Sonic is a gaming legend that I have blazed a trail with since the days of the Sega Genesis, back when controllers were robust and video games had only one difficulty setting (which was Hard). Not much has changed for Sonic since then, as this blue hedgehog became synonymous with games that require skill and perfect timing. Going into Sonic Frontiers, I had great expectations for this open-world platformer to both show me something different while staying true to Sonic's roots. And after playing Sonic Frontiers through, I have to admit that my feelings are mixed.
Artstyle & Graphical Performance
When I close my eyes and imagine Sonic's world, it's full of colors (think Green Hill Zone). But with Sonic Frontiers, my first reaction was, "Is this game finished?" The graphics look dated, and the color palette is washed and often depressing. And just when I got used to this Neo-awaken-from-Matrix reality, I got an opportunity to visit the Cyber Space. Now, that's where the fun really began!
Cyber Space levels are minigames based on the old Sonic titles. You can enter these levels by activating Portals scattered throughout the map. These special levels have a rich color palette and, paired with upbeat music, make them a tremendous Sonic experience. It contrasts with the rest of the game's artstyle and shows that the developers could have made Sonic look cool if they wanted to. Unfortunately, they had other ideas and a different vision for Frontiers.
Even if we put aside colors, there are some serious technical issues regarding the graphics. The first thing I noticed was the white lines falling from the sky. I guess that's how the rain looks on this planet? While it did look bad, it didn't really impact my experience substantially. What created serious problems was the popping. I know Sonic is fast, but that can't be an excuse for me not knowing where to jump because the landscape is loading as I approach the platform! Look at the picture above. Do you see another platform after that C-shaped one hovering in the sky? Well, it's there, getting ready to pop.
To be honest, the story was never the reason why I played Sonic games, but the storytelling in Sonic Frontiers surprised me because of how bleak it is. In short, the plot revolves around Chaos Emeralds and their connection to Starfall Islands. While investigating, I had a lot of conversations with Sonic's friends Amy, Tails, and Knuckles.
While I appreciate the attempt to raise the stakes with emotional storytelling, it couldn't keep me invested. The cutscenes are mostly dialogue sequences where not much is going on, and the voice acting certainly doesn't help, as it's often unconvincing. That said, there are some positives! Tails actually showed maturity as a character and was not just a one-dimensional sidekick, and I laughed more than once when Sonic and Knuckles shared the screen. Their banter was always a joy to watch.
What surprised me most about the story was the development of doctor Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik. I don't expect much from villains in Sonic games, as it's enough just to have a crazy, evil plan that Sonic has to prevent. But here, he's more than that! I genuinely felt for him, especially when I discovered the reason for his actions.
Because the gameplay is fast and often unforgiving, Sonic games depend on good controls. Thankfully, Sonic Frontiers is very easy to play and provides multiple ways to control your movement. It helped that the game gave me leeway; I didn't have to play it perfectly to get the job done. You'll quickly get the hang of it, even if you're not a Sonic veteran.
It's important to make use of the Cyloop skill. This blue trail that Sonic makes is not just for a show. I used it often as it can activate things on the map, create rings, damage enemies, and even grant an infinite boost for running. The parry feature also made life easier, as it is excellent for evading attacks. It felt great controlling Sonic, no matter how fast he went, and the controls were always precise.
But the fights are where the controls let me down a bit. To defeat most enemies, it's enough to press the attack button on the controller. That's it. The game even helps by targeting enemies and moving Sonic from one enemy to another, while my only job was to destroy that square on the PS5 controller. Sometimes, I felt like I was playing those theme park shooters where movement is irrelevant.
The most important component of platforming games is level design; I don't need much else if the game is fun. Unfortunately, Sonic Frontiers is average at best in this department. The game feels unfinished, as the three zone types are not that different. They have few to no colors and similar-looking platforms to jump on. Sadly, it's a missed opportunity. Different levels fail to offer diverse interactions with objects from that biome.
Each island has the overused metal platforms lying on the ground and hovering in the sky. Levels feel desolate with not much going on. On the upside, that space meant that I could finally taste Sonic's speed! There's no fear of hitting a wall, dropping down a hole, or hitting the ocean (most of the time). This is an open-world game in every sense, where I felt I had the freedom to run and do whatever I wanted. Too bad there was nothing to do besides fighting uninteresting robots and jumping on samey platforms.
Having said that, I still believe experiencing the Cyber Space levels are the most enticing reason to play Sonic Frontiers. They are the best parts of the game, both visually and gameplay-wise. There are 30 of these levels spread across islands, so you'll have a steady diet of classic Sonic action. Unfortunately, they are pretty short, so I often replayed them to experience the joy of a superb Sonic game.
Verdict – Wasted potential
Sonic Frontiers feelsk like a big experiment where some ideas will be used as stepping stones. There are some excellent experiences hidden between boring fights and austere levels. I can't help but think this is a missed opportunity to deliver a fantastic Sonic game, mainly because those Cyber Space levels were so much fun. While I do have mixed feelings, if you're a franchise fan, you should try this game, especially if you want to invest in a story with around two hours of cutscenes.