Since its gameplay reveal back in June, Sonic Frontiers had fans understandably concerned for the blue blurs’ newest outing with what looked to be a lacklustre new addition to the storied franchise, and I count myself amongst those people. During my visit to EGX this year, I was lucky enough to sit down and try a small portion of this new frontier (get it?) for the series, and after my brief time with the game, many of my fears and concerns have now been washed away and replaced with a newfound sense of excitement.
To say Sonic Frontiers is taking Sonic in a new direction would be an understatement, that was evident from the moment I loaded into the much more muted and washed-out world of Frontiers. It was a far cry from the usual colourful onslaught we have seen in other entries, and the subtle, calm soundtrack complimented this new world and took on a more mature, and somewhat gritty atmosphere. Not like Shadow the Hedgehog gritty mind you.
It also didn’t waste much time getting you into the swing of things, and in a fairly linear first few minutes, you are free to explore some of the forest and green fields with the familiar controls of a 3D Sonic game, only this time around they feel more at home in this larger space. The game goes through a highlight reel of its bright new features, showing off a few environmental puzzles which were easily the least engaging moment for me in this demo, seeing as all I did was turn a statue a few times.
What really surprised me was how much I enjoyed combat and exploration, the two areas I was most apprehensive of. Combat has a slight arcade quality to it that wasn’t too difficult to get to grips with, and I quickly found launching a homing attack and busting out combats against enemies with an eagerness I didn’t expect. It felt weighty, impactful, and just fun to do, and the inclusion of the “Cyloop” ability — which has Sonic leave a trail that once connected damages enemies inside — gave a small glimpse of the game’s new abilities and skills we can expect to unlock in the full game. Fighting the “Guardian”, a miniboss of towering proportions showcased the combat best, having you use new abilities, classic attacks, and snappy combat to take down this hulking enemy and all the while feeling fun and intuitive.
For this demo, I was confined to the opening island of Frontiers, but even this smaller area still felt open and welcoming, and once I quickly worked through the initial linear area, I was greeted by the wide “open-zone” world that I naturally ran into without a second thought. Using Sonic’s dash to speed across the wide open fields felt like a long-awaited dream realised, and the rather stunning visuals only made it better. Then you mix in the classic bounce pads, boxes, rails and all the other platforming staples for the speedster that despite looking out of place at times, fit this more expansive world nicely — for the most part — and were a welcome distraction as I looked in whatever area I could and tackled any platform I could reach.
There were also collectables to find that can be used to unlock items like the Chaos emerald that are scattered across the larger world of Frontiers. It had a sense of discovery that I hope carries across the whole game effectively, as what I was able to explore in this demo was enjoyable and I hope that the whole game can replicate that.
Finding and earning collectables from exploring and combat also got me a chance to try a Cyberspace zone, a linear, longer level that felt like a blast from the past, complete with Sonic’s signature speed, loops, and other quirks we have seen from 3D Sonic in the past. Only here it acted more like a bonus stage or mini-challenge akin to Breath of the Wild’s Shrine’s, and served as a nice extra challenge and shout-out to the series’ history whilst also feeling new and updated for this entry.
If that seems like a lot to say for a short demo, you would be right. But that’s what I was pleased about walking away from Sonic Frontiers. I wanted to try as much of the game as I could whilst being thorough, and I had a chance to sample most of, if not all the new trimming’s in this newest entry and came away with my worries lessened and my hype kicked up a few notches. Now as I await the November 8th release date, my main hope is that the same feeling of excitement and joy I felt in the brief 15-20 minutes I had can be replicated in the full release, and what impressed me in this demo wasn’t just a one-off. Some may still be sceptical and I get that feeling, but after playing the demo, I can’t help but root and hope for Frontiers success, and much like Sonic Mania celebrated and elevated the 2D Sonics, here’s hoping that Sonic Frontiers can do the same for the blue blur’s 3D counterpart.