Much like any game from this franchise of anthropomorphic characters, I booted up Sonic Frontiers with some degree of trepidation given its long-standing curse of quality control and even more so considering my sour taste for open-world games. However, I was left pleasantly surprised by this entry and can say that even with its flaws, this is the most fun I have had with a mainline Sonic game in a long time!
Without giving too much away, Doctor Eggman (as is his want) is once again hunting for technological marvels in his quest for power and stumbles upon evidence of a race known only as the “Ancients” and a seemingly dormant portal… to where? Nobody knows. Eggman uploads an artificial intelligence known as Sage to hijack the technology causing the Ancients to awaken and counter with a small army of hostile robots. Sage then redirects her attention towards a protective protocol forcing Eggman into Cyber Space. Attracted by these rumblings, the Chaos Emeralds are drawn to the source with Sonic and his friends in tow. With everyone converged at the Starfall Islands, the cast is sucked into a wormhole and leaves Sonic as the only one fast enough to escape Cyber Space and return to the real world.
Once awakened, Sonic is guided by a disembodied voice and is tasked with collecting the Chaos Emeralds to defeat the surrounding island’s Titans and free his friends from Cyber Space… and this is where the game begins.
Sonic Frontiers by all accounts is a glorified playground of random (AND OPTIONAL) content with an attempted layer of deep lore to tie together previous titles much like its soulslike and Breath of the Wild inspirations, as such the narrative remains mostly ambiguous because of it but luckily storyline is not generally a major selling point for a Sonic game. Although, after spending time with Frontiers I am hoping that it will be going forward. The building blocks for a brand-new saga are all here.
When you are not platforming there is plenty of room to zip across the games five islands, play minigames, speak to locals and fight robots with the new battle system and skill tree upgrades. This time around Sonic is ready for a fight and has the most extensive move list to date. Combining dodges, parries, counters, and combos Sonic has a skill for every enemy including the new Cyloop ability that allows you to interact with objects and harm anything within its “loop.” Sonic Frontiers encourages you to fight strategically and for the most part it works quite well, enemies above the common fodder require you to make them vulnerable first before you can lay on the hurt and prevents the game from feeling dull by deviating from the trope of the “one-button-mash” routine and instead focuses on using every free button available on the controller to use his skills. There is a distinct focus on learning attack patterns to optimise your damage potential much like a soulslike or hack n’ slash title. However, getting into a flow of knowing what does the most damage and repeating it becomes a matter of muscle memory and grows dull and unrewarding for the common enemies (Unless you choose to ignore them).
While this might not sound like anything new, the uniqueness and volume of each enemy type and the varying amount of time and effort needed to take down these “Elite” enemies is astounding, every enemy is made special with their own behaviour and scripted events, Mini-bosses especially who come with their own soundtrack. No one enemy is made as a carbon copy with a simple palette swap and that feels increasingly rare to see nowadays. As for the Boss battles…
Pitting Sonic against Titans of Kaiju-level proportions in an equally unexpected but somehow appropriate display of Dragon Ball Z-like action turns the gameplay on its head. These Titan events turns Sonic Frontiers into a 1v1 arena deathmatch (Heavy Metal soundtrack included). Powered by the Chaos Emeralds in his Saiyan-looking Super form, Sonic can unleash new and enhanced abilities to weaken these Titans for a cinematic final blow with little regard for collateral damage. Once again very unexpected but once you experience it you cannot help but look forward to the next major battle to see how Sonic tackles these giants. Boss battles, you got it right Sonic Team.
Collectibles, side-quests, and all manner of grind rails, boost pads and springs litter the terrain in a juxtaposed fashion from the world around it and leans heavily into the storyline’s premise of blending the real world and Cyber Space together to justify it. The game asks you to take the jarring quantity of contrasted natural environment and inorganic, suspended in mid-air platforms, rails, and balloons with a pinch of salt in exchange for gameplay enjoyment. I will admit that every Sonic game has this but it felt stranger within the context of open-world where content is scattered and less deliberate.
Sonic Frontiers has not totally abandoned its roots however. Gateways to Cyber Space are dotted across each of the game’s islands wherein the more familiar levels of classic side scrolling and High-speed 3D courses reside. Personally, I found more enjoyment in those bitesize levels than anything else the game had to offer, mostly in part to the remarkable soundtrack. I have no qualms about saying Sonic Frontiers has the best soundtrack of a Sonic game ever! SEGA really knows their stuff when it comes to making music for their games and I have yet to be disappointed by them in that regard. From EDM to Heavy Metal, Techno to Lo-fi hip hop, Sonic Frontiers has a song to compliment every situation. The entire soundtrack is a masterclass in how to foster a memorable and full-bodied experience long after its shelf life.
Once again, this is the first time a Sonic game has been open-world and if it was not for my obsessive-compulsive desire for Platinum Trophies, I would not have realised how half-hearted the open-world design actually is. Of the many gateways you will find in your adventure, one will take you to Big the Cat where you can fish with him in various bodies of water. In exchange for reeling in all manner of sea life and iconic items from the franchise, you can buy every item and reward available for collection in the open-world and Cyber Space. The game basically gives you the option of playing the open-world or fishing with Big the Cat for a few minutes per island to get what you need to progress plus some interesting extras…
Of the items available for trade are some exclusive Eggman audio logs that dive deeper into the Professor’s thoughts and feelings than we have ever seen before. It was these logs that endeared me to Eggman and it is a shame that these were not included in the games main story as it would have helped to make the narrative clearer and more palatable for a wider audience instead of going down the “deep lore” route. There’s a genuinely interesting story hidden in this game but I can’t help but feel it is overshadowed by the open-world that makes so much of the character motivation and discovery vaguely optional. Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing how they develop Eggman as a more rounded and 3-dimensional villain (or anti-hero) in future titles which leads me to my next point.
Chronologically speaking this is the oldest the characters have been which means the team speak with a degree of maturity unlike what has come before – oftentimes introspective and with a deeper empathy for the world around them. I appreciated how much time has been invested into recognising that the entire cast have experienced a great deal from previous titles and are starting to notice in themselves where they are lacking and where they need to improve – establishing the foundations for further character development. Even Sonic himself behind the humour and bravado is beginning to show the signs of a deeper wisdom and empathy for the world around him. There is a positive and hopeful relatability to these characters that I have not seen before.
Lastly, Sonic Frontiers is the most bug free experience I have had of a Sonic game in recent memory (ON PS5). Sonic Frontiers for all its shortcomings shows promise for the future perception of Sonic titles and I for one am looking forward to not only the next Sonic game but also its soundtrack. A definitive must play for fans of the series and a great springboard for newcomers to see and experience Sonic and the assorted history of its gameplay styles in one.