Sonic Frontiers is fine. Don't let the critics or internet fool you, it's a fun game that looks to give the hedgehog freedom of an open-world environment like never before with numerous interweaving levels reminiscent of Sonic Generations – and from my time spent, I'm really excited.
Now don't get me wrong: I don't want to mislead anyone from my 30-minute hands-on time with Sonic Frontiers at Gamescom 2022. Anyone that hasn't enjoyed Sonic since the character moved to the world of 3D is unlikely to be convinced by its upcoming release. On the other hand, those Sonic fans that have met heartbreak time and time, and time, again, yet have found some solace in past games, will likely enjoy Frontiers. I'm one of them.
The control scheme most closely resembles Sonic Colors and the day levels in Sonic Unleashed, two of the more positive 3D experiences of the past 20 years. Sonic is pretty quick (shock) even at the lowest level with his speed able to rise all the way to level 50, which will be needed to truly traverse the five islands that make up the main campaign at a good pace. A generous-sized boost bar helps movement constant, pushing you towards the next set of enemies, grind rails and/or puzzles.
My playthrough began on the second level, Ares Island, a desert-filled land with the occasional oasis and a skyscraper-sized boss awaiting battle. These mechanical behemoths are called Guardians (the first of numerous Breath of the Wild resemblances). These are needed to be defeated to retrieve Vault Keys and, subsequently, reclaim the Chaos Emeralds.
Little was shared about the narrative outside of Sonic, Tails and Amy coming to the Starfall Islands after being drawn by the magical gems. It's refreshing that the story has a bit more mystery about it, while Sega appears to be taking the series more seriously in wake of the "memeable" Sonic Forces, the last major Sonic release back in 2017. Someone during my session also asked about the decision to have three Chaos Emeralds on the first level, Kronos Island, with seven in total. It did make me wonder whether these are the actual Chaos Emeralds, or potentially just bait.
Scattered across the Starfall Islands are portals to Cyberspace levels that are self-contained more traditional Sonic stages, The one I played was a Sonic Generations-style 2D stage set in Green Hill Zone (Green Hill Zone again, really?) though trailers online show some newer areas, so I have some optimism, be that as foolish as it may knowing Sega. To add to this, there are four challenges per Cyberspace level – hence why I'm a bit anxious we won't be getting full levels, rather bite-sized chunks. Hopefully, I'm wrong.
Sonic now has advanced combat featuring special moves like Cyclone, Phantom Rush, Air Trick, Stomp Attack, Sonic Boom and Wild Rush, all of which can be unlocked through a Skill Tree – a first for the series. Combat felt fine to me, nothing special, nothing horrendous. Think a simplified Werehog minus the transformation. I didn't mind the Werehog in truth (come at me, internet), therefore I'm eager to really learn the new moveset and see how many combos can be racked up.
These can be best put to use during fights with the Guardians. My encounter with one of the bosses (whose name has totally blanked on me – maybe Stryker or Stalker) had Sonic first grinding his way up multiple circular grind rails until reaching eye level with the enemy type. Then Sonic needs to grind around three more grind rails that border one another and surround the boss while avoiding attacks on each until all the rails are lit up.
Once complete, it seems to send a shock to the Guardian so Sonic can get in close and do some real damage. Doing this process twice allowed me to defeat the boss. A Sega staff member mentioned that I was one of the few to actually complete this in the time allotted. It's not a brag, it's more to say it has a fair whack of a challenge to it. And I felt that too, in a good sense.
Using up the remainder of my time, it became clear that there are a lot of collectibles in Sonic Frontiers. From Memory Tokens needed to rescue friends like Amy to Portal Gear that unlocks, well, portals to red and blue Seeds for powering up the Blue Blur's attack and defence. There's a lot out there! I even discovered a crashed Eggman ship, only further adding to the mystery. At one point meteors began to fall, dropping items and enemies, similar to Breath of the Wild's Blood Moon. It could work well if used sparingly.
Truth be told going into this hands-on I was nervous. I love Sonic games and defend a lot of Sonic's 3D outings but can equally recognise the disasters of Sonic 06, Sonic Boom, Sonic Forces, etcetera. The vocal outcry from fans for Sega to delay the game has also been deafening.
All of this taken into account, I had so much fun playing Sonic Frontiers. I honestly didn't want to stop. I recognise it's probably the most seven out of 10 game there is, however, some of my favourite experiences ever are seven out of 10 games. I'm eagerly awaiting its release date and my time spent only made me more excited. That can't be a bad thing.
Sonic Frontiers is scheduled to launch on November 8th, 2022, across PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X / S, Xbox One and PC.