The Media Man Reviews: Sonic Frontiers (Part 2)
Updated: May 1
Continued from Part 1.
Section 3: The Gameplay
Now for the interesting part for this is a Sonic game that plays like no Sonic game has ever played before.
Like Pokémon Scarlet and Violet was the first open-world Pokémon game, this game takes Sonic the Hedgehog into the open-world gameplay for the first time ever. The closest we ever got was Sonic Unleashed with its Hub Worlds but this is the real deal. The player can control Sonic in this fully open-world with five explorable islands that all range in sizes and terrains (mostly) with all sorts of details and large scenery to look at. At first, I found this to be a bit of a big change to what I'm used to with Sonic games but I quickly got used to it and honestly started to enjoy playing the game like so. It gets fun zooming around the island running places and beating up enemies as you go around looking for collectibles, talking to your friends or just exploring in general. There are a lot of reviews that criticize the open-world aspect as looking "barren" and "empty" but those reviews miss the point of Starfall Islands. They're MEANT to be like that because the civilization that lived there is gone and we're roaming through what's left of it. Of course they're barren and empty! That's like being surprised when you go to a ruins site and act surprised that it's empty with nobody around! How do these people not get that?
The islands do have stuff to do in them so don't think there's just an empty habitat to walk around with nothing to offer. No, they do incorporate a lot of classic Sonic game details like grinding rails, ramps, bouncing pads, zooming pads to speed up with, trials of rings to collect and so much more. They do look kinda odd in these environments though, like they made this realistic looking island habitat and then just stuck a bunch of Sonic game stuff in there to try and make it still feel Sonic-y as you play. Still, it is nice to have that stuff around and they really set them up cleverly too as just about any time you come across these places, they're always set up in the right way to direct you towards a collectible Memory Token or to whatever destination you need to go to. I can't imagine it was easy planning out these areas and placing all these rails, bouncing pads and zooming pads in all the right places to get it all to work together as coherently as it does so major kudos to the designers for their work on this. If I had to say which island was my favourite to play through, I'd probably say either Kronos or Ares Island with Rhea Island being my least favourite as it feels like Kronos Island again only slightly changed and given six tediously tall towers to climb up. The fact that's ALL you get to do there also makes Rhea island the most boring to play through.
Given the open-world nature, there are times where I end up getting a collectible in a way that the game probably didn't intend for me to do. Also it can be a bit of a pain navigating the islands when you're trying to go somewhere and suddenly you run into a zooming pad that will rocket you in another direction or you're trying to homing attack and you hit something else instead. Also sometimes it can be quite tedious trying to climb up areas and if you fall off, you have to start all over again. The six towers on Rhea Island especially are a pain to climb up with how tall they are so expect to start over and over and over again once you fall off. I'd say they did well on translating Sonic the Hedgehog into open-world gameplay, but there are some creases they can do with ironing out for future titles.
For those that prefer more traditional Sonic gameplay, there are multiple stages you can play through in where Sonic enters Cyberspace and plays through classic areas from previous games. Those stages are the typical run-to-the-goal types we expect from Sonic games and they give you achievements to play for like getting an S rank, collecting five Red Star rings, finishing with a particular number of rings and so forth. Some stages might be easy to get an S rank in while some are much harder. There's one particular stage where it's so hard to get an S rank that even SEGA themselves acknowledged this and made this whole video on tips for how to do the stages in the fastest times possible. No really. No game should ever be that difficult to do to the point where the company has to help you. That's just bad design right there. The stages themselves are also complete wastes of time and are irrelevant to the game thanks to one feature that undermines their presence...the fishing minigame.
