Sonic Frontiers just launched for the PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Ones and Series S/X, PC and Nintendo Switch. Was the eagerly anticipated return of the blue speed demon worth the wait? We checked out the PS5 version to find out.
After spending his earlier years as a console exclusive mascot in (mostly) platformers, Sonic’s popularity seems to be surging again – most likely not just because you can find Sonic games on nearly every platform now, but also because two hugely successful live action movies have found their way to theaters in recent years. We’re guessing that he’s going to be seen on a bunch of wishlists this coming holiday season.
Sonic Frontiers takes another stab at the 3D platforming genre though, and Sonic’s not always been all that comfortable outside of his traditional 2D roots – which of course made us doubly curious. Story-wise, Frontiers has Sonic crash landing on a mysterious and ruin-filled set of islands, losing track of Amy and Tails in the process. Your first order of business is of course to reunite with them, but as you start on your way it doesn’t take long to figure out there’s more going on here. Robots start attacking you, and this time it’s not Eggman who’s behind it. A girl called Sage is your antagonist this time, having captured your friends and sending small and powerful large enemies after you. In order to fight back, you’ll have to collect Chaos Emeralds and turn into Super Sonic.
Your quest will also unveil more and more about this new world you’ve landed on, and the creatures that live there – the Koco’s. The story is told through a mix of cutscenes and optional lore elements that you can unlock and watch through exploration – so if you want to stick to the core gameplay you can do that but if you’d like to take things more easily and find out more background info then there’s that option too.
Gameplay-wise, Sonic Frontiers is a nice mix of different styles – the central one being an open world zone you can explore in 3D that houses several different islands. And while there are plenty of levels that house familiar gameplay – including old school 2D platforming – this open area feels like the part of the game where the developers branched out most. Sonic has an increased repertoire of combat moves, puzzles gradually unlock more and more of the island (including rails that act as shortcuts) and there’s even an upgrade system. This allows you to increase your maximum speed and the number of rings you can carry – providing another reason to explore, as are the various collectibles you can unlock – something a fishing minigame can help you with.
The transition to more traditional gameplay formats is handled through the notion of a “Cyber Space” world – a smart way to account for the sudden and radical changes in style. These are not just great throwbacks to the Sonic games that came before and nice ways to mix up Sonic Frontiers with a bunch of different gameplay styles either – they also provide longevity, because levels usually have a variety of objectives to strive for. Since it’s hard to achieve these all in one run, you’ll be replaying them and picking different approaches each time – Sonic Frontier is great at offering a diverse mix of gameplay, from old school levels to epic boss fights. These are surprisingly limited in the freedom they offer you though, compared to the rest of the game – reminding us of the old God of War games and their boss fights – fantastic visual showpieces, but fairly one-note in how to approach them.
In terms of a showpiece, Sonic Frontiers looks great but suffers from a variety of technical issues that effect its visuals. We saw more than our fair share of glitches and when running across the island there’s a ton of pop-in visible – regardless of which graphics mode you pick. There’s a 4K @ 30 frames per second mode for an emphasis on graphics, and a performance mode that runs at 1080p but keeps a consistent framerate of 60 frames per second. And I hope that a less demanding 1080p mode would fix the glitches, it didn’t – we’ll have to rely on a post-launch patch instead.
Those issues are a real shame, because they drag down what is otherwise a fantastic game that both embraces Sonic’s past and moves the franchise forward. The open world hub feels like a mature modern platformer with both combat and platforming mechanics delivering the good, and the transitions to other gameplay styles is a nice touch as well. If this received a post-launch patch to remedy the technical problems that plague this one at launch, it could turn into the best Sonic in ages.