Sonic Frontiers Review

November 12, 2022

The iconic Sonic has gone through phases of popularity over the years, from a genuine console-seller in the 90’s, to unfortunate laughing stock in the 00’s, to ironic social media resurgence in the 10’s and now, as of 2020, a decidedly unironic movie star that’s genuinely catching on with a whole new generation of kids. It’s the perfect time to re-introduce Sonic with a new video game, especially one that can update the formula to a modern standard, and that’s precisely what Sonic Team’s Sonic Frontiers aims to do. It’s an ambitious re-positioning of the games as a more open world experience, moving away from the arcade platform gameplay of the past which was starting to get a little stale, and despite a general lack of polish it’s actually very successful at setting a new stage for great Sonic games to come.

Comics writer Ian Flynn has been brought on to write Sonic Frontiers‘ story, which certainly takes itself a lot more seriously than many other Sonic outings, although not quite in the cringe-worthy way Sonic Forces attempted to do. This time around, Sonic and his friends crash on the mysterious Starfall Islands, becoming trapped in a digital dimension called ‘Cyberspace’. Only Sonic is able to escape, and learns he can only rescue his friends by defeating four Titans in the world, while also thwarting the attempts of a digital girl known as ‘Sage’ to stop him. The story is well-written, with good insight into its characters and a well-thought out backstory for the Starfall Islands and its place in the larger Sonic world. There’s also quite a bit of fan service, as it also acknowledges almost every previous Sonic game and continuity from the past, so I guess we’re in some merged grand Sonic Cinematic Universe now.

Sonic Frontiers wears its influences on its sleeve, but it’s worth mentioning them anyway. The game most obviously draws open the vast, natural open world of Breath of the Wild, complete with soft piano music as you glide through verdant long grass, as well as the gradual unlocking of fast-travel rails just like Death Stranding. The abstractly-designed enemies are very reminiscent of the weirdo Angels from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the towering Titans (as well as the general narrative structure) borrow a lot from Shadow of the Colossus. The recent Sonic movies have also clearly informed the visuals of Sonic’s abilities, particularly his combat and the electric-blue glow of his eyes and speed trail when fully charged.

That’s all to say that it’s not like Sonic Frontiers is wholly original in any way, but it does feel very fresh for a Sonic game. The primary gameplay takes place across three main islands, open for Sonic to run about and explore at your own leisure, but also filled with floating rails, springs, and other various platforming challenges that lead to collectibles. Enemies roam the map but you don’t have to engage with them if you don’t want to, you’ll only need to if you’re after the experience points they provide. There’s a genuine sense of freedom that feels perfect for a Sonic game, and while there’s a clear hierarchy of things to collect, there are alternatives for just about every path. It’s genuinely perfectly acceptable to get through the final island and to the final boss by engaging in little else but the (simple but enjoyable) fishing game with bloody Big the Cat. That’s so bizarre it’s actually really cool.

You’ll often just run into the many various mini-bosses that litter the landscapes, which are some of the best encounters in the game. While some forms repeat with different versions, there’s actually a good variety of them that test Sonic’s abilities, from towering armoured figures, to ninja-like humanoids, to flying opponents who generate airborne-roads for Sonic to run along and chase. There are also four massive ‘Titan’ bosses which can only be fought as Super Sonic, but they aren’t quite as unique or interesting as their smaller counterparts. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the music also goes super hard in these sections, like way harder than it has to, making another banger of a Sonic soundtrack. Sonic has an actual combat system now that’s not just him jumping and slamming into enemies repeatedly, with a skill-tree to unlock new combos, and for the most part it has a surprising amount of depth. Sonic can drop on enemies from a height, spin into cyclones, launch air bullets at his targets, and even draw ‘Cyloops’ on the ground to stun them.

This last ability is also part of his expanded repertoire for regular platforming and puzzle solving in the open world, which also includes a stamina-like boost and the ‘drop dash’ from Sonic Mania. A lot of the puzzles are fairly simple, mainly involving drawing Cyloops around objects, but some can get pretty wacky, including Ikaruga-esque shoot ’em up challenges, pinball, skipping rope and herding. Not all of these mini-games necessarily work as well as they could, but  you have to hand it to Sonic Team for at least throwing as much as they had at the wall to see what stuck. All of Sonic’s main attributes can also be upgraded via various collectibles, including his attack, defence, speed and ring capacity.

If there’s one big drawback to this, it’s the general lack of polish that seems to be missing across the board. Pop-in is rampant across the open world, not just with close-up fine detail like grass and trees as you run along, but major platforming elements that would be useful to see in advance to plan routes. It might sound like an overblown complaint, but if this one thing was fixed, it’d solve a lot of frustration. There’s also sections, especially on the third island, where gameplay switches into 2D mode for several challenges and this should probably just be ejected entirely, as you often find yourself hustled into a 2D area you didn’t want to be in, and can’t easily leave. Combat can also sometimes fail to recognise instructions, even if you’re correctly inputting combos, which might be why there’s an option for ‘auto-combos’ that can be unlocked in the skill tree.

The other major component of the game are the ‘Cyberspace’ levels, which are unlocked at various portals around the islands. These are essentially new boost-style Sonic levels, like from Sonic Forces and Sonic Colours, that offer high-speed action and platforming challenges. While there has been enthusiasm about these from Sonic fans, I just don’t think they work very well. They’re only themed around four stages from Sonic‘s history, and ones we’ve seen previously rendered in HD in Sonic Generations I might add, but they’re stripped down to basic elements so they feel more like the mini-levels from Sonic Colours that I also wasn’t a fan of, hinging on basic platforming challenges with bottomless pits and fairly sparse level design. They feel like a remnant of the past that Sonic Team was afraid to let go of, in case fans weren’t too keen on the open world, but they either needed a lot more polish or a lot more integration with the rest of the game.

It says something about the freedom and fun of the open world that these niggles didn’t ruin my enjoyment of Sonic Frontiers. In fact, I would dare say it was actually really good. It’s definitely the best 3D Sonic game since Sonic Generations, and it might even be the best template for what a 3D Sonic game can be since, well, ever. It’s refreshing, surprisingly addictive and Sonic’s move-set is just really enjoyable to experiment with in an open world. Sonic Team Reach for the Stars with Sonic Frontiers, successfully making a game where feel like You Can Do Anything, and His World is really fun to explore – I just hope that the developers Live and Learn for the next one, and focus on polishing the tech here to run a lot better and shed the Cyberspace levels, because their new formula really does have Endless Possibility.

This review is based on code provided by the publisher.


-Genuinely fun and inviting open world, full of challenges and interesting boss fights
-Sonic's speed works in ways that open up the game world
-Surprising depth in Sonic's abilities and combat
-Plenty of variety in challenges


-General lack of polish lets down visuals and gameplay
-Cyberspace levels don't really hit for me

Overall Score: