The Sonic the Hedgehog series has struggled in recent years. Sonic Forces had little to no challenge, Sonic: Lost World is a 3D platforming mess, and we won’t even go into the Sonic Boom Wii U game. However, just like Generations, this year’s Sonic Frontiers feels like a grand step forward for the series. As the title suggests, this open zone title is a breath of much-needed fresh air for Sonic’s lineup of games.
Game Name: Sonic Frontiers Platform(s): PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, PC Publisher(s): Sega Developer(s): Sega
Don’t Expect The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild But…
There have been many pundits and fans that have suggested that Sonic Frontiers is inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And to an extent, yes. However, you won’t find as many nourished landscapes and puzzles within Sonic Frontiers. Instead, there is a collection of entertaining platforming levels interspaced throughout the world. You’ll be going on rails, wall jumping, and bouncing to higher-up objects that hold all manner of rewards for you.
Finishing the sections of platforming goodness that Sega has left throughout its open zones is a delight. They may be repetitive in nature in some aspects, but due to the speed of Sonic and some thought-out platforming mechanics, these hold up for Sonic Frontiers’ 20 or so-hour playtime.
There are four different open zones available in Sonic Frontiers to explore, each with its own enemies to face. There is some lore spurred throughout, but it’s not as impactful as Breath of the Wild. The sense of scale, however, will certainly pull you in. The platforming segments will have you climb tall towers and fly up in the sky. It’s exhilarating to see the sights of the world around Sonic as he reaches the top.
Furthermore, there are checkpoints throughout each open zone, and Sonic has to complete a task to unlock the map in their areas. This can include hitting a ball into a glowing circle, dashing to the left and right to hit enough blocks in time, and racing to another map area before time runs out. While they’re basic in nature, and some are way too easy for their own good, each checkpoint feels enriching to unlock. Surprisingly they don’t get old as you get a boost of serotonin seeping through your body as a part of the map is revealed to you as a reward.
The Controls Aren’t The Greatest
The open zone platforming and puzzle challenges are definitively fun to experience, but some issues should be addressed. First, the constant shifting of camera angles can be jarring. I’ve fallen down multiple times due to these transitions from 3D to 2.5D. There are also some moments when certain enemy types completely draw the camera’s attention while Sonic is running at full speed.
Second, the platforming isn’t as solid as you’d hope it would be. It feels floaty in some critical jumps, and as the challenges become more complicated later on in the game, it can be hard to comprehend the spacing of each jump. I also wish there was a secondary dash while in the air that wasn’t as hefty and was more restrained. Sonic goes from 1 to 100 if you want to nail a platforming section with a dash.
Thankfully, there is a deep customization tool for the camera and speed of this blue hedgehog in Sonic Frontiers with an options screen. You can change the camera distance, the starting speed, and steering sensitivity, among many other options. It’s refreshing to see for a series that struggles to satisfy (almost) everyone.
Despite some awesome customizable options, it doesn’t help with the game’s grueling exploration at some sections of the game. The most egregious would be Chaos Island. You have a generic marker telling you where to go on the map and in the game’s UI. However, there are key areas that are hard to access in Chaos Island due to them being separated by gaps of air and fire. It isn’t clear how to get from one island to the next at points, creating frustration. At one point, I needed to go around the whole open zone area to maybe, somehow, get to an island Sonic was required to head to.
Most of the time, the exploration of Sonic Frontiers is clear cut, but in those situations where you have to go around an unnecessarily long distance, it can be frustrating to deal with.
What would help with that is fast travel, but it’s more complicated than it needs to be. You strangely have to unlock it by fishing. Alongside Big The Cat, you’ll be able to pull out all manner of things with your rod, like clownfish, sharks, and even treasure. Two of the collectibles you can find randomly are scrolls that can help you fast-travel between two NPCs in the game, the Elder Koco and Hermit Koco, who upgrade your stats.
But wait, it gets more complicated. You’ll first need to discover the Elder Koco and Hermit Koco locations on the map, which before even that, you’ll have to uncover by finishing checkpoints around the world. Can you see how overly complicated it is to just fast-travel from place to place? Having a more concise system to teleport to various locations in each zone is needed if a sequel to Sonic Frontiers is ever made.
While Sonic going almost open world is quite a 180 from the typical formula, some old-school fans may be happy to know that standard linear levels are in Sonic Frontiers too. Called cyberspace levels, there are one-to-three-minute stages that will challenge your 3D Sonic skills. You’ll gain keys to get chaos emeralds in the story by completing tasks like finishing each level at an S-tier time or finding all of the red coins.
