The earth seems sad and empty,” laments Amy, Sonic’s pink friend. Usually cheerful, Amy is filled with melancholy as she explores the Sonic Frontiers islands — and as the hours pass in Sega’s open-world experiment, her words echo with the bitter truth.
Frontiers is a weird hodgepodge of the standard Sonic experience and something… different. You’ll still be racing as your favorite blue hedgehog, bouncing off jump pads and sliding on rails, but this is Sonic’s first open—world game — despite the fact that Sonic Team insists it’s an open-world game – which means that once you’re after you Having shaken off the dust from the Frontiers brief guide, you can freely navigate through the mysterious islands of the Starfall and proceed to rescue Sonic’s buddies stuck in cyberspace. Confusing.
Unfortunately, the Frontiers world serves as nothing more than a hunting ground for meaningless currencies. To complete each of the islands of the game, Sonic needs to track down the Chaos Emeralds — of course, everything is in order. But to do this, he needs to collect the Keys to the Vault from the Portals, and they, in turn, need Portal Mechanisms to work. Meanwhile, the main quest of each island blocks its missions for another currency, memory tokens. See where it’s going? It wouldn’t be so tedious if the Frontiers Islands were a little more attractive, but every place seems dull and lifeless. There’s very little to do, and spending time researching might seem counterintuitive when you’re scaling a giant platformer element only to find a Chaos Emerald that you don’t have access to yet.
The enemies in the game look fantastic, but fighting during Frontiers opening hours usually comes down to repeatedly pressing just one button. As you spend skill points to expand Sonic’s set with new abilities, fights become much more exciting, but trying to kill a group of villains rarely seems worthwhile. Wandering mini-bosses in the world are very different beasts, and usually require a little more thought: to kill a hulking sumo, you need to ricochet off the walls of his arena to throw him into an electrified fence, while destroying a shark means clinging to his tail with all his might as he desperately swims under the desert sand. But even that’s a mixed bag — in particular, some of the big mini-bosses struggle with finicky cameras, which are a nightmare to track fast-moving Sonic or any incoming attacks. In truth, nothing in the open world of Frontiers is interesting enough to justify his tedious treasure hunt.
Under the radical transformation of Sonic, some familiarity remained. By finding Portals scattered across the earth, you can immerse yourself in linear bliss. Sonic’s traditional 2D and 3D levels are still here, and they boast yet another phenomenal success of the Sega music team, filled with thundering electronic beats. As usual, your goal is to race through these tiny levels at absurd speeds, but each portal has a number of side tests to unlock the vault keys — for example, reaching the finish line with a certain number of rings or achieving the coveted S-classify. These goals bring much—needed purpose to Frontiers, and the fast-paced thrills of each portal are a long-awaited escape from the limbo of the Frontiers open world.
At the same time, when a larger picture of Frontiers clicks, drifting through the islands of the Starfall is not so bad. Aimlessly wading along any rails you like or climbing mini-platformers is an easy way to kill time. It’s nice, but always fleeting — as soon as you set your sights on making real progress, you’re wandering around the world again, which is not interested in entertaining you.
There are a few other moments when Frontiers’ potential seems to be at arm’s length. In boss battles on each island, Super Sonic fights face-to-face with colossal Titans, usually to a loud metal soundtrack. The personal highlight was the second boss of the game, cyborg Wyvern, which can be parried so that Sonic grabs him by the tail and knocks him off a cliff.
The main story of the game is also fantastic. Divided into short missions, Sonic’s quest plunges into amazing emotional depth — there is a heartbreaking backstory that explains why the Starfall Islands are so deserted, and many of Sonic’s one-on-one scenes with Knuckles, Tails and Amy are pleasant to watch. But the real winner is Eggman (Robotnik, if you’re old enough to know better), whose excessive villainy plays a secondary role in a quieter, humane story. It’s a pity that the Frontiers main quest is blocked, because this is the strongest element of the game, and it should not be subjected to the pursuit of Frontiers currency.
Ever since it was announced, fans have joked that Frontiers is Sega’s attempt to replicate the huge success of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After you’ve played Frontiers, some of these feelings still ring true—there’s an undeniable familiarity with some design options—but it would be disingenuous to write off Frontiers as an election ploy. Taking Sonic’s escapades on stage through the open world is a really good idea, but it seems that too many ideas have been thrown into Frontiers without enough material to fully realize their potential.
In the future, some changes to the Frontiers formula may lead to an exciting new direction for Sonic, but for now, Amy said the best thing: sad and empty.
Sonic Frontiers is already available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC and Nintendo Switch. This review was reproduced on the Xbox Series S.