Capsule Review: Sonic Frontiers

A flawed but promising take on Sonic as an open-world game.

A new formula for modern Sonic gameplay where traditional linear levels are present but only as one of many interconnected systems wrapped in an open-world structure.

The game takes place on a series of large islands that Sonic can explore mostly-freely. The islands are dotted with tons of short platforming segments, varied combat encounters and minibosses (some of which also incorporate platforming), minor puzzles and challenges, portals that take you to the traditional linear levels, and a lot of collectibles.

Some collectibles make Sonic more powerful (“skill pieces” gained mostly from combat help unlock new attacks and combos from a skill tree, while a few other collectibles can be traded in to increase Sonic’s attack, defense, speed, and maximum ring capacity) while others tie in to story progression (“memory tokens” gained mostly from the short platforming segments are needed to access story scenes while using the portals requires “portal gears” gained mostly from minibosses; beating the traditional levels and optional objectives within them rewards “vault keys” used to get the Chaos Emeralds which are required to finish each island). While there are some story chokepoints, you can approach most of the content in whatever order you want and most of it is optional. Aside from the Chaos Emeralds, there are way more of every type of collectible than needed and several ways to get each of them.

There are some frustrations and parts that feel unpolished. A few minigames that are required to complete the story are shallow and unfun while being overly strict, a few boss fights feel like they needed a bit more tweaking (like one that requires you to pick up balls of light hovering above rails, and then locks the camera to a position where you can’t tell which rail the light is hovering over), and it’s annoyingly common to run into bugs that break platforming segments (like going through a dash panel and getting sped onto a spring and clipping right through it and falling off, obliging you to restart the platforming segment from the beginning). Probably the worst problem is that there is omnipresent pop-in with the platforming segments and some other environmental features, which can be a problem when you’re trying to figure out the path to a particular collectible but you can’t see the features that make up the path (especially when it happens because they are high up above the ground so you can’t feasibly get close enough to pop them in), but this never blocked me for long. Most of the stumbles seem like growing pains from this being the first Sonic game of this format, and I’ll be very interested in any follow-up titles that build on and improve the formula based on the lessons learned here.

Someone who just wants to master the linear levels will likely be frustrated and bored by the open-world structure they’re trapped in (there is an “Arcade Mode” that lets you access the levels directly, but you have to beat the story mode to unlock it). But if you’re interested in the idea of hanging out in Sonic’s world with experiences that vary more in scope and tension and give you a lot of flexibility in what to tackle based on your mood, there’s fun to be had here. Personally, I really appreciated the setup - running around doing all the little platforming segments and gathering way more collectibles than I needed was a great way to relax, and then I could jump into miniboss fights or the linear levels when I wanted a more-directed and higher-intensity challenge.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game with all achievements and many but not all of the other optional objectives.

Docprof's Rating:

Four Stars: Great. Not only did I finish the game, I probably played through the whole thing again and/or completed any optional objectives. It's an easy recommendation for any genre fan.

You can get it or learn more here.