There has been a lot of discussion about Sonic Frontiers over the last few weeks in the wake of Sega revealing new gameplay footage. The reaction has been mixed, which is understandable, because having now experienced an early demo of the game for myself, I can say I have mixed feelings about it. That's largely because of the game's setting, which feels unlike anything in a Sonic game to this point. Whether that ultimately proves to be a good thing or not remains to be seen.
As the gameplay clips to this point have indicated, Sonic Frontiers takes the blue hedgehog and puts him in a massive open world. The Starfall Islands are a wide open space similar to one that players have seen in games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring, and Skyrim. For someone used to the imaginative worlds of the 2D Sonic games and the colorful settings of the other 3D Sonic titles, this is an atmosphere that feels noticeably "un-Sonic." It's a feeling that permeated with me throughout my time with the game, especially as there was almost no music at all. Given that Sonic's soundtracks have been such a highlight of the series for the past 30 years, playing through a game with only the ambient sounds of nature and the sound effects of battle feels... strange.
Something to note about Starfall Islands is that the world is a massive one. While there wasn't much information to gather about missions and quest lines during this short demo, there was ample time for exploration. The island is filled with rings, ramps, classic tracks with loop-de-loops, and items like keys that help open the path forward.
All of this plays into a story that's wrapped in mystery. Sonic does not know how he ended up on the Starfall Islands. Meanwhile, Amy is in a sort of limbo between worlds, requiring Sonic to try and recover her memories to make her whole. Tails is missing entirely and his ultimate whereabouts look to be an answer for another day. As for Knuckles, there was no mention of him, though his eventual presence in this game has already been teased.
One aspect of Sonic Frontiers that does feel familiar is the combat. Those who have played a 3D Sonic title should recognize his arsenal, specifically the homing attack that allows him to bounce from one enemy to another. Classic moves like that one will complement new additions to Sonic's move set. The most prominent one on display during the demo was the Cycloop, where Sonic runs around enemies while the player holds down the Y/Triangle button. After forming a circle, Sonic will inflict damage. This is particularly useful against armored foes that need to be warmed up before Sonic can smash into them.
After playing through Sonic Frontiers at the Summer Game Fest Play Days, I can say this much about it — it feels different. It certainly doesn't feel like any Sonic game that's come before it, so if nothing else, Sonic Team can at least say they aren't resting on their mascot's laurels. Whether it leads to success remains to be seen. We'll find out when Sonic Frontiers comes to PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch this holiday season.
This preview is based on hands-on impressions from an early demo present at Summer Game Fest 2022's Play Days.