After the blazing success of Christian Whitehead’s Sonic Mania, SEGA and Sonic Team are in a bit of sticky situation. Every executive under the SEGA brand must know by now that 3D Sonic is pretty much just one big joke; failure after failure, meme after meme—Sonic’s transition into three dimensions has rarely been good. Hell, I implore you to take a look back into the classic Adventure titles and see just how broken and bad they really are.
Sonic Forces is SEGA’s next chance to prove everyone wrong. Not only do they have to prove Sonic Team’s competence against a brand-new team of developers, but they also have to prove that 3D Sonic is indeed relevant in an undeniably flip-flopped turn of events where two-dimensional Sonic is not only pertinent again, but also hailed as one of the best platformers released this year.
It’s a mediocre demo wrapped in a currently terrible port
Sadly, the demo I played of Sonic Forces at EGX 2017 was underwhelming at best, and that’s not including the numerous technical issues that plagued the Nintendo Switch build I decided to opt for. With three levels available—a 3D Sonic stage, a classic Sonic boss fight and an “Avatar” stage, Sonic Forces’ Nintendo Switch demo isn’t exactly a great showcase for what the game could have been.
3D Sonic stages play the same as they have since Sonic Unleashed—and I guess 06—with a near-linear patch taking you through a level with highly active background scenery. You auto-lock from enemy to enemy and springboard to rope handles until you reach the exit. It’s as basic as it’s ever been here and in the EGX demo it feels incredibly simplistic, almost like “Baby’s first Sonic game”. There are multiple routes of increasing difficulty spotted throughout but none of these feel particularly rewarding when compared to, say, the earlier stages of Sonic Colours.
Next is the 2D stages. While we get a small taste of 2D platforming in the 3D levels, Forces follows the Sonic Generations way of doing things by having a more traditional classic feel for its nineties Sonic levels. Playing as Classic Sonic, we’re set to fight the evil Dr. Eggman in his classic pod, which after just four hits, turns into the Egg Dragoon. It’s a simple boss fight where you wait and jump over obstacles before Robotnik throws metal balls at you which you can hit back, woo!
Classic Sonic’s stage was probably the hardest available level in the entire demo due to one major change in the blue hedgehog’s formula. The classic ring system is weirdly replaced with the blue blur dropping his current ring count over the stage when hit, leaving him extremely vulnerable and unable to pick up any dropped rings. Not only did this make the boss fight more difficult, but Forces’ drastic change made everything feel less rewarding. There’s no risky play anymore when fighting against bosses; what’s the point of trying new things when you don’t have that safety net of rings on the ground to mop up should you royally screw something up.
Last up is the new avatar stages which in this demo was probably the best section that I got my hands on. It plays incredibly similar to the 3D Sonic stages, albeit with you playing as a DeviantArt OC instead of an actually well-designed character. These stages are more combat orientated with your character able to use simplistic melee combat to take out a variety of Eggman’s robots—in this demo I had access to an electric whip.
SEGA has a lot of work to do before Sonic Forces releases on Switch on November 7th
Sonic Forces has a lot of interesting ideas, and while I definitely appreciate Sega’s will for variety in this 25th-anniversary installment, Forces seems to have less competence than some of its predecessors. None of these modes, no matter how much they attempt to spice up the classic Sonic formula, feel great to play. Forces is nowhere near as memorable as some of the earlier games, it feels like a Poundland Christmas Selection Box whereas all the other kids are getting the tastier, not-much-more-expensive Cadbury’s ones.
On Nintendo Switch, Sonic Forces is even worse. It’s a mediocre demo wrapped in a currently terrible port. During my time with the game, Forces was one of the worst performing games I’ve played on the system so far. Input lag felt large with jumps taking almost half a second to register which is obviously not the best for a fast-paced platformer such as this. Framerate was also wildly inconsistent, shifting between thirty and sixty, sometimes barely reaching the former. Compared the what I got to see of the PS4 and Xbox One versions, Forces’ Switch port definitely suffers from the lower spec hardware.
That said, the game does still look fantastic on the Switch which managed to impress me heavily. It may not be as impressively gorgeous as the upcoming Mario Odyssey—oh look, Sonic vs Mario arguments in 2017—but environments and main character models do look fantastic in their 720p presentation.
Nonetheless, SEGA has a lot of work to do before Sonic Forces releases on Switch on November 7th. While the demo didn’t impress me, less input lag and a smoother framerate would make Forces a lot more enjoyable to play on Nintendo’s handheld/portable hybrid.