Sonic Frontiers Gameplay Impressions

So, Sonic Frontiers gameplay has finally been unveiled, thanks to two videos this week that outlined two key concepts; exploration of the open world, and advanced combat techniques. Now that we’d had a chance to digest and absorb all the information, our gut reaction is… we didn’t… hate it?

While Sonic Team seemed to have stumbled a little bit with its exploration video back on Wednesday, the community appeared to rally a little bit behind the game again with today’s combat reveal. There’s a bit more of a positive buzz around the upcoming platforming game now, and while it’s still up in the air as to exactly what direction SEGA wants to take Sonic with this title, our team of expert Sonic influencers are in agreement that the right approach here is to be cautiously optimistic.

Here are the impressions of the Sonic Stadium team, share your thoughts on the week’s reveals in the comments section below.

Dreadknux:

After watching both the exploration and the combat gameplay video, I am left a little puzzled as to what kind of fan Sonic Team is wanting to target with Frontiers.

It seems to want to be a game that goes back to the heart/root of Sonic gameplay, but there doesn’t seem to be any recognisable scenery, gimmicks or physics-based play at all. Classic fans looking for something like momentum-based world traversal won’t be impressed with having to constantly use infinite grind rails and speed boost rings to get around.

With an open world, it is clearly trying to satisfy Unleashed fans who enjoy simply running from point to point, but at this early stage the overworld feels sparse and it’s difficult to imagine those particular fans wanting to stop in order to complete a puzzle for minutes at a time.

Despite developer talk of wanting to reinvent the action, it appears like we’re looking at Sonic Forces-style movement and abilities – with combat enhanced to take advantage of one-two punch combos and special attacks. That might scratch the itch for Forces (or Werehog) fans, but much like the puzzles I’m not sure if fans will generally want to spend their time punching a bubble robot sixteen times over to unlock a gate. Chances are many players will want to run right past these guys.

That’s not to say I’m feeling too down on the game as it stands – there are some interesting ideas in here. It’s about time Sonic explored an open world and used his abilities to unlock more areas/zones and collectibles. I like the multiple ways a player can traverse the same area in the overworld, with rewards for trying out new pathways. And if Sonic’s abilities can be upgraded in a way that enemies can be dealt with in only one or two hits, then maybe using the cool-looking mid-air dash attack and projectile moves won’t feel too much like a chore.

I have no doubt that there is way, way more to see than just this tiny morsel of gameplay, so as always I am going to reserve complete judgement until the final game is out and in my hands. Having said that, some of my concerns about Sonic Frontiers are unlikely to be addressed between now and release because I expect they may be conceptual in nature.

For years now I’ve been hoping that Sonic Team would finally pick up design learnings from Sonic Mania (or even the upcoming Origins) and build a 3D environment that draws on the iconic art style that 90s Sonic games are known for, while integrating momentum-based physics play. It doesn’t seem like Frontiers will be that game, sadly, so I will maybe have to wait another five years for that.

All in all, for all the talk of drawing from past games, it’s looking more like the game that Sonic Team is aiming to mimic the most here is Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, with its platform-combat style approach. Let’s hope, with more reveals to come, it can make more of a success of that pitch than Big Red Button did.

Nuckles87

I have been coming at Sonic Frontiers from a place of trepidation since its premise was unveiled last year. “An open world Sonic game, huh,” I thought to myself, “that sounds like a fun idea that could go terribly, horribly wrong.” Three game play videos later and I’m feeling…somewhat more optimistic?

On one hand, its not the complete retooling of Sonic’s moveset that I was hoping for. Rather than a brand new moveset tailor made for Sonic’s first open world experience, Frontiers seems to have instead retooled the moves Sonic’s had since Unleashed. The boost, stomp, and classic homing attack are all here, with Lost World-esque parkour also thrown in to the mix for the very first time.

In addition to that, the landscape we’ve been shown looks kind of…plane. There are no loop-de-loops or any of the other sorts of wild, fantastical geography Sonic is normally associated with. Instead, it’s all more grounded, which is certainly not how I ever imagined an open world Sonic game to be. On top of that, the game seems to have a focus on puzzles, which mostly look pretty easy and basic.

