Learn more about the open zones, progression, combat, controls, and the story of Sonic Frontiers.
As we have mentioned in our earlier previews, Sonic Frontiers is a hard game to grasp. At times amazing, at other times infuriating, at least the game stays true to the spirit of its main character as it's always living on the edge.
Having recently played the game for more than six hours, I had a good chance delve a bit deeper into some of the new elements, especially its "open zone" format that drastically changes the series usual formula.
If you want to learn more about the open zones, the progression, the story and much more, and especially what raises our hopes and what has us worried, this article will provide an overview.
This is an ad:
The major new addition to Sonic Frontiers is the open zones. Instead of the usual high-speed levels, these are huge open areas you are free to explore as you please. Having now tried three of the zones - Kronos Island, Ares Island and Chaos Island - I found that each zone felt quite distinct. Not only visually speaking but also in terms of overall atmosphere, enemy variety and gameplay challenges. Chaos Island even pulled a major rabbit out of the hat by going full 2D when I least expected it.
That being said, many of the zones feel barren. Stumbling upon a crashed spaceship or some mysterious ruins adds a bit of excitement, but generally speaking there could definitely be more to organically discover (instead of blindly chasing points on the map). Compare Kronos Island with the world of Rime or Ares Island with Journey, and it's obvious that the world of Sonic Frontiers can't quite compete with these indie efforts. Unfortunately, the open zones also suffer from terrible pop-in, and often the action gets a bit cluttered as different events start happening all at once.
This is an ad:
As a semi open world title Sonic Frontiers places a huge emphasis on exploring and on doing various side activities. To make sure you'll get a taste of everything, and to prevent you from blazing through the story, the game features a lot of collectibles - some used for advancing the plot and others for upgrading your abilities.
Speaking of abilities, the skill tree doesn't really work as in a normal RPG, since you'll probably unlock everything once the game is over anyway. Instead, it serves as a way to gradually introduce you to each attack or special ability instead of overwhelming you right at the start.
Of course, all of this comes with a major downside as Sonic Frontiers at times can feel a bit grindy. Already when playing through the second zone, Ares Island, you will in many cases be forced to do rather dull activities to earn the appropriate number of keys, crystals and other shiny objects, rather than exploring of your own volition. In this regard the design feels rather dated.
I was a bit worried when I learned that Sonic Frontiers would be quite combat heavy, but to my surprise it actually seems to be one of the strongest aspects of the game. First of all, Sonic's combat abilities fits the character well. His signature move Cyloop has you running in circles leaving enemies confused and open for counter attacks, while Stomp Attack takes full advantage of his jumping abilities. All enemies have unique attacking patterns, and best of all, require you to use your whole skillset to beat them. And then there are the bosses that sometimes - when they work best - combine platforming, puzzle and combat leading to extremely satisfying encounters.
The only minor downside of the combat is that some of the enemies are rather one-dimensional both in their design and their move set. But as each enemy type evolves during the game, you might still be in for some surprises, which might also help offset the somewhat low difficulty of most encounters.
Platforming and controls
Sonic Frontiers is extremely intuitive to grasp, as the blue hedgehog has a much more limited move set than say Mario. This makes it easy to get into the game, and the platform challenges ramp up nicely in difficulty letting you become comfortable with the controls before throwing harder obstacles at you.
It's still not perfect though, far from it. The blue hedgehog has never been a stranger to frustration and cheap deaths, and Sonic Frontiers is no exception. Perhaps Sonic Team should look more to rhythm-based auto runners such as Bit. Trip Runner and Super Meat Boy Forever, at I often feel control issues are more a case of the game not giving you any hint of what to do - jump, change lane or so on - until the very last movement when you are already headed halfway down a cliff.
The story has always played a major part in Sonic games, and, in my opinion at least, it's nearly always been bad. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the memes and fan material that seem way funnier, and at times also more touching, than what the actual writers can come up with. Without spoiling too much - I'm not really allowed to - this time the story at least seems to go into some interesting directions with a deeper characterisation of characters such as Amy and Dr. Eggman that have so far been rather one dimensional.
Unfortunately, the story is poorly told. As Sonic's friends are trapped in cyberspace you are gradually collecting resources, which turn them from glitchy holograms into real flesh and blood characters. Pass a certain threshold and you unlock a new cutscene that unfortunately doesn't compare to the vibrant and lively scenes of the earlier games. I have no problem with talking heads if I'm watching a French art film from the 60s, but for a major Sonic game we should be able to expect more in terms of cinematic presentation.
It's important to note that all of these impressions have only been based on parts of Sonic Frontiers. So hopefully the positives will outweigh the negatives to an even higher degree when the full game releases on November 8.