Why is that? The fishing minigame allows you to go fishing if you can pay for it with fishing coins (each island has a different currency total) and as you fish, you earn fishing tokens which you can then use to purchase items. Among those items are Portal Keys, which you can win when you clear the stages. The fact you can just buy those keys through fishing instead of playing the stages makes one wonder why even have them to begin with? Granted, the limit here is if you can even pay to go fishing but at times, the game will spawn a random event known as "Celestial Rain" in where you do this slot machine for a few minutes and if you get lucky, you can win some fishing coins. So again, why are the stages even here? You don't need to complete them to advance the game, they're not necessary for completion and the items you can win from them can just be bought thanks to the fishing game. It really feels like cheap fanservice because this game was originally meant to celebrate Sonic's 30th anniversary so...here's some classic Sonic levels to play through again I guess?
Going more into the fishing game, it's by far my favourite thing to do in Sonic Frontiers. It's relaxing, laidback and also funny when you contrast the cartoonish looking Sonic and Big with the hyper-realistic fish and other creatures you can hook up. It gets even weirder when you fish up alligators and hammerhead sharks! Like what?! What's that all about?! XD Through this minigame, you can buy Portal Keys (which are important to advance the plot), Memory Tokens (which are important to complete Side Stories), Egg Memos (Eggman voice logs that go into more detail about his time in Cyberspace, Sage's creation and more), more rings, more Skill Points, more Portal Gears, more Seeds of Power and Defence or more Skill Points. You can also fish up scrolls for the Elder Kocos on the island to unlock fast-travel to them. I do like how the fishing game here is actually useful to the game and isn't just an addictive time-waster. You actually sort of need to do it to get important items to progress further in the game.
As for the combat system, Sonic can do his usual Homing Attack and punch and kick things but there's a feature in this game where you can unlock more skills as you collect skill points, which you get from defeating enemies or buying them in the fishing game. Unlocking more skills broadens your combat capabilities and allows you to pull off multiple different moves and combinations that can make it easier to defeat your enemies. One of my favourites especially is the Sonic Boom attack where Sonic swings his foot rapidly and hits the enemy with shockwaves. That is RIDICULOUSLY fun to do and is handy for hitting enemies repeatedly from a distance too. You can also meet the Elder Kocos around the islands and if you collect Red Seeds of Power and Blue Seeds of Defence, you'll increase your attack and defence to make you stronger and take hits easier. Another Elder Koco will increase your speed and ring count if you find lost Koco for him, though that's more tedious than the other one as he only does it one at a time instead of all at once like the other Elder Koco does. Still, the combat system is pretty strong and the Skill Tree gives you a variety you can unlock throughout the game that gives you plenty of options for attacks and combos to pull off. I imagine many players enjoy playing around with this to see what combos suit them the best.
While we're talking about combat, we have several bosses that we encounter throughout the game. Each island has a series of mini-bosses which consist of named robots we have to fight that all vary in shapes, sizes and playstyles. Then to clear the islands completely, there is a "Titan" to battle which serves as the final boss for each island you go through sans Rhea Island. These bosses come with their own challenges with some being easy enough and some being more tricky. The Squid and Caterpillar ones especially are the ones I've often had the most trouble with. The Titans are pretty cool boss fights too with each one playing differently to the last so you're not fighting the same boss over and over. Weirdly enough, I found Giganto the most challenging and Supreme the easiest one to defeat, even though it's the last one and I had to face it on Hard Mode just to unlock the final boss. Speaking of, The End is the final boss of the game and for some weird reason, can ONLY be fought if you defeat Supreme on Hard Mode. I never really got that. The End lives up to the final boss status for it FRUSRATING to defeat! It's constantly shooting at you and you have to flip-flop between black or white colours to counter its blasts and if you die at ANY stage in the battle, you have to start all over again. The fact it NEVER SHUTS UP during this battle doesn't help either. This boss is so ridiculously hard that if you die enough times, the game starts giving you extra lives to try and help you out! Really? The boss is so hard the game feels the need to take pity on you in order to win? No boss should be that hard. It also feels a bit underwhelming for a boss fight too. Like the final boss is just a big purple moon we have to shoot at? Doesn't feel as epic as the Titan fights where we're fighting head-to-head against a bunch of giant robots. They could've been more creative with The End instead of just making it like the hacking minigames we do throughout the story.
