Sonic Team has tried their hand at reinventing the blue hedgehog's formula, and we've checked out how the end result has stacked up.
Following Dr. Eggman's latest scheme to obtain the powers of the ancients, he, Sonic, and the hedgehog's friends end up in a world that no one has seen before. Kronos Island is a desolate place, where ruins tease of a former high-tech society but which is now only a distant memory. However, it is not yet completely empty of life. Little mysterious creatures still try to live out their lives, but are outnumbered when it comes to the creatures who want to inflict pain on others.
With Sonic Frontiers, Sonic Team has tried to add something new to the game series and with this installation introduces an open game world. This world is filled to the brim with challenges for Sonic to take on. At first glance it looks quite small, but continues to expand leading to an exciting journey of discovery for those who want to run thousands of miles as the little blue hedgehog. The game world in Sonic Frontiers is unfortunately not very interesting to discover as it looks grey and somewhat shabby. That said, that doesn't mean there aren't things to see or do, but it's just not particularly exciting. Rather, the tasks offered are quite monotonous and sometimes it can feel like a chore, more than a pleasure. Because Sonic Frontiers doesn't feel very rewarding, rather I'm doing things without really understanding why I'm doing them. In fact, you just collect thousands of things without really feeling that it helps you significantly.
As I said, there is a lot to do on Kronos Island. Around the island there are smaller puzzles to solve that slowly but surely dissolve the fog from the game map revealing different activities for the player to undertake. Kocos are one of the few creatures still living on the island, and if you find Hermit or Elder Kocos, they can reward you handsomely by boosting your defence, attack power, maximum ring capacity, or maximum speed. In addition, the island's guardians are waiting to defend themselves from invaders, which in this case is precisely Sonic. However, this is just a sampling of the various activities that you can take on in Sonic Frontiers.
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But, the game does not take place only on Kronos Island. By defeating bosses, you unlock gears that can then activate mysterious portals that plunge you into other worlds. Some may be completely unfamiliar, while Green Hill Zone, for example, feels more familiar. However, these worlds should not be perceived as open worlds, but as levels that you must complete to unlock new key parts of the story. These vary in quality but when they do deliver, they are among the highlights of the game. Because here we get to play as Sonic both in 2D and in 3D and it is, as you might have been able to figure out, the levels in 2D that shine brighter.
There has been a lot of talk beforehand about Sonic fighting in this installation, which has been quite rare in the past. From bouncing on enemies' heads, he has now rolled up and is ready to duke it out with his fists instead. Kronos Island is a nest for ancient creatures that differ from each other. While some may protect their soft spots, others don't care one bit, and will quickly beat you anyway. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to dealing with the different types. At the beginning of the adventure, Sonic learns to run around enemies creating a trail that, when the circle closes, overwhelms the enemy. Those with some kind of armour then also become vulnerable to the hedgehog's fists. Each enemy also leaves behind experience points that can be used in the skill tree where you unlock new abilities. There aren't very many choices available, but it's nice to feel like the battles are getting more varied over the roughly 20-hour-long adventure. For example, you can later kick shock waves at the enemy or make a zig-zag attack against them, which gives room for a variety of combat techniques.
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Something that many have probably missed is that Kronos Island is not the only island you get to explore in Sonic Frontiers. After all, Sonic Team hasn't shown anything at all from the other islands, which are very different from each other. Amy, Knuckles and Tails are all imprisoned on the different islands and you need to explore them all to kill the titans and free your pals. There are five different islands to explore in Sonic Frontiers, and Kronos Island is just the beginning. All of them differ from each other both in appearance and in terms of its enemies. An island takes about four hours to complete, but it can also vary depending on whether you just want to do activities linked to the story or also do something else, such as taking a fishing break with Big. In practice, however, it is only about four real islands as one of them is only a short visit.
Graphically, Sonic Frontiers leaves a lot to be desired. The game feels very old graphically, with smooth textures reminiscent of the beginning of the previous generation. In addition, the game doesn't seem to load parts of the world from about 100 metres away, and given that it's fast when you play as Sonic, and with rails, springboards and other things appearing all at once, it isn't ideal. It just doesn't look good at all. What's good, however, is that Sonic Team offers two different modes where you can prioritise either graphics or frame rate. However, since the game looks so dated, there is no real point in playing in 4K resolution and then suffering from the game feeling choppy. Prioritising frame rate simply feels obvious.
Apart from the fact that Sonic is now freer than ever before, the tone is also very different from previous games. Most of us probably associate Sonic with joy and rock or pop music. In Sonic Frontiers, however, the mood is all the more sombre and melancholic, which I came to appreciate during my time on these sad worlds that were once filled with life. Even if Sonic Team doesn't hit the spot every time, I still want to take my hat off to them for trying to incorporate something new into the otherwise predictable and (mostly) bad series. This very much feels like Sega's equivalent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and while it doesn't stand a chance in comparison, this is still a good attempt to emulate it based on Sonic's characteristics.
The story in Sonic Frontiers is relatively short and at first it feels like there isn't really any story at all. But the deeper you get into the game, the clearer it becomes. However, neither Super Mario nor Sonic have ever been synonymous with good stories, so it doesn't really matter much. In Sonic Frontiers, it's more about the background history of these islands, where you as a player get to think about what the ruins once were. Whether that's a good thing or not, I'll leave it up to you as a player to decide for yourself, but personally I don't think there should have been more story elements thrown in. I am also happy that Dr. Eggman, for once, works more in the shadows, rather than appearing too often and ruining the melancholic atmosphere with his screaming. In any case, Sonic Team manages to make a fine interpretation of Sonic.
I was honestly quite surprised that I have enjoyed Sonic Frontiers as much as I did. Despite poor graphics and many uninteresting activities, there is something that makes it fun to roll around like Sonic in an open game world. I also appreciate that each island has just under ten levels that mix 2D and 3D environments where we get to play as Sonic in the way we are otherwise used to. There are many things I wish the developers had improved, but that doesn't stop Sonic Frontiers from standing out as one of the better games in the series in many, many years.
7 / 10
Great atmosphere. Loads of enemy-variation. Tons of content. Nice battles.
The graphics feel old. Somewhat repetitive. Sometimes the camera won't co-operate.