In Sonic Frontiers, Sega finds the intersection of the series’ linear past and its “open-zone” future, paying capable service to both eras of the franchise. The open Starfall Islands offer engaging exploration, while linear Cyber Space stages deliver the familiar speed-based Sonic experience. Though each side of the coin has faults, Frontiers is an overall positive experience that serves as a boost in the right direction for the franchise.
Running through the open zones is often a joyful experience. Sonic controls remarkably well as he runs through the lush fields, sandy straights, and other biomes I encountered during my 30-hour playthrough.
The islands deliver terrific playgrounds through which Sonic grinds, boosts, and bounces; hitting a dash panel that sends you up a rail, off a spring, and into a line of rings never ceases to satisfy. That satisfaction is accentuated by how good it feels to chain these segments together, thanks to the tight 3D gameplay.
The most notable new ability in Sonic’s arsenal is Cyloop, a blue trail you activate with a push of a button. Cyloop has utility in combat – drawing a circle around enemies deals damage, stuns them, or breaks off armor – but its primary use is in exploration; if ever I didn’t know what to do, the answer was typically to draw a Cyloop around the object in question. You can even run in circles to spawn infinite rings, a method I often used in boss battles. I like this mechanic overall, but reasons to use it in the world sometimes felt shoehorned.
On top of that, several areas of the open zones aren’t optimized for exploration. The in-world obstacle courses are among the worst offenders. I lost track of the number of times I tried to go in one direction, only to hit a dash panel that sent me flying hundreds of feet in the opposite direction before I knew what had happened. This dilemma is further brought into focus by atrocious pop-in, which primarily affects the rails and platforming elements in the open areas, making it difficult to understand the best way to navigate.
Other segments force you into a 2D perspective and lock you into a set path until you either complete the sequence or backtrack out of that area.
When combined with various dead-ends and areas that feel overtly tucked away, the world design of Sonic Frontiers doesn’t reach the standard of modern open-world games.