(Image via youtube.com)
Volunteer Writer Aidan Gordon
This time, Sonic’s new formula almost nails it. No, really.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, my friends: “3D Sonic was never good.”
This isn’t true – not really, anyway. But in fairness to the people who believe so, it’s easy to conclude that the series fell from grace once Sega quit making hardware. Everyone knows that Sonic’s 2006 Xbox 360 outing was a busted mess crapped out for Christmas, and may even recall that Sega rushing their way out of a Nintendo deal eight years later essentially sent the little guy’s reputation – and, most importantly, sales – straight into the garbage bin.
But did you know that, prior to this one, the last mainline Sonic game could be beaten in one afternoon? How about the disastrous Switch and iffy PS4/Xbox ports of the Wii game Colors… released just two years ago? The internet may be overly unkind to the little guy, but Sega hasn’t exactly been “helping” all that much.
So, for his rep to be restored, a home run in three dimensions is practically required. (2D title Sonic Mania, as great as it is, is thus ineligible for the prize.)
So: Is Sonic Frontiers, the big new Sonic, released last Christmas, with free updates each quarter, that magical home run? Is this it: the first 3D Sonic to make Mario sweat?
No. It isn’t. But, in keeping with the baseball metaphor… It’s a pretty solid triple.
In terms of story, the game starts out on the simple side. Hunting for the mysterious Chaos Emeralds, gems of unimaginable power, Sonic the Hedgehog, and friends fly to the Starfall Islands after locating the nefarious Doctor Eggman there. He’s bent on world domination as always, so Tails the Fox flies them there in his biplane, the Tornado, for a simple in-and-out operation.
But a digital wormhole opens in the sky above, destroying the plane and separating the party. Awaking alone in the rain after freeing himself from a virtual realm – Cyberspace, where all the actual Sonic stuff is – Sonic must venture forth, fighting otherworldly new beasts and using a wicked new power to free his friends before they’re lost forever.
But this power comes at a cost, and he’ll have to take on SAGE – Eggman’s new AI-turned-daughter with the protection of robotic gods– in order to have a chance of saving the day once more. Shonen nonsense, of course, but delivered with sincerity– so, in that sense, the franchise I know and love is back.
But for those of you who aren’t Sonic nerds? Well, pop the champagne – because they nailed the gameplay too! Sonic controls like a dream, blending the combos of an MMA great with the grace of a ballerina on rocket skates. It’s incredibly easy to rack up bonkers combos once you get the hang of things, tearing across the five environments (really three… more on that later) as your own personal playground.
The sense of speed is the best it’s been since the Dreamcast days, our little fiend rushing through this “open zone” with a true sense of fun. It’s great to rush through the plot, sure. But even long after the credits roll, you’ll find yourself still eager to burn up the lands and lay waste to everything in your path. And when you get all seven Emeralds to become the legendary Super Sonic… that’s where the game, and its screamo-metal-opera (!) soundtrack, really begin to shine.
So what’s the catch, you ask? Well… quite a lot, sadly. Pop-in and visuals are atrocious on the Nintendo Switch version, but the art design makes it look like a crummy fangame on every platform– PC and new-generation consoles included.
Terrible minigames and plentiful invisible walls abound on the Starfall Islands; for God’s sake, the final island and first island are the same damn one artificially split into two. The minigames are borderline torture, and the quips can be incomprehensible if you’re not a long-time fan like comic writer (and script lead) Ian Flynn clearly is.
Speaking of finales, the ending was also clearly rushed for the game’s Christmas 2022 release date, though an update – the last of three, all free of charge – which is available now, is supposed to fix this.
The bosses go downhill from Island Two, and the aforementioned update schedule means that it still – still – carries a $60 price tag almost a year after launch. While Sega does do frequent sales, a not-dirt-cheap $34.99 seems to be this game’s chosen price floor. To top it all off, by almost every metric, Sonic Frontiers is inferior to every other open-world video game out there. So why pick it up at all, you ask me?
Because then you hit full speed, the soundtrack filling you with pride as you take on yet another monstrosity from beyond. Ramming into one enemy after the other as a furious azure wave cutting through anything dumb enough to stand between you and your friends. Fighting for hope in a world gone mad, for the light of the day long after darkness has infected your every pore.
In that moment… you don’t care. You don’t care about the pop-in, you don’t care about the invisible walls, you don’t care about the filler, and you don’t care if Sega shot the budget in the back half. For the first time since the Dreamcast years… with this 3D Sonic, you feel free.
With this 3D Sonic, you’re having fun.
It’s only a triple, they say. But what a damn good triple it is.
My final rating: