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Sonic Frontiers’ open-world pivot is exactly what the series needs

If you spend a lot of time with Sonic fans, you’ve probably heard the same few takes over and over. “Sonic had a rough time transitioning into 3D.” “Sega needs to stop with the boost formula.” “Sonic needs a new Adventure game to come back.”

Well, now the new Sonic go-to line among Blue Blur loyalists is “Open world design is the best next step for the Sonic franchise.” And as a Sonic fan since the 1991 original, I am fully on board on board with that take. Sonic Frontiers has me excited because it’s exactly what the series needs to keep up with the times.

Open zone

Throughout the years, the Sonic the Hedgehog series has become known for its tendency to evolve. We’ve seen everything from your standard 2D platforming of the original title to more exploration-based games like Sonic Adventure. Sonic Unleashed experimented with speed-boost hallway levels, while Secret of the Rings failed to nail the “auto-runner.” Sonic The series has never been one to stick to a playstyle. While the results of these changes have greatly varied from game to game, Sonic Team hasn’t stopped searching for the perfect formula, and that exploration is now taking it to Sonic Frontiers.

Sonic stares at an open world in Sonic Frontiers.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s very clear that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had a hand in inspiring Sonic’s new big adventure and that isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. In fact, out of every character that could potentially star in a grand sandbox open-world game, Sonic is easily at the top of the ladder.

There’s always been a great sense of exploration and discovery throughout the Sonic franchise that’s more evidently seen in the original trilogy of Sonic 1-3&K and the Sonic Adventure series. Whether you’re looking for a faster pathway, the best way to find Special Stage rings, a stylish trail to up your finishing rank, or just additional item boxes, there’s always an incentive to experiment with progression in well-designed Sonic games. While that’s been somewhat lost in some titles, it’s a core aspect of the series that always set it apart from similar platformers. And it goes hand-in-hand with the series’ emphasis on “speed breaks,” which let players zip through levels by using the momentum-focused sections of stages.

Sonic’s approach to speed is a perfect match for the open-world format. Imagine playing as Sonic and using his agility and abilities to traverse Breath of the Wild‘s Hyrule. He could run from area to area while taking out Badniks to reach new heights, encounter bosses, and spindash or use the lightspeed dash to find new locations. Those momentum-based ideas quickly morph into smart exploration tools, not unlike Link’s sailcloth, that could marry the series’ two greatest strengths.

With the right amount of love and care from Sega and Sonic Team, Sonic Frontiers could easily become one of the best Sonic games there is. It all comes down to whether or not they can use the open world to amplify the series’ strengths, not erase them.

Momentum in Sonic Utopia

For a long time, fans knocked around ideas with open-world and Sonic, sometimes resulting in great ideas. Fan-made games like Sonic Utopia have shown just how fun it can be to control Sonic in a sandbox created just for him and his toolkit. Now Sega is trying its hand at a highly experimental formula that could both impress or depress fans of the series depending on how it ends up.

Like any other Sonic fan, I’m going to be cautiously optimistic and hope that the curse of Sega not giving the game ample development time doesn’t follow here. Or else we’ll all just be stuck waiting for Sonic Mania 2 to save us all.

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DeAngelo Epps
De'Angelo Epps is a gaming writer passionate about the culture, communities, and industry surrounding gaming. His work ranges…
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