Sonic Frontiers Xbox review: A rich adventure tripped by tedious distractions

Our big Sonic review examines this experimental new adventure rife with (unmet) potential and pockets of greatness.

Sonic Frontiers Review
(Image: © SEGA)

Windows Central Verdict

Overall, Sonic Frontiers is an above-average 3D Sonic game with potentially intriguing ideas, but the positives are constantly at odds with the negatives. While it may have an engaging combat system, classic Sonic platforming levels, and awesome boss fights, they do not make up for bland open-world locales and an overabundance of dull mini-games that break the game’s pacing.

Pros

  • +

    + An engaging combat system that is faithful to Sonic’s character.

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    + A wide variety of fun giant robot boss fights.

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    + The optional fishing mini-game is hilarious.

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    + Enjoyable platforming levels that harken back to previous 2D and 3D Sonic games.

Cons

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    − The Open-world locales’ art design feels uninspired and bland.

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    − An insane amount of repetitive and dull mini-games that disrupt the pacing and drag on for too long.

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    − A disappointing final chapter filled with recycled enemies and an annoying final boss.

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Heading into this Sonic Frontiers review, I must preface by noting that Sonic the Hedgehog is an essential part of my personal gaming history. Although, recent games haven't reviewed all too well. The original SEGA Genesis Sonic games back in the 1990s were some of the very first video games I ever played, and I have cherished memories of playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles with my family. However, when the franchise transitioned from 2D to 3D on the SEGA Dreamcast, the quality of Sonic games constantly shifted like a metaphorical roller coaster over the years.

For every decent game like Sonic Generations, there would be twice as many mediocre or infamously abysmal titles that gave the franchise a bad name like 2006's "Sonic the Hedgehog" (a.k.a Sonic 06). Yet, despite its up and downs, Sonic keeps on running nevertheless and has even been making a comeback in recent years with the critically acclaimed Sonic Mania and the live-action Sonic movies.

This leads us to today with Sonic’s newest adventure, Sonic Frontiers. Unlike most Sonic games which were level-based platformers, this title aims to shake up the formula by taking an open-world approach with a heavier emphasis on exploration, combat, and boss encounters. After spending some time with the Xbox Series X version, I can see merit in Sonic Frontiers' new take on the series. However, its exciting ideas are held back by needless speedbumps that prevent Sonic Frontiers from reaching its full potential.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible thanks to a review code provided by SEGA. The company did not see the contents of this review before being published.

Sonic Frontiers Review: What I liked

(Image credit: SEGA)

The premise of Sonic Frontiers is that one day, Sonic the Hedgehog, along with his friends Tails and Amy Rose, are traveling to the Starfall Islands in search of the Chaos Emeralds — magical gemstones which can grant their users superpowers. However, when they get to the islands, they are suddenly sucked into a giant portal that separates the group and entraps them on the archipelago.

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CategorySonic Frontiers
DeveloperSonic Team
PublisherSEGA
GenrePlatformer, Action-Adventure
PlayersSingle-player
Playtime18 hours
Release DateNov. 11, 2022
PlatformsXbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC
Retail Price$60
Reviewed onXbox Series X

To make matters worse, the Starfall Islands are crawling with otherworldly robots that attack any lifeform in sight. The only clue Sonic has to get out of this mess and save his friends is a mysterious voice that tells him to defeat the Titans, the largest and most powerful of these mechanical menaces. With no other choice, Sonic rushes off to find a way to slay the Titans, rescue his friends and uncover the mystery behind the Starfall Islands. 

(Image credit: Windows Central / SEGA)

The gameplay structure of Sonic Frontiers is that of an open-world platformer where Sonic must comb the Starfall Islands for the Chaos Emeralds and use their power to defeat the Titans. However, the Chaos Emeralds are locked within Vaults that require collecting keys scattered all over the islands to open (with some exceptions which I will explain later on). 

Vault keys are hidden in the open world that can only be revealed by using Sonic’s new "Cyloop" technique, some are locked behind platforming segments, and others are rewards for completing Cyber Space challenge levels.

Cyber Space challenge levels are short, arcade-like platforming stages that re-create locations from previous 2D and 3D Sonics titles while also adding in side-missions to earn extra vault keys like collecting rings, Red Rings, and completing time-trials. Some levels require balancing speed with precision platforming, while others encourage you to run at the speed of sound while avoiding environmental hazards to clear the stage as fast as possible.

