It's difficult to know what to make of Sonic Frontiers. SEGA is promising an expanded adventure, a leap forward for a franchise that has long-struggled to find its footing with a third dimension in play. It has so far shown little of it, outside of a reveal trailer in the last weeks of 2021, but there is reason to believe that Sonic Frontiers will succeed where Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Forces failed. For starters, Sonic Team is being built with new-gen consoles in mind – leveraging the power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X to support the ambitions to deliver a true "open zone" experience.
"We're excited to bring the game onto next-gen consoles, as both the visual and technical gameplay elements will be elevated on the newest platforms. As games are beginning to be released natively onto next-gen, it's exciting to be a part of the wave that will really deliver on the full potential of these consoles – high-fidelity, high-speed, and high energy games," says Sonic Team's creative officer Takashi Iizuka.
Gotta Go Fast!
Game Sonic Frontiers
Developer Sonic Team
Platforms PC, PS4 PS5, Xbox One Xbox Series X
Sonic Frontiers is set across the Starfall Islands, an open-ended playground for high velocity action. Sonic Team is essentially working from scratch here, reworking all of Sonic's core movements and actions to better fit the expanded playable space. From Iizuka's perspective, there were lessons learned from 2017's Sonic Forces, but the ambition behind Sonic Frontiers has pushed the team to reconsider everything.
"With Sonic Forces, the team set out to create a compilation of high-speed Sonic action games that flipped the usual Sonic storyline on its head, taking place in a world where the evil Dr. Eggman had prevailed. Within this new storyline and world, we created new Sonic environments and characters like the villain Infinite. With Sonic Frontiers, we are challenging ourselves to deliver an all-new style of Sonic action adventure. We're once again expanding the Sonic Universe, bringing in new environments and additional features, to create a totally new type of open-zone experience."
One of the biggest questions hanging over Sonic Frontiers is whether it will be set throughout a fully open world or whether the various biomes of Starfall Islands will be self-contained. SEGA has been careful with its language so far, referring to the 2022 release as being set in the 'franchise’s first ever open-zone-inspired experience' or explaining that it will offer 'open-zone freedom'. When I ask Iizuka for clarity, he's only willing to confirm that further details will be coming soon: "We don't have too much more to share regarding the environment just yet, but stay tuned for more details this year."
This information will be key for Sonic Frontiers. The landscapes we've glimpsed so far are beautiful; dense forests, sparkling waterfalls, and sizzling desert expanses, and I hope we'll be able to race though these areas, and others, without breaking a sweat or hitting a loading screen. I'm particularly keen to see whether the power of new-gen tech (and a proficiency with last-gen consoles) can finally provide Sonic with a playground large enough to properly bring his relentless pursuit of speed to life.
After all, Sonic is at his best when he's able to move really damn fast, and without interruption – pummeling the creations of Dr. Eggman without losing speed. Iizuka tells me that bringing Sonic's signature speed and combat abilities to life into larger areas is among Sonic Team's greatest challenges. "We focused on bringing Sonic to the next level and ensuring that he's fully represented as the character that fans know and love while still making his new form exciting."
"We pay extremely close attention to getting all the little Sonic details right to make sure that Sonic's signature speed and characteristics remain consistent across every gaming iteration," says Iizuka. "With Sonic Frontiers, we'll introduce new combat styles to bring Sonic's signature dexterity onto the battlefield, and the new exploration options obviously play into his iconic speedy nature."
Sonic Frontiers is set to launch later this year, although SEGA isn't quite ready to nail down a firm release window. Sonic Team has been working on this open-zone realm (and everything contained within it) with Sonic Forces and Sonic Colors director Morio Kishimoto at the helm for coming up on three years now, alongside producer Sachiko Kawamura – who served as art director of Sonic Forces and Sonic Generations. Ian Flynn, the writer responsible for a decade-long run on Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog series, has penned an original storyline which will see Sonic in a race against time to defeat his evil nemesis Dr. Eggman.
Sonic Frontiers is undoubtedly an exciting proposition. As much as the video game icon has struggled in the 3D era, the potential has always been there for something great; a fast and agile adventure game that combines lush landscapes, stomach-turning speed, and high velocity action. We won't have too long to wait now to see whether Sonic Team can deliver exactly that with Sonic Frontiers.
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