Sonic Frontiers takes 3D Sonic games to new heights with its “open zone” format. Instead of the same old style of progression you may have come to expect from this series, this new entry’s focus is all about exploring expansive natural environments and ancient ruins – speeding around doing what you want, whenever you want… in most cases. It’s got a sense of freedom about it similar to a lot of other “next-gen” open world titles in recent years. In the lead-up to its release, Frontiers also drew a lot of comparisons to Nintendo’s insanely popular Zelda title Breath of the Wild, which arguably inspired the latest trend of simply leaving the player to their own devices.
So, how does Sonic’s new outing hold up? SEGA and Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka previously mentioned how this would essentially set the foundations in place for the blue blur’s next decade, and it’s easy to see why once you've played the game. This new format drops you into a mysterious new location and from there it’s over to you. You’re given some subtle guidance and tutorials when required, but it’s very much like other open world games in recent times where you’ll find your own pathway. Admittedly, it does feel rather different at first to just be roaming about a huge biome as the blue hedgehog, but once you’ve adapted to this new style of gameplay, you likely won't question it.
The story behind this latest adventure is focused on Sonic finding his friends, recovering the Chaos Emeralds in a new location known as the Starfall Islands (split up across five separate zones) and dealing with Dr. Eggman, who is seemingly up to no good. It gets much deeper than this – involving a new character named Sage, plenty of ancient ruins, Cyber Space, terrifying Titans and the mysterious creatures known as Koco – but you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
The general structure of Sonic Frontiers is broken up into open world exploration scattered with high-speed 3D and 2.5D platforming sections, moments of combat, collecting and a variety of puzzles to solve. If you enjoy collecting in games, you’ll very much enjoy hunting down the cute little Kocos, which serve a much greater purpose in the game’s story, and can also help Sonic level up his speed and ring count. In addition to all of this, there are bosses and 30 Cyber Space levels to complete.
Cyber Space stages transport Sonic to another dimension and see the player taking on “traditional” 3D and 2.5D Sonic levels. These stages draw from Sonic’s lengthy video game history, so they’ll no doubt look and feel familiar to long-time fans of the series. This all ties into the story, and the stages are a nice change of tempo from the main open world segments of the game, but initially, they might feel slightly underwhelming compared to the rest of the experience, despite the familiarity. The movement of Sonic might also take some time to adapt to, but once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself speeding through each stage as normal. About the only nitpicks here can be some sensitive controls and occasional camera hiccups, which also occasionally apply to the open world segments.
Cyber Space is a key part of the progression in Frontiers. To access these stages, Sonic must first unlock these portals by defeating enemies and collecting gears. These levels then reward players with Vault Keys when completed, which then allows you to unlock the Chaos Emeralds and eventually take down the Titan on each island. It’s a chain of events you’ll well and truly be familiar with by the end of the game, but it manages to remain exciting throughout the adventure.
What makes this such an enjoyable process is once again the level of freedom given to the player, with progression from smaller accomplishments across each island building up over time. If you see a point of interest in the distance, in most cases you can speed over and take a look. There are no immediate barriers in terms of progression, either, with Sonic normally able to find a way, provided the player can work out a method to overcome the challenge. Solving puzzles such as tile patterns, activating switches or making your way through small platforming segments around each island rewards you with map reveals, story updates, character memories and more. There’s a great sense of flow and momentum that links all of the gameplay together, and in no time, you’ll find yourself dashing from one task or platforming section to another with relative ease.
You can also engage in more relaxing and fun mini-games like fishing, while other types of mini-games can progress the story - such as a game of pinball, sky diving to activate bridges, and even shoot ‘em up mini-games (paying respect to classics like Ikaruga) to make certain events play out. Again, they provide a nice change of pace from the usual high-speed thrills.
When you’re not collecting or running about in the open world, you’ll often find yourself dealing with hostile Cyber Space enemies. Some are grounded while others are airborne. The more exciting robot-like creatures include sand sharks and a number of towering structures. Each one displays a health bar and some need to be taken down in a specific way. It’s Sonic’s job to defeat them with a combination of his old and newer skillset, which you’ll level up along the way and add new moves to. Some basics include the light speed dash and spinball attacks (there are counters, too). Sonic now also has a skilltree to work his way through - the new move Cyloop for example, leaves a light trail behind Sonic and can be used to attack enemies, activate points of interest and solve puzzles. There are also more advanced moves like recovery smashes, loop kicks and 'Sonic Boom' to help give Sonic the edge in battle.
The combat in Frontiers is taken to another level with the Titan battles. The first of four Titans you take on is an epic moment in the history of the series. Sonic transforms into Super Sonic, a hardcore tune like Undefeatable flicks on, and the battle begins. These fights often require Sonic to scale the Titan or a landmark in some situations – board them, and then deplete their health bar with a series of real-time attacks and quick time events. You'll often have to parry incoming attacks as well. These battles are some of the best moments in the game, requiring the player to adapt on the fly. Even if the later Titan battles feel a bit underdone, they’re all still standout moments in Sonic Frontiers.
One other aspect of Frontiers that truly shines is the story development. While it's not quite as happening as previous games, the exchanges between Sonic and his friends are quite moving. There are also some heroic and sweet moments during certain cinematics right up until the end. Lead composer Tomoya Ohtani and the rest of the audio department only add to these special moments in the game with an absolutely outstanding soundtrack.
As for the graphics, Frontiers has a similar beauty to games like Breath of the Wild. You can sit there and just take it all in – there are fields of flowers, lush green forests, volcano peaks, swamps and grassy plains. You'll often be able to hear the surrounding environment as well as the Koco nearby. There’s also a day and night cycle, and weather cycle with rain and shine, only adding to the beauty. On Xbox Series X this is supported by two settings – 4K mode and 60FPS mode. 4K is capped at 30FPS, so you’re better off swapping to the performance mode for the sake of speed – the game mostly achieves this target, but there are occasional dips in the open world sections. Generally, the game looks great - although there is some object pop-in, but to be honest you might not even notice it. There are also reportedly some frame rate issues on Xbox Series S, so hopefully SEGA will sort this out.
Sonic Frontiers is a triumph for the series. Sure, it might be a little prickly around the edges, but overall this is a great experience from start to finish. Director Morio Kishimoto and Sonic Team should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. It’s proof that even after 30 years, the Sonic series can still be taken in new and exciting directions, and SEGA can now build on this new game's foundation. Sonic Frontiers provides one of the most enjoyable 3D Sonic experiences of all time, and we're excited for what the future holds for the blue blur.