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Sonic Frontiers Must Solidify the 3D Sonic Formula

Sonic the Hedgehog is most well-regarded for his classic 2D sidescrolling games, but the rambunctious rodent ran into the third dimension decades ago. Beginning with the Sega Dreamcast title Sonic Adventure, the franchise would begin prioritizing 3D games and almost completely abandon the classic formula. Sadly, that’s resulted in several misfires, not to mention a generally haphazard status quo for just what makes a Sonic game a Sonic game.

The next entry in the series is Sonic Frontiers, and the three-dimensional thrill ride has the potential to define Sonic’s games for years. Adding open-world mechanics to the mix, it aims to be the Sonic Adventure for a new generation. In doing so, it may give Sonic the 3D stability that he’s been desperately racing after since 1998.

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3D Sonic Games Have Constantly Changed Their Formula

The sections of Sonic Adventure featuring Sonic himself mostly emulated the classic games as much as possible at the time, but there were some issues with the game. Most notably, the huge cast of playable characters outside of Sonic himself led to various playstyles, including slow and plodding fishing elements with Big the Cat. These levels weren’t at all what Sonic fans wanted in the hedgehog’s big jump into the third dimension. Sonic Adventure 2 improved somewhat in this regard by limiting the game to three playstyles, but this lack of faith in itself was what truly began derailing the franchise.

From Sonic Heroes to Sonic Boom and Sonic Colors, many of the 3D Sonic games that came out in the following decade were incredibly different from each other. None of these changes felt like organic gimmicks or new elements added to keep things fresh and instead seemed to be Sonic Team simply throwing things at the wall to see what stuck. It didn’t help that the most well-received titles of this era, Sonic Colors and the nostalgia-laden Sonic Generations, had copious amounts of 2D sections that harkened back to the classic era of the franchise.

Lacking both the reception and stability of former rival Mario‘s 3D games, the Sonic series would begin to fade from the limelight. Fans also became divided on how to make the character truly work in 3D, a debate made more cacophonous due to the numerous playstyles in the 3D games. Some wanted a return to the many characters of Sonic Adventure, while others desired a more straightforward version of the Colors/Generations formula. None of these are considered the definitive 3D take on Sonic in the way that the Genesis Sonic games are for his side-scrolling adventures. However, Sonic Frontiers could finally end the debate.

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Sonic Frontiers Must Give Sonic a Conclusive 3D System

As shown in the game’s trailer, Sonic Frontiers retains many of the elements from previous games but also heavily changes things up. For one, it’s the first open-world-like entry in the series, with those working on the title actually comparing it to Nintendo’s open-world adventure game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There are also similarities to several 3D Mario games, including combat actions and an emphasis on collectibles. From what’s been shown, it would seem that Sonic is the only playable character, though his friends show up in the storyline. There’s even a fishing mini-game featuring none other than Big the Cat.

Open-zone adventure, blistering speed and collectible items are certainly successful formulas in other games, and this amalgamation of what’s worked in past 3D Sonic titles could be a winning mix. The key is that these elements do in fact mix and don’t come off as a myriad of disparate ideas thrown together. Likewise, regardless of the quality of Sonic Frontiers, the franchise has to have faith in its formula and refine it in future titles instead of instantly throwing it out for something new. It’s somewhat sad that it’s taken this long to potentially settle upon the “one true way” for Sonic to operate in 3D, but figuring it out could not only give the hedgehog his sense of firm identity back but also his popularity and respect in the world of video games.

Sonic Frontiers is headed to PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Microsoft Windows on Nov. 8, 2022.

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