Author Topic: Hell is Playing a Sonic game in 2023  (Read 5262 times)

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Offline Evan_B

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Hell is Playing a Sonic game in 2023
« on: January 03, 2023, 12:46:01 PM »
Sonic Frontiers is pathetic.

It’s so sad to see a developer straddle the line of parody so close, yet refuse to commit to the bit. A character once known to compete with Mario due to the unique charms of his platforming physics and nineties attitude has since become the butt of any number of transitioning-to-3D punchlines. But here we are in 2023, only a stone’s toss from the launch of Sonic Frontiers, and the Blue Blur has abandoned competing with Mario in favor of aping the open-world conventions established by Zelda, which were a refined take on the Assassin’s Creed design methodology. That’s right, Sonic Frontiers is an Assassin’s Creed knock-off. Here we are.

One could argue that Breath of the Wild exists as a stop gap in the lineage, as Frontiers certainly utilizes its Shrine-focused goalposts as a progression gate. A glance at any one of the five Starfall Island maps, however, reveals Frontiers to be the offspring of Ubisoft’s waypoint-and-icon laden stealth parkour series. Now, if Frontiers had taken the free-form movement systems of the Assassin’s Creed games and implemented them into expanse environments rather than its heavily peppered map screens, I might be singing a somewhat different tune. The fact is, Sonic has desperately needed a tune-up regarding maneuvering three dimensional spaces since Unleashed presented the twitchy-reaction, boost-reliant gameplay that we consider “modern.” Sonic Lost World experimented with parkour, but Sonic fans decried it for lacking momentum and having a run button (yes, it also lazily drew upon Super Mario Galaxy in level design and gimmickry, too). It’s a shame that system was so quickly abandoned in favor of a mirthless retread of modern Sonic stage design in Sonic Forces, because it at least had potential. The controls that exist here are… well, highly modifiable, which is a jarring design concession because it seems that Sonic Team themselves aren’t entirely certain the way they’ve designed this game is optimal, and have instead resigned to letting players figure out their own idea of what Sonic should feel like as he moves throughout the world.

So yes, you can modify the acceleration, top speed, and turning sensitivities for Sonic as he boosts across these big old islands. These movement controls are only for when you aren’t engaged in any actual platforming, however, because Frontiers uses free-floating, cookie-cutter stage design elements to lock players into boost pads, springs, rails, and rings as often as it can. While I can at least respect the idea that the Memory Token map icons clue players into where they should be searching for platforming elements, the actual platforming itself is devoid of player input. You’ll need to use your homing attack. And jump from rail to rail. And that’s… pretty much it. Well, you will have to hold forward, too, because failing to do so will cause Sonic to come to a dead stop, which is yet another instance of Sonic Team abandoning momentum in favor of… roller coaster thrills? I don’t know. This is only further emphasized by the Cyberspace levels, which are reused level structures from previous Sonic games utilizing the game’s wonky control scheme. These levels are hilariously underbaked, as you’ll find traditional elements of Sonic game design like homing attack chains and maintaining boosts are actually counterintuitive to achieving S-Rank times. Jumping kills any sort of speed, let alone double jumping, though both have insane whipping turning radiuses that can throw you off of your intended path. Instead of midair boosting giving you a wild burst of forward momentum, it results in a lazy lunge that can only be mitigated through close execution near the ground. Holding the stomp button will cause the player to bounce, which can accidentally cause either of the aforementioned aerial moves to activate. Oh, and homing attacks can be chained, but you’ll need to avoid executing it on enemies, as it results in a pregnant, skyward bounce. It’s almost commendable in how this moveset goes against series conventions and clashes with the level design, but I can’t honestly believe that Sonic Team meant for this result.

All of these mechanics work fine in the “overworld,” as the platforming challenges there rarely require the player to steer or even extend their distance via jumping. But there’s another reason these elements don’t really feature much when exploring the Starfall Islands, and that’s because this game has combat, baby. Nothing spectacular, mind you. A very generous parry here, a number of silly and extremely situational attack inputs there. I’ll be honest, no combat scenario is colorful enough to require a majority of these attack inputs, with many enemy types possessing gimmicky puzzle solutions. Some enemies require careful homing attacks, while others must be stomped upon. Cyloop allows you to break enemy guards and launch them for aerial follow-ups. Good luck positioning the camera so you can make a wide enough loop around the swarms that engage you.

I get that Sonic is a runner, but the combat mechanics don’t really emphasize this. There are a few roaming mini bosses that must be engaged with at high speeds, but that opens up other weird control contrivances that I don’t want to bother complaining about.

Ah, what the hell. I’ll complain about them anyway.

Squid must be approached from the rear on a strange, light-based trail that follows behind it, but once you’ve boarded this scrolling platform, Sonic starts to auto run and can only move in quicksteps. Some of these mini bosses, like Strider and Shark, are simple rail-switching or quick-timing pattern memorizations before entering into an uninspired melee combat phase, while others like Asura feel so mechanically jarring it’s hard to imagine what the intended perfect approach might be. Ultimately, the combo system doesn’t feel fully-implemented and the parry is so forgiving that its defining feature is how long you can hold it, stopping any sense of kinetic action in favor of a perfect guard.

I don’t know what to think of this game. Everything is underbaked, from the complexity of platforming to the quality of objectives. Why do I need to Cyloop piles of grass in order to unlock a portion of the map? Why do I need to herd these little Korok critters in order to get a Chaos Emerald? Why is everything broken into tiny, simplistic goals rather than combining elements together for substantial, satisfactory challenge?

Why?

Because these are the lessons that Sonic Team has learned from other open world titles. Yes, like Zelda, they can slap stickers on that term and retitle it an “open zone” challenge or whatever, but the truth is as clear as the skybox in Frontiers, at least in the first three seconds, before all the platforming assets pop in. Sonic Team believes that boiling these objectives down to singular tasks that are not engaging will make the player feel as if the tools they possess are varied in application, when even Ubisoft’s own Breath of the Wild clone Immortals: Fenyx Rising knew that more complex objectives create a stronger sense of reward. It’s like they learned the wrong lesson from Super Mario Odyssey: the haphazard placement of Power Moons was the takeaway rather than Mario possessing a momentum-based rolling platforming input. And that game even had sensible platforming segments.

All I have learned in playing Sonic Frontiers is that my decision to ignore Sonic after playing Lost World was a valid one, and that I am an idiot who did not heed my own advice. The sad thing is, if the game simply committed to the bit that it’s so close to grasping- namely, Sonic being trapped in a simulation that is a bare-bones amalgamation of open world industry trends- I might have appreciated it as a bit of self-aware commentary. But no, this is the product of a lengthy development process. A genuine attempt to make a good game. Is it good? No. It’s mediocre. And honestly, that’s pretty par for the course with Sonic, which is why Frontiers does nothing to further the narrative surrounding Sonic titles. It won’t improve with future updates. It won’t improve substantially with the next installment, and even if it does, we’ll be asking ourselves if that sequel is of the standard of quality that games of this era have already set, failing to account for the products that a hypothetical future has gifted us. Simply put, Sonic the Hedgehog is a series about a very fast creature who simply can’t keep up with the times, and I find that hilarious and sad.

EDIT: Back by popular(?) demand!
« Last Edit: February 20, 2024, 09:37:01 PM by Evan_B »
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Offline Khushrenada

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Re: Hell is Playing a Sonic game in 2023
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2023, 05:05:38 PM »
Sweet Sizzling Steaks! The year is barely three days old and already we've got what could very well be the Review of the Year! Someone set the bar way too high.

Simply put, Sonic the Hedgehog is a series about a very fast creature who simply can’t keep up with the times, and I find that hilarious and sad.

Whoever said, "Cheaters never win" must've never met Khushrenada.