It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since the last 3D Sonic game was released.
With a Metascore in the fifties, it’s safe to say that 2017’s Sonic Forces didn’t impress. We were particularly hard on it, stating in our review that it’s “like being on a terrible rollercoaster. All you can ever really do is push forward and hope for the best.” The good news is that Sonic Frontiers is better. Although there’s still a huge amount of room for improvement.
While Sonic games usually find the hedgehog with attitude going up against his nemesis, Dr. Robotnik, Sonic Frontiers puts that rivalry aside for a moment. Instead, Sonic and chums have found themselves in quite a predicament. Sonic himself is stranded on an ancient island, full of foes he’s never encountered before, while his pals are stuck in some sort of digital realm. Ultimately though, your goal is the same as ever: hunt down Chaos Emeralds, take on bosses, and save the day.
Taking the series open world, Sonic Frontiers gives you free reign over over how you progress. On the numerous island you visit over the course of your adventure, you need to collect Memory Tokens to push the story forward, as well as Vault Keys that allow you to collect Chaos Emeralds. But there are numerous ways to get both. You can simply explore the island, completing tricks by launching yourself off of springs, ramps and other objects to get Memory Tokens, for example. Or you can simply engage in a spot of fishing, earning credits that can then be used to purchase Memory Tokens without any hassle.
The same goes for Vault Keys. Sonic Frontiers really wants you to take on gargantuan enemies to obtain gears, which can then be used to unlock portals. These portals are how you access Cyber Space levels; throwbacks to stages from previous Sonic games. Complete a Cyber Space level and you’ll get one Vault Key, but there are other objectives to complete such as finishing with a set number of rings and getting an S rank for completion time that will net you more. Again, it’s easier to get gears by simply fishing, or just skip them entirely and exchange your fishing points for Vault Keys.
All this is to say is that fishing is a really unbalanced activity in Sonic Frontiers. Granted, you need special coins in order to fish, but after a few in-game nights, an event occurs that allows you to grab a great number of them without any trouble. Then, spend a little time playing the simple fishing minigame, and it’s easy to max out Sonic’s stats and bypass any bit of content that’s frustrating or boring you.
It’s perhaps not such a bad thing, as Sonic Frontiers can feel a bit like a grind at times, particularly when it comes to Memory Tokens. You’ll need to collect hundreds of them, and while engaging in Sonic’s usual speedy antics can be fun, you’ll eventually hit a point where you feel like it’s padding. There are other ways in which exploiting fishing can smooth out Sonic Frontiers‘ issues, too.
The Cyber Space levels, for example, vary a lot in how much fun they are to play. Some are very enjoyable indeed. Others are simply awful. Thankfully fishing makes them entirely optional. Then there are the boss fights of Sonic Frontiers: they’re pretty epic, but are let down by the fact that unless you enter them with a set number of rings, you might simply not have time to complete them. They’re often let down by the game’s camera system, too.
We could go on for a quite a while about Sonic Frontiers‘ shortcomings, to be honest, because there are plenty of them. In many ways, it feels undercooked and disjointed, like it’s had a troubled development. But ultimately, while it’s made us swear at our screens a lot and had us put our heads in our hands at some design choices, we’ve enjoyed our time with it overall.
We’ve really enjoyed running about its islands at high-speed, completing silly little challenges that unveil more of the game’s maps. Some combat encounters also prove to be exhilarating, even if Sonic’s unlockable range of skills make him hilariously overpowered. And some of the platforming sections here really capture the essence of classic Sonic but in a 3D environment. It’s just a shame that every once in a while a camera or control issue rears its ugly head to annoy you.
There’s a good basis here for 3D Sonic games going forward, but Sonic Team really needs to excise some of the features that feel out of place or simply don’t work. Take the Cyber Space levels: they may be a nice throwback in theory, but they’re all over the place in terms of mechanics and still don’t capture the magic of Sonic games of old. And so many of the activities in the open world are rendered pointless when it’s just so easy to fish your way to success. There needs to be a better focus on polish and balancing.
Still, for Sonic fans, this is an entertaining adventure, with plenty of variety packed into its 20-hour running time. Chances are you’ll encounter plenty of frustrations while making your way through it, but when things are going right you’ll see that there’s great potential in this formula going forward. ‘Inconsistent’ is perhaps the best word to describe Sonic Frontiers: it’s a grab-bag full of ideas, all pulled off with varying degrees of quality. But there’s one thing for certain: it’s got a cracking soundtrack.