Sonic Frontiers uses Cyber Space to remind you that these games used to be pretty rad

Sonic Frontiers Art Header

Playing Sonic Frontiers a couple weeks ago at Summer Game Fest, I didn’t come away particularly excited after spending a half hour of hands-on time with it. From my first Sonic Frontiers preview, most of the game feels like a muddy experiment in transitioning the old-school blue hedgehog into modern open-world game design, leaning on some of the laziest and least interesting aspects of that kind of game. There’s one element in there that shines through the rubble, though, and it’s something I wasn’t allowed to divulge details on in my initial article despite the footage being all over the internet. Today I can officially talk a bit about the Cyber Space levels in Sonic Frontiers, the only exciting part about an otherwise unimpressive game.

In the Sonic Frontiers demo I played, you go through a pretty rote loop of tasks in order to progress through the game – fight bosses to get Portal Gears, use Portal Gears to unlock Cyber Space stages, do well on Cyber Space stages to get Emerald Keys, and use Emerald Keys to unlock Chaos Emeralds strewn across the bland open world of Starfall Islands. In practice, it was a pretty lackluster loop – contextless enemy encounters and currency collecting feel as far removed from the dynamic open-world gameplay that inspired this game as possible. The one flash of excitement, though, is when you actually dive into that Cyber Space stage.

In my time with the game, I only got to play one Cyber Space stage – and it was a crisp breath of fresh air. The main game of Sonic Frontiers is slow, and quiet, and lacking in colour or excitement. As soon as you pop into the Cyber Space stage, it’s a complete 180º turn – you’re in a traditional 3D Sonic level, running forward at breakneck speed through a bright and vibrant environment. It feels like it’s been drawn from some of the strongest pages of the Sonic franchise, and not the App Store knockoff of the Genshin Impact map that the main game takes place on.

Sonic Frontiers Cyber Space Motorway

Most of the soundscape in the main Sonic Frontiers setting consists of either sad solitary piano or the quiet hums of wind, but in Cyber Space? It’s here that you get twinkling upbeat electronic music laced with old-school 80s vocals blasting the entire time.

In Cyber Space levels, you homing-bounce across floating enemies and bumper launches to speed through the stage. You grind through a loop-de-loop rail, transfer to another rail, and then glide through the air to land on a far-off platform and keep on running. A lot of these mechanics are present in the open world, but there they lack the speed, sound, excitement, and context that make them so interesting. Grinding across a random rail floating above a lake at a snail’s pace isn’t what makes a Sonic game. Jetting through a colorful cartoon-y world at Mach 10 as you slam through robotic enemies and hop between rails, though, is definitely Sonic at his best. Why is the iconic Green Hill Zone locked away in another dimension?

Sonic Frontiers Cyber Space Green Hill Zone

From beginning to end, my time with the Cyber Space stage was an incredibly brief 2 minutes, but that couple of minutes held more engaging and satisfying gameplay than the rest of my time with Sonic Frontiers. In a way, the impressive quality of this Cyber Space stage just makes me even more disappointed by the rest of what I played. Part of me wonders why Sonic Frontiers doesn’t take place in a wide and expansive version of the vibrant zones you run through in these Cyber Space stages. Another part of me, though, wonders why these Cyber Space segments are relegated to being side-encounters.

There’s a version of Sonic Frontiers that could be filled with these short, sweet and nostalgic Cyber Space levels, and I can’t help but feel like a game like that would be heaps more enjoyable than whatever kind of game the more open world Sonic Frontiers is shaping up to be.

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I'm a writer, voice actor, and 3D artist living la vida loca in New York City. I'm into a pretty wide variety of games, and shows, and films, and music, and comics and anime. Anime and video games are my biggest vice, though, so feel free to talk to me about those. Bury me with my money.