Sonic Frontiers is finally here and the blue hedgehog has ventured into full open world territory and the results are genuinely fantastic.
To get right into it, Sonic Frontiers is an interesting and refreshing open world game. The premise has Sonic and friends crash into some mysterious islands that are full of ancient ruins.
The main game flow has Sonic explore large areas for challenges. Completing these mini-puzzles unlocks a small chunk of the map, opens up some guide rails (more of this later) and a bit of upgrade currency, of which there are quite a few.
Once you find and complete more challenges, you can look for Portasl. These need Portal Gears to open, which are dropped from enemies both big and small.
Entering a Portal takes you to cyberspace and a more traditional Sonic type of gameplay, where you have to complete linear runs across a variety of landscapes.
Each portal tends to have a bunch of requirements, each of which awards a Vault Key. Once you get enough vault keys you can unlock the Chaos Emeralds. With the Chaos Emeralds allowing you to take on the Titans of each area and go Super Sonic in the process.
What makes Sonic Frontiers so special is that it works very naturally in an open world setup, coupled with a third-person action game framework.
Sonic’s arsenal is also a lot more comprehensive this time around, with all manner of unlockable attacks at your disposal. Not to mention all the upgrades you can subject Sonic to, from increasing your speed to also your ring capacity, as well as your defense and attack power.
There are also a lot of different currencies in the game, which tackle all of these various upgrades and to be honest, all of this can be a bit overwhelming at the start.
While the game is not one contiguous open world, each area in the game is massive. The first has you rescue Amy, and she chaperones you around, pointing you where you need to go. However, you can just do whatever you want, and I went and unlocked all the map segments first before I started on any of the portals or Amy’s tasks.
The map setup in particular is something I really liked. Most open world games have you find a tower or someplace high up to unlock the map of an area. Sonic Frontiers’ approach is much better because you have to unlock the map of an area in a piecemeal way through puzzle solving and exploration.
That’s the key point here, Sonic Frontiers is all about exploration. While all the bounce switches and guide rails are all over the place, they are entirely optional for the most part and are there to help you cross areas quicker and to generally have fun.
This is because Sonic works brilliantly in an open world game, due to the simple fact that he is one very speedy hedgehog. You can navigate and explore with ease in each of the game’s areas and if you want to zip around on the various contraptions littered about the landscape, then you can do that too.
The weird thing here is that in the initial trailers for the game, this setup wasn’t clearly shown. Freaking everyone out with a weird landscape littered with playground rides. It didn’t make sense and there was no context to what was happening. With a property such as Sonic, you need it to be clear how the franchise is evolving while staying true to its functional roots.
This is why Sonic Frontiers works so well, because it takes what we love about Sonic games and updates it with a more modern approach to world navigation and combat.
On top of that, the dialogue and characterization are great. Sonic is adorably cheeky in this outing and his various friends bring their own attitude too. The story is also told through exploration by finding Amy and friends around each area, as well as other more mysterious characters.
You have to unlock tokens to access these cutscenes, but if you handle all the challenges first, you will have accrued more than enough to see everything you want to.
The only thing I will say is that you should pace yourself at the start. There isn’t really a gradual onboarding, just a lot of information thrown your way all at once. This also applies to the combat and especially the bosses.
You will need to be patient and learn all of Sonic’s new moves and to trust in the game’s combat system to get the flow right. Seek out the challenges first and upgrade Sonic a fair bit, both in terms of available attacks and base abilities. In addition, use the Cyloop ability to rack up rings and max out your capacity from the get go.
Just doing small loops anywhere will net you rings and other currencies in the game, this is also a handy thing to use in some boss fights too (when it’s available anyway).
After playing the demo at the Tokyo Game Show this year, I was expecting the game to be decent. What we’ve got instead is probably one of the best Sonic games to date.
Overall, Sonic Frontiers takes the lovable blue hedgehog into new open world territory, while staying true to how Sonic should feel in a functional sense. There’s also a lot to unpack here, so don’t take on too much at once and just go with the high-speed flow.
Platform: PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Sxo
Developer: Sonic Team
Released: 8th November 2022
Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this game for the purposes of this review.
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