To say there’s a lot of hype and excitement built around Sonic Frontiers is quite an understatement.
Since its official announcement reveal at the 2021 Game Awards, hardcore fans and even casual players (myself included, I’m a massive Sonic fan) have been extremely keen to get their hands on the latest upcoming title in the Sonic the Hedgehog series as this is the first to feature a somewhat semi open-world-esque environment for the franchise (Dubbed by Sonic Team as ‘Open Zone’) with an incredibly tight-lipped but mysterious story Sonic Team they have been dropping over social media and various trailers. And amazingly, a demo was playable at the return of this year’s PAX in Australia! After playing the demo on all three days at PAX AUS, I can safely say this is something special to look out for, and I am very excited.
The demo begins with Sonic waking up in a grassy field, separated from his friends Tails, Knuckles, and Amy. After looking around, a mysterious voice calls to him, telling him to locate the seven Chaos Emeralds and to destroy enemies called ‘Titans’ on the island. Straight away, we are thrown into the middle of a story with very little context, but it makes for a very intriguing premise that will keep me interested until release day. But for now, that’s as much as we know story-wise from this demo. Call me intrigued, as I’m desperate to know more!
Gameplay wise, Sonic Frontiers played and felt like a dream. Moving Sonic around Starfall Island felt precise and exact with movement, homing attacks to enemies and jumping. I was amazed at how well Sonic could stop and turn on a dime if I was running at fast speed in the overworld and wanted to turn back instantly. Even as someone who is incredibly familiar with how most Sonic games work and picks things up quickly, I easily got the hang of the controls and his movement early on.
While I would only have had a glimpse of the combat system from trying out this demo alone, Sonic’s combat system felt pretty darn good to utilise. Sonic could do his traditional homing attack on enemies as from previous games, but now Sonic can punch, kick, dodge, parry enemy attacks, and can even do the drop dash from 2017’s Sonic Mania which felt incredibly satisfying to do downhill in a 3D Sonic game. Not just that, I was even able to unlock an ability called ‘Cycloop’ that allowed me to run around enemies creating a blue trail that when connected after running in a circle, can throw enemies into the air or even removing any shields titan, allowing more hits on them and claim victory.
Abilities such as Cycloop are unlocked using a Skill Tree, a feature brand new to the Sonic series that will allow you to unlock more abilities for Sonic to use in battle. Defeating enemies will have them drop ‘Skill Pieces’ that when used and can be done to unlock more abilities in Sonic’s Skill Tree. This feature seemed cool, and while I did not unlock any other abilities before the demo timed out on me, I think this is a great way to have you explore your surroundings, encourage exploration, and experimenting with combat against enemies. I very much loved what I witnessed, and I cannot wait to see the full potential the combat system has to offer!
Exploration of the island was quite fun, and I loved that there were multiple ways to reach a certain area, or by looking around the area well enough, you could find springs or dash panels that will take you somewhere else and reward you with items, such as additional rings or even new items. While you do have a boost meter to use, albeit slightly revised from previous boost meters in past titles, you don’t simply ‘boost to win’ around the place like prior modern 3D Sonic games when exploring the open world. There’s a lot of open space to run around with. Starfall Island feels large but not too large to feel overwhelming. While it’s still early days, I really liked what I could see and do in this open space. There were lots to see and things or building to venture to, so it didn’t feel boring.
The most interesting aspect of Sonic Frontiers that I overall think will be a little polarizing for players, but something I personally enjoyed, are the cyberspace stages. Cyberspace stages are your traditional stages akin to previous Sonic games levels, that are scattered all across the island to seek and enter. These levels are based on previous stages seen in the series but are based on Sonic’s memory of said stage and is not the same true stage from past iterations. Two cyberspace stages I managed to play through were Green Hill and Sky Sanctuary. Like previous modern Sonic stages, you will find the red rings to locate as you enter each one as collectables.
I say these may polarize players, as the two stages I played were somewhat short in length and not the same essence of speed seen in games such as Sonic Unleashed or Sonic Generations. Sonic wasn’t slow, don’t get me wrong, but he certainly was not the same type of speed in, say, Rooftop Run from Sonic Unleashed, as a comparison.
I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. I still was running through cyberspace Sky Sanctuary and had a blast of a time navigating from rails to connecting pathways upwards, but I feel this may not entirely impress players who are looking to run at the literal speed of sound. However, considering we have a huge semi-open world playing field to run around and explore, I don’t have any qualms with the way cyberspace stages were presented to me in this demo.
Cyberspace stages also had certain in-stage missions/goals to complete within each one. These ranged from ‘Achieve an S Rank’, or ‘Collect all 5 Red Rings’, so there will definitely be some replay value to be had within cyberspace.
The overall impression I had with Sonic Frontiers is that this is shaping up to be something very special. I truly believe Sonic Team have pulled out all the stops to create a long-lasting impressionable game in the best way possible that players are going to have a very fun time with, both for long-time fans and newcomers.
I loved every second I spent with the Sonic Frontiers demo on all three days at PAX AUS and was gutted at how fast time went by as the demo came to a crashing halt at some point on every playthrough. (you’re only given 20 minutes to play, and I visited the game across the 3 days, so I suppose this is essentially an hour of a demo playthrough for me when tallied all up). Movement felt precise, combat was good fun, and the exploration was expansive. I’d definitely be keeping an eye out for this one.
Sonic Frontiers is scheduled for release on 8th November 2022 and will release on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo Switch.