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Game On: Sonic Frontiers has me cautiously optimistic

Sonic Frontiers is Sega’s attempt to integrate their iconic speedster into a massive open world environment rife with platforming challenges, puzzles and enemies to battle. It will be released on Nov. 8 for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Windows PC.  (Sega Corporation)
Sonic Frontiers is Sega’s attempt to integrate their iconic speedster into a massive open world environment rife with platforming challenges, puzzles and enemies to battle. It will be released on Nov. 8 for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Windows PC. (Sega Corporation)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Despite my love-hate relationship with the series, I’ve been rather silent regarding the upcoming Sonic Frontiers even with tons of new information and gameplay videos spilling in over the past few weeks. The first footage of the game, revealed by IGN on May 31, was uninspiring – all it did was show Sonic the Hedgehog scaling a massive obelisk and grinding his way down before exploring some empty open plains.

I’m happy to report that more recent demonstrations of the game are more intriguing. Plenty of hobbyists and journalists were able to play a hands-on demo at Gamescom in late August, and the vast majority of them came away with positive feedback. With smooth-looking movement, plenty of new landscapes and a plethora of reimagined older level themes represented in the game’s “cyberspace” levels, Sonic Frontiers is looking inspired and impressive.

I have limited fondness for open world games – too often, they are filled with pointless diversions and repetitive content to pad out the run time. But from what’s been shown so far, Sonic’s breakneck speed and surprisingly smooth movement is sure to make navigating cliffs, towers and rolling hills a delight. If anything, I’m more worried about the objectives between exploration.

Sonic Team has elected to give the blue blur a much more comprehensive moveset than the usual run, jump, dash and ground-stomp. In Sonic Frontiers, he will tout a full suite of combat abilities with kicks, punches, whirlwinds and all sorts of flashy combo moves. Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea, but for all the flair, it looks a bit tedious.

It’s the first time the developer has implemented any sort of focused combat since 2008’s Sonic Unleashed, which received middling reviews. I’m skeptical, but on the other hand, Sonic Team is notorious for walking on eggshells in response to fan criticism – so if they’re trying combat again, they’re clearly committed to the idea. Perhaps it will feel more like Sonic and less like a God of War clone this time.

After all, despite the name of the character, there’s more to Sonic than just speed. In a recent interview, series director Takashi Iizuka said, “it’s very clear to me that just going fast does not make it fun.” The franchise has experimented with all manner of different gameplay styles over the years, and while some of them have been a swing and a miss, others have been fantastic – I still regularly return to the treasure hunting and shooting stages of the Sonic Adventure titles.

That experimentation has been sidelined for almost 15 years now, replaced entirely by the so-called “boost formula,” which maximizes the hedgehog’s raw speed while sacrificing other sources of fun: challenging jumps, alternate routes and vertical exploration. Level design has become ludicrously simple – some even joked that 2017’s Sonic Forces was “the first one-dimensional Sonic game.”

For this reason, I believe the developers’ decision to go open-world might actually pay off. They’re giving Sonic room to roam again, rather than placing him on a rollercoaster track and calling it a day. If they manage to make the controls intuitive and precise – something they’ve been bizarrely faltering on over the past decade – the game could be a hit.

One thing the game is missing, and all Sonic titles have been missing for over 15 years, is the series’ stellar ensemble cast. It’s already been confirmed that the blue hedgehog is the game’s one and only playable character, despite the series having a massive cast of fun and creative anthropomorphic heroes. Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose and even Big the Cat will make appearances, but they won’t be playable.

After being delayed a year for quality control, Sonic Frontiers is set to release on Nov. 8 for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Windows PC. If the game turns out to be a mess, gamers can at least count on the Sonic fandom’s tenacious modding community to make the PC version a masterpiece as they have with previous entries.

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