Sonic Frontiers review: best 3D Sonic in years falls short of greatness
| Last updated
Featured Image Credit: SEGA
Sonic Frontiers is the best 3D Sonic game in years. But what does that really mean? Looking back over Sonic’s shameful 3D history is about as much fun as being bitten in the face by an angry dog. Yes, Sonic Frontiers is more fun than the likes of Sonic Forces and Sonic ‘06. But so is listening to your nan rank her favourite Emmerdale villains.
The truth is Sonic Frontiers is a very good game. It sometimes even manages to be a great game! But it’s held back by the usual set of issues and caveats that have plagued every 3D Sonic outing since Sonic Adventure. The question, as always, is how much you’re willing to forgive and overlook. Because if you can get over Sonic Frontiers’ shortcomings? Then this is, actually, the best 3D experience the Blue Blur has had since Sonic Adventure 2.
Sonic Frontiers sees our chilli dog-loving hedgehog wake up on a mysterious island where, guided by a disembodied voice, he must get to the truth of an ancient civilization that lost itself to war. So far, so Breath Of The Wild. But while Sonic Frontiers certainly invites comparisons to the 2017 Zelda on the surface, it actually has far more in common with 2017’s Mario: the excellent Odyssey.
The game takes place across a series of disconnected open-zone islands filled with environmental puzzles, boss battles, and portals to more traditional Sonic levels. Your time on each island is spent largely doing the same thing: running around, exploring, and collecting “memory tokens” to rescue whichever friend of Sonic’s has found themselves trapped on that island. As you do this, you’ll also earn keys which can be used to unlock the seven Chaos Emeralds, with each island ending in an impressively cinematic Super Sonic boss battle before our hero moves onto the next island, loses the emeralds in an irritating plot contrivance, and has to repeat the whole “save friend/collect emeralds” process from scratch.
I’m not knocking it, by the way - it largely works. Each island is a reasonably sized playground for Sonic to tear around, with more than enough unique things to see and do on each to ensure we’re never really doing the same thing too much. Sprinting between points of interest, unlocking new pieces of the map, and collecting power-ups that improve Sonic’s overall speed, defence, and attack power is brilliant fun. Sonic Frontiers has that “just one more thing” quality I love in an open-world game that constantly pushes you to explore a little bit further before calling it a day.
One of the most impressive things is the variety in the mini-bosses between islands. These are powerful enemies that can be found scattered across the world, and act a lot like traditional Sonic boss battles. The first island has a giant squid-like robot you’ll need to chase down before you can get in close and attack, for example. The second island has a large tank that whips up a sandstorm, leaving Sonic to avoid its blows in freefall before landing some hits of his own.
These mini-bosses - and other, smaller enemies - are a joy to fight thanks to a surprisingly detailed suite of combat moves that make Sonic a better fighter than ever before. The familiar homing attack is usually just the first step in a combo that can involve punches, kicks, counters, ranged abilities, and devastating stomps. The new Cyloop ability, which lets Sonic create a ring around certain objects and enemies, is a ton of fun, and keeps the momentum up in combat. More than any other Sonic game, Frontiers seems to have remembered Sonic is supposed to be fast - and I can’t fault it for that.
Then there are the Super Sonic boss battles, which go hard. Usually a Sonic game reserves these Super Saiyan encounters as a special treat for the very end of the game. Sonic Frontiers offers up multiple showdowns with fearsome behemoths, complete with bodacious guitar riffs and pulse-pounding beats. These encounters are incredible in scale, kicking off with a Shadow Of The Colossus-style task to climb to the top of each monster before turning into Super Sonic for a high-speed throwdown. While these moments are, for the most part, quite brilliant, a frustrating camera and unforgiving checkpoints can make them more difficult than they need to be - even on the lower difficulties.
On paper, the rough overall concept of Sonic Frontiers works. An open-world area filled with puzzles and other challenges to sprint around and enjoy, combined with portals that lead to more focused and traditional Sonic experiences. That’s a really great idea. Unfortunately, while the open-world stuff works for the most part, it’s the classic Sonic levels that let the overall game down in the biggest way.
These so-called Cyberspace levels are, to put it simply, kind of rubbish. There aren’t nearly enough of them, they’re far too short, and the visual variety is severely lacking. The notion of Cyberspace levels that recall past Sonic adventures is a good one, but the vast majority of these levels are based on Green Hill Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, and Angel Island. There are a handful of exceptions, but you’ll spend most of your time in Cyberspace running through variations on these same three worlds.
The fact that the genuinely excellent music these iconic levels are all known for has been replaced by new (largely generic) pieces adds insult to injury. It’s not like these Cyberspace levels even play any better than past 3D Sonic levels. The same annoying camera issues, sudden obstacles, and unfair deaths plague Cyberspace, too. Some really tight, well-designed 3D Sonic action could have beautifully complemented the open-world fun and elevated Sonic Frontiers to new heights. As it stands, it just drags it down.
That’s not to say the rest of the game is blameless. The awful camera persists throughout the game, making many moments needlessly difficult or otherwise completely ruining potentially epic enemy encounters. Sonic can also be a bit of a pain to control, with various objects in the world frequently bringing the hedgehog to a grinding halt.
The game’s world, while frequently gorgeous (at least on PlayStation 5), is also a hot mess at times. Platforms and grind rails will suddenly pop in, and you can often go careering into a spring pad or speed boost that sends you flying in completely the opposite direction to where you were trying to go. There’s also no sense of cohesion to each island and the various platforms and toys that have been placed there for Sonic to play with. It quite often just looks like someone’s dumped a bunch of Sonic assets in the middle of an Unreal Engine 5 tech demo. It’s undeniably beautiful (again, at least on PS5), but doesn’t make a ton of sense, visually speaking.
So yes, Sonic Frontiers is the best 3D Sonic in a long, long time. It’s bigger, faster, smarter, and I absolutely cannot fault its ambition. Unfortunately, it’s constantly derailed by the exact same things that have been holding back Sonic games for the last few decades. With a little more polish, I truly believe Sonic Frontiers could have been one of the greats. As it stands, it’s a frequently good time with occasional flashes of brilliance. Will Sonic fans love it? Absolutely. But let’s be honest: we’ve been starving for years.
Pros: Excellent combat, multiple open-world playgrounds to explore, Sonic has never been faster
Cons: Awful camera, rubbish Cyberspace levels, visually uneven
For fans of: Sonic Adventure 2, Super Mario Odyssey, chilli dogs
7/10: Very Good
Sonic Frontiers is available November 8 for PlayStation 5 (version tested) Xbox Series X/S, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Code for review was supplied by the publisher.
Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.