Sonic Frontiers was a much anticipated new entry in the Sonic series, Team Sonic Racing and Sonic Forces, while not exactly bad quality games, were met with criticism regarding their lack of content and uninspired execution, which left fans wondering what was next for the blue blur? The answer came… sort of, when the first teaser trailer for the game showed up at the end of the first Sonic Central on May 27th, 2021. No name was given for this new mysterious entry, but according to the trailer files, the games was meant to be called Sonic Rangers. The game later got a proper announcement trailer that same year at the Game awards which revealed the official name, being Sonic Frontiers, showing off a Zelda: Breath of the Wild, like open field which many people were quick to point out, a mysterious new, gigantic enemy and a tentative Holiday 2022 release.
With Sonic Movie 2 and Sonic Origins releasing during the first half of 2022, SEGA made sure the fans were kept busy until news of this new mainline entry in the now 31 year old franchise surfaced, that didn’t mean the wait wasn’t grueling though! It was on June 7th 2022 that we finally got a glimpse of what the actual game was like via a new Sonic Central and the first gameplay trailers which showed off the exploration in the Open Zone – which is an open sandbox more akin to Mario Odyssey than Breath of the Wild, with mini challenges throughout the whole map to complete in order to get memory tokens to advance the story; combat and puzzles. In all honesty, the game didn’t look too far along when it came to the technical side of things, the game clearly was still in the “polishing up phase” – many animations looked awkward, slow and clunky although the gameplay looked interesting and solid as more videos released and as the marketing went on.
The final release sure is more polished than what we first saw, but how does it hold up?
I’ll just say it right now, the game is not perfect, far from it, but to put it bluntly: this is possibly the best 3D Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2!
In Sonic Frontiers, you play as Sonic in a open field, coined by its developers as the “Open Zone”, the game is divided into 5 Starfall Islands, which are giant open sandbox play areas for Sonic to run around in that, as I mentioned before, are more similar to the collectathon platforming genre, similar to games like Mario Odyssey and a Hat in Time. The term “Open Zone” is used to describe an open field with mini challenges sprinkled throughout it similar to what you typically expect from a traditional Sonic level there are lots of springs, dash panels, grind rails, balloons and enemies that will propel you to different points on the map and as you complete them, you will also collect Memory Tokens, which are used to rescue Sonic’s friends who are stuck in what is known as Cyber Space – a strange digital world that houses peoples dreams, hopes and memories; and get more exposition about the islands and their inhabitants, the Koco.
Sonic has two control options when you first start a new game: An Action Style which is slower but gives you more control and a High-Speed Style which is faster but sacrifices some of your control, however, the controls are fully customizable in the options menu, like your speed, acceleration and turn speed. Sonic controls beautifully in the Open Zone, ironically enough, this is the most control we’ve had over Sonic since Sonic 06. The movements are snappy and precise, although I do have a few gripes about them. First off, I can’t help but note how stiff the jump and double jump feel, still being the same as they have since Unleashed and Colo(u)rs. Even by the end of the game, I still had times were I second guessed myself due to the rigid feeling of the jump during the tighter platforming sections which, in a 3D platformer is honestly perplexing why the jump is as stiff as it is. The way Sonic also stops on a dime when you let go of the analogue stick, even at high speeds, also feels kind of off at first but I grew to appreciate it as it gave me more control to which direction I wanted to go to. Other than that, I think the ground controls are just right, even though Sonic feels glued to the ground at times which if you are not used to it, might send you careening off a bottomless pit or into insta-kill lava. Sonic The high-speed gameplay truly shines when you find ramps or other inclines in the terrain that let you shoot off into the air, this can be used to reach higher places that normal jumps couldn’t, create your own shortcuts to different areas or simply look cool and stylish while preforming tricks to gain extra XP as you soar through the air!
Speaking of XP, the game has a skill tree and 3 skills locked behind story progression, the skills themselves, other than the trick skill, (which lets you perform the aforementioned tricks in the air and the central mechanic of the game called the Cyloop) are solely used for the combat portion of the game. The Cyloop is a skill you unlock after you finish the tutorial area where, by pressing the assigned button, Sonic leaves a cyber trail behind him which will apply different effects depending on the object/enemy/terrain you use it on as long they are in the center of the loop/circle you create with the trail you left behind.
Sonic also has four upgradeable stats: Attack, Defense, Speed and Ring Capacity. To upgrade Sonic’s Attack and Defense you’ll need to collect Red Seeds of Power and Blue Seeds of Defense by completing missions and delivering them to the Hermit Koco, and to upgrade Sonic’s (climbing) Speed and Ring Capacity you’ll need to collect Kocos, which are scattered around the Open Zone, and deliver them to the Elder Koco. Attack, defense and Ring capacity are self explanatory – Attack raises your damage output, Defense makes you lose less rings when you get hit and Ring Capacity increases the maximum amount of rings you can hold. The speed stat however is a little misleading as it doesn’t affect your movement speed, instead it’s used for increasing your climbing speed. So instead of leveling up your speed, I recommend you actually upgrade your Ring Capacity because this will allow you to have the Power Boost at all times no matter how many rings you carry when you get past a certain level (around level 60 or 70).
