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Sonic Frontiers preview: the best 3D Sonic game in over a decade

Will McCue

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Sonic Frontiers preview: the best 3D Sonic game in over a decade

Featured Image Credit: SEGA

It’s fair to say modern Sonic games haven’t really been massive hits. The speedy blue boy has his fans of course, but they’ve been longing for the glory days of the ‘90s for some time now. Sonic Frontiers is SEGA’s latest attempt at bringing their mascot to the modern market. After around seven hours of playtime, I’m pleasantly surprised to tell you that it is a good game. Perhaps nothing groundbreaking and it certainly has its flaws, but Frontiers is definitely the best new 3D Sonic game in well over a decade.

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Check out one of the most recent Sonic Frontiers trailers below:

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SEGA were pretty quick to tell me that the game is open-zone, not open-world, meaning there are multiple islands for Sonic to explore individually. This is fairly similar to how the different areas of Pokémon Legends: Arceus worked. Each island has its own distinct theme, and whether that’s a desert, volcanic mountain or grassy hills, they’re all pleasing on the eye. Landscape photographers would have a field day. I particularly enjoyed climbing to the top of a really tall tower on the first island just to take in the view.

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These open-zone areas are really fun to explore. You’ll stumble upon unique enemies to take down, quick mini-games to play and well-designed routes to run, grind and jump across, collecting gold rings on the way. If Sonic the Hedgehog could dream of his perfect playground, this would be it.

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

The gameplay loop is (so far) the same for each island. Sonic needs to save one of his famous friends, and to do so you have to collect cogs by defeating enemies across the land - we’ll get onto the combat shortly - to unlock some classic-style Sonic levels. Completing challenges within these levels will give you vault keys, which are then used to unlock Chaos Emeralds. You need to obtain all the Emeralds on each island to then take on a Titan in a huge boss battle. That may seem complicated on paper but it flows fairly seamlessly in practice. The only problem is that - again, so far, based on my preview time with the game - it’s the same thing over and over, which gets rather repetitive quickly.

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The combat feels very smooth in the open-zone areas and doesn’t just require you to mash a single button. It’s designed to make you think about how to take down an enemy. Whether that’s waiting for the perfect time to attack or running around a large group with a ‘Cyloop’, dealing damage to all within the circle you create. One of my favourite enemies is a robotic shark that swims through the desert sands, which Sonic must grab the tail of as it slowly gets within range to attack. Another highlight is the battle with a massive walking beast called ‘Strider’, where you need to grind around discs that the beast spits out to create an opening to strike.

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

While these fights are ensuing, the background music that plays absolutely slaps, pumping up the player to carry on and do better. The tracks really add to the game and fit specific scenarios, instead of just being added on top without thought. Even the more tranquil instrumentals you’ll hear while traversing the lands are a delight to the ear.

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Frontiers does a fantastic job of balancing old Sonic with the new. Teleportation points to ‘Cyber Space’ are found dotted around the islands, once entered they’ll transport you to the more linear Sonic levels that we all know and love. They’re as enjoyable as ever, with achievements and challenges that inspire you to play through each level until you’ve achieved an S rank. Pulling off a record time feels like a well-earned victory, putting the player back in the open-zone area on a high. Once again, the music choice is banging.

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

While you’re running from point A to point B as the furry blue hedgehog, there are so, so many collectibles to find. Some of these are required to progress the story and others are used to unlock abilities in the all-new skill tree. Yes that’s right, Sonic the Hedgehog has a skill tree - which some players will embrace while others wonder why this kind of character needs one at all. Most of the unlockables are just new combat moves, which are pretty cool and can change up enemy encounters later on in the game. However, to me it feels unnecessary in a game like Frontiers. Good skill trees allow players to enhance their character in a way to suit their playstyle, but the skill tree here just adds some new moves that could be given to the player anyway at certain points in the game. Stats like attack, defence and speed can also be levelled up by collecting items across the world. It honestly gets a bit much but if you’re just exploring sections of the map that look cool, you’ll undoubtedly discover all the items you need anyway.

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To complete an island you’ll need to take down a Titan. Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to turn into Super Sonic (the yellow, flying version) and goes absolutely wild, zipping around the sky while performing combos that smack the living daylights out of these gigantic machines. Fast-paced, epic music vibrates through my headphones as this whole battle plays out - it’s like the series finale of your favourite anime, as the big bad finally gets taken down. The Titan fights aren’t especially challenging (again, so far), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable. The only gripe I have is that if you’re swatted out of the sky, the camera locks for a few seconds, meaning you can’t look around. This just feels frustrating when your intuition wants to scan the environment for any incoming dangers.

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

Even though Frontiers doesn’t play like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the inspiration from Nintendo’s game is clear to see. The general colour scheme, especially of the first island, matches the low saturation and pastel colours that we’ve seen in many games from the last few years. It’s uncanny how similar some sound effects are as well - once you complete one of the many mini-games to reveal new areas on the map, a few piano notes play followed by the noise of a beacon echoing in the distance. If you close your eyes, you’d immediately think of Breath of the Wild - not that that’s a bad thing at all.

SEGA has also included a fishing mini-game if you want to sit back and relax for a few minutes. You’ll be vibing to “lo-fi beats to study and eat chilli dogs to”, and it really is a calming experience. I managed to catch a Marlin fish that was bigger than Sonic, so it looked hilarious when he lifted the catch of the day up for a celebratory photo. The fishing can also give you some pretty good loot, if you’re lucky.

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

After running around at the speed of sound in Sonic Frontiers for as long as I did, I definitely felt like I needed a break. However, waking up the following day I was longing for more. Playing for an hour or two at a time may be the optimal way to enjoy Frontiers because of how repetitive it can be, and in such a short session you’ll have a great time.

Frontiers perhaps isn’t the Sonic title that fans have been longing for but it’s a good game that will no doubt be used as a step for building on for the future. Add in the success of the recent Sonic movies, and Frontiers could well be the catalyst that the Sonic franchise needs to bring in a whole new generation of players.

We played Sonic Frontiers during a SEGA press event in Hawaii. Transport and accommodation for this access was covered by SEGA. This does not affect the sentiment expressed in this piece regarding the writer's impressions of the game. Sonic Frontiers releases for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X/S, and PC on November 8, 2022. The game was tested on [PC].

Topics: Sonic, Preview, Sega

Will McCue
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