Sonic’s done a lot in 30 years. He’s been a pioneer of the high-speed 2D platformer, an Olympic athlete, a respectable kart racing enthusiast, a fighter, a TV star, and a Hollywood blockbuster movie star as well. But he’s never done open world, and Sonic Frontiers fixes to change that. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first people outside of Sonic Team to go hands-on with Sonic Frontiers, and let me just say, if you’re worried about how the blue blur will fare in this unfamiliar genre, I think Crush 40 put it best:: “Open your heart, it’s gonna be alright.”
The first thing that struck me about Sonic Frontiers was how uniquely somber and serene it was right from the outset. After flying into a wormhole with Tails and Amy, Sonic finds himself separated from his friends and all alone on an isolated island, with nothing but an AI voice guiding him to collect the Chaos Emeralds. There’s no one for Sonic to bounce quips off of, no energetic Crush 40 soundtrack, just wide-open fields as far as the eye can see. There’s an air of mystery in Sonic Frontiers, and it’s a vibe that’s driven home even further by the beautiful yet minimalist piano melodies that accompany Sonic as he explores the island.
All of this is a very intentional choice. I asked Sonic Team Head Takashi Iizuka to describe how the tone of Sonic Frontiers differs from previous Sonic games, and he said, “Past games in the Sonic series have taken different tones depending on their story and themes. This time, these mysterious islands are the game’s major setting. That’s why our artists have worked hard to create a mysterious mood.”
Of course, the big new change in Sonic Frontiers is the shift from purely linear levels to a huge open world where Sonic can run freely in any direction, but Sonic Team doesn’t like to use the term “Open World” to describe Sonic Frontiers’ gameplay, instead referring to its style as being “Open Zone.”