Sonic Frontiers Review
Sonic Frontiers is the best Sonic game in a generation. If you’re running faster than the blue blur to tell me that isn’t saying much, congratulations. You win Internet Original of the Day. But believe me when I say this is a new direction for the former console mascot.
Do you remember the Saturday morning cartoon Sonic? He could seemingly run on any surface, leaping from one area to another in a blue line, impossible to see. That was the hedgehog I always wanted to play as. And Adventure got close, before Sega decided to put their most famous creation on tracks.
Now the tracks have been removed. Well, mostly. And Sonic is free to go wherever he pleases. Well, kind of.
Okay, Sonic Frontiers is a “mostly” “kind of” game. As a fan, I’ll put up with the odd to enjoy the exquisitely good.
But if you’ve never been interested or lost faith after so many disappointments, don’t sleep on Frontiers. It is the future – mostly kind of.
Rolling Around at the Speed of Sound
Sonic Frontiers is two games. The first is set in a big open world. There’s not really anything to do, but running around is incredible and rewarding. It feels dark and melancholy, with ruins and destruction everywhere you turn. Sad music punctuates that something isn’t right. And on top of all that, you can run from one side of the world to the other in minutes, proving Sonic is finally the speed demon he deserves to be.
The second game is a Sonic game. That means dumb objectives, poorly designed “action” stages and bugs. So many bugs.
All considered, this is a net positive for the franchise. But I’d like to think during development, someone senior walked in, saw what was going on, then returned later with a copy of Sonic Forces and said “THIS is what Sonic is.” That’s the only explanation for certain parts of the game.
The gameplay loop is overly simple and complicated all at once. Collect chaos emeralds on each island so that you can defeat a Titan, a giant boss that keeps one of your friends locked in a digital purgatory. But first you’ll need to complete objectives. Find the friend, talk the friend, collect items that help free the friend, do occasional missions for the friend, find cogs that unlock action stages, beat action stages to get keys which unlock the chaos emeralds, find the way to the chaos emeralds and then rinse and repeat.
For those keeping track: find dozens of friend items, find cogs, find keys, find chaos emeralds. This is simpler than it seems, because by and large you’ll just be following objective markers.
There are optional collectibles too which boost speed, ring capacity, strength and defence. More on those later.
Blurring the Lines
This is where my two-game comment comes from. Running around from point to point is fantastic. Sonic moves as Sonic should, and I never get bored of it. Fighting enemies is sometimes satisfying, sometimes a bit dull, but it’s never not Sonic. Sonic Frontiers is the game that finally gets his movement right, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.
So I can forgive Sega’s open-world strategy being “run to this place, interact with thing, then run to this other place”. That’s what I want.
Large structures and grind rails in the sky offer slightly more challenging traversal. And despite negative comments about this from trailers, it was overblown. The rails are a little odd, but that’s it. They never feel out-of-place.
The feel, by the way, is fantastic. Melancholy Sonic is exactly what was needed. It’s never over the top. Characters don’t feel like caricatures. There are no zany sidekicks to offer kids a laugh. This is a serious game, although never too serious. The writing has taken a big step up, although don’t expect it to be Citizen Kane. There are still zany moments, as there should be. There are sweet moments too, and callbacks that feel natural and nostalgic all in one.
The biggest problem is when Sonic Frontiers try and be a Sonic game.
Hedging the New Frontier
Each island has a set of totems that take you to an action stage. These stages, all based on the same old levels as Generations and Forces were, put Sonic back on rails. They are the traditional 3D stages, and they don’t work as well as the rest of the game. Thankfully, they tend to be short – 90 seconds or less with only a few exceptions.
This sets the tone for the rest of the game. Whenever you have to do anything that “old” Sonic fits better for, it feels like a slog. The biggest boss battles take control from you almost entirely, and no amount of epic music or brightly coloured cutscenes make that any more entertaining.
But then you’ll need to climb up onto the Titan before the battle begins, and it does feel like the most epic thing ever, when done right. And it doesn’t have to be done right. That’s that beauty. Sometimes you’ll feel like a pro, and sometimes you’ll mistime a jump, fall and have to start again.
There are other issues with how things are set-up. The collectables in the game are strange. You can level up strength and defence in seconds, especially if you make use of a fishing mini-game which is ripe for exploitation. I don’t mean some cheeky little trick, I mean it’s right there in the game. You can just buy what you need to upgrade with for next to nothing, with a seemingly endless amount of currency.
Speed and ring limit upgrades are frustrating. You collect tiny creatures which you trade for upgrades, and you must do each upgrade one by one. You have to click through dialogue each time. There are 99 levels for each skill. I’m sure someone can do the maths.
There’s not really much side content to talk about. If you want to 100% every island, you’ll need to solve every puzzle, complete every challenge – it feels doable and entertaining. It isn’t bloated, but it is plentiful. I guess mileage will vary.
Graphics and Sound
Sonic Frontiers is a beautiful-looking game in motion. Gorgeous and fast, especially at 60fps in performance mode. Mostly. Kind of.
Because it has a dreadful issue with pop-in, and it’s really to the detriment of the game. Sometimes things will appear just ahead of you – not great when you’re running so fast. And other times the answer to a puzzle or exploration will be just out of sight, even though you’re looking straight at it.
It’s amazing what a glow-up it feels like since Sonic Forces, which was decent but a little generic. Thick grass, actually ruined ruins… it adds to a world in subtle but noticeable ways.
But the flaws are obvious and need to be patched. Anything else is difficult to talk about. Pop-in just dominated the conversation, and that’s not fair. Get it fixed, Sega.
The music is incredible. Melancholy wouldn’t be nearly as pronounced if not for the incredible score. It’s not Sonic’s usual cheesy rock, and it suits this world better. That doesn’t mean you won’t be treated to some interesting tracks along the way – especially in boss battles. But they are over as soon as they’re done, and you’re back to the good stuff.
Voice work is a big improvement over previous games too, and that’s largely because of the direction. Thanks to a move away from the cheesy kids TV feel of previous games, Sonic Frontiers how Sonic should. My only complaint here is that Sonic and Knuckles sound too similar, although I suspect that’s been done on purpose.
Sonic Frontiers Review – Conclusion
Sonic Frontiers is a diamond in the rough. Its positives are massive, its negatives are small but many. It takes a spring jump in a new, incredible direction that Sega need to get to grips with. And I hope that they do. Sonic finally feels like Sonic.
Take out the action stages – if I never see Green Hill Zone again, I’ll be a happy man – and smooth out the RPG elements. Add some side quests and a little life to the open world. And keep that movement exactly as it is.
It’s an easy recommend to fans, and it’d be worth a conservative glance from others who want to see where something special really started. Because Sonic Frontiers is the start of something special. It’s the return of the Blue Blur in a way we haven’t really seen since Adventure in 1998. A follow-up, under decent leadership, will create something without some of the annoyances of Frontiers.
But until then, I know I’ll frequently be returning to rip up an island or two at the speed of sound.