Xbox Series X/S Review: Sonic Frontiers

Is this Sonic game more than just Breath of the Hedgehog?

Worlds collide in Sonic the Hedgehog’s newest adventure. Accelerate to new heights and experience the thrill of high velocity open-zone freedom. Battle powerful enemies as you speed through the Starfall Islands – landscapes brimming with dense forests, overflowing waterfalls, sizzling deserts and more.

When Sonic Frontiers was revealed, the comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was inevitable but despite this, Sonic Team insisted it was “Open-Zone” and not “Open-World”, but was this accurate or did the game essentially take the BOTW concept for itself?

There’s definitely elements they’ve taken like Sonic’s Boost wheel looks a lot like Link’s Stamina wheel, Sonic earns Seeds of Power or Defence which works like BOTW’s Shrine Orbs to increase Sonic’s Strength and Defence as you would expect. Sonic’s Speed and Ring Capacity is upgraded by finding little creatures called Koco’s and handing them to the Elder Koco like you would hand Korok Seeds to Hestu for extra inventory slots. There are a few other things you’ll spot and go “Oh just like in BOTW”, but the game itself is a very different experience once you look past the small similarities.

The game has Sonic separated from his friends and finds captured on each of the Starfall Islands. Sonic can progress the story by exploring the islands, gathering “Memory Tokens” to use with each character to push the story forward. He’ll also need to defeat large enemies to earn gears which can then be used to access Cyber Space levels which in turn grants you keys for…you guessed it, Chaos Emeralds! The Cyber Space stages are more of a throwback to classic 3D Sonic levels, but in very short doses and each has 4 missions to complete and the more you do, the more keys you get. The keys are always earned for completing the level, getting all Red Rings, finishing in S Rank time and finishing the level with a number of Rings. Some of these are easy to earn, while others will definitely challenge you.

But there’s more to get your head around! When you first start playing you’ll come across an area with a hovering red question mark and a puzzle to solve. Completing this will earn you a nice section of the map with items located on it as well as either a Seed of Power or Defence and completing all of them will allow you Fast-Travel between the different Cyber Space shrines. You can also Fast-Travel to the Elder Koco and Hermit Koco, but you’ll need to find their scrolls by fishing for them by finding the fishing spot where you encounter Big the Cat.

Fishing is simple, but you’ll need to nab purple tokens around the islands to have a go with the rod. Catching fish and even very obscure items earns Sonic tokens he can redeem for almost anything you can think of including Keys, Seeds, Memory Tokens, Kucos and so on. Essentially if you nab enough fishing tokens you can pay for a huge chunk of items that you would otherwise spend ages exploring for. I guess it gives you the choice that way, which is nice overall.

Once Sonic has collected enough Chaos Emeralds and pushed the story forward, he’ll take on the island’s boss before moving onto the next one and the pattern repeats for the majority of the islands. Each island is pretty big in size but thanks to Sonic’s speed, getting around is quick and if you add in the rails that also get added when you complete a Challenge, then getting from one side of the map to the other takes little time at all.

Combat itself is a bit more complex than traditional Sonic games. This game has combos, counters, blocks and dodges which takes some getting used to, but you can activate an auto-combo option which makes combat a bit easier, though some you will still need to use your new Cyloop ability to stun or uncover their weak spots. To do this, you’ll need to hold down the Y button to create a trail that you will need to cover your enemy within a circle and let go when its complete. It can also be used to solve puzzles and make Rings show up when you need them. Boss fights are typically over the top chaos with a killer soundtrack in the background and each doesn’t disappoint. The other larger enemies you will face are also pretty clever and each unique in their own way.

But how does it all handle? Sonic feels fluid enough to control as he whizzes about and the Homing Attack is decent, while wall-running itself doesn’t always work. Combat takes some getting used to, but it works well for the most part, but it would have been nice to see more varieties of normal enemies. Each Island is distinctively different from its last and each is great to explore from top to bottom. The whole game just feels like a big playground for Sonic to mess about in with rails, springs and dozens of collectibles to nab and it’s glorious.

The visuals are stunning to behold here. Sonic and friends are well animated, but it’s the Starfall Islands that are the real star here with beautiful environments to explore and the game runs at a solid framerate throughout. Load times are pretty short too, there’s only a noticeable one when you decide to switch islands, but even then it’s not that long. I did come across a few buggy moments but none that were game-breaking, and they would usually sort themselves out the next time I tried.

The voice-acting is typical of the 3D Sonic era, but there are some decent performances here and the story itself is actually pretty decent with some nice character development and even some nods to past Sonic games with either a flashback or a mention by a character in a cutscene. The soundtrack is incredible though with some truly epic songs any Sonic fan will be playing on repeat for years to come.

The Verdict

Sonic Frontiers is a huge leap for the franchise and it’s one that has worked for the best. It doesn’t always nail its landing, but when it does…it really does. If this is where the gameplay stays for the next decade or so, then I for one am excited to see where it goes next. For me, this is one adventure I don’t regret going on and I doubt you will either.

Score: 9.0