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‘Sonic Frontiers’ Is Far From The Flop So Many Wanted It To Be

Mike Diver

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‘Sonic Frontiers’ Is Far From The Flop So Many Wanted It To Be

Featured Image Credit: SEGA

It’s fair to say that Sonic Frontiers didn’t make the greatest initial impression. SEGA’s new 3D game starring its spiky blue hedgehog received a seven-minute gameplay reveal via IGN First in June, and the comments were not kind. Viewers called out the empty, lifeless world they were seeing; wondered if they were watching a tech demo; and expressed disappointment at the soullessness of the whole thing. Amid any valid criticism was something else though, a gnawing sensation at the edges of the engagements. It was almost like people wanted this game to suck, for Sonic's big comeback to flop harder than any of those middle-00s titles we don't talk about anymore. The naysayers were naying like never before.

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Check out the latest Sonic Frontiers trailer below

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But how the Buzz Bombers have turned. Playing through a 15-minute demo of Sonic Frontiers at London’s EGX - a newer build than that shown to IGN a few months ago - I am immediately smitten with this beautiful yet bizarre combination of free-roaming semi-open-world exploration amid a mostly barren yet enigmatic landscape (think Shadow of the Colossus: The Theme Park) and hyper-speedy sections set in Cyber Space (the first of which is, clearly, Green Hill Zone with its chequerboard dirt and loop-the-loops). As someone who really enjoys the larger levels of Sonic CD, where speed is sometimes compromised slightly for seeking out objectives in a relatively sprawling 2D space, the wide open ‘zones’ here are hugely appealing. I’m not sure why there are so many very-Sonic-friendly rails to grind and pads to boost from amid these strange climes, unfamiliar to both our hero and ourselves, but it’s a video game, so just go with it.

Sonic Frontiers / Credit: SEGA
Sonic Frontiers / Credit: SEGA

Movement is familiar - there’s an arms-trailing velocity boost, when a meter allows for it, mapped to the right trigger, and an intuitive double jump for accessing harder-to-reach places. Sonic’s natural walking pace is expectedly brisk but it’s only with a booster behind you that the true speed of this experience is realised - both in the Cyber Space stages and out here in the rainy wilds of the Starfall Islands, the game’s opening zone. Being able to navigate some tight spaces and gently testing acrobatics in three dimensions is key to getting from one part of the zone to the next, so actually keeping Sonic’s rapidness restricted is, I feel, a good thing - if he was too twitchy, you’d fall from floating platforms too often for this to be any fun.

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Sonic Frontiers / Credit: SEGA
Sonic Frontiers / Credit: SEGA

As fun is what it most certainly is - it’s a rare feeling to want to do a preview over, but when my time’s up with Sonic Frontiers I do shifty an eyeball at attending staff to see if I can get away with restarting (I don’t - the queue is long and people have been waiting their turn, fair and square). And perhaps what’s most fun in this tasty teaser of what’s to come is, surprisingly, the combat. A single button still throws Sonic, curled and spiked, into foes via a lock-on mechanism, but these one-hit-kills aren’t the main threats of Frontiers. It’s the larger enemies, those that seem to be born of rock and earth and some strange magic we don’t know the root of yet. 

One, named Tower in the demo, is just that - a spinning, floating column of pain that spits out glowing explosive projectiles (thankfully there’s a dodge move for those) and whirs its own spikes so as to prevent Sonic from dashing them apart. To beat this lofty aggressor Sonic uses his new Cyloop ability to surround it, tracing a circle on the ground and stunning it to get in some hits before retreating to a safe distance. It’s a compelling dance of precision, propulsion and pugilism, not especially difficult - this is a show demo, remember, where you’re supposed to feel like you’ve won - but exhilarating all the same. Before this battle comes Ninja, a nimbler adversary with blade-like arms eager to slice those rings clean from Sonic’s pockets. It takes far fewer strikes to conquer but every one of them needs to slip between our rival’s razor-sharp appendages - spamming away won’t get our hero very far in these boss encounters.

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Sonic Frontiers / Credit: SEGA
Sonic Frontiers / Credit: SEGA

So what a difference a few months make, then. Perhaps June’s showing came too early for Sonic Frontiers. I saw potential at the time, a title still finding its identity, nothing to panic about - but as the Grand Theft Auto leaks have so starkly illustrated, there’s a corner of the gaming public that will immediately cry foul if an unfinished game looks like an unfinished game. And again, after a lot of so-so Sonics, it's almost as if some so-called fans wanted this to be another less-than-excellent adventure.

What’s certain though is that this preview phase has landed at a perfect time for SEGA’s next vehicle for its long-standing mascot, these days as much a film star as a video game avatar to roll from left to right. My Twitter feed tells me that many an EGX attendee left impressed by what Frontiers is setting up: a multifaceted and mysterious romp through a new reality for Sonic and interactive flashbacks to his past escapades. And I’m happy to join the optimistic ranks having drawn a blurry blue ring around November 8 on my calendar, my appetite whetted like the the blue blur catching the scent of so many of his favourite chili dogs.

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Sonic Frontiers releases for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC on November 8 2022.

Topics: Preview, Sonic, Sega

Mike Diver
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