Sonic the Hedgehog has enjoyed quite a renaissance in recent years thanks to Paramount’s blockbuster movies, but it’s been a while since video game fans had anything to celebrate. Developer Sonic Team is well aware of that fact and has worked hard to try and turn things around. The latest from the developer is sonic frontierswhich is the most ambitious game the character has starred in since 1998 sonic adventure. While the game isn’t perfect, Sonic Team was wildly successful in those ambitions.
When sonic frontiers begins, the hedgehog hero finds himself in the mysterious Starfall Islands. He, Tails, and Amy have tracked energy readings related to the Chaos Emeralds, but Sonic’s compatriots quickly disappear. The blue blur begins to explore his new environment, only to discover that his friends have been trapped in cyberspace and need his help. However, his environment is inhabited by gigantic titans and he will need the help of the Chaos Emeralds to defeat them.
One of the biggest changes to sonic frontiers is that players will spend most of their time exploring “Open Zones”. Each of the Starfall islands acts as a large open world to explore, and there are a number of items for Sonic to search for in order to progress. Memory Tokens will help Sonic’s friends recover his memories and advance the story, Portal Gears will allow Sonic to enter cyberspace levels, and Vault Keys will unlock the protective barriers that house the Chaos Emeralds. Sonic can also solve puzzles to map out sections of the island and obtain items that are used to increase his strength and defense. While the game doesn’t express it correctly, this last part is quite important as players will need to upgrade their strength and ring ability as much as possible before the first Titan battle.
Since the Sega Genesis days, Sonic games have always been about going fast, but also learning when to go slow. That has been a constant of the series, and continues to prevail in sonic frontiers. One thing I really appreciate about the game, though, is how much it allowed me to break free as Sonic; Open Zones give the character more freedom to move around than ever before. This might be the fastest the character has ever felt, and there’s something really rewarding about that. Unfortunately, despite how fast Sonic goes, there are few fast travel options and it can be a little frustrating at times trying to remember exactly how to get back to certain locations.
Although most of the game in sonic frontiers takes place in the Open Zones, the aforementioned Cyber Space stages provide a more traditional Sonic experience. These areas feature a mix of 2D and 3D and include familiar environments and enemies from previous games. Beating these stages unlocks a Vault Key, and players will need a bunch to get the Chaos Emeralds on each island. Players get additional Vault Keys to perform additional tasks, such as beating the stage in a set amount of time, finding all the Red Star Rings, and completing it with a set number of standard rings. It won’t take players long to clear most of the stages, but completing all of these tasks will challenge even the most enthusiastic of Sonic fans. There’s some really great level design in these stages, too, which adds an extra incentive to keep trying to complete each task.
Check sonic frontiers on the Nintendo Switch, and I was very curious to see how the handheld would handle the game. Prior to release, producer Takashi Iizuka stated that Sega’s Hedgehog Engine would allow the game to look and function the same on the Switch with minimal compromises. I’m happy to say that I found the game to run very well on Switch, even if the textures look a bit blurry. I ran into a performance issue, and it’s the game popup. As Sonic traverses the Open Zones, players will see parts of the world suddenly come into focus. Sometimes it’s just textures in the sand on the island of Ares, and other times it’s entire structures in the sky. The pop-in rarely had a negative impact on gameplay (I’ve never missed a critical jump or an enemy), but it definitely shows. While I only had a chance to play the Switch version, from what I’ve seen online it seems to be a problem with all versions of the game.
One of the biggest problems sonic frontiers has is that its gameplay loop can get a bit frustrating. Sonic explores each island, helps a friend recover his memories, finds all seven Chaos Emeralds, battles a giant enemy, and then does it all over again on the next island. Having to do this all over again for each island is likely to be tedious for some players. The sheer number of items to collect can also get a bit confusing. In a way, this aspect of sonic frontiers It reminded me of 90’s platformers like Banjo-Kazooie either donkey kong 64, which tasked players with collecting a ton of different items in order to progress. At first, I had a hard time remembering exactly which item was required to fish with Big the Cat, or which ones were needed to increase Sonic’s defense.
In previous Sonic games, it often felt like character continuity was an afterthought, but in sonic frontiers, writer Ian Flynn has really made the story feel like an important part of the narrative. As Sonic works to rescue his friends, borders treats players to neat flashback sequences to games like sonic the hedgehog 3 Y sonic adventure, and the dialogue also references past locations and characters. I was also impressed with how things like a recent tails tube The episode showed Sonic and Tails leaving for Starfall Islands, while the game’s animated prologue featuring Knuckles set up the character’s separate arrival. Fans unfamiliar with these things won’t be lost, but the game uses these elements to complement the story and character interactions, and is all the better for it.
The characterizations are aided by strong voice acting throughout. sonic frontiers features several veterans of the franchise, including Roger Craig Smith, Mike Pollock, and Colleen O’Shaughnessey. However, overall audio is fantastic. There is a wide variety of music, and it is suitable for every situation. One moment you’ll be listening to the peaceful piano theme from Kronos Island, the next you’ll be listening to an emo-influenced track by Kellin Quinn as you battle a massive Titan as Super Sonic. The fact that the music for this game has not gotten a nomination at The Game Awards is criminal.
sonic frontiers it has many small flaws, but its strengths are big enough that it’s hard to dwell on them too much. The game’s open areas are fun to explore, the cyberspace levels are well-crafted, and the audio is excellent. Sonic Team has clearly put a lot of thought and care into crafting this new direction for the series, and the results are impressive. I really hope Sega takes the elements that work in sonic frontiers and adjusts them for the next entry in the series. The somewhat repetitive game loop is bordersThe biggest problem, but one that most Sonic fans will probably be able to overlook thanks to everything the game does right. Sonic the Hedgehog was in desperate need of a game like this, and it feels great to say that Sonic Team (mostly) nailed it. The franchise’s future looks brighter than it has in a long time.
Rating: 4 out of 5
sonic frontiers is available now at Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC. The game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review, and it was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch OLED.