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Sonic Frontiers

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: Nov. 8, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Sonic Frontiers'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 7, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PST

Sonic Frontiers is a new open-zone, action-adventure game, where Sonic sets off on a new adventure in the mysterious Starfall Islands in search of the missing Chaos Emeralds.

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Sonic Frontiers opens as most Sonic games do. Dr. Eggman is up to his nefarious schemes, this time going to the mysterious Starfall Islands in search of the Chaos Emeralds. Sonic, Amy and Tails head over and stop him. A portal opens up and sucks all of them into a strange cyber dimension. Sonic is the only one able to escape, and he must find a way to free his friends from the other dimension by exploring the ruins of Starfall Island.

Sonic Frontiers' plot is weird. It's a slow-paced and melancholy game about a blue cartoon hedgehog investigating a dead kingdom and helping the tragic spirits of its war dead find some kind of peace. Every character, including Eggman, seems more contemplative and thoughtful, with most of the cast discussing how they need to leave Sonic and do their own things. Eggman is a weird (though likable) figure who spends almost the entire game quietly doting on his robot daughter instead of cackling and trying to blow up Sonic. In large part, the game ends up feeling like Shadow of the Colossus with a quipping blue hedgehog.

The basic structure of Sonic Frontiers is somewhat similar to Breath of the Wild. You're on a large, open island and can explore it freely. Scattered throughout the islands are various challenges, including boss monsters, challenges, puzzles, platforming and even special stages. The result almost feels like a free-roaming Sonic Unleashed level.

Instead of traversing a single, free-flowing level, you encounter platforming challenges that unlock collectibles to progress in the game. You can take them on however you like, but the game has a certain flow. Your main goal is to collect Chaos Emeralds. To collect Chaos Emeralds, you need vault keys or character memories. Vault keys require you to complete special stages that play like a Sonic Generations-style game, while character memories are prizes for most things. You can also find special seeds or hidden creatures to trade to level up Sonic's attacks and defenses.

The same basic gameplay mechanics are still present, and the core gameplay loop has not changed significantly from Sonic Colors or Sonic Unleashed. Many of the same basic challenges, from grind rails to guided springs that launch you. If you've played the previous games, you can almost pick up where you left off.

Perhaps the most significant difference is in the combat. In most cases, combat is the standard homing attack from previous games. Against bosses or stronger enemies, you can perform combos. Pressing the Square button makes Sonic launch repeated attacks, and you can dodge and even parry. As you progress, you unlock new attacks that work into your combo, ranging from the classic stomp to shoot homing lasers. Certain enemies have specific weaknesses that lead to their defeats.

One other particularly nice feature is that you can now effectively customize Sonic's speed. The option menu lets you customize everything from acceleration to turning speed. Reducing acceleration makes Sonic's platforming feel more comfortable. I strongly recommend experimenting with this, as it can significantly impact the fun.

In addition to the overworld style, you can unlock special memory stages, which are based in the style of previous Sonic titles but are entirely new levels. Memory stage levels are not super long — usually around two minutes — but they feel genuinely fun to play and are well designed. The "repeat Sonic's past hits" song is getting a bit old. After Generations and Sonic Mania, I'm more interested in seeing new things than old. If you finish the game, you can unlock Arcade mode, which lets you play the "real" stages in order, effectively making it more of a standard Sonic game.

There are also a ton of various minigames and side-quests. Some unlock more of the map for you to view and create a series of interconnected rails that serve as most of the fast-travel mechanics. (There is another type of fast-travel, but it's far more limited in location.) Others are necessary to progress the plot and range from timed skydives to playing pinball or Ikaruga to progress. Not every minigame is a hit, but they're usually enough to keep things interesting and break up the standard Sonic gameplay.

