Sonic Frontiers

Review: Sonic Frontiers

The most ambitious Sonic game in recent years has arrived, and it wants to take us into a new world. With Sonic Frontiers, the series is going down new and open paths but is this the future of where the blue blur should go? It isn’t a surprise that Sonic’s transition has been difficult since it jumped into the 3D space but not all things have been bad. Sonic is a series that, seemingly does best in 2D but then Sonic Adventure proved that 3D could work. With Sonic Frontiers, SEGA is putting a new spin on the formula and it may pan out if the developers continue to iterate and improve on what they’ve crafted here.

For starters, Sonic Frontiers is a whole new formula for Sonic the Hedgehog, as he is left to explore an open world. Specifically, many open islands, since the world of Starfall Islands are split into several landmasses, each with a different theme.

Onto the next island!

Sonic arrives at the Starfall Islands, travelling with his friends in search of the Chaos Emeralds but not before crashing and being split up. Of course, somewhere in the middle of all this is Dr. Robotnik, but also a mysterious new character helping him. At the same time, the world of Starfall Islands is so different from what Sonic (and the player) is used to that something doesn’t seem right. By exploring the various areas, Sonic learns about the past of these lands, and more importantly, those who inhabited them many years ago. The mystery continues and grows through flashbacks as the player (and Sonic) tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together. What happened to those who lived here? The story manages to weave together various pieces from the series’ mythology into a cohesive whole that makes sense.

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In fact, some scenes are particularly melancholy, while others have the series’ trademark humour, especially the scenes between Sonic and Knuckles. It’s a brand new story that keeps things interesting without becoming tedious or complicated, as has happened with previous games. And with a length of about 20 hours for a typical playthrough, it tends to flow together. Starfall Islands are not one huge, single world, but several large open zones. That is, the first island is large and full of activities, but the player cannot simply advance to the second island and must go through a portal. This makes each setting seem very separate from the previous one, and if all the islands were united, it would be kind of weird to have a desert area or something similar appear all of a sudden.

I had a lot of fun exploring the various areas Sonic Frontiers takes you. There are endless grind rails, loops, and edges leading to big jumps. There are springs that launch the player and balloons or hooks where Sonic attacks before jetting on his merry way. There are even walls that Sonic climbs, either by hand or by running up them. The handling is impeccable and the menu offers several settings for speed, start-up, sensitivity, and more, so the player can tailor Sonic’s running to their liking. The feeling left by the open world is that this is a huge track of classic Sonic, where the player is happy to scavenge and discover things. It’s a lot of fun moving around the map, the minigames, the encounters with enemies and the classic-inspired trips to Cyber Space.

Sonic Frontiers has a lot of potential for the future of the series

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The Cyber Space portals lead to another world that the player visits through special gates unlocked with portal gears collected from the world, and within Cyber Space the environments feel familiar. For example, Green Hill Zone appears in Cyber Space, recreating one of the most classic Sonic game tracks with awesome graphics and impeccable handling. These two-dimensional levels are so interesting and well-designed that Sonic Team could deliver an entire game based on these levels and fans would be ecstatic. Of course, there aren’t just 2D levels in Cyberspace, as some follow the formula of Sonic Forces and earlier 3D titles. The handling adopts, again, the same basic structure as several 3D Sonic games — L1/R1 change lane left and right respectively, but while the joystick gives freedom of movement and there are always the jumps, attacks etc. Speaking of attacks, the world of Starfall Islands is filled with enemies of all sizes, so combat is now something you’ll grapple with and is something new for Sonic.

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Sonic kicks and punches with ease and as he progresses through Starfall Islands, he racks up points to unlock abilities from a skill tree. He can unlock the power to throw sonic waves from afar or a spin cycle kick that rises upwards gradually, among several others. There’s even a parry, where the player parries an enemy attack if used in time. Along with basic run and dodge skills, the player must play smart and combine Sonic’s basic attributes with his varied attacks. These skills combine to expand combos and can be used non-stop, meaning there is no energy or cooldown, so the player has the freedom to experiment and go all out. Furthermore, it’s not a huge skill tree, so any powers that are unlocked actually make a difference in practice and are not, for example, stat boosts. Although there are stats that the player can increase. Namely, attack, defence, speed, and ring limit. Picking up the small and sweet Koco scattered around the world, talking to the two elder Koco and unlocking increases in the above. In fact, in the case of the speed/ring pair, the player can swap stats between the two at any time — it might be needed for a big boss battle, for example.

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Keep going fast!

Amidst all this, there’s the Cyloop ability, something I hope future games continue to implement. It’s a glowing blue streak that Sonic leaves behind and by completing a circle, Sonic either can damage any enemy enclosed in the circle or pulls rings and items from the ground. Other times, the Cyloop is used to solve puzzles. In any case, the Cyloop is a very basic mechanic and can be combined seamlessly with the others. For example, the player can attack several small enemies at once by running around them and trapping them in a Cyloop. On the other hand, if he takes damage and needs to replenish rings, he can circle the ground and collect them that way. Each island has simple enemies, some mini-bosses (colossal enemies, flying, and otherwise), and a huge Titan to deal with before moving on to the next island. Sonic’s goal is to collect keys and face enemies in order to collect Chaos Emeralds in order to empower himself to take on the Titan as Super Sonic.

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Sonic uses combos, dodges, and speed to get to the top of them to transform into Super Sonic and start the real battle. As Super Sonic, he can fly and dodge as he flies and attacks the Titan, but all this power comes with a stipulation — the rings you collect deplete as the battle wages. While being Super Sonic, you can’t collect rings to extend your time powered up, so the player must be effective or risk restarting the entire section again. It is useful to upgrade to a higher ring limit and enter the battle with the maximum number of rings. Each Titan has its own theme, so the battles become superlative in every way. The Titans swat at you like a fly and do so to a fast-paced track that sets the stage for the encounter to come.. The minibosses, on the other hand, are more puzzles. The player must, usually, reach a difficult point by going through trials and attacking their weak point, but once is not enough. Sonic can easily find himself without rings after one hit, so another hit with zero rings means death and starting over.

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From the exploration to the battles and cutscenes, the music is amazing and continues the series’ long tradition of being excellent. Given that instrumental music is the main pull the player will be listening to since they’ll mostly be exploring, the balance works in the game’s favour. My personal favourite addition, however, is all the lo-fi tracks the Cyber Space levels add. A lot of these levels are made to be replayed to earn the best time and earn you more keys, having a suitable music track to make this grind less of a chore is what I expect going forward as it makes a world of difference.

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Verdict

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Sonic Frontiers is not what I ever expected for Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega pulled a risky bet by throwing the book at the wall and seeing what sticks but that move seems to be paying off. Make no mistake, Sonic Frontiers is a fresh take on a series that has tried everything, it’s a Sonic 3D title with impeccable handling and mechanics and while the story may not resonate with everyone, I enjoyed it. It does so many things right that the problems, especially around the camera, aren’t enough to spoil the experience.

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Sonic Frontiers
Recommended
Liked
The open world is filled with loops, puzzles, and various things worth checking out
Some fun new abilities for Sonic to use
Titan boss battles are a good mix up
The soundtrack is filled with several genres, each fitting at home with Sonic
Didn't Like
Tons of pop-in as you dash through Starfall Islands
At the same time, the open world feels empty at times