And mentioning Hard Mode earlier, the game does have a difficulty setting. Easy Mode is for players who are more about the story than the gameplay and Normal and Hard Mode are for those who want a more challenging experience. Weirdly enough, I played the game on Easy Mode and it STILL feels challenging at times. If this is what Easy Mode is like, I dread to think how aggravating Hard Mode must be...
The gameplay has its fun moments and its frustrating moments but thankfully the game never feels too frustrating even when it's hard and is still otherwise fun to play for the most part. The open-world gameplay makes for a more unique experience for this game and allows for some creative world designs and fun places to explore. The fishing minigame is also a nice way to cool down after a tough play, especially if you've gotten worked up on a trickier boss fight or something so I appreciate that. I can only wonder what the next game will be like if this will be the direction going forward...
Section 4: The Graphics
It's a modern Sonic game for modern consoles like the PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X and the Switch. Who's even surprised that it looks good? I played the PS4 version so my comments on the graphics will mostly reflect how it looks there though I imagine it doesn't look that much different for the other consoles.
Sonic Frontiers boasts some truly awesome looking graphics that make for a really pretty looking game to play through. Let's start with the environments first. The Starfall Islands are full of detail and truly give off this feeling of ancient ruins that were once lived in with so much scenery overrun by growth, ruins everywhere and a lot of natural environments like fields full of grass and flowers on Kronos Island, sandy deserts on Ares Island or the volcanic habitat of Chaos Island. All the islands are so rich in detail and beautifully designed that you can easily lose yourself just exploring them and looking around everywhere. You can also guess that Eggman's been traipsing around the islands for you can find some of his tech there and some stuff that definitely doesn't look like it's part of the island. As you walk around the islands, Sonic will sometimes comment on what he sees, which tells you just how well-designed and thought out these islands were when they can tell you so much story just by looking at what's around them. Despite this, the islands do have some weird design features in them that might have you questioning what gives. Case in point...the giant pinball machine on Chaos Island. Like...why did the ancients even build that? It's so weird! XD
But anyway, the environments are beautifully detailed and look great thanks to the graphics and effects that allow for convincing flowing water and realistic lighting effects. This is especially noteworthy when the weather changes. The lighting always looks good whether it's sunny, raining, dawning, dusking or if it's night and it adds to that level of authenticity with how everything looks. The islands feel so immersive that it's easy to forget you're in a video-game...provided you don't see all the obvious Sonic-inspired structures everywhere and then you remember it IS still a video-game. XD As mentioned before, some reviews criticize the open world for looking empty and barren but again, that's the point. These islands haven't been lived on for centuries so they're MEANT to look like that and the graphics only emphasize that point with all the details present like ruins covered in overgrowth or abandoned tech lying around. The empty islands also make exploring much easier as there's not much of anything to get in the way either so that's a plus.
As for the character designs, the Sonic cast look as great as ever and they're all rendered with realistic textures to make them look even better with Sonic, Tails, Amy and Knuckles all sporting fur textures and textures on their clothes. Even Dr. Eggman is rendered with those textures too and it looks pretty good. Sage is a great design too as this creepy little ghost child whose glitchy appearance only emphasizes more on the fact that she's an A.I. Some of her body is covered in black and red computer code, giving her a somewhat "incomplete" look and as if to emphasize the fact she's Eggman's creation, I've seen someone comment that her hair kinda resembles half an eggshell. I dunno if that was intentional but if it was, that was clever of SEGA to do so. I also find it neat that Sage can change colour during more emotional or sympathetic moments, going from black and red to white and blue at times. It kinda feels like a devil and angel on her shoulder in this case, only it's expressed through her colour changing body.