Each of the main islands is bookended by a titan fight, which requires Sonic to be in Super Sonic form, and it plays a lot like the big final battles from most of the 3D Sonic games, right down to the blaring music. Generally, they are more of a timed puzzle than anything else, with each of the boss' attacks generally having a counter you can use to open them up to combos or special attacks. They are a great spectacle, and my biggest complaint is that they make the final boss feel anemic, as it isn't a change from the last few bosses you've fought.

Sonic Frontiers is the first time in a long while that a gimmick has worked for Sonic. In theory, it isn't that different from Sonic Adventure, but the larger space and busier overworld help it feel like it belongs in a Sonic game. It's certainly more than the sum of its parts. I was ambivalent while I learned the controls, but before long, I found it incredibly relaxing to zoom around, jump on platforms, and find stuff.

Sonic Frontiers is one of the easier Sonic games. While many areas only give you one attempt before you restart a challenge, a few challenges are punishing and demand a lot. Boss fights are as easy or as hard as you make them with upgrades. If you get enough upgrades, you'll tear through minibosses and big Super Sonic bosses with ease. If you enjoy greater difficulty, you might want to minimize the number of upgrades you get. It's clearly a game designed for young players to hop in and enjoy, which is odd when you consider the melodramatic story.

The biggest problem with the "wide open" gameplay is how it interacts with the camera. Like recent 3D Sonic games, Sonic Frontiers swaps between 2D and 3D gameplay at a moment's notice. This includes the overworld puzzles and platforming challenges, so you can unexpectedly get locked in 2D gameplay, and it sometimes feels tremendously awkward. It was frustrating to wander into a speed boost, that would transition me into a 2D segment I couldn't get out of, especially if I'd already completed the segment.

Aside from that, you're mostly facing the same potential issues as Generations and its ilk: finicky platforming physics, an uncooperative camera, and an emphasis on repeating stages for better scores. If you enjoyed that style of Sonic, there is a lot to like here, but it is unlikely to change the mind of anyone who couldn't eke out any fun from Colors or Generations. Frontiers is like a new take on those titles.

My other complaint is a bit odd. To complete the Sonic Adventure tone, you can go fishing with Big the Cat. Fishing isn't a random pastime; you can use points earned from fishing to purchase the rest of the progression items, including attack and defense power-ups, memories, and even vault keys. It's entirely possible to complete most of the main objectives in the game via nothing but fishing. It's nice to have the option, but fishing is so easy and profitable that it can overshadow everything else. I had to actively force myself to not cheat my way to each boss fight, especially since I was earning 40+ tokens per net cast and vault keys only cost 15 tokens.

Sonic Frontiers largely looks great. It ran extremely smoothly on Performance mode, and the environments and animations look wonderful, with a nice variety of locations and some cool enemy designs. The game has a lot of weird loading times, including some in the middle of a Super Sonic-style battle if you use a special move. That really detracted from the epic feeling of the battles.

On the other hand, Frontiers' soundtrack is almost a pure banger, as long as you enjoy the cheese of Sonic music. It includes atmospheric and moody music for the main islands, a variety of excellent tunes both new and remixed for the traditional stages, and hilariously excessive buttrock for each of the Super Sonic battles. The voice acting is largely good, but Sonic sounds more like Chris Redfield with every passing day. Most of the cast sounds like it's low on energy, which fits the tone of the game but sounds weird coming out of a blue cartoon hedgehog.

Sonic Frontiers is an all-around solid Sonic the Hedgehog game. The shift to a more open-world style of gameplay works almost entirely in its favor and allows the game to offer more freedom and exploration without resorting to werehogs. At heart, it's still the same basic 3D-style gameplay that the franchise has been doing lately, but the change in perspective works in its favor. Not every change is a winner, but enough are that I dearly hope that Sega sticks with this flavor instead of reinventing the wheel. Fans of Sonic will be delighted, and those on the fence should give Frontiers a shot. It's easy to see how the greater freedom (and lack of annoying gimmicks) could be the difference between frustration and fun.

Score: 8.0/10

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