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Sonic Frontiers - Review


Trust me. It's doesn't look like this in game.

A few months ago, we did a five-year retrospective on Sonic Mania and during the intro section we discussed the history of the iconic blue blur. How Sega’s rival to Nintendo’s iconic Italian plumber went from a hit 90s icon to what is basically an addict doing whatever he can to keep in touch with the public. Sonic The Hedgehog has seen a lot of ups and downs for thirty decades, and a majority of those moments have been downs. He’s practically choosing to face dive into a woodchipper realizing there’s no more dignity left to lose as he lost it all. We’ve seen Sonic try to try to tackle fantasy and fail miserably at it. We’ve seen him attempt to copy God of War and at the same time compete with Twilight. We saw one of Sonic’s friends wield dual machine guns and transform what was a really light hearted franchise into an overly edgy one. The last Sonic game in particular felt like a terrible fanfic written by a teenager who has no friends, but there’s obviously a reason why as they act like they should be the center of attention. Sonic is just kinda sitting there in a depressed state now. Bottle of ale in one hand and computer mouse in the other as he surfs the net to see what his next gig should be. Hoping that whatever lies next doesn’t plop more shame onto the table and maybe one day he’ll earn the respect he once rightfully had.


Which brings us onto today’s topic, Sonic Frontiers. How the hell do I talk about this without dividing my audience? The last title Sonic Forces came out back in 2017. It wasn’t particularly great and Sega was frightened by the mass amounts of negative reception this weird catastrophe created. Sending them back to the drawing board to rethink their approach. What could they do to redeem their failing brand? Social media? Well actually they did resort to social media and somehow their online interactions with the community proved to be a more successful approach than any of their current Sonic games, but I digress. Sega and all of the developers who worked at Sonic Team had to pull their sh*t together for this next one. No weird gimmicks, no weird reboot, none of that junk. They would attempt to make a half decent modern Sonic game. This then leads us to the birth of Sonic Frontiers which asked the question, “What if Sonic went open world?” The open world genre is a staple to the video game industry now, and we’ve seen how popular titles like Breath of The Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2 became. However, there were reasons why they became incredibly popular and Sonic would have a lot to compete with. Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, The Witcher 3, Outer Wilds, Subnautica, and the massive success of Elden Ring in 2022. Would Sonic Frontiers be a total flop. No, well to Sonic fans at least. Critical reception wasn’t great, but Sonic fans enjoyed the new approach they went with. They were grateful that a new Sonic game was out, that it wasn’t as bad as the last one, and that Sega’s new formula didn’t totally suck. All's well that ends well…


I don’t like this game. I don’t like it at all in fact, and I think this is gonna offend a lot of people. I’ve stated this several times in the past, but to create a good open world experience you have to put a lot of care and thought into it. You have to think about numerous aspects and how they collide with each other. How the world is populated and whether you flood the world full or carefully place things where they need to be. The content which players encounter, the quality of it, and whether you guide them or naturally let them discover said content. The regions the player stumbles across and how they separate themselves from whatever region the player just ventured through. How sidetracking and exploring the world affects the main quest. Whether it adds to your progression or is all meaningless to your main goal. Open world games are hard to make for these reasons. So many developers struggle to master the open world genre and stumble as the quality of their work drops as they try to develop overly ambitious, massively scoped worlds. Sonic Frontiers wanted to be an open world game, and what made things more complicated is that it wanted to take the previously established formula of modern Sonic games and blend it in. Not realizing that both formulas conflict with each other. Not saying this choice will fail entirely. Elden Ring takes the Souls formula and blends it perfectly with open world design. The sense of growing stronger and taking on tougher challenges is still there, but now the player has more choice and can take their time exploring the world for more upgrades and equipment.


Sonic Frontiers went open world and personally I believe it wasn’t for the best. This review is gonna be more critical and negative than usual, but I will say this. Sega was competent enough. They and Sonic Team tried to experiment with ideas and make them work. Not a lot of ideas were executed well and the game failed to stick the landing, but it was an attempt to go beyond what they could usually do. That said, I think Sonic Frontiers is a confused mess that ignores all the steps forward the open world genre has made over the last few decades. None of the content found within the open world is great, the world is this desolate plain, and none of it feels natural as the open world conflicts with the goofy nature of the Sonic series. There’s several other issues like the psychics, how much of the game felt playtested, terrible combat, collectibles that are useless once you collect enough of them, and a story that made my eyes roll until they bumped the back of my skull. Sonic Frontiers is not good and it’s hard to sum up why it isn’t good in so many ways. Today we’ll talk about why I disliked Sonic Frontiers and why you should skip it. Gotta fast to slam into a wall!


