Sonic Frontiers Preview – A jam-packed open world, but is it fast enough?

The Sonic series isn’t exactly known for its truthful representation of the humble hedgehog. They’re far more cute than they are edgy, they’re not blue, and foxes are more likely to try and eat them than befriend them. Despite all these lies, Sonic the Hedgehog has become a beloved part of the video game and now movie world, but Sonic Frontiers’ reveal with a 3D open world seeded a lot of doubt. With a new demo to play at Gamescom, does it get closer to defining a new era for the blue blur?

Following our last hands-on, this time out we got to run around Ares Island – the second location in Sonic Frontiers. It’s more of a Tattooine-style affair than a Green Hill Zone, boasting sand dunes that extend in every direction, with rocky outcrops, ruins, and various Sonic-related structures jutting out of the sand.

Sonic runs around these 3D areas in much the way you’d hope for. I still want him to be able to run faster, quicker – he’s Sonic after all – but he gets enough speed up that you’re not having to wait long to get to where you want to. It feels as though the balance of an open world has been found here, with enemies or areas where you get to bounce or zoom around loop-the-loops appearing at regular intervals. There’s always something to do, and I consistently found myself distracted from the glowing objective marker. This is a good thing.

Sonic Frontiers Desert Region

The second zone sees you locate Knuckles, discovering that he’s trapped in Cyberspace. Even when you release him, he’s still stuck in digital form, so you have continue searching for Knuckles’ memory tokens to fully restore him to his strapping red self. Their interactions are classic Sonic – the spiky blue wonder gives him some sass, while Knuckles is eternally grumpy. Then again he’s a Cyber ghost that can’t touch anything, so he probably should be pretty narked.

Each area’s core flow runs something like this: destroy Guardians, collect portal gear, unlock the portal, get into Cyberspace, unlock vault keys, and then with enough keys you can unlock the Chaos Emeralds. It does feel like there’s a lot of collecting going on, but as a 3D platformer that’s pretty standard isn’t it? Despite that, Sonic Frontiers feels modern, whether that’s due to the expansive open world or the way that they’ve included the ability to upgrade Sonic’s abilities.

Killing bad guys earns you combat points called Skill Pieces. Collect enough of these and you can work your way through the skill tree, adding to or expanding Sonic’s repertoire. That’s then followed by the cuter end of the pick-ups. The Koco are mysterious creatures to find and collect which you can power Sonic up with. Collecting seeds and taking them to a Koco Hermit upgrades the blue blur; Seeds of Power make you strike harder, Seeds of Defense do… well exactly what you think they would.

Sonic Frontiers Koco

Appearing at fairly regular intervals are huge, boss-like machines, proving to be a real challenge for our hedgehog friend. The first of these, a giant spider-like mech, saw Sonic grinding around defensive rings while it fired projectiles at him. While the first phase was easy enough the second one saw those projectiles hopping from ring to ring making them dastardly hard to avoid.

As ever if you’re hit by a projectile you’ll lose some rings, and in this case probably get thrown to the sand as well. If you get hit with zero rings, it’s back to your last checkpoint. Sonic can hold 400 golden rings this time around though, so that’s a few more hits than you could take before.

Sonic Frontiers Gamescom Boss Battle

We still only got a small taste of the narrative here, but it was enjoyable, Sonic-flavoured sci-fi. The Ancients put everything in place here, with their looming structures hiding myriad secrets to unlock. The creepy electro girl with red glitches from the latest trailer showed her face once more, and was deeply unhappy about Sonic’s presence. Then again, his quips can be annoying so maybe she isn’t bent on world domination.

Sonic Frontiers has the potential to bring Sonic thoroughly into the third dimension with a consistently distracting open world that always has something to do on the horizon. The question remains though. Is it fast enough?