After what feels like a lifetime of waiting, we've finally been treated to a glimpse at what the gameplay for Sonic Frontiers will look like — two glimpses, in fact! Thanks to IGN's month-long coverage deal with SEGA, we now have a better idea of how exploration and combat will work in the game, with the two core aspects given their own spotlight in separate videos (scroll down for them).
The internet isn't short on opinions, and the backlash has been fierce, if not entirely unexpected. We've also got opinions; oh boy, do we have opinions!
Two of our writers — Alana and Ollie — got together to discuss a handful of questions detailing their thoughts on the initial gameplay footage, along with their hot takes on the obvious Breath of the Wild inspiration and whether SEGA should just bite the bullet and delay the game.
There are a couple of polls at the bottom — feel free to let us know your thoughts there and in the comments section. But first, here's what we think...
We’ve had two gameplay videos for Sonic Frontiers. What’s your overall take on what you’ve seen so far?
ALANA: *gestures at thin air* What is all this? I have so many more questions after what we’ve seen so far. It feels like Sonic’s just been dropped into an entirely different game series and I don’t really know what to think. I was at least intrigued when Frontiers was announced; as in, how will SEGA pull off ‘open-world Sonic’? But Sonic’s core gameplay has always been “get from point A to point B” and this just feels aimless. Sonic and aimless don’t really go together.
OLLIE: Yeah that’s spot on. I think what I’m lacking at the moment is context. We’ve seen Sonic running around a nice-looking environment, but to what end? What’s the point of it all? Even if the gameplay videos just had someone narrating to say “here’s what you’re doing, this is what the combat looks like”, I might have gotten a better idea of what the heck is going on. As it is, I just don’t see anything to really get me excited for its eventual release.
Quite a few Sonic fans are demanding for the game to be delayed off the back of the gameplay videos. Do you think this is the right approach? Would SEGA even consider it?
ALANA: I’m not sure what delaying the game would do at this stage. Delays are usually to get rid of bugs, fine-tune stuff, etc. And there’s definitely some janky movement and stiff animations that will be hopefully scrubbed out by the time the game is out. A lot of fans are understandably disappointed by what they’ve seen, but if the game is on track for this year, then changing concepts and gameplay is more than a six-month job.
OLLIE: Yeah, you’re right there, some fans want the entire game to be reworked, but you’re looking at more than a slight delay to accomplish something like that. Personally, I think some people just need to take a step back and relax a bit. Yes, the gameplay we’ve seen so far is, uhh… ropey, at best, but there’s plenty of time to get a better picture of what Sonic Frontiers is all about. It is what it is, and that’s the game we’re getting.
ALANA: Yeah! We’re discussing this after the first two clips, and we have a whole month of these snippets from IGN to go. I’m sure lots of gaps are going to be filled, and things will begin to knit together. I agree with you, though. It’s a disappointing first few showings, but we’ve got more to come. Relax. The reception to the combat trailer was a bit more positive than the first, too.
What do you make of the gradual drip-feed of gameplay from IGN? Is this the best way to show off the game or could SEGA have done something different?
OLLIE: I don’t think it’s the best way the game could have been showcased. I get the intention behind it; SEGA likely wants to show off some raw gameplay to instil some confidence in the fanbase, but in actuality, it's achieved the complete opposite. The thing is, the gameplay doesn’t look terrible, but by segmenting off core aspects of the game in separate videos, it’s currently making it out to be a lot more uninteresting than it probably is. I’ve seen some people post fan-made videos, cutting together various bits and bobs from both showcases, and it makes the game look much better!
ALANA: It’s weird, that’s for sure. Every aspect feels disjointed. The exploration segments seemed dull because it felt like the world was empty, and the combat video felt divorced because Sonic was literally just running between enemies and getting rid of them. Why is he running around and climbing towers? What are the robots? Why does he need to defeat them?
