Sonic Frontiers doesn’t limit you to a small carefully selected menu of things you can try. Instead, it takes the all-you-can-eat approach, throwing out new ideas from start to finish, not seeming to really care if they’re fresh and appetizing or shriveled and wilted. When I started enjoying Sonic’s first open world game, I didn’t expect to play jump rope, take on a giant robot, see a dramatic origin story of an extinct race of beings, or fish so much, but Sonic Frontiers kept me on my toes. beyond the end. Even when some of those ideas don’t pan out, I’ve almost always been glad Sega tried, and rarely been bored as a result. I did feel sad about the absurd amount of pop-in that occurs every time this famously fast character does his thing, but Sonic Frontiers is, for the most part, a promising first attempt at breaking new ground for the series.
As you make your way through Sonic Frontiers’ chain of five islands over the course of about 20 hours of gameplay, you will discover the dark and extremely predictable story of a long-extinct race as you hang out with Sonic family favorites like Amy and Knuckles. You’ll also meet a strange new enemy called Sage and learn what his role is as slowly as possible, as his main hobbies seem to be dodging pointed questions and speaking exclusively vaguely.
With all the story lines that Sonic Frontiers handles, end up feeling strangely disconnected from each other and none of them offer any surprises between their merciless number of clichés about the power of friendship and ancient civilizations wielding advanced technology. But they do leave room for some really good moments among the furry cast of characters; in fact, Frontiers produces some of the deepest characterization of the Sonic cast we’ve seen in a game.. One part of the campaign focuses on the brotherly rivalry between Sonic and Knuckles, while another part does a great job of building Tails as more than just Sonic’s sidekick. All of this has more than satiated my ravenous appetite for the usual anime-style Sonic nonsense amid all the robot kicking and rolling at the speed of sound.
Sprinting through the vast expanses of the open world is, unsurprisingly, one of the best parts of this open world odyssey. The islands you race across are suitably large playgrounds for you to test the limits of your run, as long as you don’t fall into the water or lava. However, my new favorite trick is the Cyloop, which allows you to draw a circle while opening a path to create a tornado of death that impacts everything caught in it. This ability can be used (and abused) to deal damage in combat, solve puzzles, and even get rings, as it generates quite a few at a time. Also, literally running circles around your enemies is an incredibly Sonic thing to do, which is why I pretty much didn’t stop doing it for my entire playthrough. And because it lets you turn dashing into a deadly weapon, it makes sprinting across the map even more fun.
Not all activities are the same, but the great variety works.
The only thing that’s a little disappointing about going full speed is that unless you get the speed boost that comes from having the rings maxed out, you don’t run as fast as you expect. This can be improved a bit by leveling up the speed throughout the campaign, but I would have preferred the starting speed to be a bit higher.
What becomes clear after a few laps around the first island is that Sonic Frontiers is an action and adventure game that joins a growing group of old-school sagas looking to reimagine themselves as open-world sandboxes, and in this particular case it works. Like Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Frontiers keeps much of what makes the Sonic Saga unique and beloved (including some fun homages), but also adds huge areas to explore and fills them with a wild assortment of secondary distractions and mostly interesting new ideas. Not all activities are the same, but in general it works because of its great variety. One minute you’re juggling robots, the next you’re trying to beat a time trial in a 2D platformer, and the next minute you’re playing a game of pinball inside an active volcano. You’ll have to ride some really epic rails, solve extremely easy puzzles, do some platforming and of course catch some fish, because if you can’t catch any fish does it even count as an open world game?
There were times when I saw flashes of genius in this strange mix of activities. Sections called Cyber Space levels cleverly break up the open world by teleporting you into small, traditionally linear Sonic levels where you race against time and collect rings while racing to the finish line. Secondly, one of the great attempts of Frontiers that does not work well is the combat. You’re just mashing buttons to pull off simple combos and punching faceless robotic enemies. I appreciated the occasional break from platforming, but since it never proves to be a challenge and throws you into nearly identical fights over and over again, I soon came to resent being dragged out of my run at lightning speed just to pummel another bunch of bots. looking like a toaster. It’s especially annoying when it comes to the minibosses that roam the open world, often dragging me into unskippable fight sequences that aren’t particularly challenging or interesting, especially when I run into them multiple times. The moan of irritation at the prospect of repeating the same encounter a third or fourth time was impossible to contain.
The broader objective of each zone is collect Chaos Emeralds that give you energy for a big boss fight, but it is not as simple as it seems. To find all those delicious gems, you’ll first have to collect portal gears in the world, use those gears to open portals that take you to the Cyberspace levels, where you can collect keys, and finally use those keys to unlock the emeralds. If this sounds confusing to you, that’s because it can be, but by the time I completed my first islands, I was completely comfortable with all the different rare coins and collectibles in my inventory. Big boss fights at the end of each island are slightly better than normal fights, especially when you go Sonic Saiyan and go up against a giant evil robot. They’re a bit awkward at times due to the repeated animations and weird camera issues where the boss pulls you out of the arena and drops you at a frustrating angle of view, but flying like an invincible rodent god and performing sweet kick ass makes collecting all those Chaos Emeralds worthwhile.
There were times when I saw flashes of genius in this strange mix of activities.
I also really liked how perspective automatically switches between 2D and 3D when you are in the open world, depending on the activity you are doing. If I was running and entered an area that required platforming, I would switch to a 2D perspective so I could scroll like it was 1991, but when I entered a fight a moment later I would switch back to 3D so I could literally run in circles around the enemy . The only problem is that from time to time I would step on a pier or a railing while running around the island and I would find myself stuck in 2D, which was difficult to get out of at times.
There are other things that Sonic Frontiers forces you to do, like solve very simple puzzles ranging from slightly amusing mini-games to completely mindless tasks, or immerse yourself in RPG mechanics by collecting collectibles to boost your stats. They’re not terrible additions, but they don’t seem like they’re fully fleshed out, either. The upgrades in particular are a bit strange, as they do things like allow you to carry more rings or increase your attack and defense stats by such small amounts that they barely impact gameplay. It’s almost as if the developers shrugged their shoulders and said “Sure, why not?” and throw out a half-baked first draft of all the ideas they came up with just for the heck of it.
It’s also crazy the amount of progression that can be gained through the fishing minigame, especially since it’s only mildly funny for a few minutes before it starts to feel repetitive. But I can’t argue that it’s not worth it; Without even trying, I quickly discovered that a huge amount of resources could be farmed that are much more difficult to acquire in the open world. On an island, I fished with my boy Big the Cat for half an hour and got so many portal gears, keys, and memory tokens that I could have opted out of a huge chunk of the platforming, exploration, and combat. I was also able to level up my character over 60 times in a matter of minutes using this method, which felt…wrong. It would be one thing for Sonic to have a canonical fondness for seafood or something, but this is ridiculous.
The biggest flaw in this new open-world design, however, has nothing to do with the buffet of mostly fun activities, but simply that Sonic Frontiers is not able to keep up with Sonic’s divine speed on a technical level. My dive was broken every five seconds when large objects, like a section of a floating loop or a huge tree, appeared right in front of me. It is true that sometimes it is funny, but it is always unpleasant and simply ugly. Most of the time it is a railing or platform that appears a couple of meters from you, but sometimes it is entire areas of the world. Despite its incredible fast charging capabilities, PS5 couldn’t handle the speed of Frontiers. Whether playing in 4K resolution mode at 30fps or the much more desirable 60fps mode (seriously, what are we doing here playing a game that fast unless?), pop-in was always an issue. In one case I even ran so fast that the terrain hadn’t loaded yet and I fell across the map. It’s not a unique problem for an open world game, but Frontiers’ inability to load on time is so common that it makes everything look flimsy and unpolished.
Sonic Frontiers is a delightfully weird and experimental evolution of the Sonic games many of us grew up with. His series of open-world islands is packed with so much variety and pieces of Sonic history, from classic platforming stages to wacky mini-games, that it’s nice to explore them even when the horrible pop-in is a constant. Some of the new features in Frontiers, like the clever switching between 2D and 3D perspectives in the open world or the Cyberspace levels, are great ways to pack as much Sonic goodness as possible into one package, while others, especially the combat , are uninteresting experiments gone wrong. Still, I’ve really enjoyed my time running Frontiers, which makes it a very promising first attempt at what could be a bright new era for Sonic and his friends.