I’m bouncing through a cyberspace portal, one of Sonic Frontiers’ mini stages. Sonic’s erratic movement has caused me to slip off a rotating platform one time too many and I’m growing tired. Finally, the end. The only thing between me and the goal is a simple jump panel. I go at it, full speed… and it overshoots me. The goal whizzes past me as I fall into the abyss and return to the beginning of the stage.
Perhaps it had something to do with this being the final appointment of my tiresome three-day Gamescom trip, but I couldn’t help but feel deeply frustrated. A deep sigh unwillingly passes my lips. It’s at this moment I realised I wasn’t having any fun, and Sonic Frontiers had officially broken me.
I wanted to like Sonic Frontiers. The blue blur has the world as his own personal playground, railings to grind and jump pads to launch off sprinkled across grand plains and sandy trenches. It sounds great in concept, but after playing 30 minutes of the game’s second island, I’m not too sure if Sonic should be given the whole world to blitz through.
Don’t get me wrong, burning rubber across desert island Ares is as fun as it is in any other Sonic game. But there’s an awful lot of empty space, space which suffers from pop-ins of rails and other classic Sonic traversal doodads. They appear awful suddenly and have the thoughtful placement of a drunk man playing Jenga. There’s a real lack of flow to them, and in a game that already looks a bit rough further hampens the overall level design. When I think of the bombastic levels of Sonic past, Frontiers is awfully soulless in comparison.
I scurry around and quickly come across a Guardian, large boss encounters that incorporate some light action with puzzling. I ascend into the air by grinding along a series of rings before reaching three large rings circling the boss itself. It’s relatively simple work at first, having to fully highlight all three rings before I’m allowed to whack at the boss. I’m flung back to the ground, forced to climb once again. It’s a little slow and frustrating, and then extra projectiles flung at me during round two see me lose all my rings and eat dirt. I don’t have the heart to attempt the slow ascension once again.
Most of my time was spent sort of scurrying around, figuring out just what to do next. It was hard to get a grasp for Sonic Frontier’s many systems in the short time frame. It feels like there are a number of different mechanics, modes, and minigames to sink my teeth into. Every other loading screen I’m thrown into a tutorial or drill to learn the game’s various mechanics, another thing that feels like it interrupts Sonic’s flow. I can’t help but feel like Sonic Frontiers is just an incoherent mess and, for me personally, a mess I wasn’t having much fun with.
Sonic Frontiers is the perfect example of how not every game needs to try and make grand, open world formats work. Linear is cool, baby, and I feel as though Sonic has a much better time when he’s given a little less space to play around with. Being the fastest lad in the world is sweet, but it doesn’t have the same impact when half of that world is an empty desert. I hope if I have a little more time to learn its intricacies, I can find a fun experience, albeit one wrapped in lifeless level design.