But…I’d be lying if I said it didn’t look fun. The boost games are among Sonic’s best after all, so having that moveset adapted to an open world isn’t exactly an awful thing. The game is also loaded with all the classic 3D Sonic traversal options, like springs, grind rails, and wallrunning segments. Putting aside how we’ve seen the game played, the world simply looks like a fun place to explore, and I’m itching to check out all the stuff the player zoomed by in the demo. And easy puzzles that only took a few moments to solve are probably a better fit for Sonic than longer, more involved puzzles.

And the combat…this is the first time combat in a Sonic game has ever looked genuinely fun. There are loads of combat options, different enemies requiring different tactics, and this is clearly the deepest Sonic combat has ever gotten. This is also the first time Sonic’s combat in the games has ever been depicted as having real power behind it. The titan battles look especially impressive, both in terms of scale and game play!

Ultimately…my feelings have gone from “this could be a disaster” to “this could be Sonic Forces-esque mediocrity.” The first game play preview certainly had its slow bits. I get why people think the game looks boring. Really, what I need to see is the game’s overall game play loop. We’re being shown a bunch of things out of context, when whats most important to the game is the interplay between all these different systems. How does it feel to run through this environment, explore, solve puzzles, and fight the various enemies all together? How does each activity flow to the next? Until I see that, I cannot make any bigger judgements. I can at least say its no Sonic 2006, though.

SSF1991

I’m loving what I’m seeing so far! There are a few graphical issues, like draw distance pop-in stuff, but nothing that really ruins the game for me. The gameplay is very ambitious, something I think Sonic has needed for a while now. Overall, I’m really hyped and can’t wait to see more!

GX

I didn’t know what to expect from the broad concept of “Sonic Open World,” but from what I’ve seen, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Sonic himself is still very much in the moveset style of Unleashed/Colors/Generations/Forces, but removing the directed A-to-B path and filling the world with a bunch of tiny moment-to-moment challenges is very much my jam.

Frontiers looks to have the three core elements you need in an open world game: a satisfying way to get around, lots of corners and alcoves to explore, and a variety of things to do at any given moment. I noticed plenty more paths and points of interest that the player in the video didn’t go see, and when the focus did need to be a bit more directed, well, the comedic number of grind rails are certainly an effective way to get that done!

It’s not an aesthetic that immediately excites me, but it’s still pleasant and interesting when you transition from sprinting through a field to a forest to a creek to a waterfall. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t… eyecatching in the same way Sonic Generations or Lost World were, but I can at least understand the choice. It’s sustainable over many hours of play, and it sets a tone.

I still have quite a lot of unanswered questions about the mechanics, but I’m certainly interested enough to see where they ultimately go with this new direction. I’m not ready to plop $60 down on the game right this second from the 15-ish minutes of unannotated footage, but I absolutely want to see more.

Shigs

I’ll admit, the exploration aspect didn’t sell me on the game initially. It felt like they just dropped Sonic and some assets onto a completely different game. That said, the combat has sold me on the game all on its own. None of the enemies are one-hit pushovers, and Sonic has a huge variety of abilities and ways of taking them out.

Whether it’s that zig-zag air dash, his tornado from Sonic Heroes, or my favorite, the air blades, Sonic is given a wide variety of strategies and ways of taking them out. I love it! The animation and pop-in still needs some work, but the foundation of what Sonic Frontiers is becoming has gotten me hyped.


T-Bird

Expectations have been high for the opening salvo of the Sonic Frontiers gameplay reveals via IGN. Fingers have been crossed that we would have been treated to an overflowing cornucopia of facets and features that would get the average Sonic fan salivating; after all, the function of these teasers should be to drive anticipation for a launch that fans have been waiting 5 years for.

So far, we have received two rather underwhelming demonstrations of mechanics that appear unfinished, in a sprawling landscape devoid of features; more importantly, with an absence of elements that are intrinsically Sonic, excepting the odd ramp or spring.

