I’ve had the good fortune to play Sonic Frontiers twice before release. Once at the Tokyo Game Show, and then once more at the Thailand Game Show. Both demos were essentially the same but they gave me something that was invaluable; insight.
Insight to see how the game progressed from what i assume were beta builds, into the final version out now.
So…is it good?
What is Sonic Frontiers?
Sonic Frontiers is a single player 3D action platformer. Developed by the legendary Sonic Team and published by SEGA, Sonic Frontiers is the first Sonic game that’s set in a truly open world.
The game is out now for the PC, Playstation and Xbox consoles.
Our copy, was graciously provided by the super folks at SEGA!
Sonic Frontiers is a game of two faces; the open world face that it presents to the world and a more linear Sonic experience that it keeps close to its heart. It’s not a surprise why SEGA wants to put the open world first and foremost. It’s been a long time coming…ever since the illfated Sonic Xtreme on the SEGA Saturn.
Yup, it’s pretty much been SEGA’s dream since the late 90s. Hell, I’ve personally been waiting for it too!
Now that it’s here, I can honestly say that it’s…not really as I envisioned it to be.
Let’s get the plot out of the way first because let’s face it, nobody plays a Sonic game for its lore.
In this go round, Sonic and company are in search of the Chaos Emeralds when they’re mysteriously transported to an ancient island and trapped in another dimension called Cyberspace. Sonic manages to break free from it but his compatriots (Tails, Amy and Knuckles) aren’t so lucky.
It’s up to Sonic to explore and find a way to rescue his friends and bring them back to the proper world.
First thing first…Sonic Frontiers might be open world, but its open world is separated by sections. Yeah, it’s a bit of a bummer but the whole game isn’t an interconnected world. Each biome is separate and you’ll progress from one to the next by collecting the Chaos Emeralds and fighting the area’s big bad baddie.
Now that’s out the way, Sonic Frontiers’ open world is not what you’d expect.
After all, most open world games are set in cities or at the very least, populated areas. Not so with Sonic Frontiers. It’s set in the most barren places imaginable. Windswept plains, deserts. Places nobody in their right mind would be caught dead in.
Normally, that would destroy an open world game faster than you can say GTA. Sonic Frontiers however, makes it world.
It’s because the wide open areas give a reason for Sonic to really cut loose.
Sonic’s been blazingly fast before in past games. Hell, he’s fast even in his debut. He’s never been as fast as he is in Sonic Frontiers. The blue hedgehog is a literal blur when’s running full out at top speed…which is almost always in the game.
The wide open, empty vistas that are the bane of other games are a highlight in the this one. Sonic zooms around, homing attacking baddies like it’s going out of style and he grinds rails with a balance even Tony Hawk would envy.
The open areas also gives Sonic Team a cool way to try out new enemies too. Sonic regularly fights HUGE enemies called Titans. Like their name suggest, these are behemoths! I’m talking huge, lumbering kaiju-sized mechanical monstrosities!
Remember Shadow of the Colossus and its huge bosses?
The ones in Sonic Frontiers make some of them look puny.
Fighting them all involve Sonic’s speed in one way or another. Whether it’s to run up their appendages to hit their weak spots or race up on their contrails to reach the beast proper, Sonic’s speed is put to ingenious use for every titanic foe you encounter.
It’s weird to say, but these encounters are one of the definite highlights of the game and are a real welcome surprise.
Fighting in the game is also more involved than you think too!
Sonic can actually do combos this time around, alongside projectile attacks and unlockable skills! There’s a legit Skill Tree to progress through, though I wish it was denser, with more things to unlock.
Between bouts of Titan smashing, the open world is also populated by collectibles and puzzles…and of course, Cyberspace portals.
Cyberspace stages need to be unlocked by finding the gears Titans drop when they’re defeated. There are linear stages like from past Sonic games. In fact, the locations of these stages will give you deja vu. I don’t remember the names but one looks like a 3D version of Green Hill zone (the first area from Sonic 1) while another looks like the Chemical Plant zone from Sonic 2.
Some of them are 3D, reminiscent of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Generations, while some are in 2D (though the game still retails the 3D visuals). No matter which, they’re still cool as hell and each of them has different missions for you to attempt.
Sadly, those missions are the same throughout the game, which does kill some of the joy of doing them. Still, trying to beat the timing missions (where you have to finish stages under specific times) is insanely fun. You’ll go nuts trying to find the optimal route to blaze through to cut times just for a single measly collectible key.
While the missions are fun, controlling Sonic in these stages can be quite frustrating due to the fixed camera angles. Sonic himself is tricky enough to control as he is, but when you couple that with platforming elements…it’s a recipe for disaster.
Trying to get the key for the S-rank times for stages can be hell because of this very reason.
