Sonic Frontiers is the grand return to a 3D platformer for everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog — created off the back of a wave of resurging popularity after years of development. But after going hands-on with some of the freeroam section and a linear level, we’re left with a lot of fear.
An open-world game featuring this mascot has been an almost unachievable dream over the years, with only Sonic Heroes standing out from the middling likes of Sonic Adventure and the 2006 Xbox 360 iteration of Sonic, which nearly killed this franchise for good.
But yet, Sega still believes the formula can work, and we all got just as hyped as before when Frontiers was announced. Does it deliver? Not really.
Disclaimer: Early impressions
I call these “early hands-on impressions” because that is exactly what they are. I played a 15-minute chunk of the game at this year’s EGX show.
Of course, these may change when I play the full product. But in this demo, I got to experience both exploring one of the Starfall islands and teleporting to one of the more standard linear levels you’d expect from a Sonic game.
Gotta go (not so) fast
So, my adventure started with a goal of collecting two teleport pieces, which meant exploring a part of the island and finding my way around. If these sections are the vast majority of the game, then we’ve got some problems.
To get there, you run across an open world, taking advantage of certain classic Sonic tropes, such as the bumpers and grind rails. On the face of it, Sega has tried its best to overcome a lot of what went wrong in the 2006 version of Sonic – scrapping the naff walk and talk element in favor of a playground with plenty of toys to interact with.
But if anything, these further highlight how this formula really doesn’t work in a 3D open space. The sense of speed is lacking, the gameplay of attacking repeated waves of enemies while finding a standard set of items got repetitive quickly for me over the space of a few minutes, and (most annoyingly) the camera really doesn’t help the situation.
I had my fingers crossed that Sega had an answer for this from its last attempts, be it more fluid manual camera control or a smarter automatic option that gave you the best view at all times. In reality, the company doesn’t seem to have one, as depth perception for hitting platforms is still problematic.
A whiff of the classic formula
But then I went through the teleporting throne to the next part of the level and, well, this is the glimpse of Sonic greatness I really wanted to see.
Much like Sonic Heroes, it was a linear 3D high-speed run through a level of interesting obstacles and multiple routes. Put simply, this is what I wanted the entire game to be – a rampant run that challenges your reaction time to move across different parts of this vertically stacked level, to maximize your return on gold rings and power-ups.
This moment felt great, but it came after 75% of the demo focusing on the free roaming section, which just felt downright dull. If this is the pacing we can expect, then my concern for the health of this hedgehog is rising.
The blue hedgehog was nearly killed by his 2006 outing on Xbox 360. Sonic Frontiers does improve on that formula, but said formula is definitely tainted. Maybe it’s time to give up the 3D free roaming aspirations.
That’s not to say there is zero enjoyment here. It’s just in the places where Sega seems steadfast in refusing to focus on – the linear levels that really show off the speed and twitch-reaction gameplay.
But it's all slowed down by a repetitive open world structure and an annoying camera that, unless anything changes, will make this game hard to recommend.