Initial release date: November 8, 2022
Writer: Ian Flynn
Developer: Sonic Team
Composer: Tomoya Ohtani
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Genres: Platform game, Fighting game, Action-adventure game
Publishers: Sega, SEGA of America, Sega Europe Limited
"Review Copy Provided By Sega"
We Sonic fans have had an interesting time over the decades as whenever a game drops it’s either loved/liked by the fandom or insanely panned by the Sonic elitist who seem to hate any and every new Sonic game that comes out. When it comes to 2D sonic, we’ve been eating good with Sonic Mania and Sonic Origins, and yet when it comes to 3D Sonic its most often a miss and never ever really a hit. 2021’s Sonic Colors Ultimate was met with a mixture of admiration from many yet an insane amount of hate from the Sonic elitist and retro gaming community, especially after the game’s reputation was damaged by people who pirated the Switch version of the game and ran it on an emulator which showcased all kinds of bugs that you would never run into if you played the game on the Nintendo Switch. This negativity pretty much spoiled any goodwill the game could’ve had even when it was exposed as being run on an emulator and not authentic hardware. In that same timeframe, Sega announced a new 3D Sonic that looked to be made in the vein of the Sonic Adventure titles from the Sega Dreamcast that were loved by the fandom. While many feared the game would turn out to be another mishap in the 3D Sonic space, I was optimistic and excited at the opportunity to dive into this new Sonic entry. So, is Sonic Frontiers the 3D Sonic game that we’ve been longing for as Sonic fans, or will this game give the Sonic elitist who hate anything new Sonic further reason to continue hating? Let’s find out!
This is a darker if not one of the darkest Sonic stories that we’ve experienced as it has Sonic trapped on Krono Island in the digital world and needs to save his friends who have been digitized and are like a ghostly apparition. The game starts with Dr. Robotnik aka Dr. Eggman discovering a Portal Pedestal within an ancient civilization belonging to those known as the Ancients and activating it with a device that he’s concocted. His plans are foiled, and he gets pulled within the Portal Pedestal as the Ancients’ Sentinels come online. We are then shown Sonic, Tails, and Amy flying on the Tornado biplane when suddenly a digital dimensional rift is opened and sucks them in. After getting through glitchy replica of Green Hill Zone, Sonic awakens looking around trying to find Tails and Amy, he then hears a voice telling him that he has escaped Cyber Space by the sheer will of his own power and tells him that he is the key. He is told that in order to save his friends that he needs to find the Chaos Emeralds, destroy the Titans, and tear down the walls between dimensions. How do the Chaos Emeralds fit into this world? Who are the Titans and why must Sonic destroy them? What and how are the dimensions digitized and merging? Sonic will have to continue this journey to find out!
When you start the game, you are presented with one of two gameplay styles that have you either playing the game in an Action style or High speed style. The Action style is there for those who are not familiar with the gameplay of a traditional 3D Sonic game while the High speed mode is for those who are used to 3D Sonic titles, particularly what is deemed as the “Boost” era titles.
When it comes to the gameplay of Sonic Frontiers, I have to say that it plays nothing like any other Sonic game and that’s honestly a good thing because 3D sonic has always been something that Sega has never quite got right as you normally have either the formula that they almost got right with Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 or you get the “runner” style that you saw with Sonic Heroes all the way to Sonic Forces that just never quite felt right. Sonic Frontiers basically gives you Sonic Adventure 3 in everything but name as it’s an open world Sonic that allows you to explore to your hearts content while fighting enemies on the field both small and Shadows of the Colossus sized (with gimmick puzzle fights included in a Sonic style) along with grabbing rings and various items located all over as you grind rails and speed all over the place.
The controls are incredibly tight and fluid in a way that hasn’t felt in hardly any 3D game to date. Sonic has access to his signature boost ability along with a double jump and homing attack, but he also has a new move that allows him to do punch and kick combos that can be chained into several of his other abilities.
Sonic Frontiers has some RPG-lite elements to the game as you can level up Sonic’s offensive and defensive stats along with his speed and the total amount of Rings that he can carry. In the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, you will see Sonic’s level stats for the above-mentioned ranging from level 1 all the way up to level 99. As you meet the Hermit Koco, you will be able to level up these stats with the Red Seeds of Power and Blue Seeds of Defense that you gain access to by exploring the island and fighting enemies. You will run into level caps based on where you in the story and how much you’ve explored so do keep that in mind. There will be an Elder Koco that you will run into that if you find his children, will not only up your attack and defensive stats but also will eventually give you the option of doing a tradeoff, sacrificing your Ring level for more Speed and vice versa.
There is a skill tree system in place, but it isn’t the most in-depth or deepest that you’ll find out there, but it is exactly what it needs to be for Sonic’s first true open world game.
