Sonic Frontiers 2023 + The Final Horizon DLC Review
It is the nature of modern games that they can change, and quickly. Luckily Sonic Frontiers is all about quick. Okay, puns aside, this is a game that has changed a lot since I reviewed it back in January, and not least because of the free Final Horizon DLC released at the end of last month. But is that enough to bring players back?
My initial opinion on Sonic Frontiers is that it was a diamond in the rough. It did the foundation of Sonic’s movement perfectly, and often put it to good use. But it also bogged it down with on-rail levels and map layouts that didn’t always account for speed.
I finished my first playthrough back in January, and was ecstatic. A Sonic game that my pre-teen self would not be able to believe. The next game is going to be something very special – touch wood.
Little did I know that 2023 would feature countless updates and even new characters and story content. More than that, it would be absolutely free. It doesn’t fix all or even most of the problems I had with the base game, but it polishes that diamond even more.
Sonic Frontiers 2023
Since my last review, SEGA have spent a year playing with Sonic Frontiers and fixing some of the more annoying problems. You no longer need to level up speed and ring count individually. You have much more control over your momentum, and can turn off the animation that played every single time you maxed out your rings. These are all minor but important differences that make reaching 100% all the more enjoyable.
They’ve also added a bunch of content. Time trials, unlockable music tracks and koko challenges fill the once empty open world. This gives you a lot of extra stuff to work through if you choose. The rewards aren’t always worth it, but they’re there for those of us who enjoy the world enough to want to get more out of it.
The combination of better and extra do a lot to flesh out Sonic Frontiers. It still has many of the same problems, but it feels like a different game than it did at the beginning of the year.
What are those problems? The level design is often the opposite of what you want from Sonic. Any time I’m not running forward or looking like a complete badass is time wasted, and the third island especially is cut up in a way that makes that very fast exploration not only less important, but dangerous. Combat is arguably too easy, and spamming the fishing mini-game allows you to make the entire game pointless. And the more traditional Sonic levels feel too familiar, and a relic of the past compared to the open world segments. None of this makes what is there any less fun, especially since the updates. But it does beg the “what if?” question of the next game. This is good, but it’s going to be so much better.
I loved my return to Frontiers. It felt fresh, despite being a game I’d spent a lot of time with not very long ago. Getting 1000g now felt far more doable. And what a joy I had getting those last achievements.
The Final Horizon
It’s not very often big publishers release free DLC. And it’s unheard of that the free DLC contains an abundance of new unique characters. But that’s what we have here. It is, unbelievably, a hefty addition at no extra cost.
Tails, Knuckles and Amy are all playable within the DLC and they have their own movesets, their own strengths and weaknesses. It makes sense that they’ve been added as a tester for the next game, giving the developers feedback on the Sonic friends that’ll make whatever comes next stronger at launch.
Amy is the best. She has good verticality, and is fun to play as. Tails is a close second, able to fly for long distances and using (nostalgic) tech that makes him as fun as ever. His weakness is he has no homing attack, which doesn’t really work in the 3D realm. If he had his own unique levels built around this weakness, it might work. But he doesn’t. Not really. And that can lead to some annoying falls.
Knuckles doesn’t feel quite right. His glide feels sloppy, and his now trademark aggression never really feels like it plays out compared with other characters. He can only climb on specific surfaces which, again, feels like it could be better in his own unique worlds.
That’s not to say that the three characters don’t have their own challenges. There are new platforming sections throughout the world denoted by a red, yellow or pink colour to let you know which character its for. This goes some way towards letting you see what each is capable of.
Jump Into the Final Frontier
The fun secret about Final Horizon is that it is hard. I’ve just finished up Lies of P, and there are moments of this that are more like that in terms of difficulty than the base game.
The DLC is split into segments where you play each of the three new characters, and then Sonic. Sonic’s section has you climbing new towers which push your platforming to the limit. These scale with difficulty and if you have it on hard mode there is absolutely no handholding. If you get to the top of one of these massive towers and fall, you get to do it all again. And your prize for reaching the top? A combat challenge that’ll kick you ass just as much.
This all culminates in an extremely difficult challenge that almost made me bounce off the game completely. You will struggle. You will reduce the difficulty level. And you’ll ultimately accept that the game just beats you.
It’s this difficulty that really pushes what this game is capable of, and some of that just serves to show the cracks. This is not a title built around perfect parry, despite it trying to be one. But it also pushes your skill as a player. That was something that was severely lacking in the base game. The Final Horizon is the hardest Sonic challenge in decades. And it’s a pleasure to get through.
I spoke a lot about momentum in my original review for Sonic Frontiers. In the original Saturday Morning Cartoon, Sonic was an unstoppable blue blur, and Frontiers brings that to life for the first time ever. It is still a diamond in the rough. I don’t think SEGA fully realised that they’d cracked it this time. They had. And I even have some confidence that they’ll build on what I hope will end up being Sonic Adventure 3. Playing not only as Sonic, but as Amy, Tails and Knuckles is an unexpected pleasure, and it’s one I want building on in a big way.
There’s no getting around the graphical glitches that still exist. Nor can you handwave the occasionally poor level design. But there’s no denying the value here, especially after a year of updates. This is a great game, and an incredible hint of things to come.