My love for all things Sonic has persevered throughout the ropey 3D years (I actually prefer some of the modern releases over the classic adventures), so I’ve been especially excited for his first foray into a more open-world approach with Sonic Frontiers. For the first time in a while, it feels like a real evolution for the series, bringing with it an all-new way to experience the frantic pace and excitement that the blue speedster is known for.
Is it actually any good to play, though? I certainly think so, and whilst there are a few missteps in this new direction that the series has taken, it’s the best Sonic has ever felt in 3D.
Check out some screenshots down below:
Sonic Frontiers kicks off with Sonic and co heading out to a strange island in order to track down the elusive Chaos Emeralds, but things take a turn for the worst and Sonic instead finds himself isolated with a peculiar voice speaking out to him. With his friends seemingly trapped and Sonic facing off against a foe unlike any he has encountered before, it’s up to him to once again save the world.
I feel like I’m really putting the tale into a nutshell there, because Sonic Frontiers features one of the more elaborate and intriguing narratives seen in any Sonic game. Not only does it go into the depth of the history of the world itself, but it also divulges further into the characters and adds more narrative elements to uncover within the environment. Sure, some of the core elements remain the same (we’ve been hunting Chaos Emeralds for so many years now), but at the same time it’s the most interesting that the series has ever been from a storytelling perspective. There are some genuinely cool surprises to be found throughout, but don’t worry: I won’t spoil anything here.
Whilst the story is more involving and better presented than any that have come before it, there’s still no denying that the change to an open-world environment is the highlight of Sonic Frontiers. There are five different open-world islands to explore throughout the game that offer different biomes and landmarks to uncover, as well as a vast array of different objectives to complete to progress through your adventure.
“Whilst the story is more involving and better presented than any that have come before it, there’s still no denying that the change to an open-world environment is the highlight of Sonic Frontiers.”
The objectives are based around using Sonic’s abilities in a variety of ways, with each offering small tasks to complete that might revolve around attacking enemies, solving an environmental puzzle, or using your speed to reach a marker within a set time-limit. It’s simple stuff that isn’t too innovative, but still remain fun thanks to the quick pace in which you can get through them.
Those looking for a more traditional experience will appreciate the Cyberspace levels, which offer a more linear challenge that feels akin to the 3D Sonic releases that have come before this. In fact, returning players should expect to feel some déjà vu, because the levels are actually built around those seen in previous games (as well as embracing the aesthetic of some classic zones from yesteryear). I was a big fan of these levels, with each one feeling like a real blast to the past and offering something a bit more familiar when compared to the more open-island trekking you spend most of your time doing. Whilst it would have been nice to see a bit more variety amongst them, they still stand out as a real treat for players.
Between completing the objectives and clearing Cyberspace levels, players will earn the collectibles they need to progress through the game and reveal more of the island to explore. It’s packed to the brim with rails to grind, platforms to hop between, and boosters to launch Sonic across the map, so players certainly won’t run out of ways to explore it fast. Then there are the battles against the gargantuan enemies that roam the world, which really do stand out as a highlight as you see Sonic physically speeding across them in order to hit attacks. These bring together elements of traversal, puzzle-solving, and combat into each engrossing encounter, with every instance of battle with the hulking foes serving as a reminder that Sonic Frontiers really is different to anything else that has come before it in the series.
“Speeding across the islands feels REALLY satisfying, especially since you’re able to launch and spin yourself all over the place, whilst even the moments that demand a bit more precision feel much more responsive than previous entries.”
Combat is also much more innovative in Sonic Frontiers, with Sonic have to rely on more than just launching himself at enemies to destroy them (though this can prove effective too). Different enemies require different strategies to defeat them, and whilst this can just be a case of waiting for the right moment to strike or hitting a weak spot, players also have to be more creative at times too. One means of doing this is by performing a Cyloop, which is Sonic’s new ability to speed a shape around enemies to weaken them – it’s an ability that’s simple to perform, but that also fits in with Sonic’s repertoire of moves perfectly. With different attacks to unlock throughout the game as well as a variety of ways to actually buff Sonic up, there’s plenty of depth on offer to ensure that players will feel like they’re continually getting stronger as they face the game’s tougher challenges.
One thing Sonic hasn’t always gotten right throughout his 3D-era is intuitive controls, so I’m happy to report that traversal feels great in Sonic Frontiers. Speeding across the islands feels REALLY satisfying, especially since you’re able to launch and spin yourself all over the place, whilst even the moments that demand a bit more precision feel much more responsive than previous entries. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few moments where something went wrong or the camera didn’t quite keep up with the action, but for the most part it feels great. It is worth mentioning that there are still plenty of set-pieces to be found where the controls feel like they’re taken away from you due to how automated they feel, but they’re still satisfying to see play out.
There’s one thing that old-school Sonic fans will definitely appreciate: the reappearance of Big the Cat, who wants nothing more than to do some fishing. Yep, you’ll be able to partake in a bit of fishing in the game, which isn’t only fun to complete but offers players another means to earn some collectibles. Admittedly, it’s a bit simple and could be easy to exploit if you wanted to get the items you need more quickly, but it’s still a neat little endeavour that adds something different to the game. All they need to do now is add a Chao Garden and it’d be perfect.
Check out some screenshots down below:
I think I’ve made it pretty clear in this review that I’ve been quite the fan of Sonic Frontiers, with the game managing to actually exceed the expectations I had for it. I’ve been fully hooked in from the moment I started playing, with the satisfying blend of different gameplay mechanics really making it hard to put down. That being said, it’s not perfect, with a few noticeable issues cropping up when playing.
The most noticeable is the pop-in, which sees whole obstacles vital to your traversal through the world seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Whilst you will get used to it the more you play, it can feel really jarring at times and remained a nuisance until the very end. It’s some of the worst pop-in I’ve seen in any big release and hopefully something that can be fixed for any future endeavours Sonic has in open-world environments.
Some enemies could be a little bit annoying to face off against too, with players facing repeated actions where they have to slow down the pace of combat to take them out. Whilst the need for a bit more tactical prowess is appreciated, constantly seeing your attacks blocked and having to slow yourself down to find a way to take them out could get a bit dull. Sonic is all about going fast, after all, so this style of adversity doesn’t always complement the gameplay.
It could be argued that there’s a little bit TOO much padding throughout the game too, with the style of missions you have to complete to progress getting a bit repetitive after a long-time playing. Sonic Frontiers can easily take over twenty-hours to beat, which is lengthy for a Sonic game; it doesn’t always have the variety to match up to that lengthy run-time, though. I never got bored when playing so it’s not a big issue, but it might bother some players more than others.
Sonic Frontiers is a really fun evolution of the series that takes Sonic’s adventures in a fresh and exciting new direction. The open-world design is rewarding, controlling Sonic feels the best that it ever has in any of the 3D games, whilst the missions are fun to complete and boss battles epic in design. It really does get so much right, whilst the nostalgic Cyberspace levels and fishing with Big are a special treat for old-school players.
It isn’t perfect, with the pop-in, some awkward enemies, and the occasional camera mishap causing a few issues here and there, but this really is the best that Sonic has been in years. The new direction that Sonic Frontiers has introduced feels great and has left me really excited to see where the series might go in the future.
Developer: Sonic Team
Platform(s): Xbox Series X (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC