Sonic Frontiers – Game Review


Sonic Frontiers

(available for Playstation 4 & 5, Xbox Series S & X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, PS5 version used for review)

Sonic Frontiers has come out after being internally delayed for a year, with the hopes that this game would launch for Sonic’s 30th anniversary alongside Sonic Origins. It’s out now, and while we didn’t know much at the time, after seeing a trailer for it at last year’s Game Awards, it became apparent that this is an open world Sonic game (or Open Zone as the Sonic team like to call it).

You’re going to be doing a lot of what is typical in a Sonic game. The Boost Formula from games like Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations is still here, and the traditional Sonic levels are still in the game- known as the Cyberspace levels. While people were expecting it to be like Breath of the Wild, the team has pushed back against that also. You won’t be exploring one massive open world, instead you’ll be exploring five islands throughout the course of the game, with each island having a different biome. For example, the second island is a desert. The game also promised massive boss fights, which has been delivered on.

It seems like when it came out that a lot of people were suggesting that it was a good foundation for future games. The team has been ambitious with this open world design, but you can definitely tell that this is the first time that they’ve done it. It’s clear that the team is learning as they go along. This game is also made with a much smaller team than usual, but there were still a lot of really good names working on it. In the writer’s credits, we have Ian Flynn, who has been the writer of the Sonic comics for a very long time. He’s basically been taking control of that comic ever since Ken Penders left. I won’t go into much more detail on that, let’s just say I don’t have many nice things to say about Ken Penders..

I felt that I had a lot more confidence in this game, though I (like many others) waivered in my confidence when SEGA sent very boring looking gameplay to IGN over the summer, only for much better gameplay to come out in trailers and showcases.

It’s very clear to me that IGN was given very bad footage of a very early build, since I actually really enjoyed a lot of the routine in the gameplay, they just didn’t show it off well initially, especially there was no narrator to explain how any of the gameplay works.

PROS

  • Open world gameplay

The open world gameplay is my favourite aspect of the game and where I had the most fun. I loved running around as Sonic, exploring the islands and taking part in various platform challenges that were scattered about.

There are several things to do in the open world, platforming challenges to create memory tokens for whichever one of Sonic’s friends are trapped in the island. You’ve got mini bosses to defeat to gain gears which unlock Cyberspace levels- which is how you obtain portal keys which you use to get some of the Chaos Emeralds. The goal of each island is to get all seven Chaos Emeralds to challenge one of the gigantic robots that are created by new character Sage, a Cyberspace creation of Doctor Eggman, in order to challenge him for a massive boss fight as Super Sonic.

You also have to get other collectables by completing puzzles or challenges which fill out parts of the map. You also have to collect the younger members of the islands’ inhabitants and bring them back to their parents to increase your speed and ring capacity. I wouldn’t increase your ring capacity if I were you, it just makes it harder to get 400 rings. Increasing your speed, however, is something I recommend, since these islands get bigger along the game.

There’s also a ton of combat options, and you’re going to want to pull off some amazing combos. It’s not as complex as a Bayonetta or Devil May Cry game, but I still really enjoyed trying all of the various button combos in battles with enemies. Especially when you can press the Action (Triangle button on Playstation) to create a Cyclone, which can launch enemies in the air to make them vulnerable to attacks.

Once again, the homing attack isn’t simply a double jump, but in the case of PS5 it’s the Square button, and the Boost is now the back right trigger, or R2.

Sonic really controls well in the open world, I didn’t die that often because of lacking physics or over responsive controls. It was just very enjoyable to play! I loved finding new challenges to try out, and some of the platform challenges really encouraged me to try out new things.

It does what my favourite open world games do, where you can just enjoy exploring more than anything else. If you get bored of the routines early on though, it won’t get better. This is a game where it’s the exact same pace from start to finish.. There’s not much of a break from it. But the boss fights are some of the best parts of the game! Any one of them could have been a final boss in other Sonic games, and they do a fantastic job selling it. The pacing of them is great, and you have to learn their moves very quickly because you’re on a time limit with the amount of rings you have- and some boss fights won’t give you a refill. Believe me, they can knock you back so far that you won’t have a chance to even get back to them before your time runs out!

I also didn’t find the environments to be barren wastelands with no features like some were fearing. There were some landmarks that I could use to help navigate the world and that is always a great sign, in my opinion.

Bottom line is: I thoroughly enjoyed the open world aspect. While I was comparing it to games like Breath of the Wild and Shadow of the Colossus, the game that it really reminded me of was Bowser’s Fury; the add-on to the Switch version of Super Mario 3D World. While I think that both of them feel really experimental in what an open world take on their franchise would be, I felt that Sonic Frontiers feels like a fully realised concept. Bowser’s Fury felt like a good idea but it felt more like a prototype, whereas Sonic Frontiers feels like a first step. That’s not to diss Boswer’s Fury at all, I really liked that game and I think that it would be a great game if Nintendo wanted to flesh it out more.

  • Story

If you have been reading a lot of the Sonic comics you will easily recognise that this is a project written by Ian Flynn. The only thing he hasn’t done is make Eggman as despicable as he is in the comics. If you think Eggman is a goofy villain, read some of Flynn’s comics! He can make him really menacing.

As a writer, Ian Flynn tends to be very good at taking concepts already established in Sonic and doing something interesting with them, and he rarely tries to put his own stamp on the franchise- or at least not one that would shake up the franchise in a massive way. Frontiers is the first time it feels like he’s been given free reign to put his take on the future of the Sonic franchise. Despite some people disliking the story of this game, I felt like it read like one of his comics, which I really like! He does a very good job with character writing, especially with new character Sage. Her character arc is really good and I really like the relationship between her and Eggman that resembled a father-daughter relationship.

The only other thing I think about the story is that Eggman doesn’t really get much to do until later on in the game, although there is some good character writing. Particularly around Knuckles, and Tails even got an interesting character arc to such an extent that I think they are preparing for a Tails spin-off game which I am very much in favour of.

I also thought that he does a pretty good job with the rather basic requirements and story that he has been given. Sonic and his friends are drawn to a place where the Chaos Emeralds have congregated, and where it goes from there is kind of interesting, because I feel that Flynn has made a retroactive change to the origin of the Chaos Emeralds, though how much that will stick depends on how much this game is merged with the continuity of the comics. It likely will get some aspect in there, considering that the current series does take place immediately after Sonic Forces. Bottom line is, if you like the comics, you’ll like the story this time.

  • Performance and Resolution

When you start up Sonic Frontiers on PS5 or Xbox Series X it will immediately run at 4K 30fps. It does have a 60fps mode, and as soon as you get control of the game, pause it and turn on 60fps! Even if you have a 4k monitor, do not play this game in 4K 30. Not only is it unstable, but you have to play this game at 60! You’re not getting much of a bump to the resolution either, I thought that it would be 1080p when played at 60, but it’s actually a very good 1800p. As a result, the game looks fantastic!

This is the first open world game to be done in the Hedgehog Engine that has been used since Sonic Unleashed, and I think that that engine is ageing very well. The environments look really crisp and the mirage effect that you get in the desert island is really good. The performance on PS5 is really good and there are barely any drops at 60fps. I am aware that the only other format where 60fps is available is on PC. Xbox Series S owners, for example, are getting the same game, but it’s a weaker hardware so only runs at 30fps. I’ve heard that the Switch version runs the weakest and does have some issues- but I’ve also heard that people who are playing it that way are enjoying it but it doesn’t look as good in handheld.

Once you get this thing running at 60 and you have the versions that offer it, this game runs brilliantly, and I really don’t have many complaints.

  • Soundtrack

It’s a Sonic game, so the soundtrack is usually very good, but I think this one is a massive step up from Sonic Forces which I felt had a weaker soundtrack compared to other games.

The soundtrack can be divided into three parts, you have the rather ambient music that is played in the open world, the more techno and dance inspired tracks used for the Cyberspace world, and the metal music used for the boss fights. If you know my music taste, you’ll know that the boss fights were where I enjoyed the music the most, but I felt that the ambient music was really good also, and I actually felt that the techno and electronic music fit the Cyberspace worlds really well due to the technical nature of them.

As a result, I think I will be picking up the soundtrack of Sonic Frontiers in its entirety, instead of picking and choosing songs like how I did from the Sonic Forces soundtrack.

MIXED

  • Cyberspace levels

I’m quite glad that they brought in the Cyberspace levels, it feels like a good bridge between the classic 3D Sonic gameplay and the new style of gameplay, but I felt like they were a mixed bag. The negatives are that it’s nothing we haven’t already experienced in previous games. These are pretty much slight recreations from Sonic Generations, you’re going to be seeing Green Hill, Sky Sanctuary, etc, there’s only one new theme which is the Citadel.

The other problem is that they have a similar issue to Sonic Forces- which is that they’re really short. I don’t mind the fact that you have infinite lives in them, since your rank is based on how quickly you can finish the level and the clock doesn’t stop from start to finish. I did like the fact that they encourage replaying. There are four keys to get in each level, one for collecting all five rings, one for reaching the goal, one for getting an S rank, and one for finishing the level with a certain amount of rings. It encourages you to try out different routes of each level and to play the levels in different ways. I would try to get all of the red rings first time around since they’re usually the hardest to pull off since different rings can be in different routes of the map and might require multiple playthroughs. Luckily, any red rings you collect in your first playthrough stick, so you won’t have to get it the next time you go around.

The physics aren’t as good in the Cyberspace levels, since it feels like they were designed strictly for the open world.

I did enjoy these levels, I wouldn’t go back to repeat them over and over, but I did attempt to get all four portal keys in each one since there was a bonus for doing so. I kind of wish that there were fewer of them and more missions or different themes instead, and I wish they were a bit longer.

  • Moments the game goes 2D

I’ve been saying this since Sonic Unleashed, but I don’t think that this style of boost gameplay was meant for 2D. There are good moments where it works, but there’s just as many moments where it throws you off and feels restrictive.

Generations is the game that got the boost gameplay down the best, and while this game has its moments where it really works, it also has moments that threw me off and I didn’t enjoy it.

CONS

  • Popping

This game has some of the worst popping I have ever seen! You will see flat forms appear out of nowhere. I understand that this was a small time and this is their first open world game with this engine, but this really needs to be fixed in a follow up. It’s not terrible, you can still see stuff in the distance and popping isn’t an uncommon issue in other open world games, but I really felt it in this game.

  • Island 3

Island 3 is fine, but it’s where I felt the most frustration. It was almost impossible to find my way to it, this took a lot of frustrating navigation. It’s probably the most annoying. I was just trying to find out where I was meant to get to, all the while being cut off from various Chaos Emeralds.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I have to concur with other players by saying this is a rea\lly good foundation for future Sonic games. It does have performance issues and I felt that the physics didn’t quite work in Cyberspace, but I probably had more fun with this 3D Sonic game compared to the other ones since Sonic Generations. If it wasn’t for the popping and other small issues, this could be a contender for the best game I’ve played this year. As it stands, it’s a game I really like and is a really good Sonic game, but I’m wondering if I’m going to still have that opinion several years down the line when we have another game that uses this formula but has extended out the ideas even further.

Final Score: 8.8/10
Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia10th July 2024
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