The Blue Blur has been part of my life since I was 5 years old, ever since I got a Sega Mega Drive for Christmas. A story I always tell to explain how much I love Sonic is that when I was in kindergarten, I used our stereo to record the sound of me playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on tape so that I could listen to it while I was at school on a Walkman. Yes, I was that obsessed. 27 years later, Sonic isn’t as popular as he used to be, and Sega’s attempts at bringing the iconic hedgehog into the 3D gaming world have mostly been average at best. Arguably the most popular Sonic game since the originals on 16-bit consoles was Sonic Mania, which is just a new version of the Sega classics in all it’s 2D glory. That’s saying something given the multitude of releases over the years.
Then comes Sonic Frontiers. Sega’s first attempt at a semi open world Sonic game. It appears they may have finally got the recipe right!
One of my biggest worries when anticipating this game is that it would be too far removed from the Sonic we know and love, and that would detract from my enjoyment. This worry was immediately dashed when after the opening sequence I was thrust into a 2.5d level and challenged to get to the finish as fast as possible while collecting rings and coins along the way. Acting as a sort of tutorial, the first “level” reminded me a lot of Sonic Colours, which was recently rereleased on the last generation of consoles. While I prefer the side scrolling Sonic levels, the 3rd person style over shoulder levels is also fun. To my delight, some levels that are accessed through portals in the open world are side scrolling 2.5D gems that shine in the engine and really brought me back to my childhood.
Once the player completes the tutorial sections of Sonic Frontiers, the map opens to a large expanse of open world, The Starfall Islands. Full of rings, ramps, rails, springs, and of course enemies. The enemy design in Frontiers is somewhat bland, with grey robots making up the bulk of the smaller enemies. Even the bosses are mostly grey and red, which does tie into the story, but I feel that they could have been designed a bit better to give some variety. The bosses and enemies are fun to fight, however. A lot of variety lies in the skill tree that can be unlocked for Sonic. The tree includes skills such as the Sonic Boom, a high-speed kick that shoots projectiles at enemies, and the Cyloop that creates a trail of light around enemies causing them to explode. Boss fights are exciting, giving the player massive, sometimes skyscraper sized enemies to overcome with different skills.
Another RPG element is upgradable stats. Players can collect different seeds to upgrade their attack and defence stats, and rescue cute little animals called Kokos to return to their elder for speed and ring capacity upgrades. Saving animals is yet another throwback to the classic Sonic games that I was excited to see.
The story behind Sonic Frontiers starts out rather vague, so I recommend reading Sonic Frontiers Prologue: Convergence, a digital comic released prior to the game, and watching Sonic Frontiers Prologue: Divergence an animated short created from Knuckles’ perspective if you are into the story side of the Sonic games.
Without giving too much away, Sonic and his friends are stuck in another world. Sonic must work out how to free Amy, Tails and Knuckles, while also uncovering and discovering the mysteries of The Starfall Islands and all they hold. Travelling across deserts, fields, forests, and ruins, the player unravels the mystery that has been thrust upon them.
To keep to tradition, there are a lot of areas of the world that “lock” the camera and shoot the player along rails and off springs, almost like mini cutscenes, making the player feel as though they are playing an old school Sonic game for a brief moment. While this can feel jarring at first, I believe it is a great tie in that helps ground Frontiers as a true Sonic game. Sonics movement can be tough to control at times, given that Sega decided to make him extremely fast, as should be the case. Rather than slow everything down so Sonic translated well to an open world RPG, the developer opted to include complete control sliders over Sonic’s speed and handling, which is a great way of allowing players who prefer slower gameplay to experience Frontiers in whatever way they wish.
As is the case with most Sonic games, the initial goal is for the player to unlock and collect the seven chaos emeralds, which allow Sonic to go Super Sonic and defeat the largest and most dangerous of enemies. Chaos emeralds are unlocked with Vault Keys, which are in turn unlocked by completing missions in Portal Gates, the 2.5D Sonic levels that resemble classic Sonic. To access each Portal Gate, the player must defeat bosses to collect Portal Gears. Other collectables include Memory Containers, which are used to free Sonic’s friends such as Amy and Tails.
Throughout the five main areas there are multitudes of puzzles, challenges, races, and side quests, along with many portal gates to complete and bosses to fight. The player can complete puzzles and challenges to uncover parts of the in-game map and highlight points of interest that were previously hidden. Sonic can also go fishing in purple portal gates, unlocked with the use of secret purple coins. Frontiers has a full day/night cycle and dynamic whether, which is a welcome addition, especially since it affects gameplay. Some challenges are only available at night for example.
When the player is in a loading screen, they are thrust into the “training simulator” which goes over basic controls as well as skills and combos. The training simulator can also be brought up by following the on-screen prompt during open world play. In the latter case the latest unlocked skill or other feature will be taught.
I did have some gripes with the game. The sheer variety of collectibles seems unnecessary at times. While the graphics are very nice for a Sonic game, there were times where the draw distance seemed low compared to what players expect from open world RPGs these days, even the likes of Breath of the Wild (which released in 2017) did a better job of managing assets that were far away from the player. When the player is at a high point, they can clearly see assets popping in and out of view (see video below). Another graphical flaw that I noticed is that rain looks very odd when it is hitting Sonic’s character model. Almost like static on an old CRT TV, which was really jarring. If the player looks closely at the ground, the polygon count also feels low. All of these graphical issues may be attributed to the multi-platform nature of the game, but regardless the game would be prettier if they were not present.
All round, Sonic Frontiers is an excellent game that is fun for the whole family. The game is suitable for even the youngest of the kids, given the violence is extremely mild.