The Power Boost is a new ability solely used in the Open Zone that allows Sonic to go above his normal top speed while boosting, reach the maximum amount of rings and the ability will stay active as long as you don’t lose them. The animation from the image above plays every time the Power Boost is activated.
The Cyloop can disarm enemies that have shields, and even launch enemies into the air, which includes some of the Guardians, it opens up a lot of potential in both exploration and combat and I honestly wouldn’t mind if this mechanic became a recurring one in the series as it makes just as much sense as the drop dash (which was introduced in Mania and is also present in this game). You will also be using the Cyloop to clear or activate various missions or points of interest. After beating these missions, a bit more of the map gets revealed to you, getting completely revealed when you clear every mission on its respective island. There are some missions that can only be done during the night time, yes the game does have a day a night system, but there is no way for you to change time yourself, making it a minor annoyance when you happen to stumble upon these night only missions during day time, however since the day and night cycles are so short, I found that just going into a Guardian fight or two would be enough for time to pass.
As for the combat itself, while the skill tree does open up a lot of options, it’s certainly nothing to write home about, that isn’t to say it’s not good, it is indeed serviceable and has a lot of flair to it for how simple it is, just don’t go in expecting a Bayonetta or Devil May Cry combat system, even though the game does provide combat and movement tutorials during loading screens like Bayonetta when you’re moving in and out of Cyber Space. While the Guardians (this game’s mini bosses) do provide a decent amount of challenge and fun on their first encounter, I found myself running past them after beating them the first time and collecting their portal gear. There were two regular enemies in particular that really annoyed me though. The umbrella type enemy, which jumps in the air if you get into its field of vision and spawns other little bots in order for you to homing attack up in order to get to it. When this happens, all camera control is taken away from you, as it focuses on the enemy for some reason, making it impossible to see where you’re heading for a few seconds. And the dog like enemies that stop you dead on your tracks and circle you until you parry each one. Yes, there is a parry in this game but unlike other action games, it’s not contingent on timing, so basically if you just hold the respective buttons down, you’ll basically parry most of the attacks that get thrown at you with no consequence, even on the hard difficulty setting which is what I played on. There are some missions that require you to parry some energy balls to move on but with it requiring no skill or timing at all, it made me wonder why they even bothered in the first place, which also made me think that the parry did have some sort of timing earlier in development, but got removed later on during development.
The game is also full of menial tasks like little puzzles where you have to turn off every lit square or side step to a specific one before time runs out, jump rope, light up or snuff out torches in a specific order, etc. Nothing too fancy and they definitely won’t have you scratching your head or anything but they were a nice distraction from the high speed exploration and platforming nonetheless.
Now for the Cyber Space stages. These are definitely the weakest part of the game. Every single Cyber Space stage, which there are 30 of, reuses level assets from Sonic Generations and stage designs from previous Sonic games for the most part, with the last handful of stages in the last island being all original level layouts. The aesthetics used are Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Sky Sanctuary and a new City themed aesthetic, but since they all share the same look, with some lighting differences, they all blend together, making it hard to recall a specific stage. The level designs are mostly pulled from Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations, sometimes being the same level but dividing the 3D and 2D parts into different stages, making it sometimes feel like they just sawed the levels in half and glued their respective 3D or 2D parts back together with duct tape. People who haven’t followed series or played the games in a long time probably won’t notice this but as a Sonic fan, I found these stages to be merely inferior version of the stages that I already played, especially that now, for some reason, Sonic’s Open Zone controls don’t transfer into Cyber Space instead he controls more like he did in Sonic Forces, which is more like a race car and there’s no camera control in any of the stages. The difficulty on these level is pretty much non existent as well, barring the first two levels which for some reason are the hardest to S-Rank, while the rest I found myself backtracking for Red Rings a lot of the time and still getting the best rank. This time around the Ranks are solely divided in time requirements, there are no points, so as long as you beat the level under a certain amount of time, you’ll get a certain rank. Every Cyber Space stage also has 4 missions: Finish the level, Collect all the Red Rings, Complete the Stage with a certain amount of rings and Get an S Rank. For every completed mission you get a Chaos Emerald Vault Key, complete every mission and you’ll get an extra 3 keys, making up for 7 keys in total. Needless to say that you will never be short on Vault Keys because the objectives are so easy to complete and they also can be found in the Open Zone by using the Cyloop in certain spots. These keys are needed to unlock Chaos Emerald Vaults which are scattered in the Open Zone. Sadly, I don’t think this will be a game that I’ll come back to to replay the stages, like in previous games.