Each level is well made and will test your platforming skills, but the one negative is that Sega recycles assets from past levels. Yes, Green Hill Zone appears once again. The levels revolve around similar environments,, usually from three locations across the Sonic universe, which can be repetitive. Still, the entertaining, well-thought-out level design does slightly dissolve the issue.
A Surprising Story In A Positive And Negative Fashion
If I asked you what the story of Sonic Frontiers is about, you probably wouldn’t think of a plot revolving around a civilization being wiped out. Well, that is actually the case in this game. There’s an oddly dark, dramatic tinge to the narrative that feels like it wouldn’t appeal to a family audience as you see Sonic gradually struggling to deal with the cyberspace energy around him.
The hedgehog still has his quips, but with an ever-present dread coursing throughout the game, it really didn’t feel fitting. Of course, there’s no blood or severe violence at all, but the overall tone and atmosphere feel more like Majora’s Mask than Sonic Heroes. But…it somehow works. While the younger generation may not appreciate the darker script, Sonic Frontiers feels like it’s trying to appeal to a wider audience. The discussions between Sonic and his friends are more down to earth, more character-focused, and overall they’re refreshing to witness. One part that grabbed me is how Tails wants to grow without Sonic by his side and feel like less of a burden. He wants to forge his own path without his best friend, possibly teasing some sort of time skip in the future.
Sonic Frontiers also appeals to older fans by referencing past adventures like the Adventure series. They’re working past events into the canon, which is an interesting concept. The writing is seriously not bad and opens up more engaging narratives in future series games like the comics. In fact, Sega is looking for a Lore Master on LinkedIn.
When the voice of Sonic in Sonic Frontiers was revealed at first, some were apprehensive about his deeper voice at first. Thankfully, it makes the character stronger. He’s grown up in a way, and it adds more gravitas to each scene. The rest of the cast also delivers great performances and helps reflect the strong friendships that Sonic has made with the core cast.
While I won’t spoil the ending of the game, there was an effective twist at the end that adds a dimension to Dr. Eggman’s character. It’s absolutely fascinating and is another sign that the Sonic the Hedgehog series may be growing up with its audience like Digimon did with Survive and Cyber Sleuth.
Intense Boss Battles
Something else I didn’t expect from Sonic Frontiers is how fulfilling the bosses can be. They’re action-packed, require pinpoint accuracy with a new parry system, and feel high-budgeted. Alongside some epic music, you’re taking on a variety of titans that require you to pay attention and grind for new abilities before attempting them.
I don’t want to spoil exactly what you do in these titan boss battles, which makes them so epic, but they’re a thrill to play. What I can discuss are the sub-bosses that are sparsed throughout each open zone. They encourage you to use the abilities you learn from the game’s skill tree. For example, one of the first moves, Cyloop, has you encircle enemies, and then a gust of air will leap them upward. They’re also an effective tool against Towers that can pummel Sonic with their spikes if you’re not careful.
Each move you gain in the skill tree will make Sonic more effective in battle, and the animations for the Loop Kick and Wild Rush attacks are especially satisfying. Sonic Boom is an early ability with Sonic kicking multiple shockwaves, overwhelming his foes. Sonic Frontiers has a battle system that matches Sonic’s vast speed, yet remains precise.
A Grand Leap Forward
Sonic Frontiers defies expectations. Yes, the platforming does feel clunky from time to time, and the open zone format can be confusing to navigate. However, the overall gameplay experience, the improved writing for the engaging story, and the fun open-world segments all make for a grand return to form for Sonic. The combat system feels suitably intense for Sonic’s vastly speedy abilities as well.
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Sonic Frontiers is a welcome surprise in 2022. It brings an engaging pseudo-open world, thrilling combat, and a deeper story than you may expect. Some of the platforming can feel janky for a few moments, and a somewhat lack of fast travel does aggravate, butthis is one of the best adventures this hedgehog has been on in years.
Sonic’s speed is represented perfectly in Sonic Frontiers’ combat system.
Sonic Frontiers has a grand sense of scale.
The story is intriguing and focuses more on character development this time around.
The younger audience may not dig Sonic Frontiers’ darker tone.
The platforming can feel janky from time to time.
The lack of a great fast-travel system hurts the game.