The Future of Sonic: How SEGA Can Leverage Frontiers’ Success

Sonic The Hedgehog has always been a household name. The latest string of success, pioneered by Sonic Frontiers, has created the opportunity for SEGA to capitalize on Sonic's return to glory. Here's how they could accomplish that.

The Future of Sonic: 
How SEGA Can Leverage Frontiers' Success

It’s fair to say that Sonic The Hedgehog has had a resurgence in popularity. With a well-written comic book line, surprisingly competent live-action film adaptations, and the success of Frontiers, Sonic is once again back in the spotlight. While success and popularity usually come with peaks and valleys, Sonic and SEGA have a real opportunity for continued success with their speedy mascot for the first time in nearly 20 years.

While the Sonic brand will probably never cease to be popular, a string of successful outings opens up avenues for SEGA to capitalize on this surge in popularity. From Sonic Team honing their skills on the base laid out in Frontiers, tapping into the plethora of legacy content the series has, and expanding development on new and varied avenues, the sky could be the limit for Sonic going forward.

Fixing Frontiers

Despite Sonic Frontiers‘ success, it is by no means a perfect game. Far from it. It’s a testament to how fun the core of an Open Zone Sonic game is with how the game is able to overcome a myriad of baffling design decisions and poor optimization. Regardless, Frontiers is the best-selling 3D entry in the series, meaning Sonic Team has once again struck gold with a new direction for its namesake. Just like with the Adventure and Boost formulas before it, Frontiers‘ success gives Sonic Team the opportunity to smooth out the rough edges of the Open Zone concept into something really special.

Sonic Frontiers - Accolades Trailer

Like Unleashed before it, Frontiers has a great core but most of the accompanying mechanics don’t work as well. Streamlining some of the ancillary systems would make for a more enjoyable experience overall. For example, the combat and skill tree system was unbalanced, being able to unlock most of what the game had to offer in that category early on. Retooling skills to have them scattered around the open zone similar to how power-ups were obtained in Sonic Adventure would facilitate exploration while also making each skill found that much more important to a player’s toolset.

There are various other tweaks Sonic Team could implement similar to this to smooth out the base experience but additions and expansion of said base is important as well. A hypothetical Frontiers 2 could leverage the lessons learned from the original’s development to build more cohesive zones as a whole. One of the main visual issues of Frontiers is its awkward level construction. Typical Sonic paraphernalia such as boosters, grind rails, and bumpers just exist in the game world as opposed to being organically built into the Starfall Islands. More visual continuity will create a more believable world for Sonic to speed around in and possibly be able to solve the game’s jarring pop-in issue in one fell swoop. The fewer Frontiers‘ obstacle courses that just appear out of nowhere the better the flow of Sonic’s movement will be.

Open Zone in Sonic Frontiers

Open Zone in Sonic Frontiers

While Frontiers‘ Open Zones are the main selling point, the Boost style of gameplay was still present for the games Cyberspace Zones. While still fun, this style of gameplay has run its course. The Boost formula seemed to have peaked with 2011’s Generations and since then, hasn’t been able to replicate that game’s success enough to justify its continued use. With Frontiers‘ follow-up, it’s time for the Boost formula to be retired in favor of expanding the Open Zone concept.

A combination of cohesive level design and a focus on extrapolating on the Open Zone formula will help a hypothetical Frontiers 2 push the series forward. Coupled with tweaks to its skill structure and a continued focus on its characters and world, Frontiers 2 could be the sequel to propel Sonic back into the realm of his once-rivaled mustachioed plumber. But SEGA should not rest on its main series laurels to continue this forward momentum and (ironically) looking backward could help in that department.  

Blast From the Past

SEGA has not been one to let past success stay in the past with Sonic. The original Sonic titles on the Genesis have been re-released, remade, or remastered so many times it’s hard to keep track. Most recently, Sonic Origins continued this trend. While it makes all the sense in the world to continue to bring these classic titles to modern systems, the vast majority of Sonic’s history is resigned to the hardware it released on. With Frontiers paving a way forward for the future of Sonic, supplementing that future with past titles would be a great way to sustain the momentum the series currently has. 

While the classic titles have staying power and recognition, to leave previous titles in the past would be a waste. The Sonic Advance trilogy on the Gameboy Advance is held in high regard by fans as some of the best 2D Sonic titles. While not on par with the Genesis entries, the Advance games are still a great time, and the fact they remained relegated to the GBA is a crime. With Nintendo recently releasing GBA games for Nintendo Switch Online as well as their chummy relationship with SEGA, seeing the Advance trilogy ported to Switch could be a realistic option in the near future. But SEGA should go further. A Sonic Advance Trilogy complete with widescreen support, upscaled visuals, remastered soundtracks and some extras thrown in for good measure would give these games the treatment they’ve desperately deserved since the early 2000s. 

Sonic Advance Trilogy / Dimps / SEGA

Sonic Advance Trilogy / Dimps / SEGA

While Sonic has flourished in 2D, his 3D outings haven’t been as bad as the memes would have one believe. Despite justifiable criticisms leveled at many titles, there are many games that are still fun to this day. Despite a few digital ports here and there, 3D Sonic titles of the past have stayed trapped on the consoles of their original releases. While Sonic Adventure and Adventure 2 did see HD ports in 2010 and 2012 respectively, those ports were lackluster at best. While still fun, time hasn’t been well to the Adventure titles regardless of the nostalgia associated with them. SEGA should take the Crash Bandicoot or Spyro route, fully remastering both titles from the ground up, complete with modern graphics, remastered soundtracks, and updated voicework with the current cast. With Adventure turning 25 this year, what better way to celebrate than full remakes of beloved titles?

