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Sonic the Hedgehog’s new game melds Inception and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Sonic Dream Team dives into Eggman and Cream’s psyche

Sonic the Hedgehog grinds on a rail in a waterpark-inspired level from Sonic Dream Team Image: Sega Hardlight/Sega
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Sonic the Hedgehog has a new game coming next month that pairs his trademark high-speed 3D platforming gameplay with the replayability and discovery of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Sonic Dream Team, developed by Sega’s Hardlight studio, also features a unique setting — the tangible dreams of Dr. Eggman — and a character totally new to the Sonic-verse.

Sonic Dream Team, which Polygon played at a hands-on preview event earlier this week, borrows from a variety of influences. Its levels are inspired by skate parks, with grind rails, halfpipes, and pathways that loop around, and the impossible dream architecture of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Levels are brightly colored distillations of Dr. Eggman’s dreams, filtered through Sonic’s friend Cream the Rabbit.

The skate-park-inspired levels of Sonic Dream Team are built so that players will run them multiple times, and with multiple goals in mind. In some of the levels I played, set in the dream worlds known as Scrambled Shores and Dream Factory, I was tasked with finding keys to unlock new pathways, reaching the goal under a time limit, or tracking down a hidden object. A level’s architecture will change depending on the goal, and players are encouraged to revisit levels again and again. Levels are full of hidden collectibles, including blue coins and red stars scattered throughout.

Cream the Rabbit and her Chao fly through a level of Sonic Dream Team
Cream is playable, solo and in 3D for the first time in a long time.
Image: Sega Hardlight/Sega

Some collectibles and areas can only be reached by certain characters. Sonic the Hedgehog is playable, and his friend Amy Rose plays identically to the blue blur. Tails, Knuckles, Rouge the Bat, and Cream the Rabbit are also unlockable and playable. Knuckles and Rouge can both glide and climb up walls, giving them access to locations that other characters can’t reach. The same is true for Tails and Cream, who can fly around levels for a brief period.

The good news is that for players who want to collect everything in a level, they can switch between any unlocked character mid-run. The only caveat is that they have to be motionless while doing so; you won’t be able to fly high as Tails and then switch to Rouge mid-flight, for example.

Sonic Dream Team is not combat-focused, developers say. Instead, the enemies scattered throughout levels are designed to help players maintain their momentum, as they dash and smash into them using characters’ boost attacks. The developers want to put players in a flow state, where they can chain together jumps, slides, and boosts of speed to get through levels smoothly. The hope is for “loads of replayability” with Dream Team’s short-session levels, with players shooting for 100% completion runs and faster and faster times.

Knuckles the Echidna jump through a poisoned level full of thorny vines in Sonic Dream Team
Some of Dr. Eggman’s dreams are darker than others
Image: Sega Hardlight/Sega

There’s also an overarching story in Dream Team, told through voiced in-game cutscenes. Venerable Sonic bad guy Dr. Eggman discovers a dream-catcher-like device called the Reverie, which Sega describes as “an ancient device with the power to manifest dreams in the real world.” Aiding Sonic and friends in understanding the Reverie’s powers is Ariem — a play on REM sleep — who is introduced in Dream Team as its guardian. Ariem, an anthropomorphic sheep, is an original creation of Sonic Dream Team and was created by Hardlight and Sonic Team artist Yuji Uekawa.

Sonic Dream Team is coming to Apple Arcade and will be playable on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. I played the game on a Mac Mini at a recent hands-on event using a PlayStation 5 DualSense controller and found the game’s controls snappy and intuitive. Hardlight has done a good job of making its very fast Sonic game readable, thanks to a mostly cooperative camera. I had a little less fun playing it on an iPhone using a touchscreen, but I’ve never been a fan of virtual gamepads on screens.

Sonic’s new self-contained adventure arrives on Apple Arcade on Dec. 5. Whether it will come to other platforms is unclear, but for the foreseeable future, Sonic Dream Team is exclusive to Apple’s gaming subscription service.

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