While most veteran Sonic the Hedgehog fans will agree the original games are untouchable, the fanbase splits with which of the modern Sonic games are next best. There have certainly been high points with Sonic Generations, Sonic Mania and even Sonic Adventure, but which really is the best of the rest? My vote would be for Sonic Heroes and admittedly, that’s with heavily tinted glasses.
SEGA seemingly feel the need to reinvent Sonic with every new game and aren’t afraid to confuse things if necessary. Sonic Frontiers is no different but arguably it represents one of the biggest changes for some time with the inclusion of an open world. But it also contains all the same missteps of a modern Sonic game, albeit in a slightly condensed fashion.
Sonic Frontiers is set in the new location of Starfall Islands. Sonic, Amy, and Tails are investigating why the Chaos Emeralds have been drawn to these seemingly deserted islands when Amy and Tails are suddenly sucked into a wormhole; into a place called Cyber Space. Naturally, Sonic manages to escape, but now finds himself alone on these unknown islands.
Digitalised versions of his friends appear to guide him through these new locations. Starfall Islands are your open world sections of Sonic Frontiers. As is customary, a map full of markers indicates this; although that map needs revealing first. Dotted around the world are these little activities that, when complete, reveal bits of the map. These activities are opposed to simply climbing a large tower to reveal a section of the map a la other open worlds, but really are still just as simple. There is a fair amount of variation within them, but they will not be testing your skills exactly.
In fact, the amount of activities overall is pretty good. Huge enemies known as Titans pepper these landscapes and must be defeated; a simple bop to the head will not suffice however. There are almost puzzle-like elements to solving these and whilst you can try and figure these out on your own, a hint window can also be accessed if you are struggling.
There are also plenty of collectibles to gather, though how exactly they are used is a bit confusing. There are rings (obviously), Chaos Emeralds (obviously), vault keys, memory tokens, portal gears and more. Memory tokens allow you to progress the story by talking to characters, and vault keys allow you to open up the Chaos Emerald vaults. However, it isn’t made apparent how many of each you need to progress, just whether you have enough when you arrive at the next marker. By that I mean it doesn’t tell you the actual number required, but the number you require to reach the unknown total. There are hundreds dotted around the map, so this shouldn’t cause an issue, it is just a weird implementation of them.
As you progress you will find the thresholds rise more and more, even to the point where you feel that this method is being used purely to stretch out Sonic Frontiers’ longevity.
Vault keys are earned from the Cyber Space levels, which in turn are unlocked by collecting portal gears. The now traditional level objectives such as collecting red star rings or earning an S rank for a level now award these vault keys. The Cyber Space levels are much more like traditional Sonic levels, just condensed down into more palatable sizes. Now, most of these can be completed in around a minute, and then you are back to exploring the far more satisfying open world sections. Thankfully, if you enjoy these closed off levels, you’ll find that there are plenty of them dotted around the different islands.
And what open world game would be complete without a fishing minigame. Sonic Frontiers lets you join Big the Cat down at the various watering holes for some good old-fashioned fishing. It’s not exactly the most in-depth fishing minigame you will ever play, but its inclusion is welcome none the less.
Sonic Frontiers’ open worlds have this weird mash-up of cartoon characters whirling round these lifelike worlds. At times it feels more like Sonic has been modded into another open world game such is the initial jarring nature of this graphical style. It does grow on you over time, as you begin to appreciate a little bit more of these unknown islands. You get the sense of desolation from them, or an ancient civilisation that once lived there, and it’s perhaps these mysteries that will keep you going to the end of the game and their conclusion more than the main story would.
That’s because, even in a new locale, with a whole new type of gameplay, the story feels very repetitive. Once again Doctor Eggman is the main, overall baddie, Sonic’s friends need his help, his egotistical attitude is utterly grating and the Chaos Emeralds are heavily involved. The new location, history of it and cute new Kocos cannot help but hide the fact this is still a very samey Sonic plot.
One of the biggest sticking points over the years is how exactly Sonic controls when in a 3D environment. It has been a gripe and a bugbear for years, and it never seems to improve with new instalments. In Sonic Frontiers, it has been improved somewhat in the open world areas, thanks mainly in part to the larger scale of the environments. Sonic has lots of new abilities too, that for the most part work very well: the new Cyloop ability lets Sonic search for rings, treasures, and can even be used as an offensive attack by drawing circles on the floor and containing whatever is inside them. This alone feels like a natural evolution for the blue blur.
Sadly, the Cyber Space levels still have the frustrations of a traditional modern Sonic game. In fact, I question their inclusion at all; you can spend hours exploring the open world sections and not encounter a single portal and the game feels a lot better when you do.
Sonic Frontiers feels like the shackles have been taken off, bringing Sonic kicking and screaming into the next generation of gaming. The open world sections aren’t ground-breaking, but they could well be the start of something special, not just for Sonic but for whatever inevitably comes next. The usual frustrations stick in regards to the story, plot and tiresome mechanics, but Sonic Frontiers is a marked improvement and one of the best 3D Sonic games in years.
Sonic Frontiers is available from the Xbox Store