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Game On: Sonic Frontiers is an invigorating and excellent adventure

Sonic Frontiers places the blue hedgehog and his friends Tails and Amy on the mysterious and ancient Starfall Islands. The game is available on Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.  (Sega Corp.)
Sonic Frontiers places the blue hedgehog and his friends Tails and Amy on the mysterious and ancient Starfall Islands. The game is available on Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. (Sega Corp.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

I’ve made it no secret that I’ve been a fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of playing his early Sega Genesis titles, and around the time I became more “conscious” – at about 5 years old – I had an absolute blast playing the brand-new Sonic Adventure series with my older sibling.

Because the franchise has pretty undisputedly gone downhill following 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2, those memories became untouchable. That’s not to say the blue hedgehog hasn’t had any good titles since, but there have been a lot of stinkers – a lot. It’s caused me to question my fondness of the series – is it just nostalgia? But I still have a blast every time I play through Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic Adventure 2, and even spinoffs like Sonic Shuffle and Sonic Riders.

Following a long list of imaginative but messy mainline titles, Sonic Forces launched in 2017 in an even worse state – free of bugs and well-polished, but creatively bankrupt. Because of this, I was skeptical of Sonic Frontiers, which was released Tuesday. I’m shocked to report that the game not only pleases me, but I believe it’s also objectively good.

For the first time in over a decade, Sonic Team finally remembered what makes a Sonic game fun. Frontiers has more to offer than just speed and spectacle – although there’s plenty of that – adding satisfying and diverse movement mechanics, clever platforming challenges and even some fun minigames here and there.

Although Assassin’s Creed hardly invented the open-world game formula in 2007, the franchise did modernize it, and dozens of titles have followed in its footsteps – Far Cry, Watch Dogs and even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild borrowed heavily from Assassin’s Creed. I was worried Sonic Frontiers would go the same route – explore a large, monotonous area filled with repetitive objectives, climb towers to fill out your map, rinse and repeat.

But after several hours into Sonic Frontiers, I found the combat to be the only repetitive element, and most of that is easily avoidable if you’d rather just take out the occasional boss and call it a day. The game doesn’t railroad you, nor does it bombard players with dozens of pointless sidequests at once.

Most importantly, Sonic Team actually managed to strike the very tricky balance between speed and precision. The blue blur is plenty fast, but there’s also a lot of careful platforming to do, and unlike many previous entries I feel in-control enough to accurately accomplish those feats. There are also a handful of options available to modify Sonic’s turning speed, acceleration and more, allowing picky players like myself to dial in their perfect hedgehog.

While Sonic is still the only playable character, the developers clearly made a conscious effort this time to include his friends in a more meaningful way than they have in 15 years. They’re well-written and not overshadowed by Sonic in cutscenes. Once upon a time, one of the series’ strengths was its ensemble cast, and it’s been sad to see the eclectic characters shelved for so many years. Sonic Frontiers takes a step in the right direction.

I could nitpick, but mostly it would be “complaints only diehard fans can relate to.” My only substantial criticism of Sonic Frontiers is the frame rate – playing below 60 frames per second is terribly clunky and unfortunately, only the PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X version supports it. Everyone else is stuck at 30 FPS – even the Xbox Series S, which reeks of poor optimization on Sonic Team’s part.

All in all, I’m very impressed with Sonic Frontiers, and I think it’ll appeal to both starry-eyed younger fans and jaded old farts like myself. Based on pre-release footage, I fully expected the game to be decent, but I would argue Sonic Frontiers turned out downright excellent.

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