Game News, Previews

E3 2017: Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces Hands-On Preview

Inside SEGA’s booth were a dozen demo stations for both Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces making their first and last E3 appearance. Con-goers did their best to pilfer posters given out any way they can. E3 was packed this year due to the convention allowing the public to enter for the first time in years which means the lines were more than double and that means plenty of eager people wanting to check out whats new. 

Hit the jump for our thoughts. (Bartman3010 and Neo Hazard)

Bartman3010

…on Sonic Mania

Man that drop dash is so freaking good. Mirage Saloon provides many opportunities to keep momentum going as well as accessing new areas. Bopping a monitor, holding the button to execute a drop dash then rolling down from atop a totem pole onto a spring is so satisfying that Mania is telling you to get as crazy as you can with your abilities to explore. But the drop dash as a move makes me feel that Mania is onto something by encouraging some complicated stunts. Even with a vague understanding of the level, and not having much experience with the game, I achieved a very smooth flow through the level as I made use of gimmicks to keep up speed with the assumption that I can reach higher platforms and navigate complex hazards with an understanding of Sonic’s abilities. Think about these modern Sonic gimmicks: button-activated wisps, werehogs or go-kart sections. Now compare those to what Sonic Mania has on offer: Seltzer bottles that create a temporary path that must be traversed quickly before it disappears, spinning barrels that you must jump away from before rolling down into  a lower section of the level and sand-built 360 loops that crumble by your touch. One way I see Sonic Mania as a true evolution of the original series is that I was finding ways on how I could work with the game’s physics engine to work for my advantage. This is something I wish the older games expanded upon, but didn’t quite hit the mark like Mania does. If you know ways you can manipulate Sonic to achieve greater speed or for reaching higher platforms through speed, you’ll find yourself with new ways to find a unique flow through each level. If you were to play as Tails or Knuckles, you can get to higher places, but the trade off you have to contend with is speed. Tails flies upward slowly. Knuckles can only glide down, but can climb up walls at slow speeds. With Sonic, jumping after enough forward momentum on a rising slope can give you a greater jump height or leaping off of a wall quicker than the other two characters making Sonic a truly faster character than the other two, but Mania offers a choice between characters based on your preference. (Also based on who you think looks the coolest.) Physics can easily work against you as well. In some of the other 2D Sonic games, you had to deal with massive death pits or booster panels that force you through a level or into hazards that come out of nowhere. In Mania I hardly ever felt that the game was at fault when losing a life or taking damage. For example a Roller-like bot you jump into can cause both the player and itself to bounce off of each other, and if you’re not careful, it will send you right into spikes! It’s a refreshing experience playing a Sonic game that feels confident in the player, and if you’re not, you can still play the game at your own pace. Replayability will be encouraged to find areas previously left unexplored. (Especially to find special stages that have yet to be officially revealed.)

As you might have seen with recent video releases for the game, the older levels were met with a mix of old level layouts as well as newly inspired layouts featuring elements from other levels from previous games. Part of Green Hill Act 2 featured an entirely new layout. Unlike Act 1 which was shown off at the anniversary party last year which combined the first two acts of Sonic 1. The new section after Act 3 showcases more shallow, flooded sections, laced with spike beds and pulleys to zip-line you across based upon your speed. All of these new elements proved the be a little tricky and showcased the potential for what can be done to these levels. Looking at videos of Chemical Plant in action shown from other outlets coupled with the new content in Green Hill showed the potential that these old dogs can see some new tricks along with some familiar gimmicks and enemies paid homage in these updated levels. There were a couple of odd glitches such as the screen scrolling up and killing me after trying to leave from a secret room with a special stage ring and seeing a bed of spikes floating in the air when it turns out the screen is supposed to lock at a certain point to hide the visual oddity. The development team has already stated that those problems were already fixed. But we should keep in mind this is happening at E3 in which anything can go wrong, but the game’s not out yet. I’m certainly not worried.

The Death Egg boss at the end starts an auto scrolling section that lurches as slowly as it’s able to walk after Eggman slams the lid down in frustration. Did I mention the game’s characters have incredible personality that’s entirely driven by their actions? The game has been reported to have storytelling similar to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and I’d love to see how they tell the story through the game’s smooth animation. Back to the boss, the feet surprisingly cause no damage and attempting to hit it from behind pushes your character to it’s front. This does however launch you into the arms of the boss that is guaranteed to cause you damage. Fighting it “normally” doesn’t cause any strange problems, but in fact encourages you to take advantage of it’s new arms by climbing onto them after they’re shot out or by taking the high ground to cause damage.

