Let Me Show You Just What I’m Made Of
HIGH An ambitious change to the Sonic formula.
LOW A few technical issues.
WTF Tails making me cry.
I just turned 25 and I already have two Sonic-related reviews posted at GameCritics this year. In the summer, I took a look at Sonic Origins, a solid compilation of Sega Genesis-era Sonic games that reminded me how much I loved the series. There’s no sense denying how big a fan I am at this stage of my life.
And now with this, the first new fully 3D Sonic game in five years, Frontiers changes the formula in significant ways. The most prominent comes in the form of level design. Frontiers feature large-scale, open-ended islands that act as hub worlds for Sonic to explore. Played from a third-person perspective, Sonic is tasked with saving his friends after being separated by them via a wormhole.
The worlds are structured like standard, free-roaming 3D areas, and players are tasked with exploring the islands for specific collectibles that move the story forward. The end goal of each level is the same — save Sonic’s friends, collect the chaos emeralds and defeat a final boss.
Along the way, players will interact with different elements across the game world. For example, Sonic can solve puzzles and play minigames that reveal secrets across the map. At first, it’s weird seeing the standard triple-A style open world in a Sonic game. I mean, I was basically doing the same thing I was doing in games like Assassin’s Creed or even Far Cry, but now as a mascot platforming character. However, it never became grating or boring, and part of the reason why is because the traversal is just so damn good.
Similar to how intuitive it feels to swing as Spider-Man in the Insomniac Spider-Man games, throwing Sonic into an open world and giving him some space to run rules. Zipping around large swaths of land and covering them in seconds never gets old, and catching some air to do tricks adds spectacle to the whole thing. The simple act of moving is enjoyable in its own right, which is something that few games nail.
Scattered across the map are various towers that allow Sonic to enter “Cyber Space.” These play out like the standard “boost” segments that have been prominent in the last few 3D Sonic titles. These sequences have players running in a straight line toward a goal. Every level has set parameters and goals such as completing the level under a certain or collecting a set number of rings, and each one unlocks a key ultimately used to collect a Chaos Emerald located in a tower on the map.
Another major activity comes in the form of fishing, which might be my favorite part of Frontiers. Here, Sonic joins fan-favorite character Big the Cat in an angling minigame. It’s a nice little distraction that nets (pun intended) some great rewards, like keys to the Emeralds and more. Not only is it enjoyable to catch these creatures, but I also love how expressive Sonic gets every time he catches a bizarre one, like a giant squid, golden bass, or even an alligator.
I am definitely underselling just how big and packed the world in this game is. After about 20 or so hours, I still have a few Cyber Space levels to complete, side quests/minigames to seek out and so many collectibles left to find. Hell, I still need to replay the game on the hardest difficulty to see every phase of the final boss. There’s truly enough here to keep anyone busy for a while.
One of the other major changes aside from the open-world format and sidequests comes in the form of combat. Frontiers puts a major focus on fighting and even includes a dedicated skill tree full of new moves. It’s simple but effective, offering a lot of flashy visuals reminiscent of character action games. There’s even a combo meter that builds up and allows Sonic to unleash a flurry of finishing moves on enemies scattered around the map.
That solid combat translates into the bombastic boss sequences. Each island has a main foe called a Titan. These titans are giant, robotic enemies that require Sonic to use the Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic in a very Dragon Ball Z-like energy-filled powering up. These bits were a highlight for sure, as seeing a golden, flying hedgehog unleash hell on anime-style giant robots is just about the coolest thing in the world.
All of this great stuff is complemented by the exceptional soundtrack. The series has always been known for great music, and Frontiers might be the peak of both the series and gaming soundtracks for the entire year. The audio includes everything from ’90s-sounding Cyber Space music, the first major boss song, and the kick-ass end credits music. It all adds so much personality, and even the mellow, incidental music that plays in the open world is great, perfectly setting the tone for discovery. It’s a shame that there are no new Crush 40 tracks to jam out to, but what’s included in the package is excellent.
The overall presentation is fairly good, though a few graphical elements are less than stellar. Some textures are rough, and there’s pop-in as Sonic is cruising through the world. I assume this is an issue because the devs had to scale the game back for the Nintendo Switch version, but it doesn’t look great. I played on PS5 for this review, and while the art style was exceptional, I feel like there’s a better-looking version of this work coming in the future. The framerate was rock solid, thankfully so I couldn’t complain too much.
A lot of past Sonic games have some solid (if a bit weird) stories. The narrative ambitions in Frontiers truly caught me off guard, however — but in the very best way.
Without spoiling anything, it takes a much darker and more serious approach to the usual world-ending stories the series is known for. Sonic and his friends are well-written, and while there are still clichéd and anime-esque elements common to these titles, this one made me emotional. In some ways, it feels less like just another Sonic story and more like a celebration of the series. The callbacks to other entries like 2017’s Sonic Forces are a nice touch, and I especially appreciated that they didn’t all explicitly rely on nostalgia.
Sonic Frontiers is the best 3D Sonic of the last decade, and it’s easily one of the best platformers I’ve played in recent years. The changes to the classic formula, coupled with some of the best music video games has to offer makes it a real gem, but what made it truly noteworthy is the ambition on display. I believe Sonic Team and Sega have finally made the game they wanted to make ever since the failure of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and we now have a worthy successor to Sonic Adventure.
It feels good to have our Blue Blur back in the spotlight.
Disclosures: This game is published by Sega and developed by Sonic Team. It is available on Switch, PS4/5, PC and XBO/X/S.This copy was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PS5. Approximately 20 hours were spent in single-player and the game was completed. There is no multiplayer.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10 for Fantasy Violence. The site reads: This is an action platformer in which players follow Sonic and his friends as they battle mechanical Titans. From an overhead perspective, players zoom through an alternate dimension while collecting items (e.g., rings, power-ups) and battling enemies (e.g., bouncing on them). Boss battles prompt players to climb giant robots while targeting weak spots and engaging in timed button presses for specific actions (e.g., energizing a punch, prying a robot’s jaw open, pushing back against a giant sword). Some sequences depict slow-motion effects and explosions.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles and visual cues representing sounds are present, but neither can be resized or adjusted. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls cannot be remapped and there is no control diagram, though there are tutorials to show off how movement and combat controls. On PS5, the X button is used to jump and select menu options, square is used to attack and confirm an action, circle is used to dodge and back out of menus, triangle is used to active the Cyloop, the left and right bumpers are used to sidestep, the right trigger is used to boost and the left is used to unleash an attack during a combo.