Story

The story opens up with the devious Dr. Eggman locates a mysterious structure. He activates the structure and tries to obtain whatever it has using a newly made AI he developed to hack into it, but upon doing so he is surrounded by these deadly looking machines. Far more technologically advanced than any of the robots he has built over the years. Luckily, the AI he developed has a protocol designed to protect him if his plan goes awry, but something goes wrong during the process. A weird gateway opens and Dr. Eggman is sucked into it. Disappearing from the real world and not being seen since then. We then cut to Sonic and friends, flying high above the seas. They are traveling to the never explored Starfall Islands as the Chaos Emeralds, these gems containing godly powers beyond their world, have been detected there. They seem to be there for a specific reason, and Tails, the brains of the friend group, wanted to see why. They hopped onto a plane and took straight off. All is going well until midway through their flight they are attacked. Tails and Amy are sucked into this weird wormhole, and Sonic crashes onto the island below.


He begins navigating the islands and discovering the ruins of a once ancient race. Occasionally he’ll witness the memories of what came before and the grand battle that would lead to their eventual demise. Sonic also finds his friends trapped within capsules, but upon breaking them out he finds they have this strange cybernetic property to them. They have been transformed into this digital form and while Sonic can communicate with them he can’t physically touch them. Meaning they are stuck like that until Sonic figures out how to revert the effects inflicted onto them. Sonic then encounters a mysterious entity, Sage, this floating girl who possesses traits similar to the ones his friends have now. Sage states that Sonic is an enemy and that he threatens to harm her creator, Dr. Eggman, revealed to be the AI that sucked him into the gateway in the opening. Possibly the same thing that captured his friends and turned them into these cybernetic holographic forms. Sage unleashes the Titans, these ancient machines she gained control of, and sends them out to destroy Sonic. So Sonic’s ultimate goal is to locate the Chaos Emeralds which are being stashed in the area, turn into Super Sonic because that’s a thing, defeat the Titans, and save his friends one by one. He’ll even learn of what happened all those years ago.


Gameplay

Imagine Sonic Frontiers as a collectathon 3D platformer. You are dumped into an open space with numerous items to collect, points of interest to come across, and you ultimately have to get enough sh*t until you can initiate the next story moment. Sonic can run around at breakneck speed and has a good handful of moves to get around. He can run, obviously, and if he wants to run faster he can use boost. Boosting will use a boost meter which drains overtime, so try not to use it too much. He can jump, double jump, use homing attacks to zip straight toward enemies and certain objects, ground pound to hit plow through anything below him or rocket towards the ground immediately, rail grind on certain surfaces, and much more. You will encounter enemies and hazards along your freerunning travels and they will hit you. Luckily you have rings which you’ve been collecting throughout your adventure, and when you get hit you have the chance to retrieve your rings which provide protection. Even a single ring will save, as if you take damage with zero rings you will die.


There are a couple of new features in Sonic Frontiers. One of those core new features being the combat which absolutely sucks. Sonic can punch away at his enemies and use combos to unleash flurries of blows. New combos can be unlocked from a skill tree, but you need a handful of skill points to acquire them. Honestly most of these moves are pure style and no substance, but they are more powerful than they should be at times so make use of them. I’ll talk more about why combat isn’t good at the end, but now let’s move onto enemies. You’ll encounter a plethora of foes and some of them won’t go down easily. Specifically boss enemies which are wandering around the world. They all focus on specific gimmicks and rules, and you must understand these rules to defeat them. Knock their health bar down to zero and they’ll explode. Dropping these gears which can be used to enter these cyberspace levels. Traditional modern Sonic based levels which you get through in hopes of reaching the end in a specific amount of time. Completing side objectives in these cyberspace levels will nab you keys and keys must be obtained to unlock the Chaos Emeralds scattered throughout the world. Another collectible you must have a ton of are the memory tokens. These tokens are sprinkled around like candy, and they allow you to initiate conversation with friends. Certain conversations must be performed to progress the story, and some will start minigames which must be completed to unlock more Chaos Emeralds.


Once you collect the six Chaos Emeralds in a region you can confront the Titan. These Titans are massive and usually hold the seventh Chaos Emerald on the top of their head. You must figure out how to get onto their bodies, run up to the top of their head, nab the seventh emerald, and transform into Super Sonic. This then starts the confrontation with them where dozens of attacks and projectiles fly around on screen. All you can do is wail away and counter any moves they throw at you. Counter correctly and you open them up for heavy damage dealing blows. Beat the Titan up enough and they’ll crumble to the ground. Beating the Titan allows you to progress the story and move onto the next sandbox. That’s Sonic Frontiers gameplay loop and it doesn’t get more complex from there. There’s a leveling system, but honestly you can ignore it. So even though Sonic Frontiers is rather simplistic like all successful 3D platformers, how did it manage to go wrong in so many areas? Oh boy, this is gonna be a headache…


Thoughts (Rant)


