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Even though he’s stumbled and dropped his rings a few times in the past, Sonic’s popularity has seen a huge resurgence over the last few years. From Sonic Mania (which saw Sega’s iconic character return to his 2D roots) to Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2 on the big screen and even Netflix’s animated series Sonic Prime, the blue hedgehog is now arguably as popular as he was in the '90s.
As someone who grew up with a Super Nintendo instead of a Sega Genesis, I’ve been trying to work my way through all of the past Sonic games, which is why I was really excited when Sonic Frontiers was first announced back in December 2021. This time around, Sonic is once again exploring a 3D world like he did in Sonic Adventure but the game’s Starfall Islands are similar to an open world. While not quite like the open world maps in Breath of the Wild or Skyrim, Sonic Frontiers is an “open-zone” game according to its developer Sonic Team.
After picking up Sonic Frontiers at a discount in Steam’s winter sale, I plan on spending the weekend diving back into the game with the hope of reaching the next island. Sure, it isn’t as polished as it could have been and the game’s pop-in can be really distracting but Sonic Team has released a road map with plenty of additional features and even new playable characters that will all be free when they release later this year.
Combo training done right
Besides its new, semi-open world setting, Sonic Frontiers also takes combos up a notch compared to past games in the series. While you start out with a few under your belt in the beginning, you can unlock even more combos from the skill tree after collecting skill points around the world and by defeating enemies.
As you go about exploring the Starfall Islands, you come across portals that take you to the game’s Cyberspace levels. These more traditional Sonic levels have a different vibe than the rest of the game and they have set goals you need to complete to earn Vault Keys – but more on that later.
One of my favorite things about unlocking a new portal is actually the loading screen you see before entering a Cyberspace level. Since Sonic has so many moves in his arsenal this time around, Sonic Team uses these loading screens as a tutorial.
As each Cyberspace level loads, you’re tasked with completing a few combos in the game’s training room. However, the first time I did this, I didn’t realize I could just hit start to load the level and spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to execute all the combos on screen. I thought I had to complete a certain number of them before I could proceed.
In the game’s main map, you can also go back to the training room when you unlock a new skill or whenever you want for that matter. This is quite useful when you want to get a combo down pat before getting back to exploring the current island you're on.
A surprisingly enjoyable collectathon
As much as exploring the world and defeating enemies is a big part of Sonic Frontiers, so too are collectibles. To progress further, you need to collect everything from rings to Vault Keys to little stone-shaped characters called Kocos to unlock new areas and raise Sonic’s stats.
While I normally shy away from collectathon games like Yooka-Laylee, I’ve actually enjoyed my time collecting things in Sonic Frontiers. I think this is due to the fact that everything you collect has a different purpose and there’s more than enough rings, Vault Keys, portal gears and other items spread throughout each island to not make collecting them a grueling task.
If you’re considering picking up the game, here’s how collecting works in Sonic Frontiers. You defeat enemies to obtain portal gears which can then be used to unlock Cyberspace levels. Completing the objectives in each of these levels nets you Vault Keys that are used to unlock Chaos Emeralds. With enough Chaos Emeralds in hand, you can take on each island’s guardian. However, you also need to collect memory tokens to help Tails, Knuckles, Amy and your other friends trapped in Cyberspace. There’s a lot of collecting but when you’re traversing the world as Sonic, you don’t even really think about it all that much.
In order to boost your ring count and speed you collect Kocos, which you then return to the Elder Koco. However, the Hermit Koco uses the orbs and seeds you collect to level up your power and defenses. My favorite thing about the Kocos though, all of the ones you’ve collected so far appear when you leave Sonic idle on the map. Also, you can hear them talking so you know there are some that need to be collected in the area you’re in.
Forget Sonic Frontiers 2, Netflix’s Sonic Prime would make a better follow-up
As I was waiting for Sonic Frontiers to dip slightly in price, I had plenty of time to watch the entirety of Sonic Prime on Netflix. This new animated series is quite fun and it has a lot of the same humor found in both Sonic movies.
While I’ve enjoyed my time with Sonic Frontiers so far and I can’t get enough of the music that plays in its epic boss fights, I think Sonic Prime would be the perfect direction for the game’s followup. If you haven’t watched it yet I don’t want to spoil too much but the show sees Sonic travel to alternate dimensions with different versions of his friends in the “Shatterverse”.
Not every game needs to be open world – or “open-zone” in this case – and just like with Sonic Frontier’s islands, each alternate dimension or “Shatterspace” as they’re called in Sonic Prime could serve as a different world to explore. Not to mention the fact that Sonic Prime has multiple Dr. Eggman variants that would make fantastic bosses.
Sonic Frontiers is the best 3D Sonic game yet and a wonderful new direction for the series. It’s not without its faults but with a slew of extra content planned for this year, it’s certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Blue Blur.
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Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.