestly can’t think of a single complaint about this level, aside from a few times where controlling the characters can become difficult. Camerawork, in particular, seems to be superb, with the occasional difficulties from E3 having apparently been cleared up. If the entire game ends up being like this level, we’ll be in Sonic heaven later this year. Continue reading IGN Playtests Sonic Heroes