I just don’t understand this game, okay!? I know it has its followers, the diehard Sonic fanbase, and for the last few weeks they’ve been doing whatever they can to defend this game. Show their appreciation and that it’s as good as some of this year’s greatest releases. Well it’s not and I think their stubbornness is masking some of the critical flaws this game has. Flaws that wouldn’t be seen or avoided in other games, even smaller budget releases. I want to get that statement out of the way first, because I know there gonna be readers who are heading down to the comments right now typing an angry rant about why this is somehow an underrated masterpiece. The point of my reviews is to convey my thoughts. Why I enjoy something, what made it work for me, and why others should check it out. Sadly this is not one of those cases and I want to warn gamers like me from playing this. Games that aren’t worth their time or they aren’t interested in. I’m not forcing you to agree with me and you, a Sonic fan, don't have to agree either or force me to believe in what you think is “right.”


Okay, so what does Sonic Frontiers do wrong? Well the open world design and the content found within them. The game just plops you into a giant empty field, and when I say empty field I truly mean that it’s empty. It’s desolate, looks awful, no environmental changes besides what structure was placed there, and the only life that populates this world are robots and these soulless orbs with googly eyes. They could have at least attempted to place some wildlife wandering about. Every open world game at least has wildlife to make a natural world. Horizon Forbidden West is a game where a majority of its world is populated by colossal machines, but there’s still an abundant amount of critters skipping about. Deer, squirrels, boars, racoons, gophers, and a plethora of birds. The NPCs and nature of Sonic Frontiers is terrible, but at least there’s content right? Well that content feels like they took a bottle of sprinkles and dumped it. Scattered about without any care and not realizing the way it’s placed makes the world feel even more unnatural. It also doesn’t help that the wacky elements of Sonic do not blend in well with the ruined world they have created. Imagine you are walking into a field of green grass and stone pillars. All is fine until you see a random assortment of floating rails, springs, and platforms. It looks really stupid, and I know this is a Sonic game but it feels like an unorganized jungle gym. What made 3D platformers like Psychonauts 2 and Super Mario Odyssey is that they placed you into focused and condensed worlds. Everything was where it needed to be and when you strayed off the main path to find a secret it felt natural. You never felt like you fell away from your main goal and could easily get back to it. I’m complaining about the content in Sonic Frontiers, but I’m also complaining about the desolate world. Open worlds like Shadow of The Colossus and the recent Death Stranding are desolate too, but why do they work and Sonic Frontiers doesn’t? As I said, aspects of those worlds felt natural and you didn’t have weird jungle gym assets dotted about.


I also think it’s because Sonic Frontiers has a tone issue. Yahtzee Croshaw explored this recently, but I want to reiterate what he basically said. In recent years the storyline of Sonic games have been attempting to take themselves seriously. They try to add in drama for the sake of drama and force in dark themes, and the fans try to defend this saying it’s great Sonic Team is trying to be more mature. What they don’t realize are two main issues. One, this plot says nothing at all and there are other games out there that are darker than this and have metaphorical things to say. Nier: Automata has a cold depressing world, but it uses the state of it to explore deep messages. The struggle it takes to survive in the ruined world, how society tries to mend itself by forming different ideologies, the conflict that arises between these ideologies, how the mental state of the mind breaks down when hope is lost, and trying to find a reason to keep living when you lack purpose. That’s a more meaningful game and Nier: Automata has obscure moments that are bat sh*t crazy. The story of Sonic Frontiers has nothing to say. Nobody plays Sonic for the story, including me, but for what they are trying to go for they underachieved their goal. Nothing feels dramatic and even though they try to explore themes like Sonic’s relationship with his friends or Sage being Dr. Eggman’s somewhat of a daughter, I can’t take it seriously. Which brings me onto reason number two in that we are a smack talking cartoon hedgehog with sneakers on. Why would you take something so goofy and try to make it mature? It’s not gonna work, it never worked, and the only people I know who take it seriously are edgy Sonic fanbase.


This isn’t the end of my list of complaints. The combat, the newest feature of Sonic Frontiers, absolutely sucks. Like this is the worst combat I have seen in a video game. There’s just a lot wrong with it. The combat is not particularly challenging especially when you consider the ring system Sonic is known for. As long as you have a couple rings on hand you are never killable. Now I’m not saying this game needed to be hard. It’s being targeted towards a younger audience, and they don’t have the skill capacity to handle titles like Elden Ring or Sifu. However, you could at least attempt to challenge the player’s reflexes and skills. Attacking enemies is literally just mindless button mashing and once you unlock a couple of combat that unleash a flurry of blows fights become really easy. Those flurry combos are extremely broken and cut through their health bars instantly. Attacks also don’t feel that good to perform. Their finicky and transitioning between different moves isn’t that great. I think the enemy designs this time around are stupid. They look really generic, and they lack the personality that enemies in older Sonic games had. The minibosses around the open world are also really stupid. Now I will say the gimmicks they focus around are neat, but not actually that fun when put into practice. It's also annoying when they camera shot to them.


