Sonic Team had a lot to prove with Sonic Frontiers when it was first announced. Instead of being a traditonal platformer, the game opts for a semi open-world approach that allows the blue hedgehog to dash around massive sandboxes at lightning speeds, explore and discover secrets and grind looping rails in several platforming challenges. While it doesn’t always work in its favour, Sonic Frontiers lays a fine foundation to improve on and it’s a fast step in the right direction.
The story of Sonic Frontiers will appease Sonic fans, but there’s not much here if you aren’t entirely familiar with the characters. Eggman has sent Sonic and friends spiraling onto the Starfall Islands, comprising of massive zones and biomes. Sonic has to locate and rescue his lost friends including Amy, Tails and Knuckles across the zones and thwart Eggman’s schemes. It’s a by-the-numbers story that really only serves as a way to get Sonic from one location/encounter to the next, but the narrative framework is basic enough to follow.
Each zone presents a semi open-world for Sonic to explore, usually themed around grassy fields, desert terrains or grey volcanic landscapes. Dotted around the zones are randomly placed rails for Sonic to grind on, which offer little platforming challenges in-between the action. Sometimes they serve a greater purpose like allowing Sonic to ascend to hard-to-reach points of interest, but for the most part, they feel randomly placed without much thought and aren’t integrated into the worlds very well.
Scattered across the zones are also enemy and boss encounters, like colossal machines that require Sonic to climb up along the side of its arms to reach weak points (similar to Shadow of the Colossus) or razor spinning top enemies that relentlessly pursue you before exploding. The enemy variety is decent and taking them down requires some creativity, ensuring that every fight was fun and varied.
Combat is perhaps the most exciting part of gameplay, fully leveraging Sonic’s speed and agility. A skill tree unlocks various new moves, including lightning fast projectiles that Sonic can throw out with kicks in mid-air or rapid shadow clone-style attacks. Sonic can also upgrade his health, attack, defense and speed through gems located around each zone (various items also let you progress the story, encouraging further exploration). Overall, combat is fun, flashy and stylish, utilising all of Sonic’s speed-oriented abilities well.
From the initial trailers, Sonic Frontiers was painted as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with a Sonic skin over it. While some music cues and world elements take pointers from Nintendo’s game, Sonic Team injects Frontiers with a pretty unique visual identity and world design that sets it apart. The world feels empty, but this was probably intentional to let Sonic stretch his legs across vast distances at blazing speeds without zooming past key locations. Littering the world with too much activity would compromise Sonic’s fast traversal, I imagine.
However, this also presents a set of obstacles that Sonic Team struggles to overcome. It often feels like the developer designed the large worlds and simply dropped Sonic in them, not really considering how to creatively structure these worlds that take advantage of Sonic’s speed. The rails offer distractions rather than smart ways to traverse around the environments. You won’t find looping mountains or big ramp dips like in traditional Sonic levels. It’s a world that feels better suited to another kind of game entirely.
Thankfully, this problem isn’t found in the game’s best addition: Cyber Space levels. Monoliths can be activited that transport Sonic to revamped 3D renditions of classic levels from the franchise’s history. Even though most levels are short-lived and don’t last longer than 3 minutes, they’re all incredibly fun and engaging. You’ll repeatedly visit each Cyber Space level to clear a set of challenges that then reward you with Vault Keys to unlock Chaos Emeralds, often culminating in cinematic boss battles at the end of each zone.
Every zone (or island) contains a handful of Cyber Space levels that you can track down. They’re entirely optional, but you wouldn’t want to miss out on some of Sonic Frontiers‘ best moments here. Finding these hidden levels became a priority for me as soon as I stepped into new areas – it was very addictive and rewarding. Going from the vibrant and high-energy Cyber Space dashes to the bleak sandboxes afterwards always felt jarring, though.
Where Sonic Frontiers greatly succeeds is in it’s combat, bosses and Cyber Space levels. It’s clear that Sonic Team put in a lot of effort into making fights exciting as well as rewarding long-time fans of the series. They’re all fresh ideas that work to invigorate the Sonic franchise, but there’s a lot of room for improvement too. With more creatively designed sandboxes and less reliance on rails to clutter empty space with busy work, Sonic Frontiers could’ve soared.
On a last note, Sonic Frontiers is also riddled with some distracting technical issues. Despite dashing at high speeds, I was surprised at how well the framerate kept up. Dips weren’t frequent and it ran stably for most of my playtime on PS5. However, the pop-ins were awful. Platforms, obstacles and objects constantly popped into frame. After a while, I fazed it out but in the early stretches of the game, it was very distracting and pulled me out of the experience multiple times. Some patch work can fix this, thankfully.
For all it gets right, Sonic Frontiers is the right direction that Sonic Team needs to be steering the series towards. The semi open-world template could still use a bit of creative work to give the speedy blue mascot a more suitably whacky playground, but some dull zones don’t hold it back from being a blast to play. The gameplay is satisfying, combat is simple yet rewarding and Cyber Space levels are superb. It’s not a revolutionary video game nor does it revolutionize the Sonic franchise itself, but it’s a good idea that, one day, could be great.
This Sonic Frontiers review is based on a code sent to us by SEGA. The game is currently available to purchase on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC at R950.
Story - 7/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 8/10
Sonic Frontiers is a good idea that can be great one day. Sonic Team have found a winning formula that can be improved upon with a more dynamic world and less technical issues, but it’s a solidly enjoyable time nonetheless.
Great Cyber Space levels
Creative boss battles
Unappealing world zones