Sonic Frontiers (2022) Game Review – An under-cooked, disappointing mess

An under-cooked, disappointing mess

Sonic the Hedgehog’s allure has always been speed. Zipping through Green Hill Zone or spinning around loops to propel into the air during later levels, blasting across huge swathes of a level to make it as fast as you can to the finish line has been Sonic’s MO since day 1.

Every long-running franchise needs to evolve to survive, and along the way there’s been a myriad of different examples where the going has been tough going but eventually righted the ship. Sonic though, has been in a weird state of flux since the jump to 3D. While there have been some good games along the way – especially Sonic Generations – Sonic Frontiers’ early footage looked like this could have been the title to propel Sonic forward to new frontiers.

In reality though, this open-world game shows that Sonic is stuck in the same holding pattern as before, with some nice ideas and a couple of experimental gameplay additions, but largely held back by a flat, uninspiring and ultimately bland open world formula. Unfortunately, Frontiers falls squarely into the miss category.

Looking across the review scores for this one you’ll notice that Sonic Frontiers has a wildly different set of scores from lowly 1.5/10s up to 8 and 9/10s. This is really a game you should try for yourself to see if this is a fit but in the grand scheme of things, Frontiers has a myriad of problems that are hard to look past.

For a game of this size, the performance is actually pretty dreadful. Pop-in is egregious and completely distracting as you zip across the open world, while at other times it’s outright broken to the point of interfering with the platforming elements. If that wasn’t enough, the game constantly has you wrestling with the camera too, which swings wildly and on occasion, actually gets stuck on different platforms causing cheap deaths until you work around the camera. This honestly feels like an early PS1 game on occasion as a result.

But can all of this be forgiven by great gameplay and a riveting story? Well… not really. The game sees you take control of Sonic as you explore the Starfall Islands to collect the Chaos Emeralds before Dr Robotnik (Eggman) does. In doing so, Sonic hopes to reverse the misfortunes that have befallen himself and his friends, who are lost and scattered across the landscape.

As you arrive on the various different islands during your 20 hour+ play-time, Sonic learns he must also collect Portal Gears by defeating Guardian robots in the open world, which in turn activate Portals across to mini-worlds that feel more reminiscent of Sonic worlds of old. These are easily the highlight of the whole experience, and completing the 1-2 minute levels then reward you with Vault Keys which allow you to reclaim all the Chaos Emeralds, which require a certain number of Vault Keys to unlock.

Each mini-level has a set of 5 or 6 requirements which vary from collecting all Red Gears, finishing with a certain number of rings or completing the level in a certain time. It’s all pretty perfunctory stuff and while it is fun for a while, the copy-paste formula rears its ugly head as the game moves into its different islands. The constant feel of this being one long fetch quest with little rhyme or reason could be forgiven with interesting gameplay mechanics but there’s very little of that here.

Sonic’s controls are simple and require you to jump and spin your way through the worlds. There’s no option to curl up i in a ball and spin forward like Sonic games of old though. Instead, the game implements a speed boost and RPG elements, that require you to (yep, you guessed it!) collect various McGuffins which in turn level up your speed, ring capacity, strength or defence.

The worlds themselves are just not all that interesting to explore, littered with open expanses of nothingness and dotted with rails and platforms that just float in the air like ugly monoliths. As Jeff Goldblum famously puts it in Jurassic Park “You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think whether you should.” And that sums up the open world ideas here.

There’s definitely some ambition to be had but this easily needed another year to cook in the oven, allowing its ideas to blossom and flesh out into a deliciously speedy platformer. Instead, what we get is a soggy, under-cooked mess that’s in desperate need of restructuring from the ground up.

Because of that aforementioned pop-in issue, this honestly feels like an asset flip you’d find on Steam, the sort that very clearly has been thrown together in an afternoon.

I’m not suggesting Sonic Frontiers only took an afternoon to make, as there’s definitely elements here that stand out. The story is pretty good and those mini levels can be incredibly fun. When Sonic is allowed to put his boots on and run, Frontiers really shines. It’s just a pity that these moments are so, so infrequent.

The sheer amount of assets that are repeated, not to mention the simplistic gameplay and egregious performance on both console and PC, leaves a lot to be desired and overshadow any fun moments this has. As a huge Sonic fan, I want to love Frontiers but at every turn the game throws in another spanner to prevent that from happening.

If this was just a collection of the mini-levels thrown together with a sort of hub area to hone your skills, Frontier may have been a solid Sonic game. As it stands though, there’s so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to start.

Some will undoubtedly have fun with this one, pointing out other, worse, Sonic games on the market, but compared to platforming giants like Mario and Crash Bandicoot, this one barely stumbles out the gates before being left in the dust.

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  • Verdict - 3.5/10

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