Sonic the Hedgehog has been through many ups and downs over the years. SEGA’s mascot has had his fair share of duds over the years, but he usually manages to bounce back. The 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog game was greatly maligned, and the franchise was able to survive that and have a great comeback. In 2014, Sonic suffered from the greatly maligned failure that was Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. It just seemed with that game, Sonic went too far in a direction that no longer felt like the Sonic the Hedgehog fans of the franchise know and love. However, in 2017, it looks like Sonic is back, and the Blue Blur stands to make a great comeback. First, there’s Sonic Mania. Sonic Mania is a throwback to classic, side-scrolling platform gameplay for the franchise with pixelated graphics and throwback gameplay. That game, developed by Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, is due out in August after some delays. But for the mainline franchise, Sonic Team is coming back with a bang for Sonic Forces.
SEGA had Sonic Forces on full display as a playable demo at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Thankfully, the lines for the demo weren’t too insane, and I was able to check out and play this highly anticipated new installment. One thing that the Sonic the Hedgehog game series is good at is pivoting and readjusting. So, even if the game goes too far off the beaten path, like with the 2006 Sonic game or Rise of Lyric, it looks like SEGA and Sonic Team are able to bring the game back to a better place and more in line with fan expectations and deliver a better game experience overall. Based off the E3 demo, it definitely appears that Sonic Forces is a step back in the right direction for the franchise.
If this game were a spiritual successor to another installment in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sonic Forces definitely feels like the heir apparent to Sonic Generations. What I mean by that is that the game mixes levels with both 2D and 3D aspects, and there are event 2.5D aspects. Additionally, players can also play as both Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic, which is also reminiscent of Sonic Generations.
The E3 demo for the game had three levels to choose from. One was a basic level that would switch from 3D and 2D platforming within the level. There’s definitely a fun and nostalgic feeling to getting through those 2D platform sections of the level. Sonic’s main attack for enemies in the demo was a homing attack, and Sonic can essentially juggle and take out multiple enemies at once, which is fun.
The second level for the demo was a boss fight with Doctor Eggman in his Eggmobile. The boss fight was basically a 2D platform type of boss fight rendered in a 3D, and it did have some 2.5D gameplay aspects as well. At first, players can use Sonic to jump attack Eggman. Then he will move into the background and start launching debris and bombs at Sonic. Sonic can then launch some of these back at Eggman to damage and defeat them. There was some troubleshooting here, but after getting the strategy down, the boss fight wasn’t too nasty.
Finally, the last stage allowed players to take control of one of Sonic Forces’ new features, the Custom Hero. In Sonic Forces, players will be able to create their own custom hero or player-created avatar. The default Custom Hero for a demo was a masked Freedom Fighter rabbit character. His design was somewhat reminiscent of “Feel the Rabbit,” one of the original character design models for what would later become Sonic the Hedgehog. Fun fact: Feel the Rabbit was ultimately morphed into what became Ristar for SEGA’s Ristar for the SEGA Genesis game of the same name in 1995.
So in the Avatar Stage for the demo, players use the Custom Hero and can use from a lightning whip or flamethrower weapon. So in this level, players use their own customized hero and make their way through one of Eggman’s robot factories. However, the gameplay then switches 3D as players are chased by a giant crab robot boss. During this chase section, players have to use the controller shoulder buttons to avoid getting stomped by the crab robot’s stomping legs, and Amy the Hedgehog is on the radio to offer assistance to player. Players will also have to jump over and avoid debris and rocks as they try to run away. Eventually, the game will initiate a type of quicktime event to attack and take out the giant crab robot, which was fun if fairly simple.
The Sonic Forces E3 demo was very promising. Both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions were playable, but I mainly focused on the PlayStation 4 platform. Controls for the gameplay were smooth and responsive. The levels looked nicely designed, and the graphics looked smooth and sharp.
The custom hero avatar aspect is interesting, but I’m still not sure how well it will work out for the final product. For a Sonic the Hedgehog game, I am more interested in playing as Sonic and his mainstay cast of characters more so than a customized avatar. The demo didn’t give too many hints of what’s happening with the story, beyond Sonic and company are teaming up to fight Eggman and his latest scheme.
As fun as this was, Capcom and SEGA should still consider teaming up for a Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man crossover game similar to the Sonic & Mega Man: Worlds Collide story from Archie Comics. Even if that never happens, that was still a great story, and fans of both franchises should definitely give that story a look. Sonic Forces is due out for a Holiday 2017 release. The game will be available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.