Sonic Frontiers is the best 3D Sonic game there’s ever been. Some could argue that’s faint praise – Nintendo’s plumber made the transition to 3D look effortless, while Sonic’s various adventures into the third dimension haven’t had the same far-reaching effect – but this isn’t meant as faint, hazy or even weak praise. Sonic Frontiers is genuinely the kind of game that you miss when you’re done.
Sonic has found himself dragged off to the Starfall Islands, a series of large landmasses populated with the ruins of the Ancient civilisation, while his companions have been trapped in Cyber Space, a digital netherworld. Eggman – or Robotnik if you prefer – is also knocking around in there, while his creepy cohort Sage appears regularly to tell Sonic to stop whatever it is he’s doing. Sonic sets out to save his friends, but of course he finds a few more things to do along the way.
Frontiers could have easily been called Sonic RPG. Its systems, open-world and soul-searching cutscenes have far more in common with the Xenoblade series than his 2D Sega Genesis escapades. Sure, there’s heaps of jumping, spinning, ring collecting and giant springs to launch hedgehogs off, but this Sonic game provides more context and questing than they’ve ever have before. It’s also constantly and joyously surprising.
Now, before you start to worry too much that Frontiers isn’t ‘your’ Sonic, it somehow still is. despite now having an upgrade tree, an open-world, and a host of new ways to power up your spiny pal, there’s still the core of a traditional Sonic game here, most obviously seen in the Cyber Space levels. These sections are a bite-sized mix of 2D and 3D Sonic stages, with a series of challenges asking you to collect a certain number of rings, beat a tight time limit, or pick up five star coins along the way. Completing each challenge nets you a key with which you can then unlock vaults containing the continually precious Chaos Emeralds.
Those moments are wrapped up in an open world that is a revelation for a 3D Sonic game, not least because it actually allows our hedgehog hero to race across the landscape at a serious Sonic-esque speed. Each island boasts a series of structures, including springs, loops, balloons, enemies, and ziplines that manage to make each moment feel like a constantly evolving Sonic stage. There’s always something to leap on, a new group of enemies to attack, or a huge boss-type character just waiting for you to happen upon them.
Boss encounters make for some of the most taut and involving moments in Sonic Frontiers. Often huge technological constructs, they require a range of differing techniques to defeat, whether clambering across an outer shell, timing your attacks as they spin riotously across the screen or riding along their tail as they race through the sky. They’re a mere starter compared to the immense Titans that you face at the end of each island, though. Here you’ll need to employ the Chaos Emerald-imbued powers of Super Sonic, once again keeping you on your toes by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you.
One of the greatest delights of Sonic Frontiers is just how natural it all feels. There’s never a moment where you’re stuck for something to do, whether it’s unlocking the map for each level, grabbing various collectibles or advancing the narrative. As you expand the map or complete challenges even more loops and tracks appear, and as you close in on the end of each area you’ll find you can zip from one end of the map to the other in moments, all while still having to use Sonic’s speedy skills.
Those skills are ever-growing thanks to the upgrade tree and the inclusion of the Koros and their elders. Defeated enemies drop skill shards, and if you accumulate enough of them you can unlock a new or improved move. Alongside this you can nab Power Seeds and Defence Seeds, with a quick trip to the Koro Hermit boosting your abilities further. Finally, there’s the Koros themselves.
These cute little stone creatures are meandering all over the place, and returning them to their Elder will boost your speed or ring capacity. Annoyingly, where everything else is clear and obvious, the Elder gives you one upgrade at a time, with no clear sense of how many Koros you have just given him, or how many you need to hit the next tier. It needs an update to make things clearer as this might just be the slowest part of the whole game.
Throughout Sonic’s adventure, one constant is that the soundtrack remains phenomenal. Running the gamut through synthwave – there’s elements of M83’s stellar work on the Oblivion movie soundtrack – through to dramatic orchestral work, classic Sonic-pop and brutal heavy metal, it’s a genuine pleasure to listen to no matter what’s happening on screen.
The main downside you’re likely to find here stems from Frontier’s occasional technical deficiencies. Playing on PS5 you’ve got the option of 4K or frame rate modes, with the latter’s 60fps mode being transformative in a game that’s all about speed. While the Series X and the PC versions also have this option, all the older platforms are stuck at 30fps and that’s a real shame. There’s also a bit of pop-in to contend with, even on PS5, and though it’s never going to affect gameplay your sensitivity to it may differ.