Hi there, Sonic Team. Rossko here. I’ve got a few things to say about Sonic Frontiers.
Firstly, How you doing?
You well? I am.
I know it’s been a while since we’ve had a little conversation like this. Hell, what was it…2017? I want to apologise for my Sonic Forces review. Whilst at the time I meant every word, and I will stand by it, I was angry. Ok, not angry, just disappointed.
Sometimes I lose sight of myself and disappointment can manifest as anger. It’s not something I’m proud of and looking back, whilst I don’t believe Forces to be anywhere near your best work (I didn’t put it up the fridge next to Mania, did I?), you didn’t deserve that kind of vitriol.
You see, as you know I’m a die-hard Sonic fan. Ride or die. I have been since I was five and played Sonic 1 on my Mega Drive. You know that Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is my favourite video game of all time. You know, despite your behaviour in the past, I get insurmountably excited when a new Sonic game is on the way and the hype train turns from ‘we’ll see’ until, ‘damn guys, this is the one’. It’s that which kills. The hope kills you.
Sonic is my pal and has been since I was a kid. He’s an incredibly important and shining part of my gaming history and I would be doing my younger self a disservice if I didn’t say what was on my mind. The younger version of me, damn, pre-teenage Rossko only ever knew Sonic in 3D via Sonic Adventure and you know what? It blew his freakin’ mind. From being chased by a whale to tearing it through astonishingly gorgeous landscapes, he’d never seen anything like it. He deserves me to share my thoughts with you about Sonic Frontiers.
I don’t say this lightly. And with a heavy heart I must, once again, continue to wait for that next Sonic Adventure feeling. I will forever judge future Sonic games on that precise moment, because that was the kind of revolution your mascot deserved.
Now if you’re reading this as a die-hard Sonic fan, know this; I’m with you. I’m literally one of you. I’ve seen and loved your fan art. I’ve admired your dedication to the cause. I’ve gently dripped my toe into the fanfic corners of Reddit. I’m even looking at Sonic plushies I’ve bought from the SEGA Shop right now. I also don’t think everything that has the word ‘Sonic’ slapped on it deserves praise. From the very top it rightly should be critiqued much like anything else. I haven’t let my fanboy status blind me. Before you storm comment sections and Doxx my Twitter account, please remember this.
Hell, I’ll just say it – yes, I do like Sonic Frontiers. Quite a lot, actually. There’s enough here to warrant me to get excited about whatever is ahead for the future of Sonic video games. I’m happy with this one. Just about. It’s complicated and I’m going to try to articulately decipher whatever is going on in my head about Frontiers because I’ve been trying for days and getting nowhere.
Frontiers to me is another wild roll of the dice from Sonic Team. Much like Forces, where seemingly every idea they had for a new Sonic game ended up in a new Sonic game and made it complete mess, Frontiers suffers from trying to move everything on to a brand new plateau of what we expect from Sonic games whilst simultaneously keeping the dedicated fans satisfied. And it’s a commendable effort. Far more than Forces ever was. Frontiers is vastly better than Forces purely because it doesn’t have Sonic getting tortured in the opening half an hour.
Another big difference is Frontiers is actually worth playing. When Forces came out so close to the utterly spectacular Sonic Mania there was only ever going to be one winner, and it showed up Forces even more, making the case for ‘should Sonic just stay 2D?’ ever stronger. At the time, my answer was ‘yes’. Frontiers changes my mind, but only slightly. Frontiers is absolutely ridiculous and makes choices that are either going to make or break the franchise going forward. There’s a lot on this game’s shoulders, and it doesn’t all stay finely balanced.
When it was revealed that Frontiers was going to be set in an open world (or at least have open world elements), I’m not sure anyone was expecting a Breath of the Shadow of the Colossus manifestation that doesn’t really represent the best of either of them. The open-zones themselves are pretty big but mostly barren with the odd rail and puzzle for Sonic to complete in order to further the narrative and get to the next, more traditional Sonic level. Unlocking Vault Keys (depending on how far you’ve ‘completed’ each level) which will give you access to those sweet sweet Chaos Emeralds.
