For our last bit of coverage of Summer Game Fest Play Days 2022, we got to sample an early look at the new Sonic the Hedgehog game, Sonic Frontiers. Sega’s team on site were quick to stress this game is meant as an “open zone” games as opposed to a true open world experience. Sonic Frontiers finds the erstwhile speedy Sonic trapped on a series of islands called Starfall Islands. What’s more, it feels as if Sonic is in some new universe other than his own. There are cut scenes we didn’t experience in our demo that have Sonic somehow falling into a mishap where all of his colorful friends have disappeared, himself marooned on this large island archipelago chain.
He’s greeted shortly thereafter by a disembodied and ominous voice. The voice indicates he’ll need to explore all the islands secrets in order to find (or save?) his friends. With little more explanation than that, Sonic has to do what he always does, run really fast and find ever more intriguing ways of zooming around the landscape. The game is a full 3D experience, so you can guide Sonic around as aimlessly as you please. This demo included only the first of many islands in the Starfall Islands, Kronos Island. The scale of this island was imposingly large. You can see for what constitutes miles, and littered across the landscape—and even in the sky or ravines off a cliff’s edge—are dozens of trick runs that you’ll vigorously pursue until you find just the right way to hit them.
Each bit taught us more of how to leverage Sonic’s tricks, turns and third-gear speed. Much like the standard Sonic experience of racing-on-a-rail, once you hit just enough of these moves correctly, you’re snapped into a faster and faster swiftness until you lose your footing or ram into a wall. We spent so much time tinkering, we almost didn’t leave ourselves enough time to progress into the games upper reaches. As you progress, you’ll earn what are called vault keys that will allow you to enter into one of the game’s many Cyber Space levels. That may sound like fancy computer hacking, but really, it’s what a layman would recognize as traditional Sonic the Hedgehog race levels. The good news is, the tricks the open part of the game teaches you all work the same way within Cyber Space. The Cyber Space levels are fun the way would expect them to be, impossible loop-de-loops flittering a colorful Mario-esque series of landscapes, but the real fun here is applying that lightning speed in the 3D world. After dashing a batch of drones called soldiers using speed and Sonic’s new cyloop feature (where he creates a vibrant blue line as he surrounds a space unlocking special features if done correctly) we moved to a series of boss battles to earn vault keys.
One was with an isometric opponent simply called Ninja. That was all speed and evasion. The more engaging boss battle was a spinning-drill-like-angry-face-thing simply called Tower. Tower required use of an even larger space of the map to plan one of Sonic’s bonk attacks, knocking out segments of the “tower” until it was all destroyed. The folks at Sega indicated Sonic Frontiers was the largest Sonic the Hedgehog game to date, and the mind boggles in a good way that it’s possible such a simple concept has been writ large into a large world full of exploration. Sonic Frontiers will be available Christmas 2022.