I went to PAX West over the weekend and got to play some upcoming games. Let’s talk about one of them. Sonic Mania has been out and about, it’s been getting rave scores and sales, but it must be kept in mind that that isn’t the only title celebrating the franchise’s (late) 25th Anniversary. This other game being Sonic Team’s own Sonic Forces. This 3D platformer aims to rekindle the spark found among that of Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, aka the ones that thoroughly proved Sonic can work in 3D without the need of excessive buddy characters. The difference? The excessive buddy characters have been replaced with a character creator.
There was no way for me to create characters in the PAX demo, but there were four stages to choose from – each providing their own take on things. The Modern Sonic stage will be at home for those that played the titles mentioned above, and the Avatar stage attempts to do what Sonic Lost World did by fusing Modern Sonic’s controls with a more deliberate way of navigating the level. There are also levels for Classic Sonic and a Tag Team formula consisting of a mix between Modern Sonic and the Avatar character.
What’s perplexing to me is that I have a hard time believing any of these demo levels are the full affairs. All of them are too short to stand out on their own; this is especially true with Classic Sonic’s demo level, which is just a boss fight. You can’t sell me on a portion of the game with just a boss fight, guys! The other stages at least have a couple minutes of length to spare, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. For example, Modern Sonic’s stage is about as linear as Sonic’s levels in Sonic Adventure 2, meaning you’re going down glorified hallways that may have another small path every now and then. I have a good feeling the full version of the stage would feature a lot more, but I can’t tell because the demo wouldn’t ensure that it is whole.
For what it’s worth, the game seems to play fine. Modern Sonic played as swiftly and satisfyingly as he did in games earlier this decade, and Classic Sonic has the momentum-based 2D platforming that the SEGA Genesis games boasted. The Avatar is trickier to pinpoint. I’m not sure how I feel about its wannabe Modern Sonic-style gameplay. I’d probably need to play more of it (as in beyond what the demo provides) to get a better feel for it. The Tag Team level has mechanics that derive from Sonic Heroes, except it’s snappier since you don’t have to manually switch between characters to perform specific moves. I do question the purpose of the Double Boost, though; Modern Sonic’s boost attack can do more than enough to plow through enemies as it is. Why does this variation exist? Padding for length, I guess (There is a looong platform that encourages you to use it).
Lastly, I think it’s worth noting I played the Playstation 4 version of the demo. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, and there’s so much detail in the environments Sonic and co. traverse on! The silky-smooth 60 FPS framerate is a pleasant touch as well. If only the Nintendo Switch version could harness that. I didn’t play the Switch demo, but…oof. From what I saw of it at PAX, it looked like it was struggling to be at the same framerate as Sonic Generations on consoles. I heard whispers that the framerate will be improved for the Switch release; all I can say is that I really hope it’s true.
So those are my impressions from the Sonic Forces demo. I am still optimistic for what’s to come, but the optimism isn’t without its concerns. Hopefully, Sonic Team knows what they’re doing.