Keys advance the plot by unlocking the Chaos Emerald vaults, so like it or not, you’re going to need to complete Cyberspace missions. There’s just no escaping doing them, which is why I wish they changed depending on the stage.
Other than doing Cyberspace stages, the open world also has optional activities to do, like solving puzzles or interacting with your compadres. These interactions are optional most times, so you don’t really need to care too much about them.
Take the time to do them though, and you can get collectibles that upgrades Sonic’s speed, maximum ring capacity, attack and defence. Great if you’re having trouble beating enemies but not really required unless you really need help.
Solving puzzles on the hand, unlocks rails and clears up the map, which gives you a better idea of your immediate surroundings.
Unlocking the rails is hands down the best part of it all.
Initially, the biomes Sonic finds himself in are all wide open and empty. As you kill Titans and complete the puzzles however, they slowly fill up with interconnecting rails, which lets Sonic grind his way around. It’s the fastest (and coolest) way to travel, so it’s worth taking the time to unlock as many of them as you can.
The puzzles can be pretty cool too. Some of them require platforming skills, some require thinking but quite a few are of the mindlessly easy variety. I’d have loved to have more puzzles that are more intelligent but them’s the breaks.
Thankfully, they’re fun so at least they’re not a total buzzkill.
However, the amount of object pop-in in the game is.
Since the game is pretty much wide open, object pop-in is easily visible. Sonic Frontiers makes zero effort to hide that. Massive structures (like rails) can suddenly pop into view as you come close. Foliage too. Even enemies can suddenly wink into existence without any warning.
To say that the game has massive pop-in issues is an understatement. It’s really disappointing, especially running on the Playstation 5. Performance mode seems to have very little difference than Resolution mode in this regard.
The pop-in seems just as bad on either mode, though Performance mode has a much smoother framerate. SEGA really needs to work on the engine because the amount of pop-in in the game is honestly disappointing for an AAA title.
Entire objects (and I’m not talking about small stuff like foliage) will just pop into view suddenly as you get near them. It’s incredibly jarring and very, very shameful.
You know what’s shameful too?
Or at the very least, his personality in Sonic Frontier is. I’ve been around from Sonic’s birth in the 90s and thus have seen pretty much every single incarnation of him. Whether it’s from the cartoons, the IDW comics or the attitude filled Dreamcast games, Sonic’s changed over the years.
The Sonic in Sonic Frontiers is like a mishmash of all the unlikeable elements from the past condensed into one. He has moments of coolness and attitude akin to his Sonic Adventure incarnation, but his way of talking, bad attitude and voice just rubs me the wrong way.
He just doesn’t feel like Sonic. More like somebody cosplaying as Sonic.
It certainly doesn’t help that Sonic resorts to fisticuffs now, has a double jump AND can do a stomp…all things Mario can do! Why is Sonic turning into Nintendo’s plump plumber SEGA?!
Sonic’s cool, brash and filled with attitude. The one in the game is kind of heartless and whiny.
Even Amy, she who is hopelessly in love with Sonic, doesn’t feel like her usual self. I’m actually kind of torn with Amy though, as this new version has some great qualities (she’s no longer just a Sonic stalker) that I want to see going forward.
In trying to make the characters more mature and relatable, I think Sonic Team’s lost sight of what made them lovable and recognizable in the first place. Speaking of which, there are zero iconic tunes in the game.
It might be a bit unfair to compare this game to Sonic Adventure, but the open world and linear stages does make Sonic Frontiers seem like the logical (or spiritual) successor. It does admirably in most aspects but one of the ways it fails is the music.
Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2’s kick ass music (Open Your Heart, Live and Learn, It Doesn’t Matter, Believe in Myself, City Escape) have no competitors from Sonic Frontiers. Even epic moments (like when Sonic becomes Super Sonic) don’t give me goosebumps because the music just isn’t epic enough sadly.
On the flipside, I still get excited when I hear Open your Heart start playing as Super Sonic gets ready to face Perfect Chaos in Sonic Adventure.
The Bottom Line.
Sonic Frontiers nails a ton of things.
It’s got the speed, the huge open world, tons of puzzles, cool Cyberspace stages and tons of cool battles to fight.
Unfortunately, for all the things it did get right, there are things to got very very wrong.
Character portrayals are off, there’s not much of a plot going on in the game and the music is disappointing to say the least.
Then again…at least this gives SEGA a starting point for Sonic Frontiers 2, which will hopefully take all these criticisms and build a much, much better title.
A flawed but insanely fun Sonic game.
- The sense of speed.
- The Titan fights.
- Tons of puzzles.
- Cool Cyberspace stages.
- The characters don’t feel right.
- Lots and lots and lots of pop-in.
- Fixed camera angles for Cyberspace stages makes some stages harder than necessary.
- Missions for Cyberspace stages repeat.