The gameplay loop goes as such: Explore the Island for Memory Tokens to advance the story > Defeat Guardians along the way and collect their portal gear > Enter a Cyber Space level with those gears to get a Chaos Emerald vault Key > Get all 7 Chaos Emeralds on the Island by completing Story missions and finding Chaos Emerald Vaults > Fight the Titan in that Island as Super Sonic > Move on to the next Island. It’s a loop that keeps the player engaged and I never found myself bored, although I did get fatigued after long play sessions because my attention was divided into so many things that I could do. Basically, the game is a lot of fun and engaging when everything comes together.
Finally one of the main highlights of the game are the Titan boss battles and oh wow… the sheer scale of these bosses is already pretty astonishing and the actual fights themselves use the same battle mechanics from the Open Zone. They are bombastic and cinematic, making you feel powerful and a force to be reckoned with, these are the best Super Sonic fights of all time, there’s no doubt about that, and I think Sonic Team will have a really hard time topping them in future games. The vocal themes that play during these fights get your blood pumping and will be hard not to headbang to. These are one of the most fun parts of the game, which makes it a shame that they are a one time thing, the only one that’s technically repayable is the last Titan, but I wish they were all repayable via a boss a rush mode in the main menu.
Visuals and Music
When it comes to the visuals, Sonic Frontiers looks pretty good! Not something that I would personally expect from a Sonic game but I can acknowledge that the game looks visually appealing, even though the Breath of the Wild comparison is warranted. The grassy fields, arid sands and ashy floors even though they might not look like it, somehow manage to all have distinct features and landmarks that help the locations stand out, making them easy to recognize and I never found myself aimlessly wandering or lost. I particularly liked how Ares Island looked especially during sunsets.
I wish they had found a way for the rails in the Open Zone and some other platforming elements not look so out of place or made them look more organic, because sometimes it really just feels like they’ve been pasted in and it turn, ruining the aesthetic at times and of course the pop-in is a big issue as well, enemies and objects can load in right in front of you sometimes and it cause some distraction and take you out of the experience at times.
The music is quiet unusual for a Sonic game, there were a total of a 150 songs written which is usually the equivalent of 2 mainline games for this series. The themes for the Open Zones are calm and somber, and create a very melancholic mood, while the themes for the Cyber Space stages are EDM tracks, from drum and bass to dubstep, including some tracks that sound like they came from Sonic Rush at times. While I’m not the biggest fan of EDM I still thought that the tracks were appropriate for the stages themselves and couldn’t help but bop to a few of them. But by far the most stand out tracks in the game are the vocal themes, Vandalize and I’m Here are good ending and main themes on their own respectively, but the Titan fight themes are pure adrenaline pumping bangers that feel like they came straight from a game like Metal Gear Rising and will leave anyone hard pressed to find better songs in a series that’s already well renowned for having amazing music. There are also some tracks that are bittersweet, emotional and even uplifting, specifically the alternate ending theme called “One Way Dream” which is a message from Sonic Team to the fans according to the game’s Sound Director Tomoya Ohtani and you can definitely hear it in the lyrics.
The story in this game starts with Eggman trying to hack into unknown technology, however something goes wrong and Eggman gets sucked into what gets revealed later on as Cyber Space. Meanwhile Sonic, Tails and Amy pick up a strange signal emitted by the Chaos Emeralds and head toward the Star Fall Islands to investigate, as they get closer, a giant wormhole opens up right in front of them and our three heroes get sucked into Cyber Space. The game starts you off in a familiar looking Green Hill Zone type level and somehow manages to escape. Dazed and confused with no idea of his friends whereabouts a strange disembodied voices speaks to Sonic and tells him to “tear down the walls between dimensions” by finding the Chaos Emeralds and destroying the Titans while a strange new character called Sage lurks close by. The story then revolves around Sonic saving his friends from Cyber Space and learning more about Sage, the Koco and finding out who the mysterious voice is.
This is one of the best stories that the Sonic series has had in years, while it does feel a bit rushed towards the end and a little anticlimactic, what they managed to do here was outstanding, giving some very much apreciated character devolopment to the main cast, including Eggman, and I hope the writing carries the same tone and feel or is at least as well written as this game. There are also some great character interactions with Knuckles and Tails specifically that put a smile on my face and even made me chuckle. Sonic will also make references to past events in the series which brings the whole canon together and are also sure to make anyone go “I ‘member!”.
The game also has a secret ending which is locked behind the hard mode difficulty, so be sure to play on hard to get the full conclusion to the game’s story!
It took me 14 hours to finish the game on my first playthrough and 20 hours in total for 100% completion and all I could think about was playing through it a second time. Sonic Frontiers is a love letter to Sonic fans both old and new, it has its fair share of problems, but as a proof of concept for the next 10 years of Sonic games it more than stands on its own and is a game I whole heartedly recommend even if you’re completely new to the series. What we have here is truly special, and I can’t wait for what Sonic Team can come up next with the sequel!
Sonic Frontiers is available now on all major platforms.