The Sonic series has never shied away from innovation, to “do what Nintendon’t.” Werehogs. Hedgehog with a gun. The first human-hedgehog kiss in gaming. For good or for ill, Sonic makes his mark by going where no hog has gone before.
The world has gotten its first glimpse of his next adventure, Sonic Frontiers, and we at PC Gamer just don’t know what to think. Sonic runs through a hyper-realistic, desolate countryside and does battle with demon robots that look like they’re straight out of NieR: Automata. Join us as we process our feelings on the matter.
It’s Good, Actually
Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor: I was not expecting much when I first booted up the Frontiers trailer, but as it went on I got a sick thrill from it. It’s just so weird. Take the uncanny effect of Mario sauntering through the contrastingly realistic New Donk City and crank it up to eleven: this absurd blue mammal ping ponging around the melancholy ruins of a lost civilization at mach speed. It caught my attention!
And the platforming in the trailer looks genuinely… fun? The massive structures suspended over the open world remind me of Nintendo’s excellent Bowser’s Fury expansion to Mario 3D World, its follow-up to Odyssey and the first time the Plumber’s gone open world. I have no strong feelings about the Sonic franchise either way at this point, but I find Frontiers strangely compelling.
Breath of the Mild, more like
Chris Livingston, Features Producer: Maybe I’m coming off the high of the first reveal of Elden Ring’s open world, but when I see Sonic standing at the edge of a cliff surveying the landscape while the camera slowly and dramatically pans around him… I mean, the sight of it doesn’t blow me away. It looks like a fairly generic green-ass world. I guess the landscape and foliage can’t be too complex if you’re gonna be running through it at a thousand miles per hour, but it’s hard not to feel a little underwhelmed by a pretty bland looking island.
I do like the idea of open world puzzle solving, the rail-riding looks pretty sick, and the massive bosses we saw in an earlier reveal look like they could be fun. I’m sure some of the stuff you can run to will be great, but the stuff you run through to get to it looks, frankly, pretty dull.
Running in circles
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: I just… I can’t believe that Sega sat down to completely reimagine what a new Sonic game should look like in 2022, a bold contemporary take on their most beloved character, and they came up with… drawing a circle around enemies?? Trotting in a little circle around a bad guy that stands still? Smacking your head into it and getting absolutely no reaction? I don’t understand why half of the combat footage is Sonic just ineffectually punching and kicking robots. I don’t understand why Sega decided this was ready to show, with such stiff, jarring animations and abrupt camera movements when Sonic initiates some moves.
I don’t want to be mean to this game; I think what I’m feeling is pity. For Sega, if this was its best shot, and for Sonic fans who got their hopes up. Robots that stand still while you draw circles around them can’t be as good as it gets.
Maybe this is what Sonic fans like?
Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor: For a game in 2022, an unusually large amount of the world’s surface area is covered in a rock texture that looks like crumpled paper. It looks decent when Sonic is dashing through the woods and there’s a ton of motion blur, but when he slows to a stroll it has a distinct ‘I put Sonic into an Unreal Engine 4 demo project’ feel. I struggle to identify the intention behind that art direction—it looks like it bumped up against technical limitations that stopped existing years ago—although there is charm to its naive quality, as if it really is a fan mod. Maybe it’s a substance over style kind of thing? The gameplay demo makes it look calming and relaxing, which aren’t really things I associate with Sonic, but at least you can’t accuse the hedgehog of relentless formalism. Sonic keeps surprising us, for better and worse.
What Sonic Frontiers needs is Ben Schwartz
Tyler Colp, Associate Editor: I’ve figured it out: this Sonic Frontiers trailer is awful and empty, but I think if you turn a microphone on and put Sonic the Hedgehog (the movie) voice actor and funny guy Ben Schwartz in front of it, the game could be good. Schwartz has a lot to say—maybe too much to say—and could carry this game out of whatever Unreal Engine tech demo hell it’s in. Let Ben Schwartz just riff on the nature of the rings, chilli dogs, and death. Heck, play this Larry King interview for an entire level. Sonic Frontiers looks bad because it doesn’t understand that a game about a hedgehog with shoes that goes fast is inherently ridiculous. It should embrace that by bringing on the most ridiculous actor that brings that same energy to the films.