With the warm reception—both critically and commercially—for Sonic Mania, fans of the speedy blue hedgehog might have thought that would be his crowning achievement in 2017. However, SEGA and Sonic Team have another adventure for the iconic hero arriving soon: Sonic Forces. While the new game will cater to the more recent 3D style that Sonic and his friends have gone under, there’s a whole new focus on customization and making you, yes you, a part of the story. Running alongside Sonic and the usual crew will be a custom hero that can be made by every individual player, giving a personal touch to Sonic’s latest romp.
Heading into the launch of the game, EGM was invited to get hands-on preview time with Sonic Forces. I was able to play several different levels, and even a boss fight, on the PlayStation 4. While I didn’t get the chance to take advantage of the game’s most tantalizing new feature and make a hero, I did see several pre-made ones in action. As was previously revealed, the custom characters will come in seven different animal varieties: bear, bird, cat, dog, rabbit, wolf, and of course, a hedgehog. Apart from being visually distinct, the animals all play differently as well, with my hands-on time focusing around the cat and wolf. Most of the unique abilities found in the animals involve platforming or keeping rings, as seen through the cat’s ability to always keep one ring after being hit. Fitted with a fantastic electric whip, the cat was an excellent choice to speed around the 3D map because the more precarious moments that could have left me with a game over were a little more forgiving. The choice of the whip also added to better offense for me, as it added a distance attack.
The most intriguing aspect of using a custom hero is that the options for gameplay go far beyond that initial ability boost found within the animal type, though. Of course, it’s nice to retain one ring after being hit, but the speed of the animal made choosing the whip an interesting choice, as it turned the cat into a speedy assassin of sorts. On the other hand, the wolf, which automatically draws in nearby rings, was fitted with a drill for close range combat. Unlike the whip, the drill takes a little more time to charge up and hit enemies with, but it makes up for lack of speed with a special charge ability. Once the special meter is full, players can use a blast attack with the drill to either speed through enemies or groups of rings to make platforming and collecting that much easier. While the animals can be given different weapons, making each player’s custom character different, it seems there is a pro to every choice. In all, this is a great mechanic to explore, as Sonic Team confirmed to me that players can make as many custom heroes as they please to figure out which combination fits for them.
One of the biggest fears I had going into gameplay was how the 3D platforming would feel. Sadly, Sonic has had many questionable runs on 3D, with most fans leaning more into the classic 2D setting. Thankfully, Sonic Forces is a combination of the two, similar to Sonic Generations, with 3D graphics for 2D side-scrolling levels and the same visuals for the 3D planes. Obviously, the side-scrolling portions feel seamless and will be a welcome experience for most classic Sonic fans. However, the 3D areas also worked well, giving the player a good deal of control with their speed and direction, instead of sending them blasting into areas that are difficult to platform. I played these areas with Sonic, but also brought in the custom characters to try out the tag team feature, which allows the player to swap their hero in and out of battle. With the new abilities found in the custom heroes, players will want to have as many options as possible on their team to make platforming more streamlined. Any time a game can get players to stop, think, strategize, and experiment with gameplay is a good thing, and I’m happy to report that Sonic Forces succeeds in this—so far.
While I only got to watch briefly, there was also an encounter between a custom hero and the new villain, Infinite. Instead of a speed test, players will have to use their attacks to deliver damage to a dormant Infinite that throws waves of enemies and platforming obstacles their way. I was shown that getting hit by enemies within the boss fight will trigger new and more difficult waves of baddies, which is an interesting choice to keep players focused on avoiding damage and learning the mechanics of the battle, instead of just passively hitting Infinite and not worrying about the consequences. Granted, the amount of time I was with the battle was short, but it was easy to see how the different customizable heroes’ abilities would come in handy.
Overall, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far from actual gameplay. It would be a disaster to have a strong and classic Sonic game release the same year as another 3D misstep, but Sonic Forces could hold the key to making 3D Sonic games work. Even though the heroes were made for me, I could see how much of a blast it will be to swap out weapons between the animal types to find what works best, and maybe, this customizable key is just what Sonic fans have needed.
Sonic Forces launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on November 7th.