From the moment it was first revealed, it was clear that Sonic Frontiers is quite unlike any of its predecessors. Sonic’s 3D adventures have been more miss than hit throughout the blue hedgehog’s 31-year existence. For every Sonic Generations, there’s been a Sonic Boom or Sonic ’06 leaving behind a bitter taste and further diluting the speedy mascot’s appeal. Each new game has offered some variation on the Sonic formula, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and finally give the series a consistent direction moving forward, but none have succeeded–at least until now. Sonic Frontiers is that game.
It certainly has its flaws and still maintains many of the familiar elements you’d expect to find in a game starring the eponymous hedgehog, but it’s in the differences where Sonic Frontiers stands out and occasionally excels, making it the best 3D Sonic game in more than a decade.
The biggest and most notable change is the shift to a semi-open world. Sega calls Frontiers “open-zone,” meaning the game is split into multiple islands that Sonic is free to explore. Each zone has its own aesthetic, from verdant rolling hills to arid desert plains and a simmering volcanic island floating above the clouds, meshing together natural beauty with ancient alien temples, grind rails, and bounce pads. It’s a curious amalgamation but one that works well enough within the game’s sci-fi conceit. The environments are also part of a striking tonal shift for the series. The vibrant primary colors of classic Sonic levels like Green Hill Zone have been replaced by a color palette that’s low on saturation and high on pastel hues. The obvious inspiration here is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, not just in the way Frontiers looks, but in its use of music and the shift to open-ended world design. It doesn’t play anything like Link’s five-year-old adventure, but you can see how Sonic Team was influenced by it throughout.
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