Sonic Frontiers puts Sega’s beloved blue hedgehog into an open world–one that looks a whole lot like the Hyrule we explore in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The new setting transforms the traditional gameplay loop for a Sonic game, creating what the Sonic Team views as the future of the franchise.
“In Sonic’s history, we’ve had the 2D side-scrolling gameplay [and] the 3D, more linear format where you have Sonic starting someplace and going to a goal on a track,” Sonic Team creative officer Takashi Iizuka told me at Summer Game Fest Play Days. “This is going to be the next iteration, this is like the future of Sonic–we wanted to make something that really embraced freedom and the freedom to run around wherever you want.”
I got to play a bit of Frontiers at Play Days and the game is unlike any Sonic game I’ve played before. The open 3D environment creates a playground for Sonic’s speed, allowing for platforming challenges that really force you to stop and think about how to approach and solve them. As Sonic isn’t just traveling from the left side of the screen to the right on a 2D plane, or running straight ahead on a 3D one, you suddenly have choices for how to approach specific platforming challenges as opposed to being on-railed to the solution.
“That’s what [we] did with this huge, 3D environment–taking that Sonic platform action into this new 3D environment,” Iizuka said. “The iteration that went into it, the passion that went into it–this is the open zone format that [we’ve] created.”
As a fun little aside, Iizuka told me that the Sonic Team encountered a unique issue when crafting Frontier’s world–Sonic is too fast for your average-sized open world. Unlike the main characters in Breath of the Wild, Horizon Forbidden West, or Elden Ring, Sonic moves at an especially quick pace–faster than most characters in other games do on their mounts. As such, the Sonic Team found that playtesters were too quickly getting from one side of Frontier’s map to the other. The world therefore had to be made a lot bigger, with side activities noticeably spread further and further apart so players wouldn’t accidentally speed right past them.
“When [we] started making this game–everyone was running from start to finish [to test] how quickly you could clear the island from one side to the other,” Iizuka said. “[We] were constantly testing it because Sonic is such a fast character [that] if you’re going through it too quick–that doesn’t work for the open zone format. So [we’d] make the island, [we’d] run across is, [and then we’d] say, ‘This is no good–you got to throw it out! Make it bigger! We got to make it bigger! Even bigger!’ And [we’re] constantly testing the size of the island and constantly questioning [ourselves] because [we] have such a fast character, and [we] need to make the open zone format a fun playground to play in.”
We’ll see just how big Sonic Frontiers’ map is soon enough. The game is set to launch for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, and PC sometime this year.