The task was simple. I had to find a way up to the very top of the Titan to grab the last Chaos Emerald. The colossal creature made of chrome and bright red lights resisted, but I was able to dash over its legs. This hadn’t been so different from what I had experienced in Sonic Frontiers so far, taking part in platforming set-pieces placed on top of all sorts of surfaces. But I was not ready for what the boss fight would actually entail.
I was flying as Super Sonic through the air, getting up close and personal to bash the Titan’s head with my fists, and all the while, the soundtrack screamed at me with guttural voices and distorted guitar riffs. Sonic parried attacks and completed QTEs and multiplied himself, launching a flurry of fists and piercing through the Titan’s chest in dramatic slow motion. I spent 20 hours spinning around its open-world islands, beating my own high scores in more traditional levels to progress the story, and fighting all sorts of gargantuan foes. Sonic Frontiers is an emotional rush. But it’s also a game plagued with uninspired minigames, repetitive objectives, and tedious mechanical issues.
Placing Sonic in an open-world setting was only a matter of time. In Frontiers, the blue hedgehog is cruising around with Amy, Tails, and Knuckles, until they’re suddenly dragged onto a barren island where everyone but Sonic gets trapped in a digitized reality. From there, you have to battle a gauntlet of minibosses on a series of islands, opening portals to take part in both new stages and re-creations of past Sonic levels, and completing side tasks and challenges along the way. These tasks lead you to gather the Chaos Emeralds so you can face against the Titans and bring your friends back to your realm. Most of the time, however, you’re just roaming around a vast area gathering items to advance the story.
It’s an entertaining loop at first. While the islands tend to be fairly empty in general, save for enemies, they’re often a thrill to navigate. There are floating platforming sections pretty much everywhere you look, with dozens of bouncing pads, climbable walls, and rings to collect. It’s an odd sight to have familiar elements from the series contrasting with plain, open spaces that look nothing alike. But once you’re going through them at full speed, they feel like sections from your usual Sonic levels with different camera angles, intersecting paths, and so on. They’re appropriately propulsive, even if the controls aren’t always as responsive as one would hope, which led me to fail sections time and time again.
The problem is that the novelty of the open-world setting wears off quickly, and you immediately begin to notice how tedious the overall structure is. Frontiers tasks you with completing minigames around marked spots to reveal fragments of the map’s surrounding area: These are basic tasks like kicking orbs through rings, or piling up Tetris-like puzzle pieces. But after doing more than a dozen of them per island, I quickly grew exhausted. I appreciate the variation while tackling what is already a staple mechanic of open-world games, but they detract from the rest of the experience.
This monotony permeates the main objective as well, making Frontiers a stilted procession of back-and-forth tasks. All the core activities are based around currencies (bosses drop one to access the stages, which in turn grant keys to grab the Chaos Emeralds, and so on), but they never vary beyond asking for larger amounts of each currency after you grab a Chaos Emerald, forcing you to comb the island or retry past courses. Some objectives require large detours through fairly complicated sections to get to an NPC, and it may take a while until you can unlock a shortcut for subsequent visits. There is an optional fishing minigame that lets you exchange tokens for some of the mandatory currencies — while it helps to alleviate the steps needed to make progress, fishing is the last thing I want to do in a Sonic game. So much of Frontiers is endearing in its concepts, but cloying in its mechanisms.
Speaking of progression: Defeating enemies and destroying certain objects in the world grant you experience, which you can use to purchase a selection of skills. These abilities expand the roster of attacks, leading to some flashy animations that can be a bit too powerful at times — most set the game in slow motion while a short cutscene plays out, which can be easily exploited to deal absurd damage in succession if you chain multiple skills. There are also four stats to upgrade but, like much of Frontiers, they end up feeling inconsequential. They’re yet another superficial layer of complexity that requires gathering yet more items around the world and retreading paths you’ve already traveled.
As frustrating as Sonic Frontiers can be, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this new, more flexible take on the timeworn series. Sure, the story, while intriguing at times, didn’t do much to keep me hooked aside from some unexpectedly funny deliveries from Sonic (who constantly brushes off lore dumps from other characters by saying he’s either gone through worse or he’s just here to save his friends). What’s more, the game often felt more like a checklist than, well, a game. I completed more minigames than I could count. The list of frustrations goes on.
It’s unfortunate to see a Sonic game that tries, and often succeeds, in retreading past foundations and applying them to a different setting. But the highs of fighting the Titans or playing remakes of classic levels can’t justify the frustrations that constantly put stops along the way.
Sonic Frontiers will be released on Nov. 8 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a pre-release download code provided by Sega. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.