Sonic Forces Preview - E3 2017
We check out a few levels from the upcoming return of Sonic
Sega has had a questionable track record when it comes to its flagship Sonic series over the past couple of decades. There has been a strange oscillation between both 2D and 3D; hits and duds - as well as a few absolute bombs thrown in. Thus, I truly didn’t know what to expect going into my demo of Sonic Forces on the Nintendo Switch. What I experienced was a game that seemed to be something of a return to the quick, tight gameplay and mechanics that the classic 2D games adheres to, while maintaining some epic qualities and glitz of the 3D titles.
The majority of the gameplay, at least in the demo version, comes in the form of classic side-scrolling gameplay. It was made clear by the rep on hand that the gameplay is designed to stress the qualities that fans liked from both Sonic Colors and Generations, using both 2D and 3D while utilizing a simpler approach to both. Most of the familiar elements were present - frequent running and jumping, spin dashing, collecting rings (of which you must hang on to at least one to survive), complete with plenty of enemies, springs, spikes, and loop de loops. In addition, the 3D gameplay portions were light, but managed to capture a more grandiose feel while still flowing quickly and rarely feeling too overwhelming.
Thanks to this familiar style and the simplistic and responsive controls, I was easily able to jump right into the action. Once my demo began, I was quickly off and running in a colorful 3D realm populated with tons of buildings and a smattering of hellfire raining down near me. I was flung onto a long brick road full of rings to collect and enemies awaiting my presence. While racing along in this perspective, the Sonic Colors influence of a more simplified 3D platformer was certainly present. The gameplay here was relatively constrained within some boundaries, which helped keep things simple and fast-paced. The familiar mechanic of targeting enemies and jumping into them via a heat-seeking dash was prominent. This helped me fly across the stage with relative ease, dashing from baddie to baddie.
The game soon shifted into a more retro 2D sidescrolling perspective, and managed to do so smoothly considering the speed and chaos. The 2D portions resembled more of the classic, tight gameplay and mechanics prominent in the 90’s, though Sonic felt a bit floaty in this mode. However, the more I scampered ahead, taking out enemies, propelling off springs, and dashing across tunnels and loop de loops, it wasn’t long before that familiar adrenaline-fueled Sonic euphoria came back to me, transporting me back to the classic Genesis titles. The graphic prowess was anything but retro however. While it really came to the forefront in 3D mode, the visuals are no slouch in the 2D perspective either. They overall looked slick, colorful, and vibrant throughout.
There was also a boss fight under the name “Classic Stage,” from the more familiar Green Hill Zone - implying that this mode more directly emulated the old Sonic titles, with some slicker graphics thrown over it. Sure enough, the stage featured the iconic first boss from Sonic 1 on Genesis, Eggman, hovering around in his old Egg Mobile and wielding a swinging ball and chain with a chainsaw. Just like in the classic game, I had to simply jump into him to defeat him. Though this time, Eggman brought another trick up his sleeve - the giant mechanical “Egg Dragon.” He proceeded to fire a massive chain gun, Rambo style, and launch bombs at me with this mechanical monstrosity, which I quickly knocked back at him. This portion was a bit trickier on account of the sensitive controls making scurrying between bombs dicey at times. But I ultimately prevailed, sending the machine crashing to its demise.
Additionally, there was a third course provided, known as the “Avatar Stage.” In this level, you are given a pre-made hero with a couple of weapon choices. Little information was given about this mode, but apparently you can create your own hero by selecting a number of both aesthetic and mechanical features as well as abilities. My demo gave me a preset animal that resembled a black cat-looking creature. The strange fellow surprisingly packs heat - as you’re given a choice of wielding a lightning whip or flamethrower. I opted for the more intriguing whip.
While I felt a bit overpowered in this mode, it was also enjoyable in its own way, especially when flailing around my electro-charged whip on my unprepared victims. The stage I was thrown in was the same “Park Avenue” level featured as the Sonic stage, though I’ve heard that oddly the PS4 and Xbox One versions provide a new, more elaborate Green Hill stage. A bit disappointing, as this essentially left me with merely a single stage in addition to a boss battle. Nonetheless, using the super-powered Avatar hero was enjoyable, and this feature could serve to shake things up, deviating somewhat from your typical dash, jump n’ roll Sonic gameplay.
That said, it’s by no means a bad thing that Sega seems to have honed in more on a more simplistic, retro style Sonic as well - as their efforts to reinvent the wheel often fall short. Those who appreciate the old school version of this franchise, or even classic platforming gameplay in general, will probably find an enjoyable experience based off what I played. Provided they don’t start going off in a more convoluted Sonic ‘06 direction with this one (ugh), our favorite Blue Hedgehog just may still have some life in him yet. Look for Sega’s iconic mascot to make his return on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC later this year.