‘Sonic Frontiers’ hands-on preview attempts to reassure fans

Image via IGN/Sega.

The first hands-on preview for Sonic Frontiers was released on Tuesday, and it largely serves as an attempt to reassure fans that there’s a lot of potential fun to be had in the new Sega title, which is aimed at redefining the franchise in both gameplay and level design.

However, despite getting more insights into the nature of the game’s story, mechanics, and even the definition of its so-called “open-zone” design, many fans still had mixed reactions overall, not only to how the game itself looked, but to the arguably awkward marketing rollout that started with a trickle of previews — each one becoming more detailed than the last — throughout this month.

Indeed, rather than coming from Sega or Sonic the Hedgehog’s official Twitter accounts directly, much of the exclusive first-look content has actually been released through IGN, the latest of which featured a reviewer’s thoughts on the game after spending some four hours with it.

Following some highly controversial initial glimpses at Sonic Frontiers’ latest gameplay elements, the reviewer, Mitchell Saltzman (via IGN), apparently had the very public backlash in mind while explaining the overall feel of the game, writing,

“[I]f 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.'”

Indeed, Saltzman finally confirmed, point-blank, that the upcoming title will be open world. Although that seemed obvious, even from the initial teaser from last year’s The Game Awards, Sega has tiptoed around the topic by insisting it be called “open zone.”

The publication was able to get a more elaborate explanation about what “open zone” even means from Sonic Team Head Takashi lizuka.

“Open world games like Zelda or other AAA games fundamentally have RPG or adventure worlds. For Sonic, the core here is a 3D action game. Our basic idea was to have that take place in an open space. What sets Sonic Frontiers apart is this different approach to an open game world.”

Another revelation for the game from the hands-on preview is that it centers on a story in which Sonic is thrust into a wormhole with Tails and Amy, with the blue blur finding himself separated from his friends on an isolated island. Nothing but an AI voice accompanies him as a guide to collect the Chaos Emerlands.

In addition, the game will incorporate a skill tree mechanic, in which experience points you gain from defeating enemies can be used to power up your attack moves over time.

Even though the game was touted as “an exciting new step forward” overall, the review did note a few flaws that the preview had, such as “a fair amount of bugs,” distracting pop-in elements in the game, and boss fights that could use more tweaking.

Saltzman even further clarified the basic gameplay loop of Sonic Frontiers in a Twitter thread, including that it will involve unlocking and defeating more traditional, linear Sonic levels.

“The flow of the game is basically: Explore open world > solve puzzles to open up map > find collectibles to improve stats > fight world bosses to earn portal gears > use portal gears to unlock linear Sonic levels > complete linear Sonic levels to unlock chaos emeralds.”

The reviewer went on to describe said gameplay loop as “very solid.” Though he admitted the game obviously had more work and “polishing up” to do, it appeared to have a lot of potential as a fun game nonetheless.

Something that has been consistently criticized about Sonic Frontiers is its aforementioned seemingly-awkward marketing rollout, with most of the major reveals coming from IGN, rather than the dedicated social media accounts for the game itself.

For instance, a Sonic Central livestream from the official Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter account supposedly teased more content related to Sonic Frontiers.

However, all it ended up showing was a very brief clip, lasting just a few seconds, of a forthcoming animated short to go along with the game’s release, followed by another brief montage of gameplay clips that would be shown in greater detail at IGN. The brevity of Sonic Frontiers’ presence in the presentation was mocked by some Sega fans on Twitter.

Even Spawn Wave, the game reviewer YouTuber and hardware modder, sarcastically roasted the livestream, saying Sonic Central presented steep competition for the likes of Summer Game Fest and Microsoft.

He was previously hoping for an announcement, perhaps, for a follow-up to the critically-loved Sonic Mania, but no dice.

That’s not to say the fan reception of the hands-on preview was dead cold, either, as there were plenty of people who thought what we’ve seen so far “looks so sick,” among other reactions.

Another Twitter user couldn’t help but lay into Sega’s perceived bungling of the marketing for Sonic Frontiers, saying IGN’s latest video should have been the first one they ever released.

Another fan actually felt free to get excited about the game, for once, based on the latest preview and it’s wealth of interesting-looking aspects, such as collecting Chaos Emeralds — possibly for becoming Super Sonic, building up a skill tree, smaller linear levels embedded within the larger world, and a parry mechanics, among other things.

More previews for Sonic Frontiers are expected to unfold throughout the month of June, so we’ll find out for sure if the game actually stands a chance at releasing to its fullest capacity when it’s expected to drop around the Holiday season later this year on most major gaming consoles, including Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.