Sonic Frontiers is incredible, and I do not mean that in a good way. I mean that in the most horrible way possible.
From the story that does nothing but panders to nostalgia to the ridiculous amount of mundane tasks to complete, with a quasi-open-world design that did nothing other than make me yearn to play any other game with the even most basic understanding of what makes open-world design fun. Sonic Frontiers feels like a tech demo that started development back in 2005.
The game is loaded with technical and design issues. When performing a parry, a technique that lets you repel an enemy attack, you press and hold down on the two top shoulder buttons. However, there is no need to time the Parry maneuver like in any other game with even the most basic level of competency. Here, as long as you hold down the shoulder buttons, Sonic will reflect any incoming projectile and the majority of melee attacks. This means that you are pretty much invincible while holding down these two buttons.
When I tried performing the parry technique while airborne, Sonic levitated in the air and would stay there for as long as I held down those two buttons.
I thought at first that this had to be some glitch. I felt there was no way the developers could have possibly overlooked something this obvious. Thanks to the developers over at Sonic Team, though, I now understand how little quality assurance can go into a project before the publishers think it’s acceptable to distribute.
There were many other scenarios like this. When I was trying to climb a tower, Sonic got to the top of a ledge, and while most time he would climb the ledge, quite often, he would be stuck in the same animation that he used to climb up the wall. His hand would keep reaching for the part of the wall on top of him despite already being at the top.There are a total of five stages or “Zones.” Each zone has some minor cosmetic differences, yet they are functionally identical.
You jump onto and grind on rails, many of which only appear once you are a few feet in front of them. Seriously, the amount of pop-up in this game made me feel like I was playing a Nintendo 64 launch game. As in many open-world games, you have a blank map with areas that will appear once you’ve activated certain switches within the open zone.
Though you don’t need to do this, as there is no completion bonus, and the story won’t progress regardless of how much extra content you unlock.
The only thing you need to accomplish in each stage is finding all the chaos emeralds. There are no side missions to perform outside of some basic collect-a-thons that don’t give any insight into the characters or the world. There is nothing that made me want to replay any of these stages.
FALSE DIFFICULTY DUE TO BEMUSED GAME DESIGN
Once you’ve acquired all Chaos Emeralds in a stage, you can fight the stage boss as Super Sonic.
The game states that Sonic is invincible when playing as Super Sonic against certain bosses. He loses rings over time, and getting hit will either stun him or push him back, but he can’t die. Or so I thought. During specific quick-time events against bosses, while being Super Sonic, Sonic would die if I failed to react quickly enough. Did the people who developed this game not understand what the definition of “invincible” meant?
Unlike every other Sonic game I’ve played, where once you start fighting a boss, Super Sonic begins with a substantial number of rings, here, you only start with however many rings you acquired before you became Super. I started a boss fight as Super Sonic when I only had 12 rings. I died within a few seconds, and instead of starting at the beginning of the fight as Super Sonic with a decent amount of rings, the game restarted me from the beginning of the fight when I just got to the boss as normal Sonic. I had to climb a tower and go through the same scenario where I had to fight the boss as the normal Sonic while ensuring I managed to keep hold of my rings so that I had enough of them to survive when I became Super Sonic.
The level’s themselves are also a slog to get through. Not only that, but despite the game having relatively small hub worlds, they lack any sense of real direction. On the game’s third hub world, I was introduced to an airborne enemy I could subdue by parrying its projectile attack. After subduing it, I was able to fly it like a hang-glider less than 10 minutes later, I got to an area with a cliff. There was no way to jump to the other side. I then saw the same enemy type I was introduced to at the start of the stage. With what that game had just taught me, I naturally came to the assumption that I was supposed to subdue said enemy, then use it to fly across the cliff. I tried to get the winged creature’s attention, but it kept ignoring me. After 45 minutes, it finally attacked me, not with a projectile attack but with a headbutt. I deflected it, however, because it wasn’t the right type of attack that stunned it, I couldn’t ride it. I eventually gave up and tried to figure out if there was something else I was supposed to do.
It turns out that I was supposed to go in another direction to further my progress. And if that’s not insulting enough, there was never a time when taking control of said airborne enemy was necessary for game or story progression. The game introduced this new gameplay mechanic at the beginning of the level, but never used it for anything substantial.
Sonic Frontiers is loaded with more filler than most shonen anime I’ve seen. There is this one mini-game where I had to collect purple coins throughout the open zone, which I could use to purchase a chance to swing a fishing rod during a fishing mini-game. Once I gathered enough fish, those fish were converted to tokens that could be used to purchase power-ups and items. I saw no point in this, why not just let me buy the unlockables with the purple coins? Why did I have to fish to find collectibles that could then be converted to store points to buy something at the store?
The most entertaining thing about the game was looking back at its marketing. I remember when the first gameplay showcase for this game dropped, and upon receiving a lukewarm reception from critics and fans alike, Sonic Team had the audacity to try to convince the public that they had some 5D chess move hidden up their sleeve and claimed that the critics just didn’t understand it. The people who issued that statement are either in denial or delusional if they honestly thought the final product would convince people differently.
I kept playing, hoping that there might be something that I was missing. Sadly there wasn’t. The game has some extremely light RPG elements. You can collect lost plant creatures and give them to a big talking plant that will reward you by letting Sonic increase his speed or the number of rings he can carry. But there was never a time when I needed this, as Sonic’s base speed was quick enough to get me through the whole game, and I never needed more than 300 rings.
There is a skill tree that can be used to unlock more abilities for Sonic to perform in combat, but the experience points used to open them are so plentiful that I had fully upgraded Sonic within the first four hours of the game. The game is too easy and does not incentivize exploration. I played Sonic Frontiers on the highest difficulty setting, and I almost never died outside of some scenarios that completely took me by surprise.
INSULTINGLY EASY AND LACKING IN EXTRAS
Each level has memory tokens that can be used to progress the story by unlocking a character’s memory once you collect enough of them. These tokens are handed out like candy; once you’ve collected enough of them, they have no more use. I thought that there might be something extra that I could spend these tokens on to give the game a tad more replay value, but that was wishful thinking.
The game also has a few “puzzles” that will advance the story upon completion, and I put the word “puzzles” in quotation marks because most of, if not all, of this game’s “puzzles” tell you what you have to do.
There was one puzzle where I had to put out four flames in a specific order. Each of the flames had a certain number of dots in front of it, indicating the order they needed to be extinguished.
Another puzzle involved Sonic operating a crane where I had to pick up four different balls with different colors and place them into a hole with the matching color.
Really wracking those creative brains there, aren’t you, Sonic Team?
MY GOD WHAT A DISASTER
I gave up on the game being anything more than a slog about eight hours in. With Sonic comic veteran Ian Flynn helming the story, I thought we could have at least some level of competency with the writing. Unfortunately, the story feels like it has little ambition or does anything to make you feel for these characters.
The characters reference other games as if that is supposed to make this game’s story good. But, unfortunately, the game’s story is full of things that go nowhere. There are multiple flashbacks to some alien creatures crashlanding on Sonic’s world, and it goes nowhere by the end of the game. We don’t know what happens to these creatures, and the game expects us to care enough to sequel bait us.
There is nothing remotely redeeming about this game. Nothing that even the most die-hard loyal Sonic Fans would or should advocate for. I hope that one day someone who cares enough about this franchise could give us something-anything of substance. A fan can hope, can’t they? A fan can hope.