The Blueprint for Sonic’s Future
A blue hedgehog flying through the sky, taking down colossal creatures to a ’00s style nu-metal soundtrack. This is where Sonic Frontiers is at its best. When you’re at full speed, flitting around the environment and taking on bad guys. Unfortunately, Sonic comes off the rails all too quickly.
It’s hard to fully sum up Sonic’s swap to 3D. It nailed the landing with innovative controls and interesting environments, only to fail to match up to this with subsequent changes. There’s something that fans connected to with Sonic Adventure that the team hasn’t sustained since.
This isn’t to say the Blue Blur hasn’t had his moments but those moments rarely worked up to something bigger. With Sonic Frontiers, they’ve landed on shaky footing but I see something excellent in the future
The Simple Setup
With its story, Sonic Frontiers doesn’t try to confuse you too much. You are stranded on an island caught between reality and cyberspace, where you have to save your friends and take down Doctor Eggman. It’s a setup that feels familiar with a twist that allows it to grow as a franchise. While the story itself is simple, it manages to play with themes of death, growing up, and moving on in interesting ways.
Fundamentally, these are themes that work incredibly well for Sonic. As we grow up, he too has grown alongside us. Exploring times lost and times still to come is something that fits his character. In pursuit of this, the world is a surprisingly lonely one. You learn about the islands through visions and holograms of your friends but your ability to interact with them is limited by the game itself.
Sonic is energetic and friendly, some who needs people around him. When you lose that, there’s a certain desperate loneliness. Despite everything, you must carry on.
Going Full Throttle
This is where the gameplay comes in. As you might expect, Sonic Frontiers is a fast game. It is made up of small open worlds and dedicated levels, swapping from 3D to 2D at a whim. Unfortunately, there’s a slight disconnect that happens here. When the game looks great, swapping from rails to ground and from one perspective to another, it almost entirely takes the controls away from you.
It occasionally feels like the game doesn’t fully trust you with Sonic’s speed. This is a shame as Sonic Frontiers has robust leveling mechanics that are leveraged to really give you some sense of progression. Sonic’s ring function as a health system, and you can also upgrade defense, attack, and speed. Speed and rings are upgraded by finding tiny little creatures around the map where defense and power are upgraded with seeds.
This gives you a reason to explore the map as you’re always working towards something. As is the case with modern open-world games, you are given a big map, with tiny little objectives to clear to unlock more of it. These come in the form of small puzzles and quests. Generally speaking, this is pretty well implemented, spawning a grinding rail around the map as you unlock. This makes it much quicker to get around the more you learn about it.
Unfortunately, the game is subject to some pretty horrific pop-in and a multitude of graphical and performance glitches. This includes falling through parts of the map, never quite hitting the right part of a button, some enemies, rings, and objectives not showing up, and more. These occasionally annoy and sometimes entirely slow down the game.
Hitting the Sweet Spot
Though there are plenty of issues in the moment-to-moment gameplay, Sonic occasionally hits this perfect moment where you can tell exactly what the devs want you to see. When you’re grinding on a rail meters above the ground you just conquered or flying through the air with the help of the chaos emeralds, things just click together and work.
With Sonic Frontiers, I see a wonderful vision of what Sonic can be and what Sonic has been consistently held back by. When it really trusts you, it can build up speed but I don’t fully see a world worth trusting. It has the building blocks of something great but that blue hedgehog hasn’t quite reached maturity yet.
Disclaimer: Indigo Pearl provided the game used for this review.
This review is the critique and thoughts of one writer. If you want to see how other critics felt then check it out on OpenCritic.
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