As Sega of America marketing chief Marcella Churchill stressed during her introduction, the "modern Sonic" character that's starred in the series since Sonic Adventure won't be going anywhere. Aside from subtle cosmetic changes to the principal characters and play style, a teaser shown at the event for Sonic Boom hewed close to the mold of all three-dimensional Sonic games. The most significant change is who is developing them. Sonic Boom for Wii U is developed by Big Red Button Entertainment. Founded by Bob Rafei, who served as art director at Naughty Dog from 1995 until 2008, Big Red Button has never actually produced a game until now. Sonic Boom for Nintendo 3DS, meanwhile, is made by Sanzaru Games, which has some experience taking on franchises from other studios. Its most recent high-profile project is Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time, which it took over from Sucker Punch Productions.
While Sanzaru's game wasn't shown, Rafei played brief snippets of Sonic Boom on Wii U, a 3D Sonic game with a "different tone and art direction" that will "try something different" with the series. While Sonic, Knuckles, Tails and Amy all appear a bit taller with longer limbs, the game looks very similar to the Sonic Adventure games. All four characters are playable and have different abilities. Knuckles can still climb specially marked surfaces in Boom's jungle world full of ancient ruins, Amy hits things with a cartoon hammer and Tails uses gadgets, though no big mech suit like in Adventure. Sonic, for his part, now wears a scarf and carries a sort of bungie chord whip for grappling onto certain things.
There are open combat arenas for melee fights akin to those in Sonic Unleashed and plenty of long straightaways for running at top speed. Even the banter between the characters and Dr. Eggman, who won't be the big bad guy this time just as with last year's Sonic Lost World, is in line with the light snarkiness of past Sonic games. Boom also looks nice running on a version of CryEngine 3 for Wii U.
Until Sega lets people get their hands on Sonic Boom, it's hard to say whether Big Red Button will make a game that feels demonstrably different than Sonic Team's adventures, though the Japanese studio is collaborating with both Big Red Button and Sanzaru on their projects.
Those hoping Sonic Boom will make it to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are out of luck. Steve Singer, Nintendo's VP of licensing, was at the event to emphasize that Sonic Boom represents the second of three planned Sonic exclusives for Nintendo machines. Looks like there will be one more to round a trilogy between Lost World and Boom.
Sonic Boom isn't the first Sonic game made by a western developer. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was an RPG made by BioWare, and UK-based Sumo Digital made Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed. Even Sonic 3 was made in the United States by a team of both American and Japanese developers. Sonic Boom is still a departure for a marquee Sonic platformer, though.
This much is clear: while Sonic is wearing a scarf and shoes, he's still not wearing pants.
Update: Corrected information regarding exclusivity. Sonic Boom is the third game in Sega's exclusivity arrangement with Nintendo, rounding out the trio including Sonic Lost World and Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.