How does an Open Zone game (capitalisation is intentional) differ from a game set in an open world? It's a good question, and Sonic Frontiers director Morio Kishimoto elaborated on the subject:
“Level-based platformers often have a world map. Our Open Zone is a world map, only we’ve made it entirely playable,” Kishimoto said.
“A playable world map that includes stage-like elements is something that hasn’t really been done before, so we had to come up with a new name. What is often defined as a World in other level-based platformers is called a Zone in Sonic games, so we took that and combined it with Open, which refers to a freely explorable field. So that’s what Open Zone stands for.”
We can't really think of examples of other platformers with world maps that contain stage-like elements off the top of our heads, and so we must concede he might be on to something here. Kishimoto continues:
“Super Mario Bros. 3 was released in Japan in 1988. I believe this was the first game to introduce a world map. The system has been used by countless platformers since, even to this day. A true evolution of this structure is what we see as the essence of Sonic Frontiers’ field. We wanted to provide a next-gen level-based platforming experience. But how do we evolve a level-based platformer like Sonic into this new Open Zone? That’s what Sonic Frontiers is all about,” said Kishimoto.
We also learned that players can expect to spend around 20-30 hours with the title over the course of the average playthrough.
Early previews of Sonic Frontiers have been largely positive, and although some fans have called for the title to be delayed after we saw some fairly rough gameplay, the title remains on track for its Q4 2022 release.
What do you make of this Open Zone business? Does the estimated length of Sonic Frontiers surprise you? Debate the nature of made-up terms in the comments section below.