Sonic has been getting a lot of buzz recently, with the success of his new movie. They’re trying to do the same on the gaming end, with their upcoming 3D game slated to come out this 2022, Sonic Frontiers. They’ve been releasing numerous gameplay videos and developer deep-dives throughout the ongoing month of June, however fan reaction has been cautiously optimistic at best, to deeply concerned at worst. This is due to various criticisms like the empty-looking world, the simple combat, the subpar animations, and the several performance issues. The first trailer showed numerous pop-ins, sometimes as bad as Sonic landing on the ground before the textures loaded beneath him.
The consensus between all parties, Sonic fan or not, is that the game needs to be delayed. However, it would appear studio head Takashi Iizuka thinks differently. In a recent interview he did with VGC, when asked if he was surprised the reactions had been mixed, he stated the following in part; “We do realize everyone is just kind of reacting to the videos that they saw, and because they don’t understand what this new gameplay is, they’re kind of comparing it to other games that they already know… And this new game system itself is something that doesn’t really exist in any other comparable titles…”
This idea the Sonic Team has of their never-before-seen open-zone format has yet to be fully understood, and perhaps never will be. In a recent developer overview, which you can find on YouTube, Game Director Morio Kishimoto compared Sonic Frontiers’ open areas akin to old 2D platformer world maps, in which one would only move around to select stages. Except, that this world map is open and playable. Another overview had Iizuka stating, “The base of our game is the Sonic 3D Action Adventure game expanded to be a freer game experience, and that’s how we thought up this completely new ‘Open-Zone’ game system.”
It is rather unusual for the developers to tout how new and unseen this format is given that, how they explain it, it’s clearly been done in several games before. A playable world map has been a staple of 3D Mario games since Super Mario 64. Studio Head Iizuka’s explanation is similarly confusing, as expanding a 3D linear action game into a freer game experience is the genesis of almost any open-world title. Now, there’s room to give them the benefit of the doubt. The playable world map might be of a much larger scale than anything we’ve seen in Mario. There may have been some errors in translation. And we’ve yet to really play the game, maybe it’s hard to explain the uniqueness, and it’s something you need to get your hands on.
It is, however, difficult to generate sympathy when you tell your loyal fans who are genuinely concerned about the end product that they do not understand what they’re seeing. By the developers’ own explanations, their open-zone doesn’t seem to be as revolutionary as they might think. And you do not need to be a game designer to know lack of polish when you see it. After all, the open world was only one criticism leveled at the trailers. Many more focused on the game’s odd camera cuts, clashing visuals, and janky animations.
In the VGC interview, Iizuka continued to claim that the game is in “finalization mode,” and that “we do feel that we’re getting to the point where this game is done.” That crushed the dreams of a lot of fans, and simply anyone who was hoping this game would reach its full potential. It’s hard to reasonably expect that the game will go from the state it’s in now to a polished and complete version of itself in such a short amount of time. The history of 3D Sonic games is not the most celebrated, and that’s unlikely to change unless their development suffers significant adjustments.