More fundamentally, there seems to be a lack of motivation or direction to this game play (to date the IGN footage has had little narration). Had this been a tech demo there might have been a more positive response, but this is a sneak preview of a title 6 months from launch. One would hope this might be an artefact of IGN’s drip-feeding of information across June and the best is yet to come, but in all honesty, I have a bad feeling this is not the case (I would be delighted to be proven wrong).

Like the lazy kid who didn’t do his homework, SEGA have looked over the shoulders of their classmates, replicating their tower ascent challenges and alien puzzles, to create something they can hand in for a passable grade.

The frustration here (as has been the case for too long now) is that Sonic is a franchise that has at its core some of the most recognisable aspects in all of video game history, from aesthetics to sound, and yet SEGA seem reluctant to expand upon this; instead we are once again seeing a reinvention of the wheel, in the hopes that gold will be struck with the next triple-A game brought to the table.

In a year where it feels like a release of a tie-in title around the release date of the Sonic movie would have been such an easy win, and with no sign of a Sonic Mania follow-up, you have got to wonder what the strategy is here.

That’s what our team thinks about the game! What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below!

Published by

Dreadknux

Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.

10 Comments

  1. In my opinion, open world Sonic is just fundamentally not a good idea. There has to be something to actually find in an open world to reward you for your exploration, but Sonic doesn’t have much to offer in that respect. Combat? Puzzles? Lore? These are all elements that other games often use to spice up travel, but historically none of those aspects have been well recieved in the Sonic franchise. That leaves us with the tried and true but antiquated collectathon format ala Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie where platforming in an open level structure is the main engaging gameplay loop and the collectable macguffins just denote arbitrary finish lines of sorts. But even in the largest and most modern examples of those games, the level sizes pale in comparison to actual open world games like Breath of the Wild. Meticulously designing a world of that scale full of platforming challenges would be an impossibly difficult challenge for any dev team.

  2. Possibly some of the worst takes I’ve ever heard on anything. And anyone that describes themselves as a “Sonic influencer” deserves to be ignored.

  3. Too early to pass judgment, but what has been shown is a let down. Rudimentary puzzles, uninspired combat mechanics, and a world that does not feel like a Sonic game.
    If you took Sonic out of this game and inserted a generic character, this game would barely be a blip on the radar these days, with other studios putting out much higher-quality content.

  4. Frankly, besides all that has been already pointed out, what I’m most concerned about is Sonic’s look in the game. He looks great in the CGI cutscenes, and as blue as in most other games, but in the gameplay, his spines are short like in Forces, which I don’t think suit him at all, and yet SEGA keeps making them that size, despite the inconsistency in the cinematics, and how much better Sonic’s proportions are in those.

  5. You lot are more optimistic than I expected, and I wish I could share in the anticipation. I’m disappointed. They didn’t try to translate momentum based platforming, which would be a natural fit for a sloping open world. Sonic moves at a static pace no matter the terrain, and lacks the ability to roll. Additionally there was no attempt to make the platforms or rails part of the natural environment. Dash Panels should be removed as we already have the function tied to a button. Springs should be replaced with ramps, blended into the scenery, that require you to master Sonic’s momentum to reach new areas. Open world games are generally directionless, and all of these tools (Springs, Dash Panels, Rails etc) are antithetical to the genre as they force you down linear paths.

    The Combat looks stylish, but the character animations are generally drab. Considering the release window, giving Sonic some procedural animations (facing enemies, dynamic walk cycle, spine physics) and cleaning up his combat animations should be the priority. I know we won’t be retooling Sonic to care about momentum, so let’s at least make it stylish.

  6. So far, I’ve watching the two gameplay videos 10+ times, and I’ve got to say that the challenge and the element of adventure and fun are there. But at the same time, I’m worried that these concepts could backfire badly.

    Let’s start the exploration video. I simply love what they are doing here; a mix of strange ruins that were conquered by nature with some elements of technology spreaded across the island. The high points gives us incredible overall views of the island, and I can’t help but wonder how huge it is (when we unlock the entire island, how long do we think we will lap it?). The video might’ve showed us an empty region, but the element of fulfilling missions to recover and adding more to the islands will fill that emptyness.

