You will still race as Sonic, bounce around jump pads, and grind on tracks, but Sonic Frontiers is the first Sonic game in open-world format, in spite of Sonic Team insisting that this was a game about the world – which means once you dust off Frontiers short tutorial, you are free to speed through the mysterious Starfall Isles and start saving Sonics friends trapped in cyberspace.
The story features some of the best character moments and contextual callbacks in the history of the series; diehard fans will enjoy the passing references that characters make to their earlier adventures, from Sonic 3 through Sonic Forces. With a plot focused on a mysterious species seemingly having suffered tragedies a long time ago, the story is the series most mature yet for the games, and that mostly works.
You are going to have to power up Sonic, too, because Sonic Frontiers takes battles farther than in any other Sonic game. Enemies in the open areas are far removed from the single-hit bops in the classic Sonic titles. One section of the campaign zeroes in on a sibling rivalry between that famously speedy character and Knuckles, while another does an excellent job building Tails up as more than just a Sonic partner.
What becomes apparent after some spins on the first island is that Sonic Frontiers is an action-adventure game joining the growing crop of older-school series looking to reinvent themselves as open-world sandbox reinventions – and, in this particular case, mostly succeeding. Sega calls Frontiers an open-zone, meaning that the game is divided up into a number of islands for Sonic to freely explore.
The open Starfall Islands provide compelling exploration, and the linear stages in Cyberspace provide a familiar, pacing-based series experience. Titled the Cyberspace stages, sections cleverly slice up the open world, transporting you to bite-sized, traditionally linear levels of the famed fast-paced character, in which you race against the clock to collect rings as you scurry to the finish.
These are the traditional stages, few minutes or less, you are going to do in tandem with the open world, and although many do not aim for the ultra-high, they are consistently high-quality, and match up to layouts from a number of more acclaimed 3D Sonic games. For the most part, these sequences are a mixture between single-note challenges, and level layouts lifted entirely from older Sonic games. The five hub islands, which make up the opening portion of Sonic Frontiers, barely register as more than minor variations on the same blandly aestheticized generic desert.
Unfortunately, it is continually derailed by the same things that have held Sonic games back over the past several decades. Sonic Frontiers open world has a few nice ideas, but mistakes from past entries really come back to haunt this new title too.
The biggest flaw in this new open-world design, however, has nothing to do with a buffet of largely enjoyable activities. It is just that Sonic Frontiers is not able at all to keep up with the character of that famous quick god-like speed at the technical level.
Sonic Team has finally made a decent 3D title in the series, with Sonic Frontiers being one of the best open-world platformers to date. It still hits a lot of right notes longtime fans will enjoy, and it works particularly hard to please those who felt that last years.