Like a broken record, we keep hearing that the latest 3D Sonic games will put the little blue guy back in the spotlight, giving fans the classic, speedy platforming that they supposedly still yearn for, while also bringing Sega’s mascot into the 21st century with style. The blow of the inevitable disappointment has softened over the years so that even mediocrities like Sonic Lost World can be enjoyed on some nostalgic level where wanting something to be good might actually make it so, if only for a stage or two. Of course, the latest entry in the long-running (heh) franchise, Sonic Forces for the Nintendo Switch, aims to change all that by giving fans the classic, speedy platforming that they supposedly still yearn for, while also – oh, wait. Having spent some time with it at Nintendo’s E3 booth, however, I can at least say that the variety of play and abundance of action in Sonic Forces left me more intrigued than I’ve been in a while about the series.
The E3 demo starts off with a simple boss fight against a Doctor Eggman-flown flying saucer with a swinging buzz saw attached. This fight took place on a 2.5 D plane and felt like old times, with Sonic merely having to launch himself into the spacecraft to cause damage. Soon Eggman has had enough and brings out the big guns in the form of a giant robot with drills for hands. Running back and forth dodging attacks and kicking giant metals balls into the robots head provided some decent fun, hopefully a taste of bigger, better boss battles to come. Sonic controls in this scenario just like you’d expect him to in any side-scrolling game, with everything feeling tight and responsive.
From there the Nintendo rep had me try out a stage more in vein with the direction many modern Sonic games have gone in, which is where things get more intense. Sonic blasts out of the gate into the burning wreckage of a 3D city, dashing straight ahead. This is not a place for exploration, as players will be essentially on a track, tasked with dodging obstacles and defeating enemies in the swiftest, most efficient way possible. When an enemy is sighted in the crosshairs, a push of a button will send the curled-up hedgehog careening at his foes, bouncing off multiple targets as he rains destruction before continuing on at a break-neck pace. The stage then switched to a side-scrolling segment, loaded with walls to run up, enemies to smash, and spikes to lose rings on (which I did – a lot). Reflexes are what matter here, getting into a rhythm and timing those jumps and attacks to make the smoothest run possible. I was pretty pathetic at it, but though the limited nature of the platforming and the constant momentum it required did leave me feeling a bit restricted, when all goes well and the player is in concert with the hedgehog, there is some decent fun to be had here.
This feeling is helped along by some nice, colorful visuals, with plenty of explosions and other environmental events happening on screen. The whole city races by in a blur, but it’s a pretty blur, loaded with fireworks that if you’re like me, will distract you into embarrassing failure. It’s nothing that will blow any minds, but felt lively and pleasant (and sometimes that’s good enough). Another mode showed off the custom character creation, which is a nice option for those who enjoy that sort of thing. There are plenty of accessories to make your avatar as awesome or dorky as you want, and longtime fans should enjoy creating unique versions of their favorite characters.
Overall, Sonic Forces left me hesitant, but hopeful. There was just enough gameplay in the demo to pique my curiosity, but whether Sega has found clever and satisfying ways to exploit it for an entire game remains to be seen. The Sonic franchise has tried many times to revitalize itself over the years, and Sonic Forces seems like one of the better efforts in a while. We’ll find out when the game releases later this year.