When Sega finally began to show the first real footage of Sonic Frontiers recently, it is fair to say that the reception to it was… not ideal. Without the full context of what one can actually do in the video game, the snippets released thus far have felt disjointed, unclear, and just plain rough. Going into Summer Game Fest’s media-focused in-person event this past weekend, I was determined to figure out whether the problem was how the information had been presented so far or simply that Sonic Frontiers seems to be having a tough go of it all around. Having spent around 45 minutes with Sonic Frontiers, it, unfortunately, plays about as rough as it looks.
While it was difficult to get a firm grasp in that amount of time of the game’s story, it seemed like the Sonic Frontiers demo picked up near if not at the start. In the demo, Sonic finds himself alone and a bit discombobulated on Starfall Islands only to be directed by some mysterious disembodied voice to go look into things. Being Sonic, and wanting to find his missing friends – Tails and Amy are both mentioned but not seen – he of course obliges.
Thankfully, traversing the much-hyped open-ish world doesn’t seem quite as empty in practice. Sonic Frontiers seemingly hides a number of different environmental puzzles featuring rails to zoom along, bouncers to hit, and coins to collect in just about every direction. That and spiky, often-polygonal enemies. But it’s still not as varied as one might hope, partly because Sonic takes his time getting from place to place when not using methods to speed up further.
Given that the demo seemed to be at the start of Sonic Frontiers, combat options were limited and largely seemed to focus on using a homing bump to start wailing on enemies, and that homing wasn’t always executed with grace as aiming the camera a fraction of from where it wanted to be often sent me spiraling to my doom. There are skills to unlock, but the opportunity to really explore those never came up in my time with the game. In general, combat was straightforward in these early areas but seemed poised to get more complex over time.
This was most apparent with the single move Sonic did learn during my time, “Cyloop.” Basically, running in a complete circle – regardless of how wonky that circle is it counts if it’s a closed loop – using the skill can do things like reveal an enemy’s weakness or cause rings to come spouting out of the ground. The former had a clear use case, but weirdly the latter seemed to just be something that Sonic could do forever. Five or six times I used Cyloop to manifest more rings from nothing, which seems like an oversight on Sega’s part and probably not something that will be possible in the final game.
It’s often overused as a description, but Sonic Frontiers honestly feels like the gold standard of “mixed bag” so far. The combat is straightforward and a bit frustrating, but there’s clearly more at work that we haven’t been privy to yet. There’s some sort of mystery in the game, but just a few hints from footage and my brief time with it aren’t enough to be engaging. The roamable landscapes of the Starfall Islands is an admittedly bold choice, but while it wasn’t as empty as previous footage made it seem, it was still perhaps too empty – and Sonic himself doesn’t naturally move as fast as you would like across it, though there is a button for boosting.
Sonic Frontiers is basically a gamble. It’s an attempt at something new and fresh, and that’s certainly worth some praise on its own, but the small slices of the game that we’ve collectively been given are more concerning than they are persuasive. I certainly have a better handle on what Sonic Frontiers is now than I did last week, but I’m not sure having twice as much information at this point is enough when it feels like Sega had only shared about 10% of what Sonic Frontiers is and does before that. There’s still the possibility that something that has yet to be revealed will be more convincing, but as of right now, what I’ve seen of Sonic Frontiers does not inspire confidence.
Sonic Frontiers is set to release for the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC in Holiday 2022. You can check out all of our previous coverage of the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog video game right here.