A few days ago, there were rumors that Sonic the Hedgehog was coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One next year. Those rumors may still bear fruit in the future, but today Sega unveiled the next step in the Sonic franchise: Sonic Boom. Some Sonic fans will note that a Sonic Boom cartoon was already announced back in October, but the name means so much more to Sega. That title represents a new offshoot of the Sonic universe, with a redesigned Sonic and friends being showcased in games, a CG television series, and a wide variety of merchandise.
Right off the bat, Sonic fans don't need to flip out; classic Sonic isn't going anywhere. In its presentation, Sega was clear that this is merely an alternate take on the character. Sonic Boom is Sonic's Earth 2, to use comic book parlance.
"Sonic Boom is a new branch of the Sonic universe. It won't be replacing the modern Sonic fans have grown to adore. It's just taking the franchise to another level," says Sega of America senior brand manager Marcella Churchill.
Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose are the primary characters for Sonic Boom and all four feature brand-new character designs. This Sonic is taller than previous versions, with a scarf and blue arms to differentiate the character from what came before. Knuckles is the group's bruiser with a new beefy look. Tails and Amy Rose are slightly bigger than their previous counterparts, but remain mostly the same. Tails has engineering googles and a tool belt to denote his status as the group's Mr. Fixit and Amy is now the group archaeologist, with knowledge of the new areas the team is exploring. Dr. Eggman is back, but his design hasn't changed much.
Sonic Boom is still exclusive to Nintendo platforms and is the third title in Sega and Nintendo's three-game exclusivity deal. Big Red Button Entertainment is handling the Wii U version of the titles, while Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time developer Sanzaru Games is working on the 3DS version. Sonic Team is collaborating with both studios to ensure that Sonic Boom remains faithful to the overall franchise. Sorry, Sony and Microsoft fans, you'll still have to wait. Actually, everyone has to wait because there's no specific release date for the Wii U or 3DS versions.
Big Red Button CEO and visual director Bob Rafei - who was instrumental in Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter - describes the Sonic Boom game for Wii U as "wide linear," but not necessarily open world. Instead, Sonic Boom will feature interconnected hubs, with the game's narrative determining which two characters are available for play in each area and all four characters featuring in boss levels. Every character brings something to the table, from Sonic's speed, to Amy's agility, Knuckles' strength, and Tails' range. There's also co-op play available.
"We have a critical path that we want to make sure every player can access, and there's secondary paths as well," explains Rafei. "There's a healthy dose of platforming in the game. We do have 2D sections in the game and the 3D exploration is all about that. That's not to say that's all the game is."
Rafei says it's "hard to say" at this point what the split between exploration and combat will be, but that combat will be a "major component". He also tells me that Big Red Button has found a compelling use for the Wii U GamePad, but declined to give details at this reveal. The Wii U game is built on Crytek's CryEngine 3, but Rafei was coy on what that means for the game's framerate or resolution.
"I think we're revealing that soon, so I'm going to hold off on that," he says.
The other major half of the announcement, the Sonic Boom cartoon, is coming to Cartoon Network in the 2014-2015 season with 52 11-minute episodes. This is a Cartoon Network proper show, not an Adult Swim joint, so the tone is largely appropriate for children.
"It's a Cartoon Network series, so it has to work for kids, but the goal is to make a smart, funny comedy that will play on two levels," says Sonic Boom executive producer and showrunner Evan Baily. "We never write down to the audience and we tell stories that are really complex for kids TV. The goal has been from the beginning to make something that fans will love and kids will love."
That said, Baily does point to Adult Swim's Regular Show as an inspiration for Sonic Boom. He doesn't believe the 11-minute format is "limiting at all," but Sonic Boom won't have story arcs and progression either.
"It is episodic and the world does reset at the end of every episode or beginning of the next. It's not arc-ed. We're not making deep long-term changes to the continuity. We're telling stories that exist in a moment of time," Baily tells me.
Both Baily and Rafei told me that their teams have a lot of freedom to define the characters. Neither group is completely tied to the other, so you can follow either the cartoon or the game without partaking in the other version,
"I think we have a lot of leeway. It was a major collaboration between Sonic Team, the TV people, Sega West, and Big Red Button," says Rafei. "There was a lot of conversation and we pulled the character in experimental directions and ultimately found the right mix that was true to the franchise."
"We've taken a different approach," adds Baily. "Video games and TV are good at different things; we want to let the game do what games are great at and let the show do what shows are great at. They definitely have a lot in common, but they're not identical."