It’s a big year for Sonic the Hedgehog. The blue blur and Sega mascot already got a big-budget movie sequel and is preparing for a compilation game, but the centerpiece of the year appears to be Sonic Frontiers–an ambitious new 3D Sonic project boasting some of the best talent of past Sonic games. Details are scant on the new Sonic game so far, but we expect to see more as it prepares to speed towards its late 2022 release. Here’s everything we know, and everything we hope to see, from Sonic Frontiers.
A new “open-zone” Sonic
The new Sonic game appeared to be teasing Breath of the Wild vibes with its first image, showing Sonic standing on a cliffside overlooking a wide expanse of land. That was an indication of this game’s direction, which Sega is calling an “open-zone-inspired” approach.
Instead of a series of stages for Sonic to speed his way through, Sonic Frontiers takes place on Starfall Islands. The new area is a vast open-world area consisting of forests, waterfalls, and deserts. An early teaser showed off some of the environments, along with a huge boss encounter. Sega has not detailed how traditional Sonic elements like rings, bonus stages, and boss battles will work within this new context.
Sega is clearly intending this to be a prestige Sonic game. The open-world structure represents a major sea change to Sonic games. And it wants its review scores to match that ambition. In a recent Q&A with investors, Sega CEO Haruki Satomi and CFO Koichi Fukazama were asked about the company’s goals for the game’s quality. The executives said the team is working hard on improving the quality of the game, to the point that it gets high review scores and becomes a “must-buy” release.
Of course, lots of games aim for high scores–no developer or publisher intentionally puts out a dud. But it’s unusual for Sega executives to set this sort of ambitious target, and especially to do so publicly.
Developers developers developers
To the extent that Sega wants Sonic Frontiers to be a big success, it’s putting some of its most accomplished Sonic developers on the project. Sonic Team Japan is developing the project, led by Morio Kishimoto. Kishimoto was the director for Sonic Lost World, Sonic Forces, and Sonic Colors–the latter of which was highly regarded enough in the fan community to warrant a recent re-release on modern platforms.
Sega has not outlined a specific release date for Sonic Frontiers. So far, we only have a release window of late 2022.
Sega has not announced any downloadable content or other post-launch support plans for Sonic Frontiers.
What we want
Gotta go fast
Speed is a major part of Sonic’s identity, but we want to see how that idea gets expressed in this new gameplay context. Whereas the 2D games tend to ping-pong Sonic around a stage so fast you can only barely keep up with obstacles, the 3D games have utilized more of a behind-the-back racing game style with some flourishes to keep it stylish. Putting the character in an open world presents new opportunities and challenges for his signature speed. The game should let you feel the freedom of zooming from one spot to the next with blistering speed, while also finding ways to avoid losing your momentum on random obstacles.
Just Sonic, please
Sonic’s extended cast of animal companions has taken a lot of blame for the series’ uneven quality. And while that criticism isn’t always fair–hey, leave Big the Cat alone, he didn’t hurt anybody–it is nevertheless true that such a sprawling cast can leave the game feeling unfocused and distract from what it is that’s supposed to make Sonic different: his speed. This open world will be a difficult concept to nail down with just one playable character, so let’s not dilute it with anyone else. Major characters like Tails and Knuckles can show up, but the game should put the focus squarely on Sonic.
Go Super Sonic
Open-world games can be great, but they can also suffer from a certain same-iness of pace and design that leaves the conclusion feeling empty. If Sonic is going to enter such a realm, do something big for the final act that makes it memorable and unique. Have a crashed Death Egg significantly change the landscape, for example, or give you a completely new traversal tool by unlocking Super Sonic. That will help the game feel like it’s building to a climax instead of remaining flat.
We’re kidding, obviously.
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