    It looks to me that exploration is the main focus of the game, the landscape is extremely huge. I had a little problem with some of Sonic’s movements shown here, like I can’t understand what happen in some cases where he interacts with springs; he simply goes to an object super fast, without that mechanic from past games where we lock-on a target. Another strange movement is when Sonic is grinding on rails and he switches rails in a strange jump.

    Now for combat. I’m glad they recover some elements from Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic 06 to the enemies giving us more of a challenge. The combat mechanic looks solid. The only problem I see is the movements against the enemies. Looks like the more you fight, the more you can use some sort of special move to finish off the enemies. I loved the ‘Sonic Wind Slash’ (Sonic jumps and launches many wind pressure kicks) and the ‘Sonic Horizontal Eagle’ (after a sort of loop, Sonic kicks an enemy in the air at full speed).

    It’s good they made us watch Sonic fighting the same enemies at least 2 times. That way, they presented us multiple ways of using Sonic’s new abilities and how some enemies must be dealt with. And that gigantic robot… Not even Eggman’s best mech was that high.

    Overall, I’m looking forward to the game. It looks amazing, the scenarios are massively huge and the interactive time and weather conditions is an interesting concept on how we will handle Sonic on some scenarios. I’m still afraid of what we will face in this game, but with a little bit of more polish in some movements, especially in those combat finishers, and I think this will be great. They still have time and I believe in SEGA and Sonic Team.

    Now I’m looking forward to how all of this will be handled with the story and our age-old conflict between Sonic and Eggman…

  7. Gonna be blunt… I am so numb to seeing the “hot takes” and stuff on Sonic that it’s gotten to the point that if I were a spiteful person, I’d say just release the game in the state it’s in now and leave it… if I were a spiteful person.
    Like, was anyone expecting combat in a Sonic game, with Sonic, to be anything more that button bashing nonsense? Yes, we had the Werehog in Unleashed and that was equally as… “fine”. I’m more interested in the exploration and platforming stuff. I can’t say it bothers me that it’s little more than the homing attack, maybe it had the Lost World arch to it? But I can’t say it’s not what I expected. Maybe being a Sonic fan all this time has just finally taken it’s toll.

  8. Since a lot of the leaks ended up being true, I would keep in mind we haven’t seen the pure action levels aka cyber levels. If they really are some type of cyber/digital type of worlds, that means we could still see some more traditional and surreal looking environments and fast paced gameplay. And one of the leakers said the music in the action stages really kicks up too. Overall though, this seems like it’s gonna be yet another Sonic game that could of used a couple more years of development time. The polish doesn’t look like it’s there. It’s also really disappointing they are recycling so much old stuff from Sonic’s model to animations etc. I also think Sega really needs to hire some proven talent from other developers such as Nintendo for their puzzles and platforming, because as has been mentioned, the puzzles look super basic. That has been the case with Sonic Team games forever. There just doesn’t seem to be the talent within Sonic Team to create innovative puzzle solving gameplay. This game is probably gonna get thrashed in most reviews. This really was do or die time for Sonic IMO as far as appealing to the masses. Sega was given a huge gift from Hollywood of all places in the form of the movies. If they can’t get it together in this moment, I don’t know when they ever will. We are all mortal and can only wait so many decades before they finally get it right… It almost feels like the only hope is if Sega went under(horrible), it’s assets were sold off and Sonic was given to an entirely new development team. Hopefully the modders will be able to do some cool stuff with the game.

  9. I haven’t visited Sonic fansites like Sonic Stadium and Sonic Retro in a VERY long time, but given the…interesting knee-jerk reactions Sonic Frontiers is already getting despite IGN specifically stating that we’ll get more info throughout the month of June and we can more easily judge Sonic Frontiers then. It is both refreshing and baffling that my old stomping grounds (Sonic Stadium and Retro) seem to be the only ones offering any remotely-informative opinions on what little we’ve seen so far–I respect every opinion in this particular article, and Sonic Retro seems to be wisely reserving any judgment at all until we at least get more informative videos from IGN and SEGA. I think it’s at least fair to judge the weird marketing so far, though, since it’s leaving us with far more questions than answers and deliberately isolating different aspects of the game (we don’t know yet how both the exploration and the combat work together to form the gameplay loop, and we certainly don’t know the story context of why everything the way it is–heck, so far last year’s teaser trailer with the mysterious female voice in Sonic’s head and in-game footage of “open zones” arguably more interesting and lush than the generic “Green Hill Zone, but realistic” in recent videos gave us more information than we’ve seen as of this writing). It also doesn’t help that there is no commentary whatsoever to provide a counter-narrative to the sheer pessimism people are already experiencing with this one game.

