It’s been a while since we had a 3D Sonic game. The last one we had was Sonic Forces back in 2017, which had been met with lukewarm reception. Sonic’s reputation in the 3D realm has been scarred. He’s turned into a werehog. His arch rival was given a gun. His modern self has met his 90s counterpart. And don’t even get me started with Sonic ‘06. I think Sega tried a little too hard to cater to fan service – that or they just shipped their products to the shelves way too quickly – and for the most part, they failed hard. Though people have varying degrees of opinion on this, I think it’s safe to say that, ever since Yuji Naka – the creator of Sonic – left the company in 2006, the games in the Sonic franchise just don’t have that same level of quality as they did before (at least in the 3D aspect).
So now we’re left with the question, “Now that we’ve finally got another 3D Sonic game, will this undo some of the damage that Sonic has had over the years?” I’ll have to admit, ever since I saw the first trailer for Sonic Frontiers, I’ve been looking forward to playing it ever since. And now that I’ve sunk about five hours into it so far, I think I can say yes, this game finally got some things right.
But note that this review isn’t necessarily a full review, since I haven’t finished the game; it’s more so just some thoughts that I have on it so far. When I do finish the game I may come back to this and update the review if I come across anything significant.
Sonic Frontiers is certainly an unusual take on the Sonic series. It’s a little bit of a more mature take on the series; something I’ve wanted for quite some time. Instead of having the typical, colorful world like Green Hill Zone, there’s now this open-world map. I’ve heard some people compare the level design to ripped assets from the Unreal Engine store, and honestly, it does feel like that in some ways. There’s rocky mountains, green grass, NPCs that you’d never find in any other Sonic game, and enemies that are futuristic-looking. This, of course, is in addition to crates, springs, boost bads, and rails that you’d typically find in any other Sonic game.
However, there are what I call “flashbacks” to classic Sonic worlds. Accessing these require having enough portal gears. You can then flashback to a zone, and depending on the objectives you accomplish, you’ll unlock Vault keys. Getting enough Vault keys will allow you to collect Chaos Emeralds.
Though Takashi Iizuka – head of Sonic Team – has denied that Frontiers compares to Zelda: Breath of the Wild at all, the comparisons are certainly there and unavoidable, from the open-world formula, to the level design, to the rock climbing, to the way the enemies look. But hey, I’m not complaining. That’s actually not a bad thing – it’s even better since you don’t have to find a new sword after it breaks every couple of swings.
The open-world formula is certainly interesting. We’ve never had a Sonic game like that. With it, you’re free to roam around the map, unlock areas by solving puzzles, deal with monstrous enemies, obtain the next Chaos Emerald. You’re not obligated to work on the main story – just basically do whatever you want. I found this appealing. There’s always something new to discover.
Scattered throughout the world are hearts. These hearts can usually be collected by accessing difficult-to-reach areas. Collecting enough hearts will allow Sonic to talk to Amy. Amy will then provide assistance as to where he should go next. As a side note, Sonic and Amy’s relationship is a little odd here. Usually Amy will go after Sonic in a love-fueled rampage, but in this game, she doesn’t really go after him at all.
Aside from the different-looking maps, there’s also some combat elements in addition to speeding around. Kind of think of these scenarios like when Sonic turns werewolf at night in Sonic Unleashed. He can kick, punch, use his homing attack. He can also parry incoming enemy attacks. Sometimes this combat is enjoyable, sometimes it isn’t.
Maybe it’s just me who’s used to the more sophisticated mechanics of fighting games, but the combat here seems overly simplistic. You can repeatedly mash the Square button and Sonic will do this standard combo, without any fear of reprisal. For most enemies, this is good enough. There’s no complexity to this combo – you can’t really vary Sonic’s attack methods with different buttons mid-combo, until you unlock the necessary skills later on in the game. Even then, you can just hold the left trigger while mid-air and have Sonic repeatedly send wave after wave of attacks, and just chill while you’re doing it. Maybe the more casual players will appreciate this, but at times I found it dull.
There’s some RPG elements here. There’s four different categories that can be upgraded, depending on the various items Sonic collects in his adventures and bringing them to the right person:
- ring capacity
Pretty neat if I say so myself. Although I’m not really sure what the defense mechanism does. Sonic will lose rings when he gets hit, just like in other Sonic games. Maybe he just loses less rings?
One thing Sonic games always got right is the soundtrack. There’s no exception to Frontiers. It’s rock solid. There’s definitely a variety as well, from the calm tone when it’s raining, to the lo-fi beats while fishing, to the hard rock while fighting a boss.
Another minor complaint I have aside from the combat is the controls. Sometimes they’re hit and miss. For example, it’s difficult to have Sonic run straight. The slightest tilt of the analog stick will make him turn left or right, making him miss the next boost pad or even lead to his death. I found it weird that he can break a wooden crate just by touching it; he doesn’t have to punch it. Other times jumping off a spring has these weird collision issues that are hard to explain. He’ll bounce off of one, then miss the next, even though the trajectory of the first spring was directly aimed towards the second. Hopefully that will get fixed in a future patch.
I won’t get into the details on this, but there’s this one puzzle later on in the game that I had a hard time trying to figure out. I ended up viewing a video to get it done. This particular puzzle has to be solved in order to proceed in the game. I hope Sega makes a patch where these types of puzzles can be skipped. Either that or have the game drop more hints.
As to how long it takes to beat the game, I would guess about 30 hours. 40 hours if you’re a completionist. That’s a nice touch.
- open-world formula, with plenty of things to do
- mixture of puzzle, running, and combat
- more mature take on the Sonic series
- RPG mechanics allow Sonic to increase his speed, strength, defense, etc.
- excellent soundtrack
- combat can at times be a bit boring
- strange controls and collision detection
- some puzzles can be difficult to solve and are unskippable