OLLIE: Yeah, again I think we just need a bit of an explanation as to what’s going on. The robots, particularly the giant ones, look pretty cool in all honesty, but what the heck are they? Are they linked to Dr. Robotnik (I refuse to call him Eggman, dagnabbit)? Are they a brand new threat? We just don’t know! I SEGA is aiming for 'mystery' here, there's been a major miscalculation.
Lots of comparisons have been made to Breath of the Wild given the game’s open-world structure. Do you think that’s fair, and do you think this kind of setting can work in a Sonic game?
ALANA: Not every open-world game is Breath of the Wild, but I think the comparison rings truer here because of what we’ve seen. Soft piano music. Green grassy fields. A couple of puzzles and big structures. It’s like a big open playground for Sonic, but filled with very few of the things that make Sonic… Sonic. There are grind rails and springs but they don’t feel natural. The enemies are un-Sonic-like, which is fine, but again, context. Breath of the Wild still felt like a Zelda game. This doesn’t look like a Sonic game yet, aside from the fact that Sonic is there.
OLLIE: Yeah, it’s clear Breath of the Wild was a huge influence, but as we’ve seen with other “copy-cats” over the past few years, that’s not always a good thing. You’re right that it feels like Sonic has been dropped into a completely different game world, and without the context there to explain what’s going on, it’s quite jarring. As has been said online, it does almost look like someone made an Unreal Engine video and said “hey, here’s what a realistic Sonic game could look like!” It’s weird, and I know we’ve had other 3D Sonic games that have strayed pretty far from the standard formula, but this one feels… different.
ALANA: Lots of people compared Sonic Lost World to Super Mario Galaxy, so it also feels a bit like SEGA are always chasing Nintendo’s tail a little bit. Lost World isn’t too bad a game, but with Frontiers again, it just feels like they’re making the step too late, and with not enough consideration for what we, the players, need to know, or how Sonic will work in an open-world.
OLLIE: That’s what frustrates me more than anything. Sonic Mania demonstrated that SEGA has a great formula for Sonic, but it insists on following Nintendo’s lead, as you say. It's like it knows what it needs to do to make a great Sonic game, but has spent the past two decades or so desperately trying to avoid it.
Rather than just clips of different gameplay elements, I need to know how it all fits together.
ALANA: SEGA has always been a bit more experimental with Sonic in 3D, though this is by far its biggest experiment, I’d say. I think it’s good to shake up a series, but 3D Sonic has had more ‘misses’ than ‘hits’, and probably its biggest hit was 50/50 on 2D and 3D gameplay. I’ve never made a game before, so I know saying “you need to take what makes 3D Sonic good and put it into an open-world environment” isn’t easy, but I haven’t quite seen that spark or energy yet.
What does SEGA need to do to convince you that Sonic Frontiers is still worth looking forward to?
OLLIE: For me, right now, I just need to see a bit more. Like I said earlier, the game doesn’t look awful, but I’m just not quite sure what it is, yet. What's the general story? Which characters will show up? We’ll get plenty of more info over the coming days, I’m sure, so I have my fingers crossed that SEGA will get it together and actually showcase something vaguely interesting.
ALANA: Yeah, I need something that connects the dots. I’m not asking for story details – I’m not really a stickler for that – but just, like, structure? Objectives, purpose, etc. Rather than just clips of different gameplay elements, I need to know how it all fits together. What’s a snapshot of some of the things I can do in Sonic Frontiers? Right now, I know I can run around, grind some randomly-placed rails, and fight enemies.
OLLIE: Exactly! Come on then Sega; the ball’s in your court.
So, our initial thoughts on Sonic Frontiers aren't exactly positive, but we're going to remain cautiously optimistic and hope that Sega lifts the lid on the new game a bit more over the coming days and weeks.
What are your thoughts on Sonic Frontiers so far? Do you think the open world makes sense? Should Sega delay it? Leave a comment in the usual place and let us know!