In May when I played sound borders for my first preview, I came away with an overall positive first impression, but also the feeling that there was still work to be done. The game felt buggy, performance didn’t seem optimized, and there were a ton of distracting pop-ins of objects and obstacles floating in the sky.
Here we are five months later, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on it again with a PC version of Sonic Frontiers, this time for a full six hours to experience the first three islands in their entirety, and although many of those the same issues I encountered the first time I played are still present – the pop-in and a handful of minor bugs – it’s clear that a lot of work has been done to tighten up Sonic Frontiers’ performance and polish its visuals . It’s still an uneven experience, both visually and mechanically, but when my time was up and all I could think about was the disappointment of not being able to play more, it seemed like a good sign that Sonic Frontiers is in. a pretty healthy position ahead of its impending November 8 release.
The big thing I got to experience this time around compared to my first play session was the full sense of progression through each island. I already talked about how you need to collect portal keys to open cyber space levels, beat cyber space levels to get chest keys and use chest keys to unlock emeralds chaos, but there is also another important element in the flow of the game: memory tokens. Each of the three islands was home to one of Sonic’s friends trapped in cyberspace, and to try and free them I needed to collect a ton of Memory Tokens. Typically, these are rewards for exploring in the open world, and that’s the main reason you’ll be looking for springs, ramps, grind rails, speed boosters, and every other way of gadgetry. that will zoom you around the world.
Collecting and delivering these Memory Tokens to your friend is one of the ways to advance the story of Sonic Frontiers. Every time I made a delivery, I was rewarded with a cutscene between Sonic and his trapped friend that shed some light on the mysterious Starfall Islands and the cute little native rockers known as korons who inhabit them. There’s a fascinating mystery that’s central to the story of Sonic Frontiers, and I’ve found myself very interested in seeing how it all plays out – and even more interested in the dynamic between Sonic and each of his friends, which occupies really take center stage during these cutscenes. Each island has a story to tell, with each of Sonic’s friends being a key player in how that story unfolds.
I managed to clear the first island in my first three hours or so of play, and after a very cool boss battle that I can’t and wouldn’t spoil for you, I ended up on the island of ‘Ares, a desert-themed island that housed all new enemies, mini-bosses, Cyber Space levels, and memory tokens. Here I had to repeat the hunt for Chaos Emeralds. In this way, Sonic Frontiers is very stereotypical, but the three islands I’ve explored so far were so different that I was happy to repeat the dance each time. The only weak point in this whole formula are the guardian mini-boss fights, which are needed to get portal keys that unlock levels in Cyber Space. These fights are usually grand in their spectacle, but are rarely fun to play. And worse, they are repeated several times throughout the island without any variation. Luckily, there are a few exceptions, like a fight against a sumo guard that locks you in a cage and forces you to bounce off the fences in order to bring down the boss in the electrified part. The more you bounce, the harder you can hit the boss, and trying to find the right angle to bounce multiple times before hitting the boss was a lot of fun.
And then there are the Cyber Space levels, which, like the Guardian mini-bosses, varied in quality, but were all fun nonetheless. Each is a traditional, bite-sized Sonic level that includes three sub-challenges to complete, in addition to simply completing the stage. They are: beat the level under the S rank time limit, beat the level with a certain number of rings, and find the five red rings. While these stages are very short, even by Sonic standards, I found the short duration of each lent itself well to their replayability. I would try some of them again for 10 or 15 minutes, trying to find the optimal path that would get me to the exit in time for clear S-Rank, or trying to find that last red piece, or just trying to see all the different paths that a level offered.
Sonic Frontiers – Gamescom 2022
From a level design perspective, the variety displayed in the many Cyber Space levels I played was impressive. Some would be very simple ground boost levels focused on speed and reactions, while others would be very heavy, and still others would shift the perspective to 2D and be a bit more deliberate with their platforming challenges. form. By far the best Cyber Space scene I’ve played was one that broke the tradition of being a short, bite-sized level, and spanned around 2-3 minutes and featured a bunch of hidden shortcuts off the beaten path that were a ton of fun to discover.
As varied as the level design is, the only disappointment with Cyber Space is that the visual theme around them, based on my six hours of gameplay, still falls into one of a few categories: Green Hill Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, Sky Temple, or the new Cyber Space Highway theme, and that’s about it. Still, the music and speed made it a highlight of my playtime.
Most of the time spent playing Sonic Frontiers was spent racing quickly through the various open areas, and while that’s a big departure from what Sonic fans may be used to from the series, I must say that I am officially fully on board for this. In a weird way, I liken it a bit to a Tony Hawk game. It’s the same feeling of stringing a return to a manual, tying it to a grind, taking that grind on a gap, hitting a special trick or two, and then sticking the landing. Sonic Frontiers has the same feeling of doing a bunch of cool things, one after the other, and tying them all together without interrupting the flow. And when the flow is broken, it’s pretty nasty, but the more you play and the better you get in the game, the longer you’re able to last without breaking that flow, which feels really awesome, not just power. progression through the game mechanics, but also from your own skill.
It’s also worth mentioning that at the start of the game, Sonic feels a bit sluggish compared to other games in the series. However, his speed can be increased up to level 99. The highest I got was level 10, and given that he already felt quite fast even at that relatively low level, I can’t even imagine how fast it will be at max level.
Travel and accommodation for this preview provided by Sega.
Mitchell Saltzman is an Editorial Producer at IGN. You can find him on twitter @JurassicRabbit