And Sonic Team, when I say barren… I mean this is kind of open world I’d create in Halo’s Forge map editor. There’s not really much going on anywhere but at least in every corner is something that I can glide on or jump through to collect some shiny rings. There’s enemies abound in most sections of the open-zone maps which can feel repetitive, though one assumes they’re there to test out Sonic’s new combat skills. Only a few when they’re beaten move the story along so I can’t think of any other reason why they’d be put there.
And why am I collecting so many things? Why on earth are Koko’s following me everywhere when I should be saving the little creatures inside of Robotnik’s creations? Do they not exist anymore? Are they just robots now? If so, cool. Nice one ‘Eggman’ for moving on from that particularly horrid practice. But Koko’s are not Flickies. They aren’t even Chao. They’re just yet another distraction much like purple coins, portal gears, ‘memory tokens’… just pick a lane, please. If all I had to collect was gold rings and Vault Keys this wouldn’t have been an issue. Too much all at once. The mantra of a 3D Sonic game, eh.
I must credit you though, Sonic Team – you’ve absolutely nailed Sonic’s movement. The open-zones and the amount of space they offer showcases just how tight you’ve got Sonic’s control down to, and it must be lauded. The input and response feels cleaner than ever, perfectly gliding my most favourite of fast blue hedgehogs across the open plains of this wild Death Stranding-looking landscape. It offers complete freedom and exploration is a blast, regardless of the absolutely bat-shit feature of ranking of Sonic’s speed.
Please remember Sonic’s major characteristic (alongside the very blue spikes) is that he’s like, super fast. He shouldn’t have to upgrade his speed when he’s already meant to be the fastest living thing in the universe. I get that nerfing Sonic’s pace allows for tighter control, and perhaps it all balances out, but this was quite the pet peeve when playing Frontiers. Still, the satisfaction of tearing it across theme park-esque worlds will always feel exhilarating, even if Sonic has been slowed down to truly appreciate them. There’s tiny cyber quests where 2D Sonic returns ever-so briefly to scratch that itch you long to scratch after aimlessly speeding around an enormous empty greenland. The fanboy in me was delighted to come across these little moments. It’s a shame they’re so few and far between.
Also a quick shout-out to the Cycloop, which is a fantastic new addition to Sonic’s abilities. Let’s make sure that one sticks around, please.
So here we are, Sonic Team. Sonic Frontiers is a good Sonic game. Compared to what has come before it in recent times it’s an absolute miracle. The problem is it’s still so clear you have no idea what you want a modern Sonic video game to be. Are we forever going to have to just test out your experiments until we all agree on a particular formula? Your connection to the fans is admirable but what exactly am I paying for when I cough up for a new Sonic experience? Because it feels like you’re still so unsure, and testing so many new ideas and throwing them all into one game doesn’t fill me with much hope that we won’t just go through this again in a few years time.
I’m an enormous fan of your characters and the world they inhabit. One thing I’m not is a beta tester. You’ve got to figure this out before you charge me £60 to see what you’ve come up with next.
And that’s about it really. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Sonic Frontiers on the surface is a fun time, and the reckless abandon of Sonic in this world is fun to see. It’s a shame there are just so many damn mechanics weighing it down. Maybe next time.
I know there will be a next time. I’m excited to see where the good ideas of Frontiers end up.
P.S. Please ensure you don’t sack off Roger Craig Smith again. We all know that was a dumb move.
Sonic returns in an inescapable mishmash of strong mechanics and ideas alongside poor execution and empty lifeless ‘open-zones’ that offers little to tie it together. Whilst this could be the start of a brand new revolution for modern Sonic games, Frontiers still feels like a beta test, and one that fans shouldn’t have to playtest for Sonic Team to work out what to do next.
Sonic Frontiers is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4/PS5 (review platform), Xbox One and Series S|X and PC.
Developer: Sonic Team
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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