Sonic Frontiers is the latest 3D platforming adventure for everyone’s favourite blue, anthropomorphic hedgehog. It’s a new game style and an interesting development in the series that sticks to what it knows as much as developing new ideas.
The plot revolves around the Chaos Emeralds which have drawn Sonic and his friends to a group of ruined islands. Sonic is the only one that has fully survived the process, with everyone else ending up in limbo between the real world and Cyberspace. Sonic is also absorbing the cyber energy. We get a new villain called Sage who seems quite interesting and reveals more about herself as the game goes on. There’s also some interesting lore about a race called the Koko who were incredibly advanced but still got wiped out by an unknown threat.
Gameplay itself is a everything from boring to incredibly creative and interesting. Sonic has some of the best movement he’s ever had with parrying, actual attacks, special moves, double jumps, recovery and – when he’s going – lots of speed. We even get to play as Super Sonic, the flying, golden, extra strong version of our hero. (Sonic himself is amazing for Frontiers.) However good Sonic has become, there are issues with the game itself. The levels are open terrain with a sort of realistic graphic. There’s no charm to the design of the environment and the whole thing is there just so the player can collect stuff. Random activities such as logic puzzles, races, skipping, a ball game, damage counting and a few more count as side missions which open seemingly random spaces on the map. Rails are placed between the activities once complete but it never really helps. We even get special activities when progress is being made which include herding creatures, collecting a number of things, pinball and bullet hell minigames. They’ve got an incredible version of the hedgehog which they use for a series of small, often unrelated challenges that don’t fit the epic scale of the game. Plus we get around twenty eight actual Sonic levels that can be 2D, 3D or a blend of both. It often seemed like the Sonic Team still didn’t know what they wanted the game to be.
Combat against minor enemies could be the single bash from older games or the use of Sonic’s new abilities for tougher ones. There are mini bosses called Guardians that were trial-and-error puzzles that sometimes required certain stats and could be phase based. The main bosses were story connected giants called Titans which only Super Sonic could fight, like the Guardians these were just a case of working out what to do but in these cases Sonic was invincible with the fight being on a timer as the rings counter constantly decreased. Plus hard difficulty brought in an extra boss battle at the end which was a 2D bullet hell for some reason, this was stupid design that made me stop playing. Weirdly, the Guardians and Titans seem to be designed to fight Sonic and not the larger threat that the story states they were for.
The character personalities were a mixed bag. Sonic himself was a slightly manly leader type who has the strength of character to keep the group together. Amy Rose came across a bit bland, however Knuckles had a believable respect for Sonic as well as being a bit of a soldier. Tails managed to show the pain of being in the hero’s shadow and Eggman managed to be a surprisingly emotionally complex character (especially when you have the context of Egg Memos and the story). It’s just a shame more of the big name Sonic characters didn’t appear.
For some reason Mr Big the Cat was in the game too doing fishing but not just looking for Froggy this time. Obviously this was a nod to older Sonic games but given that this became a quick way to progress, it was an oddly placed but necessary addition to the game. The fishing minigame was just a timing thing for pressing the A button (Xbox) so no challenge, but a nice serene minigame in the chaos of charging around. Me Big wanted purple tokens to allow you to fish which could be found in the worlds or gained in the nighttime slots which otherwise seemed unnecessary and obscured some important UI while active.
There’s plenty of music in the game which is always standout in Sonic. Hearing Sonic Heroes again hit me right in the nostalgia in the best way possible (that game was my favourite when I was younger).
Surprisingly I didn’t find any technical problems with the game, it all seemed to work as intended. The camera was annoying, often pointing me at things that I had no desire to look at or forcing me into an awkward angle where I had to follow a course or just couldn’t see properly. The game had common Sonic problems like wrenching the control from the player in stylish looking sections or being punished for going too fast or losing momentum as soon as the boost button isn’t held – for a hero focused on speed, the games require very specific pacing to flow right. The new stat system proved to be a slight problem as everything levelled up so slowly meaning you had to hunt down every collectible for upgrades, but fishing could be used to skip a lot of it meaning the developers knew the balance wasn’t quite right given how so many puzzles and exploration became optional.
Overall, as much as I wanted to love Frontiers, with everything it did right there was a stumble. For every brilliant bit, something was a little wrong. I do like the new style of gameplay but think a fuller, more interesting game world is needed and with there being fairly frequent references to old games and Sonic’s memories they could just use the Green Hill Zone, Chemical Factory, Casino and other old zones. Tails’ story seems to offer a possible spin-off which could be interesting (but will probably never happen). Generally though this game is fun in chunks and few parts of it outstay its welcome. I would recommend to platformer fans but think I’d expect better from a sequel (hopefully they build on the right parts).