Unfortunate, Sonic has had very bad luck for a very long time. Numerous experiments with the series have usually ended in failure and loud fan disappointment. In recent years, all the brightest moments in the life of Sega’s blue mascot have been associated with re-releases of classic games or Hollywood adaptations. And now, five years after the premiere of Sonic Forces, Sonic Team Studios has released Sonic Frontiers in a trendy open-world setting with a splash of fast-paced 3D stages. However, having reconstructed the virtual universe and general mechanics, the writers never quite managed to tackle the story narrative.
According to the script, Sonic, Amy and Tales crash-landed on Starfall Island after Eggman launched an interdimensional accelerator and opened a passageway to the digital dimension. So Sonic’s friends and the mustachioed villain himself got stuck between worlds. Now, the speedy hedgehog must find the Chaos Emeralds and defeat the giant bosses in their ultimate golden form. In parallel, you’re told a story of love, betrayal and thermonuclear warfare. And such a mix seems very strange. “Clownish” Eggman, Sonic’s cartoon friends and the search for hearts with rings don’t sit well with the developers’ attempts to convey drama.
In the main game, with its open-world segments, Sonic travels around five islands, collecting rings, coins, local lost inhabitants and special items important to each of his imprisoned hologram friends. In Amy’s case, it’s hearts, while Knuckles collects fire medals. Solving simple puzzles and performing dizzying stunts, you get extra points, keys for portals and a variety of seeds needed to boost your character’s armor and strength.
The large number of currencies makes the game feel heavy. In addition to improving the basic characteristics in exchange for seeds, you can buy special tricks that make battles easier, as well as to balance the hero by increasing the number of collected rings or movement speed.
The second part of the gameplay is travelling through high-speed portal levels, where you need to pass the stage as fast as possible, collecting red stars and keeping the minimum number of rings. Depending on your success, you’ll be rewarded with a specific set of keys needed to unlock the next Chaos Emerald. Once all the Emeralds on the island have been collected, Sonic will receive a gold uniform, which is fueled by the rings earned in the stages. It is in this form that he must defeat one of the giants and lords of the island.
In the open zones, the authors allow you to fight mini-bosses, perform tricks, enhance the hero and follow the main story. The rings themselves are both collected and literally mined from the ground by drawing the right pieces. With a full set, in addition to the chance of survival, the hero gets maximum acceleration, which is important for battles with strong enemies. Cyberspace’s linear levels are designed in the classic Green Hills style. Some of them are nostalgic and fit perfectly into the new 3D reality thanks to the stunts and speed.
For the convenience of clearing each of the islands, there’s a different terrain map that can and should be unlocked in chunks by completing small missions or passing challenges. Somewhere they ask you to run to the right point or delineate luminous objects on the ground, while other missions require a certain time of day or skill. Unfortunately, there are unfortunate puzzles in the game, and for a number of them the authors do not give any explanation at all, forcing the player to suffer in trying to find the right approach.
Mini-bosses, unlike the main titans of the island, differ in their uniqueness of approach. Some must be stormed like the colossus from Shadow of the Colossus, while others must be beaten in an enclosed ring by pushing on electric fences. Sadly, every few days there is a starburst period, causing all defeated enemies to regenerate. However, you can always forage for the components you need to progress through the story. Starfall, by the way, brings with it a mini-game in the manner of a “one-armed bandit” that can gift Sonic with a handful of coins.
Sonic Frontiers was clearly created with the Switch in mind, and then further improved for other systems, not surprising given that Nintendo consoles have historically generated a significant portion of Sonic’s platformer sales. The new game is well optimized for the hybrid system.