And then they have the Titans and most of the mini-bosses you fight on the island. All of them have very creative and unique designs that are unlike anything ever seen in a Sonic game. It makes sense that they look so alien and out-of-place in the Sonic universe because, well, they're not FROM Sonic's world! These were created by the ancients, who came from outer space, so of course their tech won't look like what we're used to. With their mostly dull colour schemes, streamlined appearances with not many sharp edges, faceless features and weird proportions, they truly do look alien and it only makes them stand out all the more as a result. You have some robots that resemble animals (and are even named after them) like Squid, Caterpillar, Spider and more, some resemble objects like the towers and pillars and some don't resemble anything in particular like the ninjas. You even get one with a sumo theme complete with its own wrestling ring and everything! And then there's the Titans that are these colossal behemoths that look like they could raze a planet if they ever went rouge. You can feel their gargantuan size as you fight them and each one looks unique from the other (thought Giganto and Supreme do feel a bit similar) and even plays differently as you fight them. I'd probably say Knight is my favourite of the bunch with its four-legged, wheel-footed appearance and abnormally large weapons. That thing just looked so awesome when I battled it. It's too bad these bosses have all the cool and creative designs and then you have the final boss which is...a giant purple moon. I get that what were seeing isn't The End's true form but still, make what we're perceiving look more creative than just a giant purple moon, OK? That just looks so boring and underwhelming compared to the creative looking bosses we've fought throughout the game.
When it comes to the cutscenes, the animation is on point there too. The characters are as expressive as they should be and move convincingly. I especially love the flashback scenes when Sonic and friends see the memories of the Koco and we get glimpses of what came before. The colour palette becomes various shades of brown and white as if we're watching an old movie, which further enhances the fact we're seeing something from ancient times. For some reason, we get fully animated cutscenes for Knuckles and Amy when these flashbacks happen but for Tails, we get mostly still images with some bits of movement as if this were a motion comic or a cutscene in Sonic and the Black Knight. Why was that? I have no idea. Still, the animation is really good during the cutscenes and after Team Sonic Racing gave us nothing, it's nice to actually have animated cutscenes again.
The graphics are nothing short of incredible in this game, but they do have some small issues. First of all, when doing the side missions, Sonic will be talking to Sage or one of his friends in these scenes and on the odd occasion, their mouths won't move when they talk. It's really distracting to see, especially as most of the time they have proper mouth movements so I don't know what went wrong here. Also, this is less a criticism against the graphics and more a strange design choice. During the fishing minigame, you have the cartoony looking Sonic and Big which are sharply contrasted by the hyper-realistic looking fish, alligators, crabs, hammerhead sharks and other animals you fish up in that game. It looks so weird and I don't get why they designed it that way. Why do the fish look so realistic to the point they look like ACTUAL fish when this is a Sonic the Hedgehog game? Why don't the fish have cartoonish designs like the Sonic cast do? It's like that weird design choice with Pixar's The Good Dinosaur where you have the hyper-realistic backgrounds weirdly contrasted by the cartoonish character designs. I really don't get why they designed it that way and if it had been my game, I wouldn't have done it look that.
Still, there's very little to complain about with the graphics. They look so beautifully done and as a result, we have one of Sonic's best looking games ever created. This game's worth playing through just to drink in the beautiful scenery alone and it's great to see Sonic looking so good again.
Sonic Frontiers is the best Sonic game we've had since Sonic Generations. The story is surprisingly engaging and character driven while being a huge improvement over previous stories in the Sonic franchise, the characters feel like they're evolving for once, the gameplay is not what we usually expect from a Sonic game and yet it works and the graphics are really pretty to look at. It has its issues of course but nothing too major. I had no expectations going into this game, yet I came out of it having really enjoyed what I got. It feels good to enjoy a Sonic game for the first time in ages and I'm starting to feel a little more positive towards the franchise going forward. Two good movies AND a good new game all at once? This decade's going well for Sonic so far. Frontiers is the right direction for this franchise to be heading in and I hope we continue in that direction. For now, there's DLC upcoming for Frontiers so we'll see if that's any good...
And that's it for my review on Sonic Frontiers. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you to share your thoughts on the game down below. Did you enjoy the game? Did you not enjoy it? Do tell.
Next week, I move from a new Sonic game to a new Sonic TV series with the Netflix exclusive series Sonic Prime. See you then everyone!