We’re at a new turning point in Sonic’s 30-year history. Cult-favorite gaming mascot is once again a main attraction, beating out Sony’s Unexplored At the box office and the spawn a new Netflix series. And after making the leap from side-scrolling platformer to 3D soap opera, the series is now going open-world in its most ambitious entry yet. with sound borders. But recent trailers have fans worried, and after 30 minutes of hands-on gameplay, I wasn’t impressed.
I played the game while attending Summer Game Fest last week in Los Angeles and while I’m not ready to write it yet, I remain incredibly skeptical that Sonic Team leader Takashi Iizuka and his team try. The demo opened with Sonic, separated from furry comrades Tails and Amy Rose, abandoning a wormhole in a bucolic archipelago called the Starfall Islands and enlisted by a mysterious AI to go find the Chaos Emeralds. From there, I was off to explore puzzles, grind on rails, and fight the occasional boss. My time spent was sometimes fun, often messy, and generally quite rude.
I put off writing these impressions partly because there wasn’t a ton to do in the demo. We filmed newly revealed footage of sound borders as looking like a bland Unreal Engine project. The game looked better in person, especially when the skies cleared up and the sun started to set (islands follow your standard abbreviated open-world day and night cycle), but it was still practically empty.
Pockets of enemies here and there could be demolished via a new combat system that includes a flurry of automatic punches and kicks, defensive dodges, and even a timed parry mechanic. I solved light space puzzles like stepping on pressure plates or navigating launch pads to unlock collectibles. And sometimes an open track with speed boosts allows me to collect rings while climbing a small obstacle course on a mountain path. I quickly got bored.
I wasn’t immediately drawn to how controlled Sonic feels either. Something felt wrong. It never seemed to gain momentum satisfactorily, and the complex and uneven topography made it difficult to go very fast for very long periods (of all sound borders seems to be cradle of breath of the wild, the green stamina ring icon that depletes while boosting is almost one-to-one). Combat and aerial traversal rely on a finicky targeting system to ensure that Sonic is aiming his spin attacks in the right direction.
Towards the end of the demo I faced a giant boss called The Tower and for a while I felt like I was in The shadow of the colossus. It was a briefly awe-inspiring moment cut short fighting both the camera and nervous movement of Sonic as I struggled to hit enemy weak spots without continuously falling to the side. When the camera, aim and movement align, sound borders comes close to nailing an esoteric yet rewarding way to navigate a sprawling map. The rest of the time it was like a nuisance to navigate.
If I sound harsh it’s because the demo didn’t do a great job of showing how sound borders‘ Open-world elements will unlock new potential for the long-running series. It was rough and incomplete, and I couldn’t find a single little thing that I could then point and say”This was fun – leave it to me this for a whole game!“In fact, the lackluster graphics and art direction seemed to be the least of the 2022 holiday game’s problems. To be clear, I think there’s a version of sound borders, from what I’ve been shown, it can all come together and be awesome. I’m just not convinced, based on my limited time with the demo, that Sonic Team will get there soon enough.
Despite some fans rallying around the #DelaySonicFrontiers hashtag, Takashi Iizuka Told VGC that there were no plans to do so at this time and the team is actually quite happy with the results and internal feedback so far. It is also not known how old the construction was that I and other journalists played, with IGN reports that his initial preview was based on a much older preview. Otherwise, Iizuka and the rest of Team Sonic still have their work cut out for them. sound borders is expected to launch on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Switch before the end of the year.