There were a few other changes that the game received since its first reveal but nothing too noteworthy to mention here. Overall SEGA is being careful not to spoil too much of the game until it’s release two months from now. I’m certainly excited to see what’s to come and I’m hoping to keep everything the game has to offer a secret until I actually get to play the full version in August. All versions of the game shown at E3 look identical, with the Switch version being demonstrated while the system is docked. But playing the game in tablet mode has me excited and really makes me hope that whatever two player mode is offered can be played with both Joycons on the go especially with that splitscreen feature that’s highlighted on the game’s Steam store page. This is a new classic Sonic that feels like a true return to form and it can’t come soon enough.

….on Sonic Forces

I spent time with the Nintendo Switch version of Sonic Forces playing as the Avatar to see how the little system can run this multi platform title. There are very few cross platform games hitting the Switch that promises to deliver high-end graphics and try to achieve parity with the other versions.

Playing the Switch version makes me worried about several things. Not only that cross platform titles like this may become near to impossible to see on the system for the rest of it’s lifespan, but also the game itself. I heard from other people that the level was insanely difficult with unseen hazards and deaths. Don’t expect a Digital Foundry style of comparison of the Avatar at this time. It turns out the level shown for the Avatar in the Switch version differs from the other two versions on the show floor. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions use Green Hill and the Nintendo Switch version features Park Avenue. I was faced with a far easier level despite being disoriented with the button layout.

Cool Fire Joke Here

Fair warning on my part, I only just got my hands on a Nintendo Switch yesterday playing titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Puyo Puyo Tetris. Two fantastic games for the system that really show off it’s capabilities. While I don’t think Sonic Forces is too ambitious for the platform, there is a downgrade in terms of visuals with the most noticeable difference being the framerate which is at 30fps. The game still looked similar enough on the small screen. However I was not able to play the demo using the dock to output to the TV. Even without a proper way to compare visuals, the game still looked fine. Never did I feel overwhelmed with the effects on screen nor did I have a hard time finding my character or the enemies on screen. The game seems very playable and I’d expect this to be a fine version if you want to play it on the go. Keep performance in mind when choosing which version to buy, especially if you’re looking for parity in terms of performance as playing the game on the dock is likely not going to match the other console versions.

The Park Avenue level shown off for the Switch version gave me a far different experience from what I’ve heard from others; in that the game is far easier, at least with the setup I’ve chosen. The demo provides a randomly chosen character with your choice of two different weapons. For mine, as recommended by the staff tending the booth, the flamethrower was my choice of a weapon which fired a long unending stream of fire at enemies, destroying everything in one hit. That word, unending, might raise a flag for you, as it certainly did for me. You lose your rings when you take damage, but they don’t spawn for you to pick back up meaning you only have two hits to work with until death. Luckily you never run out of ammunition as your shot doesn’t get weaker. You can just jump on platforms and dash through loops setting enemies ablaze without blinking an eye. Perhaps this was just to help players through the E3 demo, or perhaps Park Avenue is actually set earlier in the game compared to the Green Hill levels other players got their hands on. But my initial thought was that the game would be too easy with the Avatar to try and make the different weapons balanced to a certain degree. But if there’s an imbalance of different weapons you can use for a level, that could make certain character combinations either too powerful or ultimately useless. You had certain context sensitive areas including grapple points for using a grappling hook to swing around to gain extra height or to activate a cutscene that sends you to the next area. Without knowing what each button does, mashing buttons usually rescued me from danger, and I would imagine a better understanding of the controls would help me perform better at the game. Even with an A rank I earned at the end of the stage I felt that I could easily improve my score with a better understanding of the controls.

Nailing down an explanation of the Avatar character is definitely not going to help me provide a thorough explanation of how the game works along with it’s overall difficulty. My best assumption is that the create a character could potentially be an aspect of the game that’s going to cause a wide array of opinions, and not so much because of level design, but because certain character choices will fare better than others. I’m hoping to play more of Forces to have a better idea of the overall gameplay for all three playable characters. If you want to know more about the Forces demo, my buddy Neo has the scoop in his latest episode of Neo Previews below.

Neo Hazard

 

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