Sonic Frontiers Still Feels Bad To Play, But That’s Enough For Me

Sonic Frontiers is good. It isn’t great, and is definitely still a 3D Sonic game similarly to the mediocrity that came before it, but there is a confidence to its creative vision that shines through the evident jankiness. The Blue Blur moves like he’s been plopped into an Unreal Engine 5 tech demo, while the cyberspace stages exhibit all the irksome design decisions we’ve come to associate with the series.

It boasts open areas filled with cool obstacles to conquer, but many of them are randomly placed and repetitive, while the environments themselves are uninspired in ways that have me believing they thought up a bunch of biomes and forget to fill them with anything. But there is an unusual charm to it all, and a confidence to the overall design that showcases how Sonic Team has acknowledged the faults of its history and wants to move on. While it still remains attached to the past in some weirdly annoying ways, I’m digging it.

Upon reading all the glowing reviews I expected to start up Sonic Frontiers and be blown away with a transformative experience, one that addressed any and all flaws I might have as it redefined the platforming mascot forever. It doesn’t do any of that. The voice acting is as wooden as ever, the characters are familiar, and it begins with Eggman doing something stupid and causing trouble for everyone else. Some deeper mysteries await, but the opening levels are a mixture of familiar locales and bland new ones that don’t invite much curiosity.

The menus are kinda boring, the controls remain awkward in spite of added freedom afforded by the environments, and combat is still a mixture of spamming homing attacks alongside a number of simplistic combos. I sound like I’m ragging on this game, but compared to Sonic Forces, Lost World, Boom, and even Generations to a certain extent, Frontiers is almost liberating in how it challenges our expectations and strives to do something new. It has fumbled a fair amount thus far, but I’m still eager to see more of it, so much so that I booted this baby up before God of War Ragnarok without a second thought. We did give them the same score, a factoid I’d sure purely to make the gamer blood boil.

Our own Stacey Henley wrote recently about Sonic Frontiers having the most interesting reviews of the year, and she’s right in saying we need more games like it. I think some praise being dished out by hardcore fans is overblown, and I couldn’t get them to listen to constructive feedback even if it was coming from my own personally curated fursona. Critics were a mixture of overly positive and expectantly cynical, with our nostalgic love for Sonic and the current state of games media meaning we were likely never going to find a middle ground.

Yet through it all sat a single consistency – Sonic had evolved, even if he’ll require another game or two to truly nail this new formula. I’d rather that rocky road than another narrative blockbuster receiving endless praise without a single piece of worthwhile critique, or a new title we’ve never seen before testing the waters somewhere new instead of repeating the same successes again and again as we eat it up like good little consumers.

I’m only an hour into Sonic Frontiers right now, but it’s achieved something that so few triple-A games are capable of these days, and that’s to surprise me. In both a positive and negative light it is reminding me of how far the character has to come before he achieves greatness, and how much I’d appreciate even a slight evolution of a platformer that for so long has been stagnant.

Having the freedom to roam around massive locales and play with puzzles at my own pace eliminates the awkward stalling of momentum so often associated with the third dimension, while there is so much more room for the developers to experiment with cool ideas when they aren’t confined by the limitation of having to go fast and never stop. Now when Sonic slows to a crawl it isn’t because the level design is total bollocks, it’s because I need to slow down to fight an enemy or solve a puzzle, and that cadence is more immersive than I ever could have expected. Far from perfect, but it’s certainly a start.

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