For all onlookers and reviewers, Sonic Frontiers was part of the most anticipated games of 2022. From a rough start in the marketing department this June, it slowly built up its hype over the following months. As such it’s easy to wonder how this story full of ups and downs ends; after a review of the game, is Sonic Frontiers an improvement? or even a beginning to some “renaissance era” for the blue blur after a decade of mediocre games?
Sonic Frontiers is available on PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Xbox Series as well as on the Switch for $59,99.
Story: Mystery Above All
Unlike previous games, Sonic Frontiers bet on the concept of mystery to entice players into exploring the Starfall Islands. There is another plot involving saving Sonic’s friends from being trapped into Cyber Space. However this is more of a classic plot so as to not overwhelm new players. The highlight of the story is exactly what Sonic Team wanted: discovering who were the previous inhabitants. How did they live, where did they go? There is also the mystery of Sage, which when solved may feel out of nowhere if you do not take any focus on interacting with her and collecting Egg Memos from Big the Cat throughout the game.
This mystery plot was the best part of the game’s story from my own experience, each of Sonic friends you interact with will have their own side stories where, between telling their experience in Cyber Space, may talk about the ancient inhabitants accordingly to their field of expertise. You may of course choose to ignore the side stories and only know the big lines on who these ancients were while progressing through the main story. It would be not be recommended though, as that may make you finish the game with still unanswered questions. It seems Sonic Team intends the mystery plot to be a safety measure so old fans don’t feel like the story has nothing new for them while newcomers can casually enjoy a simpler main plot.
The dialogues have noticeably improved from the last decade, Sonic recovered his focus on being easy going rather than trying to be comical at every turn, he can be serious when it needs to be and have emotions other than being a standup comedian. His friends also improved in that they actively show they are their own characters with their own hardships Sonic has to help them through. Even Eggman, despite being off screen for most of the game, shows more of his character than his usual fixation on beating Sonic and conquering the world whenever you hear him. Showing much more than constant anger we are used to from him since Sonic Unleashed.
Gameplay: Glimpse Into a New Format
The new addition to the franchise is at it’s core gameplay. The focus is no longer on the traditional linear stages where you have to go from start to finish as fast as possible. In this game we have the “Open-Zone”, a big playground filled with platforms, puzzles, and enemies of various size. We do have the traditional levels with Cyber Space which this article will also go through.
Open-Zone: True Freedom
Sonic Frontiers has given a new sense of freedom we haven’t had yet. After an open hub world in games like Sonic Adventure and Sonic Unleashed. We have an open-space filled with obstacles, rails and platforms. As well as enemies to stop in our track. It is up to the player to approach this new format.
Exploration: A Giant Playground
Running around the open space and doing platforming is the best part of the experience. As a first in the series, the game lets you customize how Sonic controls. This means that if a player thinks Sonic isn’t fast enough running or turning, you can change that through sliders! As for platforming, there are a lot of rail grinding, wall climbing, balloons popping, light dashes and homing attacks to do to reach platforms and memory tokens you need to progress through the game.
To expand your internal map, there are a huge variety of mini puzzles to complete, allowing you to see more of it. Besides needing a certain amount of tokens to begin important cutscenes, you are pretty much open to go wherever at your own pace. You could very well do puzzles at the other side of the map and the game will let you.
What can be irritating is that some puzzles can only be done at night time with no way to fast forward or lock the day/night cycle.
Combat: Simplistic, Unbalanced, Yet Fun.
Combat elements are in the Open-Zone. Despite lack of depth in the list of possible combos, there are interesting ways to chain attacks as players progress through the skill tree. Getting the order and timing right rewards players with amazing combos giving stunning visuals as they defeat enemies. Speaking of, there is a noticeable variety of foes. Besides the first type you encounter. Each has efficient weak points you have to figure out to clear them out as fast as possible. Mini Bosses named “Guardians” takes more effort defeating them and have less obvious weaknesses. As for the actual bosses, they are more focus in dealing the most damage in a limited time according to the number of rings you have on hand.
Unfortunately the game offers less variety of enemies with the final island, they are mostly reskinned foes from the first island but much tougher and smarter. And once you find out that there are no timing required to parry opponents, combat has become less rewarding when you do so. Parrying must not be this easy in order to be fun.
