In the 1990s, few characters reached the heights of Sonic the Hedgehog. Shortly after the 1991 launch of the Blue Blur’s debut game on Sega Genesis, his popularity rivaled Nintendo’s behemoth Super Mario franchise. However, much like the roller coasters that inspired Sonic’s original gameplay and level design, the subsequent decades included plenty of highs and lows. Even after a quick jump off the starting line, many feared the series was doomed to fall short of its potential forever.
However, the brand has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years. The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise is perhaps nearly as popular now as when it burst onto the scene just over three decades ago, bolstered by blockbuster movies, beloved comics, and promising streaming shows. Sonic Mania proved a successful retro reinvention, but the core development staff at Sonic Team has yet to deliver the final piece of the puzzle: a mainline game restoring the series’ legacy as one of the premier platformers.
Sega and Sonic Team think they have that final component with Sonic Frontiers. I traveled to Burbank, California, the American headquarters of Sonic Team, to sink hours into the upcoming open-world game to see if it truly is the fresh direction the franchise needs.