Sonic’s initial forays into 3D haven’t aged as gracefully as some of the more recent titles. Luckily, SEGA has begun to acknowledge this with the release of Sonic Colors Ultimate in 2021. Considered by some to be one of the best 3D titles, Ultimate featured updated visuals and performance, a remade soundtrack, as well as some bonus content. SEGA should consider giving the other Boost titles this same treatment. Sonic Generations is a no-brainer as it’s one of the only unanimously revered 3D titles in the franchise. A retooled Sonic Unleashed could be another successful option. A hypothetical remaster could streamline some of Unleashed’s gated progression and cut down on some of the longer Werehog stages. Sonic Lost World has already been ported to PC so an easy PS5/Xbox Series X|S/ Nintendo Switch conversion would be ideal as well. 

Sonic Generations / Sonic Unleashed / Sonic Lost World / Sonic Team / SEGA

Sonic Generations / Sonic Unleashed / Sonic Lost World / Sonic Team / SEGA

Sonic is over 30 years old but most of the Blue Blur’s library isn’t accessible on modern-day consoles. While there are less than stellar titles amid his history, Sonic’s past adventures do offer something for everyone. A Dreamcast Collection featuring Adventure DX, Adventure 2: Battle and Heroes, or a Boost Duology consisting of Unleashed and Generations HD would satisfy fans of the series but also introduce new fans brought in by Frontiers to Sonic’s past. With Colors Ultimate being successful as well as Origins Plus releasing in June, SEGA is slowly but surely bringing Sonic’s past back into the spotlight. A trend that should continue. But SEGA shouldn’t rely on just nostalgia to round out Sonic’s influence going forward. It should also look to outside sources for some help as well. 

A Helping Hand

While most mainline Sonic titles are handled by the aptly named Sonic Team, there have been other titles developed outside of SEGA. The aforementioned Advance series as well as the Sonic Rush series was developed by Dimps. Bioware developed a Sonic RPG in Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood and multiple teams have had a hand in several Sonic racing titles over the years. The most notable title to be developed outside of Sonic Team though is Sonic Mania.

Pinned as a celebratory entry, Mania was a love letter to Sonic developed by Christian Whitehead as well as the teams at Headcanon and Pagoda West Games. These teams were composed of lifelong Sonic fans and because of that, Mania ended up becoming one of the best Sonic games of all time. But since 2017, there’s been a surprising lack of titles by 3rd party developers. While not all of Sonic’s 3rd party titles were hits, a lot were. Unless there are behind-the-scenes issues with SEGA and other developers, it’s odd that Sonic Mania 2 hasn’t seen the light of day. Or other opportunities for spin-offs as well.

The Murder of Sonic The Hedgehog / SEGA

The Murder of Sonic The Hedgehog / SEGA

While their rivalry has been settled for years at this point, the Mario series is a clear blueprint for how to succeed in this department. Split the series between 2D and 3D entries with Sonic Team continuing with Frontiers-esc titles and some other smaller studios experimenting with 2D Sonic. Bring in some outside help and branch the Sonic brand into other genres. Maybe contract Koei Tecmo for a Warriors spin-off or task RGG in rebooting Sonic The Fighters? Sonic is a brand so big not even him kissing a human in one of the worst games ever made can kill it so there’s plenty of opportunity for taking risks and getting crazy with it. Especially outside of the industry he primarily calls home.

Sonic Cinematic Universe

The live-action Sonic The Hedgehog movie succeeded despite itself. What could’ve been nightmare fuel turned out to be a pleasant surprise for both fans and audiences alike, reeling in over $300 million. With the sequel performing in a similar fashion, there are plans for a 3rd live-action film as well as a spin-off Paramount+ Knuckles show. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has created fatigue amongst audiences of the shared universe concept, it appears SEGA is willing to give it a shot with Sonic while the momentum is there. 

With the end credits scene of the second movie heavily teasing a Sonic Adventure 2 adaptation, there’s plenty of source material to go off of for future installments and spin-offs. The live-action movies did a fairly decent job of toeing the line between established cannon and creating its own unique take on Sonic The Hedgehog. There are plenty of characters yet to be introduced such as Amy Rose, Ray The Flying Squirrel, Mighty The Armadillo, The Chaotix, Silver The Hedgehog, Blaze, and Big The Cat as well as several villain/anti-hero characters like Metal Sonic, The Babylon Rogues, Omega and Rouge The Bat. 

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 / Paramount / SEGA

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 / Paramount / SEGA

While it might be a stretch that we’ll see the live-action incarnation of Fang The Sniper any time soon, Sonic’s Rouges Gallery of Friends has a much better shot at appearing in smaller TV roles. Like Sonic Boom before it, Sonic Prime is a fun little CGI side project on Netflix. With Season 1 being well received and Season 2 on its way this summer, Sonic Prime is another win for the Blue Blur outside of the video game industry. That continued success could and should lead to more TV opportunities for Sonic. Maybe a Saturday-Morning-Cartoon based on the IDW Comic run or an anime in the same vein as Sonic X (preferably not handled as 4Kids did).

With the success of Sonic Frontiers, SEGA has an opportunity to take Sonic to a level he’s only ever achieved in the 90s. In order to do so, they need to straddle the line of oversaturation, giving the public more of the series in various forms. Sonic Team needs to take their time crafting a Sonic Frontiers 2 and in the meantime, restoring classic titles, allowing outside help to supplement Sonic Teams offerings, and presenting audiences with more of their mascot in live action and other TV ventures. While that seems like a lot for a company that often fumbles any momentum they have, it’s a pathway to success that SEGA very much needs to take. The future is bright for Sonic once again and as long as he avoids the pitfalls of the dreaded Sonic Cycle, it should only get brighter. 

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