The eternally memetic Sonic Cycle continues in Sonic Frontiers. With the dust barely having had time to settle on the messy launch of Sonic Origins, Sega is seemingly itching to take the series in a new direction. The next big outing for the blue blur is a less linear, more explorable take on the ‘run fast, grind rails, jump on robots’ formula we know and love.
I am cautiously hopeful, and despite being a bit of a pessimist, I’ve still had fun with most modern Sonic games. Here’s everything we know so far about Sonic Frontiers, and what makes it stand out (for better or worse) from the dozens of other games starring Sega’s true blue mascot.
What is the release date for Sonic Frontiers?
Sega hasn’t announced a specific release date for Sonic Frontiers, although its latest projection was ‘Holiday 2022’. Given the mixed response to its unveiling and first hands-on previews, I wouldn’t be surprised if it slipped past Christmas to early 2023, given that everything else seems to be getting delayed this year.
Will Sonic Frontiers be on PC?
Yes, and just about every other console around, including the Switch. So far, no system requirements have been announced for Frontiers, but given that the game scales all the way down to the Switch (effectively a mid-spec mobile device) and last-gen consoles like the Xbox One and PS4, you’re unlikely to need a massive machine to run it at lower settings.
What sets Sonic Frontiers apart from other Sonic games?
While the Sonic series has gone some weird places over the years (including a rubbish RPG by Bioware and that awkward Werehog one), Frontiers could be one of the biggest shifts for the series yet. While they may have had explorable overworlds, the levels in Sonic Adventure and Sonic ‘06 were largely linear. Sonic Frontiers is leaning towards a much less restrictive open-world format.
Rather than Sonic’s usual abstract and cartoonish worlds, this time he’s exploring a chain of much more natural-looking islands, with fields of flowers, dense forests and jagged cliffs to navigate, although there seem to be grind-rails hovering just about everywhere, providing some additional movement options. It seems that Frontiers has taken some Breath of The Wild inspiration, with devices and mini-puzzles revealing collectible items in the overworld.
Also shown in gameplay footage so far is an increased focus on combat, including rapid melee combos and dodges. Sonic will be able to unlock and learn new combat abilities over the course of the game, including the ability to shoot swarms of energy blades at enemies, and a melee parry move. It’s an unusual change of pace, as Sonic’s usual approach to combat is to bounce on past as quickly as possible, rather than standing and fighting toe-to-toe.
What do we know about the world of Sonic Frontiers?
For this adventure, Sonic is headed off to the mysterious Starfall Islands, an archipelago that was once home to an advanced (but now lost) civilization. What this means is miles of open, largely unspoilt hills to speed around, punctuated with mysterious techno-ruins, grind-rails and floating platforms. Also ancient killer robots, because that’s just a thing Sonic can’t escape. They are at least cool, abstract-looking murder machines instead of Eggman’s usual designs which look like he (fittingly) lifted them from Kinder Surprise toys.
Thankfully they’re not dropping the linear, speed-focused levels entirely. Recent preview videos have shown off several ‘Cyber Space’ levels inspired by Sonic’s past adventures, and feature returning enemies from older games. These will apparently reward Sonic with keys which may be required to progress in the story. It’s anyone’s guess how heavily the game is weighted towards these more old-school stages.
Of course, this is a Sonic game so they’ve got to introduce yet another marketable buddy character to interact with and eventually pad out IDW’s ever-expanding comic cast. While details are a bit sketchy thanks to being gleaned from leaks, it looks like a mysterious girl named Sage (seemingly some sort of guardian figure with a glitchy red holographic look) will fill that role. Leaks imply that she’ll be antagonistic at first (trying to get Sonic to leave the Starfall islands) but I’d give solid odds of the power of friendship winning out before the credits roll.
It seems equally likely that Sega will forget about the character the moment the game launches.
Where are Sonic’s other friends this time?
Sadly, the custom make-a-mascot protagonist of Sonic Forces is nowhere to be seen this time, and the rest of the cast are making themselves scarce too. It seems that this time round, Sonic is mostly tackling this job solo. Early hands-on previews mention that Tails & Amy make an appearance during the intro, but the gang are separated after falling through a portal, leaving Sonic alone and searching for the Chaos Emeralds (the ultimate in all-purpose macguffins), guided by a mysterious AI’s voice.
Of course, wherever the Chaos Emeralds can be found (just about anywhere it seems—they’re worse than Dragon Balls) Eggman is involved, and recent clips have shown some of his hardware being set up on the island. Expect to tussle with him and his robot goons at some point. Still, the machines active on the islands already seem a little more menacing. And big.
Who is developing Sonic Frontiers?
Sonic Frontiers is being developed by Sega’s original Sonic Team, headed up by producer Takashi Iizuka. He’s been key to the series since he was credited as Game Designer on Sonic 3. Despite having some highs (Sonic Generations & Colors) and lows (Sonic Lost World & Forces) few people know the old Blue Blur better than him.
What’s up with the music?
As anyone with ears might have noted during the gameplay showcases so far, Sonic Frontiers is also experimenting musically. There’s no goofy Crush 40 vocal tracks or bouncy FM synth jams to be heard so far. Expect moody piano-led pieces for exploring the overworld, and the occasional guitar-and-strings heavy ‘epic’ action piece to accompany boss fights. You can hear the former in IGN’s gameplay footage here, and the latter in the recent Nintendo Direct Mini.
Personally I’m hoping we get some more old-school tunes during the Cyber Space stages, but only time will tell on this front. It does feel weird to not be enthusiastic about a Sonic game’s music. Aside from the Bioware RPG’s notoriously busted soundtrack, the music has always been a high point in these games. Even in the otherwise risible Sonic ‘06! Here’s hoping Sega have some surprises lined up.
Why are people unhappy about Sonic Frontiers?
You don’t have to look far online to find people pessimistic about Sonic Frontiers. While opinions on the game are as diverse and colorful as Sonic’s ever-expanding cast of friends and hangers-on, there have been a few common criticisms leveled at the footage that Sega has shown so far. Among the most obvious is the technical rough edges. There’s a lot of environmental pop-up visible in the open world, especially foliage. Hopefully the PC version allows us to push those draw distances further back with more powerful hardware.
More generally, there’s been broad criticism of the open-world environment. While the clips of Cyber Space levels have helped alleviate this, the broader overworld seems a little bland, and its abstract techno-ruins feel a bit generically JRPG’ish. Personally it reminds me a lot of Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis, which is coincidentally another Sonic Team production. It’s not an aesthetic I’m opposed to, but it doesn’t really scream ‘Sonic’ to me.
There have also been some grumbles from Sonic’s most technically-minded of fans, highlighting the strange movement physics shown in the gameplay footage. Sonic seems to be retaining more momentum than he normally would while grinding on rails, while bleeding speed elsewhere. While this is all down to personal taste, the series has been running long enough for people to have a solid idea of what a Sonic game should feel like.
Lastly, one we can file under ‘non-controversy’, it has been reported (thanks, PCGamesN) that some badniks on Steam have been abusing the public tagging system to mark the game as being ‘Not Safe For Work’, as well as containing ‘Sexual content’, ‘Psychological horror’ elements and worse. While this would be an accurate representation of some (okay, many) fan-works out there, it’s not really applicable here.
Whether another round of the Sonic Cycle will cause similar levels of psychic damage is a question only time will answer.