    I have two theories why people are already quick to judge this game before we even get to the end of IGN’s coverage, even going as far as compare Forces favorably with Frontiers as if they were the ones currently holding the controller and playing this IGN demo of Frontiers, and not already judging the “physics” and other nuanced gameplay stuff that you really can’t get from just a video or screenshots. For the Sonic community, I think we’ve gone mad with power with the idea we can influence SEGA’s decisions regarding Sonic after successfully getting them to change “Ugly Sonic” from the initial trailer for the first Paramount Sonic movie. In that case, at least wait until we get more complete information at the end of this month. Judging it now, especially with things like a “Ring Counter” UI element suspiciously absent in the trailers, would be like companies who immediately “cancelled” Johnny Depp based on Amber Heard’s initial allegations against him and are now regretting it deeply after seeing the very public trial and its ultimate outcome. We need some more context for these intentionally-isolated trailers before we can even make an informed opinion.

    The second theory, of course, is just how the Internet just loves jumping on the “Bandwagon o’ Hate,” and a lot of the most viral anti-Sonic Frontiers videos at the moment seem to be from people who don’t even care about covering Sonic (and possibly don’t even get the appeal of the classic SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive games and have always seen Sonic in general as a “poor man’s Mario”) except to poke fun at notorious missteps like “Ugly Sonic” in the initial movie trailer, or of course genuinely terrible Sonic games like 06, Forces and the Switch port of Sonic Colors Ultimate. I genuinely respect and even live for the opinions of YongYea or Penguinz0 these days, but it’s so obvious they’re just joining the dogpile by offering their opinions on Sonic Frontiers, with YongYea in particular making tons of videos since the Combat Trailer dropped just last Friday like it’s living rent-free in his head. The only other time I can think of this happening was when 343 Studios first showed their underwhelming trailer of Halo Infinite, and the Internet’s immediate reaction was to declare the game a bust based on the ugly early graphics (the weird gorilla thing was memed a lot) and of course, that 343 doesn’t quite have the stellar track record as Bungie did with Halo similar to how we all have some (admittedly valid) concerns about whether “old-school” Sonic Team can even compete with “young, hip” individuals like Christian Whitehead and the SAGE community in making a fun and whimsical Sonic game these days. I don’t play Halo or shooters in general, but it seems those opinions did a 180 once the free-to-play multiplayer mode came out and people could actually play and judge that part for themselves, and ultimately decided the final game was at the very least “good.”

    Of course, longtime Sonic fans are familiar with the opposite situation when the initial teasers for Sonic Forces blew our minds and set our imaginations alight about the possibilities of the final game, in a world where Eggman wins, only to be utterly crushed by every single aspect of the final game and how, despite the supposed capabilities of Hedgehog Engine 2, it was even visually a step backwards from Unleashed, Colors Wii and Generations. Hopefully it’s the exact opposite situation with Frontiers and the final game is at least a 7-8/10 Breath of the Wild clone, despite current trailers unfortunately making it look like the game isn’t even ready to release despite the five-year gap between now and Sonic Forces’ release. I will say that, based on the water reflections and actual animated blades grass, I am deeply concerned about how downscaled the Switch version will be (or worse, it’s a cloud-only version that assumes we all have perfect 10/10 Internet speeds at all times), since it seems unlikely that far more powerful next-gen consoles and PCs still won’t be as readily available by the time this game comes out in (possibly) late 2022, although I can imagine this running at least 4K/30FPS on the base PS4 and Xbox One versions.

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