That Sonic franchise has always had its ups and downs, never finding the consistency that its mustachioed rival had in the 3D space. Sonic limits is Sonic Team’s latest effort to reinvent the franchise, boldly emphasizing exploration within large maps rather than the linear blasts of levels that fans have come to expect. The change is certainly refreshing and mostly for the better, although there are still plenty of open-world kinks and rough edges to iron out.
The biggest problem that the open world environments have is clear from the start and partly why it revealed was so much scrutinized: Its cards are profoundly blank. Instead of feeling like an actual, realized world, the game looks like a stage where you work in progress with objects, enemies, and missions randomly strewn around without any thought to its aesthetics. It’s an off-putting look at first, and when paired with the noticeable pop-in that makes objects appear out of nowhere, it doesn’t make the greatest first impression.
But after coming to terms with the barren maps with generic themes, the game can more properly showcase its rather satisfying core gameplay loop. Segments of the map are filled by finding missions in the world, and these tasks can range from cool obstacle courses that utilize Sonic’s various speed skills to honing the players’ puzzle-solving skills. Once filled, the character memory collectibles that unlock progress and the portals that take players into the more traditional 2D and 3D digital stages become easier to find.
The sense of exploration when entering a new map for the first time is definitely the highlight Borders. It’s exciting to ride the different rails and jump off the bouncy pads to find new areas, all the while collecting the memories that are generously scattered around. There are also some pretty involving mid-bosses to be found as you explore, some of which are almost Shadow of the Colossus-style giants to climb. It’s an unexpected addition, and when combined with the more open-ended formula the franchise hasn’t seen before, Borders engaging early mystery that continuously doles out new surprises.
But as the shockingly long experience continues, the number of surprises and new enemies begins to diminish. What starts out as a fresh way to use Sonic’s skills becomes increasingly second nature, and a little more rote, especially when battling its sometimes wonky physics and set pieces that don’t quite connect. Although the missions, even at their most repetitive, are still generally fun to tackle because the core maneuverability and sense of speed remain a joy, making it a solid game to mindlessly hack away at while listening to podcasts or audiobooks .
While “mindless” may seem like a pejorative, it illustrates how Borders‘ mechanics form a solid enough base to work from, and why it begs for a sequel to streamline its kinks. Speeding around and taking down huge, level-ending bosses is where it excels, and it just needs a better and more complete game around these core mechanics. Instead of a dull and realistic art style, a more cartoonish direction – like some of those in the short digital stages – would suit the game better and bring more life to it. Borders‘ stages would also be more cohesive if their ramps and paths were naturally built into the environment instead of weirdly falling around as if placed by an algorithm.
These weaknesses ruin the game’s quality, but are tertiary flaws that sequels are naturally built to address. Borders is a bold execution of the Sonic formula, so it’s understandable that Sonic Team stumbled when they went into new territory so quickly. Also director Morio Kishimoto noticed that the studio accepted feedback, which reinforced the idea that Borders needs some refinement to fully realize its potential. A follow-up would ideally smooth out its rough edges and let its big premise of dropping Sonic in a more open area flourish.
While Sonic limitsThe appeal starts to wear off eventually and players can have their fill after the first few cards, this is undeniably a new reinvention that sets the table for something truly amazing. If the next Sonic the game can more naturally incorporate activities into the open world environments and improve the physics, it could be a truly amazing game instead of one with some amazing moments sprinkled throughout.