Sonic Frontiers review: A hot mess of undeniable fun
Sonic Frontiers is one of the most confounding releases of 2022, an undeniably enjoyable ride you will have trouble putting down despite numerous issues that make it feel unfinished.
Play just the first hour of Sonic Frontiers and the game proposes you an unusual bargain — If you are to go the distance with this game, you’ll have to accept all its flaws along the way, of which there are plenty.
However, if you do decide to take the plunge with Sonic on his latest journey, what you’ll find is a genuinely ambitious game that delivers surprisingly cool combat and an incredible soundtrack to boot. Sadly, many of its more lofty ideas are half-baked and anchored down by technical issues, leaving you wondering what this game could’ve been with some more time in the oven.
Sonic Frontiers: Key details
- Developer: Sonic Team
- Price: $59.99/£49.99
- Release Date: November 8, 2022
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Sonic Frontiers Trailer
In Sonic Frontiers, the blue blur and his pals head to Starfall Islands in search of the Chaos Emeralds (ring a bell?) Upon reaching the islands, Miles’ plane is sucked into a black hole that brings them into Cyber Space. It’s up to Sonic to find the Chaos Emeralds, beat up on the digital Titans that roam the islands, and free his friends who are stuck as holograms, all while Doctor Eggman is afoot.
Upon first glance, Frontiers is unrecognizable as a Sonic game — realistic, lush environments set to the tune of light pianos and pretty violins. Even Sonic’s voice stands out, as it sounds like he finally hit something akin to hedgehog puberty. While this is a major shift in tone and visual display for Sega’s mascot, it ends up working quite well, even if many would write it off as Sonic: Breath of the Wild.
Frontiers plays out with a fairly rudimentary formula — progress through the story by unlocking sections of the map that were previously empty via timed A-to-B races, solving puzzles, grinding on rails to reach new heights, and the occasional almost-insultingly easy challenges.
Along the way, you’ll pick up upgrades to Sonic’s speed, attack, defense, and coin limit stats, as well as new combat moves to take down enemies with. Frontiers tries many new things for the Sonic series, and arguably one of the best additions is the Devil May Cry-like combat, which I ended up growing a real love for.
During the lead-up to the release of Frontiers, many critics and early playtesters pointed out that the game’s open world was empty and lacking any character. Despite the worry, I think the open-world layout of the game ends up working out completely fine, even if the random railways clutter the sky like a custom Minecraft world built by your eight-year-old cousin. There’s always something to do in Frontiers and it’s Ubisoft-style map full of icons. There’s always a rail to grind, a robot to punch, or a racing trial to get an S rank on.
Technical problems galore
The story of Sonic Frontiers cannot be told without noting its technical problems. To start, this game has an unbelievable amount of pop-in problems. Draw distances are more of a hindrance to Sonic than any of the actual robots he has to fight.
Playing as Sonic, you travel around the open world at blazing speeds, meaning areas need to load in quickly. And here’s the problem: They don’t. Every single new area you enter looks completely empty until you’re within a hand’s reach of it, and it’s genuinely jarring to play.
However, my biggest complaint with Frontiers is the wonky camera. In 3D Sonic games, the camera must follow Sonic at the hip so you can see which enemy can be auto-targeted and pounced on, and which railing to leap towards to keep grinding with efficient speed.
Sadly, the camera here has a complete mind of its own. The camera often raises too high above Sonic, keeping him locked into the lower quadrant of the screen making it damn near impossible to see which enemy you’re locking on to attack. Often, I found myself smashing the square button just hoping the game would do me the favor of locking onto an enemy I could barely see.
These problems, added together, cheapen the game and make it feel like a subpar experience amongst the big titles that the Fall 2022 calendar has to offer.
Sonic, I can’t quit you
Even with all the frustration built up by the game’s technical problems, I found myself unable to truly dislike Frontiers. I found its pacing to be extremely solid, the Cyberspace levels (and their godlike soundtracks) to be fun, and the combat always enjoyable.
Sonic fans will adore this game for the risks it takes and the story bits that can be picked up through its side missions. There’s clearly a lot of love and care put into this game, and although some of that should’ve been spent to fix its glaring performance issues, it still holds up as a fun adventure.
The Verdict: 3/5
Whatever this game is, it should provide a solid framework for the developers at Sonic Team to take and improve upon in the next Sonic game, whatever that may be.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5.