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At hand: What do you know? Sonic Frontiers can be really good

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We played Sonic Frontiers not once, but twice at EGX. Normally, we wouldn’t put ourselves through a sonic demo longer than necessary, and the queue was, as you’d expect, consistently long. Trouble is, after playing a 15-minute slice of the “Open Zone” experience for the first time, we realized something shocking. Have we really enjoyed a 3D Sonic game? Is that even possible? Are we just sleep deprived and dehydrated? For science, and our own sanity, we had to investigate.

We’re obviously being a little biased here, but it’s basically true. Our expectations for Sonic Team’s latest effort were, frankly, pretty low before we sat down to play it. Early footage of the game was hardly encouraging, and that’s without considering the hedgehog’s spotty history of 3D platformers. Opinions on Frontiers have been all over the place since it was revealed earlier this year, but hands-on accounts (including our own from Gamescom) have been relatively positive. After finally playing it for ourselves, we more or less understand where this feeling is coming from.

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A brief cutscene tells us that Sonic has escaped cyberspace and reached the first of a series of islands. The Starfall Islands will form a large part of the game, and the main objective of the hedgehog is to search these environments for chaos pages so that he can rescue his colorful friends and return home. To be honest, we’re not too fussed about it all; We want to get a feel for how Sonic controls, since the blue blur has been our main complaint ever since he discovered the Z-axis.

We’re somewhat surprised to find that we have more control over Sonic’s movements than we remember from previous 3D games. It is difficult to determine exactly what is different, but it is Different, in a good way. It’s likely down to the game offering you so much open space to just run around — there’s little chance of inadvertently sending the mascot to its doom. We played with a slightly slower control scheme, which may have made the jumps feel easier to predict and perform. Maybe, just maybe, Sonic Team has ironed out some of the rough edges that have made the character so great in the past. All we know is that we really enjoy roaming the grasslands of the Frontiers.

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Sonic’s Psyloop ability in this game is also a nice addition to his moveset. It has a few uses, but is most useful in combat. You can detect a shape on the ground, and closing it will cause some kind of reaction inside. If enemies are in the loop, they will be launched into the air where you can give them some smack. It also works on bigger baddies, possibly forcing them to drop their guard or exposing a weak spot.

Speaking of combat, we’re not quite sure what to make of it yet. It’s easy to dispatch low panicked enemies with Sonic’s normal homing attack, or you can spam the button for hit hits. This was almost entirely how we dealt with damage, so while we appreciate there will be more tricks to unlock, our experience was pretty repetitive. A very generous parry ability, lock-on, and dodging all make fights very easy, which they arguably should be, we admit, but we weren’t enamored by any means.

We’re also a bit unsure about the environment design. As you explore the map by completing simple puzzles, you’ll gradually reveal floating springs, platforms and rails. In a more traditional Sonic game, these are innocent elements that serve the purpose of keeping you moving in various ways. In Frontiers, these things feel incongruous with the rest of the environment. They even pop in like nobody’s business. Trouble is, we understand why they’re there — it’s fun to grind on rails, bounce up to little hidden platforms, and use them as shortcuts to navigate the world. They are just so disorganized that it feels incomplete.

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In our second playthrough of the demo, we got to try out one of the cyberspace levels, which we believe was based on Sky Century. A significant change of pace from Open Zone, these stages are a sequence of short, fast-paced levels that you’ll know from previous 3D Sonic outings. We finished it in less than a minute and there was very little challenge, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but hopefully the levels will fill up and you’ll get more as the game progresses. Will present even more to think about.

We picked out a few negatives in this preview, but overall, we came away from the demo feeling a little better about Sonic Frontiers. One thing that has plagued these games for years is the slippery, imprecise, random movement, and from what we can say Sonic feels great to practice here. It’s hard to say what’s changed, but the open space and some general tweaks result in the best-feeling 3D Sonic game in a long time. Of course, we only played a total of 30 minutes, saw a very small portion of the game, and didn’t unlock any of the hedgehog’s later abilities, so who knows how the whole experience will shake out. For now, though, we’re (very) cautiously optimistic.


Sonic Frontiers will launch on PS5 and PS4 on November 8, 2022. Are you excited for the new direction of the SEGA mascot? Run in circles in the comments section below.

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