Open-World Sonic Frontiers Is Nostalgic, Tedious

Open-World Sonic Frontiers Is Nostalgic, Tedious


Sonic dashes off a platform.

Screenshot: Sega

Sonic Frontiers reviews have just hit the internet. From what we’ve seen so far, critics think it’s a good game. It’s just not necessarily a great one. Nostalgia softened some of the disappointment, but it couldn’t completely paper over its numerous shortcomings. The story is just okay, but you’re here for the blue hedgehog. Don’t expect any groundbreaking accomplishments as an open world game.

Several reviewers were charmed by the new open-world interpretation of Sonic gameplay but were worn down by the sheer tedium of battles and exploration. The ideas aren’t especially novel after Breath of the Wild redefined the open-world genre either, and the implementation felt clunky. And critics weren’t in love with the jumps between 2D and 3D perspectives. Even players who found the concept charming were put off by the clunky implementation. Which seems to be a pattern with how players received the puzzles and combat too. One GameSpot reviewer was confused as to why Sonic needed a skill tree when every move would eventually unlock. It sounds like Frontiers tries so hard to get players to acknowledge it as an open-world game that it ultimately feels bloated.

Sonic Frontiers is out tomorrow on Xbox One and Series X/S, PlayStation 4 and 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

The problem is that the novelty of the open-world setting wears off quickly, and you immediately begin to notice how tedious the overall structure is. Frontiers tasks you with completing minigames around marked spots to reveal fragments of the map’s surrounding area: These are basic tasks like kicking orbs through rings, or piling up Tetris-like puzzle pieces. But after doing more than a dozen of them per island, I quickly grew exhausted. I appreciate the variation while tackling what is already a staple mechanic of open-world games, but they detract from the rest of the experience.

​​On top of that, several areas of the open zones aren’t optimized for exploration. The in-world obstacle courses are among the worst offenders. I lost track of the number of times I tried to go in one direction, only to hit a dash panel that sent me flying hundreds of feet in the opposite direction before I knew what had happened. This dilemma is further brought into focus by atrocious pop-in, which primarily affects the rails and platforming elements in the open areas, making it difficult to understand the best way to navigate. Other segments force you into a 2D perspective and lock you into a set path until you either complete the sequence or backtrack out of that area. When combined with various dead-ends and areas that feel overtly tucked away, the world design of Sonic Frontiers doesn’t reach the standard of modern open-world games.

Tedium is a potential downfall of this formulaic approach [of collecting progress tokens], since you’re going through the same repetitive gameplay loop with each new island you visit. It’s not something I felt until reaching the fifth and final island, mainly because the bite-sized nature of each activity helps stave off any monotony, as does the degree of variety that’s present in almost everything you engage with—be it enemy types, environments, challenges, and so on. It’s still not quite enough to sustain the entire game, though, and it’s disappointing that it runs out of steam toward the end.

There were moments where I saw glimpses of genius in this bizarre hodgepodge of activities. Sections called Cyber Space levels smartly break up the open world by teleporting you into bite-sized, traditionally linear Sonic levels where you’re racing the clock and collecting rings as you make a mad dash for the goal line. On the other hand, one of the big things Frontiers tries that doesn’t work well is combat. You’re just mashing buttons to pull off simple combos and knock the snot out of faceless robotic enemies. I appreciated the occasional break from platforming, but since it never proves to be a challenge and throws you into almost identical fights again and again, I soon came to resent being yanked out of my lightning-speed racing just to smack down another bunch of dumb toaster-looking fools. It’s especially annoying when it comes to the minibosses roaming the open world, who often dragged me into unskippable fight sequences that weren’t particularly challenging or interesting, especially when I ran into them multiple times. The groan of irritation at the prospect of repeating the same encounter a third or fourth time was impossible to contain.

However, Frontiers is too often bogged down by very visible flaws, ones I can already see potentially meming the game into an early grave. That would be a shame, as when you’re in the moment of the momentum, there’s still an interesting and fun time to be had, certainly compared to the streak of disappointments that fans have endured in previous decades. Yet for hardcore traditionalists who only want to see their blue hedgehog in two dimensions, this isn’t the 3D outing that’s going to change their minds.

Sonic Frontiers isn’t the disappointment the Sonic Cycle has conditioned us to expect, nor is it the masterpiece Sega fans have been hoping for. It’s a super-speedy step in the right direction for the series though, and hopefully lays the foundation for a truly incredible followup.

Sonic Frontiers is a crockpot of a bunch of different game mechanics that work just fine individually, but the game itself lacks an overall identity. It’s very obvious that the team took Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild open-world concept and shoved in as many features from past Sonic games as they possibly could. Sonic Frontiers is the most peculiar game I’ve played in 2022.

Yes, the general world design has clearly been “inspired” by Breath of the Wild (and don’t get us started on the Kocos, collectible creatures which are blatantly supposed to be Koroks). And yes, throughout the game’s 20+ hour duration there will be plenty of other sections that feel familiar—a bit of Shadow of the Colossus here, a touch of Ikaruga there—but at least the giants of whose shoulders it’s chosen to stand are legitimate titans

 



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