These are short but fun platforming sequences that are sure to invoke the nostalgia of long-time Sonic fans as they speedrun through levels inspired by Sonic's past adventures. However, these levels are also locked behind seals that require keys to open, and they, like Vault Keys, can be found in the over-world by defeating enemies, and here is where the meat of the gameplay lies – the combat.

Combat-ready hedgehog

(Image credit: Windows Central / SEGA)

Sonic Frontiers features a huge rogues gallery of enemies to fight and Sonic has been given a new combat system to help him to send these walking tin cans back to the scrap heap. At first, I had trepidations about the combat system as previous attempts at implementing one in Sonic games ranged from simplistic button-mashers (i.e. Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog) to half-baked attempts to copy the PlayStation 2-era God of War games by turning Sonic into a goofy Were-Hog (i.e. Sonic Unleashed).

The fast-paced and over-the-top combat system is fun and true to Sonic's character.

Thankfully, the combat system in Sonic Frontiers is not only good, but it is the best one the Sonic franchise has ever had. The combat is similar to "character action" games like Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising, and Devil May Cry complete with super-moves, dodging, parrying, and even animation-canceling attacks to transition into combo attack strings. While the controls aren’t as intuitive as those games, the fast-paced and over-the-top techniques are true to Sonic’s speedy character and are satisfying to pull off once you unlock all his moves by spending experience points gained from defeating enemies.

(Image credit: SEGA)

You can also upgrade Sonic’s abilities by gathering Red Seeds, Blue Seeds and mysterious sentient clay dolls called the Koco, which are more peaceful creatures compared to the alien-looking robots. Returning the Koco to the Elder Koco, will allow you to upgrade Sonic’s speed when using his Boost ability or upgrade his maximum Ring capacity so he can carry more golden rings to protect him from lethal blows.

Meanwhile, trading in the seeds to the Hermit Koco, will allow you to level up Sonic’s Attack and Defense stats so he can hit harder and lose fewer rings when taking hits. The stat increases aren’t noticeable until you invest heavily into his stats. But once you do, you will be shocked at how much pain Sonic can dish out if you mess with him.

Shadow of the Titans

You will need to master Sonic’s new combat prowess if you’re going to defeat the robots patrolling the Starfall Islands. There are dozens of strange and bizarre enemy types to deal with, each requiring different strategies to take down. Some enemies will have you dodging and parrying attacks, while others need you to perform the Cyloop technique to break their defenses.

The most challenging of these metallic marauders are the bosses and there is a metric ton of them. The Guardian mini-bosses are intimidating foes that will put your skills to the test. Some bosses are simple, 1v1 brawls where you must evade and deflect attacks and hit an enemy’s weak spot. Others must be chased down through high-speed platforming sequences while dodging enemy fire. And some Guardians deploy crazy and devious tactics that I shan’t spoil but I will say they caught me off guard and left me genuinely impressed.

(Image credit: Windows Central / SEGA)

However, the Guardians are mere child's play compared to the Titans. These gigantic behemoths are the culmination of Sonic Frontiers’ gameplay loop where you finally gather enough Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic and go to town on them. As Super Sonic, you are invincible, but you must defeat the Titans quickly before the rings that power your super form run out.

I will not divulge any further information for the sake of spoilers, but the Titan bosses were awesome and very satisfying to conquer. Each fight is an extravagant spectacle where Sonic Frontiers’ combat system is amplified to the max. Flying through the air like a shooting star, parrying a Titan’s ultimate attacks to break their guard, and then pummelling them with super-charged attacks to send them crashing into the earth was, to quote the 1990's Sonic cartoons, way past cool.

Sonic Frontiers Review: What I didn't like

(Image credit: Windows Central / SEGA)

Sadly, the road to get to the Titans is hampered by many small problems that aren’t an issue by themselves, but when piled together, they form a mountain of issues that can bring down the whole experience. For starters, the open-world levels are uninspired from a visual standpoint. They are mostly realistic grasslands, deserts, or volcanic terrain with muted color palettes and large empty swathes of land with ancient ruins or platforming set pieces randomly placed throughout each biome.

