Sonic Frontiers Review | The Gap Between Ambition and Execution - Prima Games

Sonic Frontiers Review | The Gap Between Ambition and Execution

A little more hibernation wouldn't have hurt.

by Aidan O'Brien

I feel the need to be frank and say that I always perceived Sonic the Hedgehog as something of a tryhard. I think it’s fine to be a blue hedgehog who goes against the stereotype and runs fast instead of slowly ambling about and eating slugs. However, I don’t think it’s cool to be an arrogant little jerk about it. While I have often appreciated Sonic for his speed, I have always questioned his strangely superior attitude. Historically, Sonic puts his friends at risk because he always assumes he can save them, and I don’t think that is very cool. But arrogance makes for a good hero, especially when compared to some of his contemporaries from back in the day.

All this brings us to Sonic Frontiers, which feels like it should be a chance for an egotistical little hedgehog to speed around the world and really shine. The game itself provides us with few easy critical wins, however, letting down the titular character by lacking his confidence and failing to execute on its own ambitions. While it feels like the switch to an open world should have worked wonders for a character who can traverse that world at extreme speeds, Sonic Frontiers often feels like it is struggling to stay on course.

A classic tale of universe jumping

In Sonic Frontiers, things begin with Dr. Eggman messing up everyone’s day, as usual. After discovering a strange new island and attempting to interfere with things there, he gets sucked away to another dimension. Because all the best games rely on sheer coincidence to move their story forward, Sonic and some buddies are sucked into a wormhole as they are attempting to investigate some Chaos Emeralds. Sonic awakens in Cyber Space, a strange interim dimension that acts in a similar way to classic Sonic levels. Once he escapes, he is on the Starfall Islands, and there is all manner of friend-saving, Chaos Emerald finding, and puzzle-solving to be done. After that, you will spend your time trying to defeat giant monsters and save your friends, but the story primarily exists to serve the mechanics here.

This is where things get a little dicey as there is little evolution in the gameplay loop in Sonic Frontiers. You collect gears and keys, and they will allow you to get Chaos Emeralds. There is little variation here. You simply dive into whatever activity will give you what you need. Sometimes that means diving around the Starfall Islands. Sometimes, it means jumping into Cyber Space for a more classic take on Sonic.

Sadly, one of the aspects of Sonic Frontiers that I really struggled with is the voice acting. Most of the performances are lackluster, and it feels a bit like going back in time to the awkward and stilted performances of Sonic Adventure. I’m not saying I wanted Sonic Frontiers to draw me in like The Last of Us, but it didn’t need to entirely undercut itself with such weak performances. It also impacts my original point about the duality of Sonic as a character. The right Sonic is easy to get behind, his confidence carrying the day. The wrong Sonic just comes off as a jerk. Sadly, the direction for Sonic here appears to have left him in jerk territory. To counter this, we have the soundtrack, which is filled with absolute bangers, especially during boss fights. It’s a little bit of emotional whiplash, but if you prefer mechanics over story, then it won’t be a big deal for you.

Upsetting the applecart

One of the things that Sonic Frontiers should be praised for is the sheer scale it is willing to operate at. The developers decided that an open world was the way to go and just went ham. The actual world of Sonic Frontiers is a lot of fun to explore. Rails, jump pads, platforms, and other obstacles are all over the place, and it is up to you to find fun routes through them. This was definitely the best part of the game for me. Just zooming around all these different obstacles, opening up new paths, and having a blast trying to make the most ridiculous connections between obstacles is great. It also truly justifies the open-world concept, and I fully appreciate what the developers were going for here.

Combat is also a lot of fun and is designed in a way that it should be even more enjoyable when you are fighting one of the screen-filling monsters that occupy the game. Dealing with the smaller monsters is fun, but the bigger ones set more complex challenges that you’ll need to figure out. Sadly, this is where some of the wheels start to fall off. Having fun while interacting with the world always seems to boil down to whether the game is working as intended. The best example is the massive Asura enemy, a three-armed robot that you need to break down in stages. Part of the mechanic of fighting it is using white speed gates. These gates are prone to not working and just sending you hurtling in weird directions, making these sections tedious. It is a shame that even some of its strongest areas are let down by a seeming lack of polish. All that said, most of the time, combat is a lot of fun, and progression throughout the game means early headaches should be pretty easily solved after some power-ups and unlocks.

Sonic Frontiers has put me in a bit of an awkward spot. The game has a lot going for it, and there is much to enjoy here if you are a fan of the series. That said, this is not the triumphant transformation into an open-world behemoth that many out there will have been hoping for. The game has oodles of vision and ambition but not enough polish to make it truly inviting, especially when released into a stacked calendar.

It is a shame, too, as both Sonic and fans of the blue menace really do deserve a game that lives up to the incredible and era-defining highs of games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Sonic feels a little lost in the modern era, and while 2017’s Sonic Mania did a wonderful job of reminding everyone exactly what makes Sonic titles so much fun, Frontiers doesn’t quite manage to push the character into a meaningful new direction without seeming to pay a heavy price for it.


Pros:

  • The game doesn’t lack ambition
  • Combat can be smooth and fun when working as intended
  • The classic sonic combo of speed and jump pads really does work in an open-world setting

Cons:

  • An overall lack of polish means there is some distance between ambition and execution
  • The voice acting is very weak, sometimes annoyingly so
  • Sonics fans will either be able to forgive the flaws or be deeply upset by them

Score: 6.5

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review