I was going to start this review going through Sonics history in video gaming, but we all know the score here – Sonic was a massive cultural icon in the 90s, who essentially managed to break Nintendo’s dominance of the console market, who then struggled moving to 3D, then hit rock bottom twice, and has a variety of bad to alright games here and there. Back in 2017 I gave Sonic Forces a 6/10, a generally fine and enjoyable game, but didn’t really do that much to make things interesting. It made me feel sad that Sonic Team had sort of given up with the franchise overall and were just going to churn out the most generic games that did what a Sonic game could be, but nothing more. It was a sad time, and a real fall from the high ranking status that Sonic once was. Some fresh blood was needed, some new ideas injected into the franchise to get people excited again. And they’ve given us that, but an open world game? Like many others I was VERY sceptical about this approach. From all the game trailers it looked like big empty open worlds, with random obstacles such as springs, grind rails and platforms and not much more. Furthermore, this world seemed too real? A Sonic open world fan project had been made before called Sonic Utopia, which kept the classic design of the Mega Drive games in an open world setting. Frontiers looked like Elden Ring with a bright colour palette. But it could be fun right? Sonic for the last few years has gotten things right some of the time, but was then watered down with lots of other ideas that juts dragged the game down. Maybe Sonic Frontiers would be another one of those, another throw at the wall and hope it sticks, but maybe, this could be the start of a new generation for Sonic.
Sonic Frontiers starts us out with our heroes Sonic, Tails & Amy on the Tornado plane flying towards the Starfall Islands. On the approach they encounter a wormhole that sucks them in and splits them up. Sonic wakes up on the island and is informed by a mysterious voice tells him he must collect the Chaos Emeralds and help the island out so he can return to the real world and save his friends. From here on out you’re pretty much on your own and left to your own devices. The story remains decently lite for the most part and doesn’t attempt to have an extremely heavy plot line. Throughout the game you learn of the island’s inhabitants, its history and what you can do to save your friends, and those on the island. Voice acting is pretty good with some good dialogue too, nothing award winning but this is a Sonic game. I don’t need it to be an epic struggle with dark heavy thought-provoking lines. What I have come to expect though, is Sonics snarky one liners that can start to get REALLY annoying as the game goes on. For every line that’s given, Sonic has got some sarcastic zingers to snap back as is probably about 65% of his overall dialogue. I know- it’s Sonic, he’s cocky, but dam I wish he’d shutup time to time.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag in a way. Character models look fantastic, they are exactly as they should look in a 3d environment. They look modern and up to date while retaining the Sonic look that was introduced with Sonic Adventure. What’s more is how Sonic animates as he runs through the open world as the effects give a great sense of speed as you zoom through the overworld. The overworld itself depends on your taste of what a Sonic game should be. They are very pretty, but lean towards a more realistic angle compared to a Sonic zone. Again this is up to you if this fits, but to me I think it works as it’s not too far in the realism sense, and this helps blend in with the interactive level features and enemies you’ll encounter. There’s also a few islands to explore with different enemies and biomes types such as grasslands and deserts. A major issue you’ll come across is the pop in of level hazards and platforms, and their place within the world. You’ll seem them just floating there and it’s really out of place. They also have a habit of popping in and out when you get closer and it can be a pain when you’re looking for new things to play on. Where the art design really shines is in the ‘cyberspace’ levels. These levels are modelled on the classic Sonic zones such as Green Hill, Chemical Plant and Sky Sanctuary and they look amazing, this is what Sonic games should look like. The problem though is how reliant they are on this formula. Sonic Mania did it, Forces did it, and now Frontiers is too. Sure I love these levels but give me something new! The possibilities are endless, and I’d love to see the creative team go wild on what new places we could explore.
But enough about all that, let’s get to the bottom line here. How does a Sonic open world game play, and is it any fun? Well I’m happy to be proven wrong, as Sonic Frontiers is actually very fun. Once you’re dumped into the open world you’re sent off to hit springs, grind on rails and zoom up walls. The world is littered with mini tasks and challenges that load up more of your map, so you can find more to do. As you progress, you’ll find more collectables to progress the story, new abilities and new types of enemies to combat – yeah the combat was a weird one, but as odd as it is, it does work. Sonic can use his homing ability to attack enemies and strike them a number of punches and kicks. Some enemies require different methods of attack, while some can just be a button bash of the homing attack. Defeating enemies rewards you with skills points for more abilities, or unlockable used to progress the story or unlock ‘cyberspace’ levels. As previously mentioned, cyberspace levels fall more into your classic Sonic design category, and this goes for gameplay too. They are very quick linear paths that you blast through as fast as you can trying to get that S rank. They’re great fun and really what I expect from a Sonic game these days, I just wish there was more of them. Sonic handles fantastically through these too, think Sonic Adventure 1/2 but a modern actually working version. At full speed you feel like you’re in control, so it’s satisfying and pretty easy to pull off that speed record in the cyberspace levels, or combo together platforms, boosters and springs to pick up goodies in the open world. Once you’ve collected all that you can and spoken to the characters in the level you’ll eventually fight the titan of that level. These boss battles aren’t like your conventional boss battles, but I’ll leave it to you to find out what I mean. What I did not expect too is the soundtrack to this game, the titan boss fight especially caught me totally off guard. Gone are the days of Sonic butt rock and we’re moving more into the world of Metalcore downtuned heavy guitars that slap just as hard as Metal Gear Rising Revengeace, it’s great fun.
Sonic Frontiers proves that Sonic does work in an open world, but as much fun as I’ve had with this game, I wouldn’t want them to do it again, not because it’s bad, but because it proves they have the ability to make a proper linear Sonic game and knock it out the park if only they put their mind to it. The cyberspace levels show how good Sonic levels could be if only they expand on that idea and I’d love for them to try and attempt at another adventure style Sonic game, not Sonic Adventure 3 per say, but something that’s a grand Sonic adventure with his pals, which I know is what a lot of people want. Throughout my playthrough I kept telling myself “This isn’t Sonic though, this isn’t what people want” – but I was having fun, and if it’s fun, then who cares? God of War 2018 was a departure from the blood fuelled spartan games of before, yet God of War 2018 is one of the best games I’ve ever played. I couldn’t deny how much fun I was having, and how I’d spend so much time just running around the overworld, flying off ramps and constantly resetting levels to get that S rank on the cyberspace levels.
Sonic Frontiers is great fun that can keep you occupied for hours just running around bouncing off what the game world has given you. It is a little bit rough around the edges with graphical pop ins lack of art direction in some places, but I hope Sonic Team use this as a jumping off platform to bring Sonic back to his former glory, something which is long overdue.