It should also be pointed out that after the game is finished. There is neither boss rush or a new game+, a shame for an otherwise great experience.
Cyber Space: Mixed Feelings
Cyber Space is, as stated previously, the traditional style of “go from point A to Point B” levels we have come to know. But perhaps it is too literal when it comes to the term “traditional” levels. To start with, there are only four themes in the entire game. Three of which are classic environments we have already seen a ton of in the past: Green Hill, Chemical Plant and Sky Sanctuary. The only original environment is themed around highways. Another issue is that there seems to have more level layouts that were taken from past games than original ones. Either Sonic Generations, Unleashed or Adventure 2. However on a player’s first playthrough. There is a certain good feeling when you suddenly recognize levels you have played 10 to 20 years ago. And when there are original levels, it is clear there is potential.
It should also be pointed out that Cyber Space locks Sonic’s physic settings while in a level. This means that unlike the Open-Zone areas, players are forced to control Sonic with settings they may not be comfortable with, either in terms of raw/boost speed or turning speed. It is possible to get used to it, however it is a shame to be this limited, especially if the time requirement for S rank is tight to reach in some levels.
In summary, the only potential fun in Cyber Space for old players are trying to figure out what layouts are original and those that are not. For new players though, it is a completely blind experience and therefore a good time. That is if they can get a hang of the controls.
Fishing Minigame: Relaxing, but Overpowered
Unexpectedly, Big the Cat made a return for Sonic Frontiers in a form of fishing minigame. Purple coins you find throughout the island allows you to fish at his Cyber Space fishing areas. Even though the gameplay is simplistic, pressing Square within the red circle(s), the relaxing aspect and catching all kinds of stuff made it very addicting. Better, with each fishing points you get from doing so, you can trade them for useful items. This ranges from portal gears, memory tokens, key vaults, to even stat boosting items like Kocos as well as Red and Blue Seeds. Exclusively, this is the only place where you can buy 24 “Egg Memos.” Each contains voice recordings of Eggman talking about various subjects of present and past events. An interesting treat for old fans and for those that want to delve deeper into the mystery surrounding the islands, as well as Sage.
Unfortunately for the game, this minigame can be too useful for its own good. Should a player want to get all of the stats at its maximum early on. They should be aware that boosting Sonic’s attack will only make the game easier with time. Whereas not levelling attack will make the game harder as you progress. In this aspect, it is better to level both attack and defense as you find their seed while exploring for a more balanced game. Rather than buy all the seeds from Big directly. This is not going into the subject of being tempted into buying the necessary items. Instead of actually taking your time and experiencing the entire game’s content. So if you want to have a fulfilling experience. Only go fishing to buy Kocos and Egg Memos which actually does the game a favor.
Graphics and Sound: Beautiful to the Eyes and Ears
The graphics of Sonic Frontiers is good for what the PS4 is capable of at 1080p 30fps. With little to no frame drop even when the fast paced action is at its peak. It should however be criticized about the display of springs and platforms that tends to appear only when they are close to the player. Besides being distracting, it might make collecting memory tokens harder than it was designed to be. For example you may find a platform in the air containing a memory token. But the way to get up there may be farther than the game can load. This leaves you to run around and try different other platforming sections that does not actually lead to your desired destination.
Sound design is as good as every major games of the franchise. What is different is some of the mood this game is trying to convey. Outside of Cyber Space stages, which contains the typical energetic rythm and instruments. The Open-Zone features calm, soothing and melancholic themes for every islands. Big’s fishing minigame notably uses LoFi beats for its music, a welcomed surprise in a Sonic game. The highlight of this game’s soundtrack is with the boss music. All of them features vocal rock music adding on to the amazing boss fights’ visuals and gameplay. Needless to say, if you enjoy previous sonic games’ music, you will not be disappointed at all. Only complaint is the “boost sound filter” you cannot remove. It drowns out the original music to simulate deafness from high speed.
All in all, as this review was being written. It was more difficult to find flaws than praises for Sonic Frontiers. Something the series hasn’t accomplished for too long. It is far from perfect and there are many rooms for improvement. But it is a massive step up in quality from the last decade. Let us hope Sonic Team keeps up on improving the format. Much like Sonic Adventure 2 did for its older sibling Sonic Adventure. It is a game to try, especially for its brand new format.
This game was reviewed on the PS4.