Sonic Frontiers Summer Game Fest Hands-On Preview Leaves Mixed Feelings

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The next title that I spent hands-on with at Summer Game Fest was a title that Sega has been trying to keep under wraps but perhaps more unsuccessfully than any other title in their recent history. First leaked via forum posts and speculation threads when it was first known as Sonic Rangers, the next brand new title for the blue blur is an open-world adventure that’s certainly different from what fans were expecting. The latest title from Team Sonic is a brand new entry called Sonic Frontiers that aims to be both ambitious and expansive, given the namesake.

After some standard accessibility options and tweaks (and a lengthy NDA to ensure what I could speak about is under wraps until Sega is ready to discuss), I was finally ready to jump into those red sneakers and take Sonic for a spin. The game opens with Sonic in a relatively massive open world with points of interest as far as the eye can see. From rails to rings, it’s hard to go more than ten meters without finding something new for Sonic to interact with or simple environmental puzzles to solve (that is, once the mandatory onboarding and tutorials every few steps were finished). Sonic has a wide variety of tools from previous entries, from Sonic Unleashed to Sonic and the Black Knight, and both traversal moves as well as melee combos to pull off. From the start, Sonic has a pretty basic melee combo that can chain into itself as well as jumping and homing attacks as well. 

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Loading screens and tips shared some insight into what’s to come in Sonic Frontiers while allowing the player to test out various moves and combo testing sections as the world loads in over a twenty or thirty-second period. Those tips hinted at things to come, such as a single mention of fishing that my Sega handler would neither confirm nor deny if Bigs the Cat would be making an appearance to assist Sonic with his angling. Likewise, symbols of a new cute mascot type collectible-slash-new species of floating seedlike characters might prove to be Sonic Frontier’s take on Chaos and might be something to keep an eye out for in future trailers. 

At a glance at the incredibly modest skill tree (less than fifteen to twenty skills in all), it’s clear that most of Sonic’s arsenal is available from the very beginning. There were abilities that I didn’t even know Sonic could do until the requisite tutorial came about, such as clicking in the left analog stick to swiftly dash through a lineup of rings to a new Cyloop ability where Sonic draws a trail behind himself and once connected in a ring, causes various effects to whatever is inside. 

Among the hud for Sonic Frontiers are your various collections of rings, Amy’s Memory Pieces, keys, and other collectibles. In one corner of the screen appears to be an indication of various powers and levels for Sonic. At the start, Sonic had only 1/50 levels for each of the four skills, with no indication of where those additional levels come from. I certainly didn’t raise any of those stats, no matter how many robots I bested or massive bosses I kicked and spin dashed to death. Beating each boss in the demo yielded Sonic with Portal Keys to lead into another massive component of the Sonic Frontiers experience. 

My ultimate goal for the demo was to seek out the first Chaos Emerald that appeared in the open world. To get there, I would need to create a bridge to get across an otherwise impassable gap and various other obstacles in Sonic’s way. Unfortunately, in my pursuit for perfection in one of the other challenges, I spent much of my 30 minutes exploring the areas before that Chaos Emerald so that was one part of the demo I didn’t get the chance to see. So how did I create that bridge that would’ve brought me to my next destination? That’s something Team Sonic and Sega want to keep under wraps for a bit longer, so I’ll have more to share in a future preview of Sonic Frontiers.

The various activities in Sonic Frontiers largely feel disjointed from one another so far. Here Sonic has a large open-world map with safety bumpers in place to keep the player moving forward on one track early on (with hills too tall to scale on one side and endless pits of clouds and open skies on the other). The activities and points of interest feel randomly thrown together without something to really bind them together. As Sonic runs through the valley, there could be bumper pads to launch him up onto an aerial platform that he can explore for additional rings or a grind rail that leads to one of Amy’s Memory Pieces before dropping him back off onto the path he was already taking.

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If Sonic Frontiers wants to be a unique and memorable experience for grown-up Sonic fans, I do hope that those guiding rails drop away shortly into the experience and Sonic truly has the opportunity to explore those Frontiers with his own two feet.

Sonic Frontiers still has some development time before Team Sonic is ready to blast off with the fastest thing alive. Expect to see Sonic Frontiers make its full debut across all major platforms towards the end of 2022.

 

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