Granted, these sorts of environments are fitting for other open-world games like Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring, and Nier: Automata as they match their tone and settings. Here, they don’t really gel well in Sonic Frontiers, as these sorts of environments clash with Sonic’s cartoony aesthetic. Especially since previous Sonic games featured more imaginative and colorful environments while still conveying an immersive atmosphere like Sonic 3 & Knuckles or the Sonic Adventure games for example.

Mini game speed bumps

(Image credit: Windows Central / SEGA)

My biggest complaint in Sonic Frontiers is that there are way too many mini-games sprinkled throughout the entire game that break the game’s pacing. The Sonic franchise is no stranger to mini-games like the Special Stages from classic Genesis Sonic games and Sonic Mania, which were fast-paced and addictive racing or puzzle games that complimented Sonic’s speed.

The mini-games in Sonic Frontiers, however, are slow, repetitive, and tedious tasks involving extremely easy puzzles, platforming, beating up training dummies, running across a map, and more. While they are varied, these mini-games feel more like an afterthought to pad out the game time, rather than well-thought-out additions to the game.

(Image credit: Windows Central / SEGA)

The worst part is that many of these mini-games are mandatory to progress in the game. The open-world mini-games reveal portions of the map, and you must complete them all if you want to unlock fast travel in each open-world level.

There are even some mini-games where you and Sonic’s friends must aid the Koco with random tasks to remove barriers to explore new areas or even earn Chaos Emeralds so you can fight the Titans. The main storyline mini-games drag on for way too long and grind the game’s pacing to a crawl. And the last thing you want in a Sonic game is slow gameplay and pacing.

(Image credit: Windows Central / SEGA)

The only mini-game that I enjoyed was the optional fishing mini-game where you get to fish with Big the Cat from Sonic Adventure 1. The gameplay is nothing more than a simple quick-time event, but the fun comes from the large number of random fish and junk you can catch. They can be anything from carp, squid, sharks, turtles, and frogs to assets from classic Sonic games like rings, goalposts, item boxes, and many more.

You can also use currency from the fishing mini-game to buy Red/Blue seeds, Kocos, audio logs from Dr. Eggman, keys to unlock Chaos Emeralds or Cyber Space levels, and even scrolls that let you fast-travel to Elder or Hermit Kocos. I find it ironic that fishing, which was considered the least-liked aspect of Sonic Adventure 1, turned out to be the most fun mini-game in Sonic Frontiers, mainly due to it being optional and not necessary to complete, unlike the other mini-games.

Going out with a whimper

(Image credit: SEGA)

My last gripe with the game is by the time you reach the final act, Sonic Frontiers runs out of steam. The game starts to recycle many mini-boss Guardian enemies (with some new exceptions) and mini-games. This all culminates in a final boss battle that can only be accessed on the hardest difficulty which the game never tells or even hints to the player about. Again, without revealing much, this fight goes against the gameplay structure of the previous boss fights and left me disappointed and frustrated.

Sonic Frontiers Review: Should you buy?

(Image credit: SEGA)

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Sonic Frontiers. At times I felt like this game is an experiment, throwing out all sorts of concepts and ideas at a dartboard, hoping one of them hits the bullseye and for the most part, they do. I liked the new combat system, the Cyber Space platforming levels, and the boss fights, but they are buried underneath generic open-world locales and a mountain of monotonous mini-games.

With that being said, I think the developers at Sonic Team may be on to something with Sonic Frontiers's gameplay formula. If Sonic Team could cut down on the mini-games, expand Sonic's move-set, insert longer traditional platforming levels that incorporate the new combat system, and replace the open-world levels with smaller and more creative hub areas, we could have the recipe for a new breed of awesome Sonic games. Whether or not Sonic Team learns from this new frontier and refines its ideas for the next Sonic game, we will have to wait and see.

Sonic Frontiers may not be one of the best Xbox games, but if you can overlook its flaws, it is still worth checking out if you’re a hardcore Sonic fan or a lover of action platformers. 

Sonic Frontiers is now available for purchase on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam and Windows after launching on Nov. 8, 2022.

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Sonic Frontiers

Sonic Frontiers is a flawed but enjoyable adventure that will please long-time fans of platformer and Sonic games with its advanced combat system, fast-paced platforming levels, and epic boss fights.

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Alexander Cope is a writer for Windows Central and iMore that has been gaming since the 16-bit era.