There’s a skill tree system and you unlock new combos by having a jack ton of experience points. However, this skill tree isn’t all that big and once you unlock the final skill you just have this pile of skill points sitting in your inventory. The confrontations with the Titans of each island is not fun. I know a lot of Sonic fans say this is the highlight of Frontiers. This huge spectacle battles where you turn into Super Sonic, fly around in the air, and use powerful godlike attacks to attack these foes. It’s all style, but there’s no substance. These boss fights look cool, but they aren’t actually great boss fights. They are just these giant sponges you mash the attack button at, and occasionally you do parry them to hopefully open up a scene that knocks a good chunk of their health off and ends the fight faster. Parrying itself isn’t that hard as all you have to do is hold down two buttons. You don’t even have to time it at the exact time the attack lands! I also want to bring up it’s not just the large health pools that make these Titan fights drag out longer than they should. The barrage of projectiles they send at you and how they bounce you along the screen like a pinball. That gets annoying really quickly as you have no control of what goes on. I also hate how depending on how many rings you come in with these fights last either a long period of time or within a minute as one hundred rings gives you about one hundred seconds to fight. Meaning you have to grind rings before you dash in, and if you die, you might as well load up a save as these fights give you only one hundred rings every time you reload a checkpoint.


We’re not done yet; I still have more complaints. The minigames you occasionally do to progress the game are terrible. It’s either the idea behind them sucks, doesn’t work when put into practice, or they break the pacing of the game entirely. Lord knows why there is a pinball section that requires you to get four million points before you can move on. There’s a level up system the game does a terrible job of showing the player, but it’s utterly pointless as your starting stats are good enough up until the end of the game. The cyberspace levels, the traditional boost levels, are poorly designed as half the time you end up rocketing off the stage. Even though the point of these stages is to move through them quickly and get to the end goal sooner than later. Older Sonic games like Sonic Colors wouldn’t do this as they had guardrails or invisible walls to keep the player within the zone. The movement in these stages aren’t consistent either as sometimes you move at breakneck speed or really slow. The psychics don’t always work in Frontiers. You’ll have moments where Sonic ends up running up a wall even though there was no curve or ramp to send him up it. Sometimes he just slides down the environment, he hits bumps in such a way where it launches him off like a ramp for some odd reason, and during those cyberspace stages he’ll hit pumps that cancels all the movement he was building up. Failing to launch him off the ramp he was going off of. I swear to God, they didn’t playtest this game before shipping it off.


The game looks like dogsh*t. Now this isn’t normally a problem for me, because as long as the core game itself is great then I don’t really care about graphics especially when it comes to older games. However, Sonic Frontiers looks like a game that came out during the PlayStation 3 era and that really says something. Actually no, it looks like a student fan project that was given up halfway through development and that’s a really shameful thing to say as there are fan projects that are better than this. The texturing is awful, lighting is awful, and there were times they just slapped a JPG on. That about wraps up every complaint I have with Sonic Frontiers.


In the intro, I said that I respect the effort Sonic Team and Sega made with this game. However, I didn’t say that it was immune to criticism. People are going to argue that they tried really hard with this game, and they didn’t have the multimillion-dollar budget other Triple A studios had. I'll agree they worked hard, but I won’t agree that they were working with limited resources. If you consider the Sonic franchise and the amount of support it has received, you realize it’s made of quite a bit of money. I’m not just referring to the money made from the games. Merchandise, TV shows, theatrical movie releases, conventions, and much more. Sega made a lot of money from all of this, so don’t go throwing around this bullsh*t on how Sonic Team didn’t have much to work with. They had a lot to work with and they could have used that money to polish up the game. I do not recommend Sonic Frontiers, I really don’t. It’s not the worst game ever made, but it’s one the worst games I have covered in a while. I will say the formula they had almost worked. Run around a sandbox, collect items to unlock new things, and do new things to unlock more new things. That’s cool, but they executed so many elements poorly. This is not worth the sixty-dollar price tag, forty dollars, and I wouldn’t even say this is worth thirty. There are so many other games that came out in 2022 that are much better than this. Elden Ring, God of War: Ragnarok, Neon White, Rollerdrome, Return To Monkey Island, Pentiment, Tunic, etc. Games with better combat, world/level design, storytelling, art direction, themes, and more. You could be playing these games! You could be playing these games, Sonic fans, but most knowingly you won’t because you want to stick to one franchise and one franchise alone. Hoping that one day it will reach greatness even though it has severely lost its way. I give Sonic Frontiers a 6/10 for being passable. Not terrible, but not that great either.


6/10, Passable

This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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