The release of Sonic Frontiers is less than a month away now and the internet is a flurry of opinions on the iconic hedgehog’s latest adventure. Some are eagerly awaiting Sonic’s Breath of the Wild moment, while others are definitely more on the skeptical side to say the least. And judging from the past 3D entries in the Sonic series, who can really blame them?
We have heard some less-than-desirable Sonic Frontiers first impressions from play-testers earlier this year, but Sega has had more time to polish up this time around. Could Sonic Frontiers be the redemption of Sega’s 3D Sonic games? After getting the opportunity to play the game at PAX Aus myself, I think it could be.
The Wide World of Sonic Frontiers
The game begins with Sonic getting separated from his friends Tails and Amy. He finds himself dumped on a mysterious island where an AI promptly commands him to collect the Chaos Emeralds. And with that brief introduction, your adventure begins.
The majority of Sonic Frontiers takes place in open zone islands, the first of which I got to explore during my 20-minute preview at PAX. It was next to impossible to experience this vast area and not think immediately of Breath of the Wild. As a massive Breath of the Wild fan, I am certainly not complaining, but there was more than one feature in this world that drew me back to Zelda’s first open-world experience.
The world was a huge and open expanse yet completely devoid of any other life forms (organic ones, at least). There were some clusters of enemies here and there as well as massive looming guardians to defeat in epic battles. The land was also speckled with puzzles to complete in return for Vault Keys or opening gates to gain entry to other parts of the Island.
Less Is More
This area, while huge and relatively empty, was littered with grind rails and speed boosts. Hitting these right can make for some classic and satisfying gameplay as you fly around the island at top speed. But there are so many obstacles in the way, like rocks and trees, that make it hard to do what Sonic does best. Which is, of course, go really really fast.
One of the major complaints circling Sonic Frontiers are similar to those that plagued Breath of the Wild. That the world was too big and too empty. In Sonic’s case, it is vital that the world remains somewhat empty. Sonic needs to go fast, and if the world is packed with assets and random items you’re just going to bump into something every two seconds.
This would not only be incredibly annoying, but it would probably affect the games graphical fidelity as well. As Sonic is going at super speed throughout these Islands, there would be a crazy amount of pop-in if the world was filled with random assets. In this case, less is definitely more.
My Sonic Frontiers first impression was short, but I did get the opportunity to defeat several of the games Guardians. These are massive mechanical bosses that you have to destroy in order to collect another one of the game’s collectibles: Portal Gears.
This is where the Sonic Frontiers gameplay loop came together for me. It more or less goes like this: defeat Guardians and earn Portal Gears. Open Portal with said Gears and complete Cyberspace levels to earn Vault Keys. Use Vault Keys to open Emerald Vaults to collect Chaos Emeralds. So on, and so forth.
And these Cyberspace levels are where Sonic fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief because this is where you go really really fast. These Shrine-like Cyberspace levels are more akin to Sonic’s 2D side-scrolling speedy origins. While the levels themselves aren’t exactly the same as the old-school Sonic levels we have all come to love, they are enough to scratch that nostalgic itch.
Sonic’s New Moves
I was skeptical about the gameplay of Sonic Frontiers following some of the opinions I had seen about it so far. But overall, I was very impressed! The movement and combat system felt very polished and learning all of the new combat mechanics was intuitive for me. Sonic Frontiers has a pretty robust combat system, featuring satisfying auto attacks, parrying, and the first skill in Sonic’s sizeable skill tree – Cyloop.
Cyloop is a valuable attack ability where Sonic draws a glowing blue ring around an enemy, dealing a huge amount of damage once the circle is released. Cyloop is very similar (almost identical) to Astral Chain’s Chain Bind, so will be quick to master for those who have previously played that game.
Sonic’s Slippery Targeting System
One thing that I did find finicky about the combat system, however, was the targeting mechanic. Targeting in most other games allows the camera to follow the enemy you are locked onto. In this case, though, I found that when I was dodging attacks and running around the enemy, I would lose track of it as the camera was following me rather than focusing on my foe.
This made me feel like I wasn’t actually locked onto the enemy, so I was frequently targeting on and off throughout the battle. While being locked on to the enemy still allowed Sonic’s moves to hit their target, I would have preferred the camera to lock on as well so I could always see what the Guardian was doing next and what move it was preparing to hit me with.
Graphics & Sound
Sonic Frontiers excelled in terms of its soundtrack which matched the vastness of the open area perfectly. Sonic’s exploration of the abandoned area was accompanied by a minimalistic piano track that inspired the same feelings of wonder and mystery as that of Breath of the Wild.
The world itself also impressed me. The landscape of the first island is breathtaking. The rolling green hills were rendered with great detail and embellished with the contrasting glow of the speed boosts and neon blue streaks that Sonic paints across the landscape.
Overall the graphics and textures looked great, albeit for a few pop-ins of assets, such as the floating grind rails. These inexplicable floating rails did inspire some questions regarding physics, but hey, it’s a Sonic game. So what would it be without a good grind rail or two?
My Sonic Frontiers First Impressions
After my tease of Sonic Frontiers, I was left feeling more excited than ever for its release. There hasn’t been a 3D Sonic adventure that has really hit the spot for me yet, but this one looks and feels very promising! The finicky targeting system was my only issue with the small part of the game that I got to experience, and is likely something I would get used to quickly. Everything else the game had to offer felt satisfying, smooth, and more polished than I expected it to be.
My 20-minute play test went by in what felt like 10, and I was left wanting more after my screen went blank. If that isn’t a good sign of what Sonic fans have in store for them on November 8th, I don’t know what is! It is safe to say, my Sonic Frontiers first impression was a good one.