As you progress through the game, Sonic will gain new abilities that will unlock after certain story elements along with abilities that he can unlock with the skill tree that is present. Sonic’s first new ability he gains from the skill tree is the Cyloop which is a move that sees him running around leaving a blue light trail behind him of which if you encircle an enemy or object with this ability by completing a circle then Sonic will unleash light speed energy that damages his enemies. This is especially useful when used against enemies that have shields and can be used to discover various secrets within areas. Other new abilities that you gain are the Sonic Boom and Wild Rush; the Sonic Boom is executed by pressing ZL during a combo or in midair and has Sonic literally throwing Sonic Booms ala Guile and Charlie’s Sonic Blitz Super Art from Street Fighter, the Wild Rush is a highspeed zig-zagging attack that’s activated by pressing L or R and then Y and delivers a ton of damage to the enemy.
Since the game begs for you to explore, you will be utilizing the map to see how much the island you’ve explored and setting way points for you to let you know where to go, you can even utilize the map to see various side quests as well as keep track of the progress you’ve made on gaining various collectables.
You will come across levels or zones called portal pedestals that will require you to have a certain number of Portal Gears collected in order to gain access to portals. When you enter these portals, you’ll basically be accessing levels or zones that are 2.5D and “runner” 3D levels that call backs to 2D Sonic levels like Green Hill Zone and levels you found in Sonic Colors and the like. These levels do not last very long and while they often feel like callbacks (because they are), they don’t play the same as the games that they come from as the 2.5D levels as well as the “runner” Sonic Colors inspired levels play with the mechanics of Sonic Frontiers of which has its own momentum and physics, so you’ll need to adjust your playstyle in order to clear these effectively.
You will need to gather up Vault Keys in order to gain access to Chaos Emeralds that are sealed away in Vaults. You can gain Vault Keys by defeating enemies, exploring the overworld, completing puzzles, and doing various mini games like fishing with Big the Cat. While there are numerous mini-games to dive into, fishing with Big the Cat is one of the most addicting mini-games that I’ve played in years and reminds me of Sega Bass Fishing for the Sega Dreamcast. Puzzles are all over the island and many will consist of activating x number of switches, racing to x location within a certain time limit, using Cyloop to activate glowing spheres, and more.
As you explore more of the island, you will come across your friends of which you will need to collect specific items in order to free them, such as in order to free Amy you will need to gather up various heart-shaped items called Amy’s Memory Tokens that you’ll find from exploring, fishing, fighting enemies, and more.
Honestly, there’s so much more to the gameplay and mechanics of the game that just continue to open as you play the game that I’ll just leave the rest for you to find out on your own.
Graphically, the game looks good running on the Switch in both handheld and docked modes with the game running at 720p in handheld mode with at an unlocked framerate ranging from 30 to upper 50’s with it rarely hitting 60. In docked mode the game runs at 1080p at a framerate that varies between 30 to 60fps that tries to stay closer to 60fps. You’ll notice in cutscenes and during gameplay that there is endless amounts of texture pop-in as you’ll see trees and other environmental objects loading into view as you get closer to them which I assume is done specifically for the Switch version to offset any memory issues that the Switch’s aging hardware would run into. Character models are rendered well on the Switch with some cool antialiasing techniques to make jaggies not there but the one area where the game doesn’t look the greatest at times in cutscenes is in the color gamut used for Sonic and company which looks way better on other platforms.
Audio wise, the OST is stellar as per usual when it comes to a Sonic title, however the main track that you will be hearing is very…….moody? It gives off a very bleak, desolate, and somber feeling that kind of feels like you’re playing a survival horror game which is not the norm for a Sonic game. It definitely is atmospheric and when you encounter an enemy, especially the colossal ones, it starts to shift tones to making you feel a sense of dread and overall, a sense of isolation in what feels like a post-apocalyptic world (or atleast what one would expect from a Sonic game’s take on one).
The voice acting is great as Roger Craig Smith continues to nail it as Sonic and gives what I feel is his best take on the character as he gives Sonic some much needed depth and helps showcase more of how the blue blur feels in various situations. The other cast for Amy, Tails, Robotnik/Eggman, and the like are all top notch and deliver greatly. You can really tell that Sega really put a lot into making this a Sonic game that stands out and put a massive budget into the game.
As far as downsides go, I don’t really have any at all to report as I didn’t run into any graphical issues or gameplay hang-ups. What really surprised me the most was how well the game runs on the Switch as we’ve seen time and again how poorly optimized third-party games are for the Switch and yet Sega cut no corners to make this run like a dream Nintendo’s hybrid console.
When it comes down to it, Sonic Frontiers is what we Sonic fans have been asking for decades and that’s Sonic Adventure 3 as it’s literally that in everything but the name. This game has evolved the Sonic formula better than any 3D Sonic game has in decades since Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 and perfectly incorporates an open-world action adventure with RPG elements that you wouldn’t believe works as beautifully as it does. With a great story that pays respect to the Sonic Adventure titles and the series as a whole, insanely tight and responsive controls, bombastically fun gameplay, and so much to do and see; Sonic Frontiers is the definitive 3D Sonic game and the Sonic Adventure 3 that we deserve along with being a great way to cap off 2022. Do not sleep on this amazing game!