Sonic Frontiers remains rooted in the past
Open world, schmopen world.
Sonic's always been open-world, hasn't it? You can't tell me those massive Sonic Mania levels aren't essentially the 2D equivalent of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. It goes right back to the original Sonic the Hedgehog; huge, huge levels, packed with stuff to find. You know how to proceed, but there's too much fun stuff to do, too many secet passages to locate, too many new routes, too many bumpers to ping off. Don't look at me like that. I am not only right, but definitively correct. I have spoken. Sonic has always been open-world.
And yet, here we are with Sonic Frontiers, the long-awaited "first open-world Sonic game", which of course it is not. As I have keenly, cleverly demonstrated. That said, does it fulfil the ideal of the modern open-world game? No, not particularly. Because it's not actually an open-world game at all, it's a series of wide-linear hub stages, remaining beholden to traditional 3D Sonic stages accessed via "Cyberspace", each of which is around 90 seconds long when played well. They're pretty good, too, with plenty of routes to explore and goals to achieve, but they're also presented piecemeal, independent from the world in which you spend most of your playtime. They feel perfunctory, they feel like Sega left one foot in Sonic Forces, aka the grave.
But I like Sonic Frontiers. I think it is the first Sonic games since Sonic Adventure that I could say most likely represented Sonic Team's best efforts. Certainly not the likes of Sonic Heroes, for which the internet has previously raked me over the coals for calling it "toilet", even though it blatantly is. Frontiers is no Heroes, thank goodness. It's something fairly new to the Sonic series; a collectathon. You'll be hoovering up Rings, Kokos, Gears, Coins, Keys, Hearts... there are several more collectables that I can't remember right now, but they're all pretty easy to get hold of because every single inch of the supposed open-world (it's not) is crammed with distractions. Things to climb, rails to grind, lifts to grab, walls to run up. And at the end of every one of these is something either useful or interesting.
For the first time in 3D, Sonic controls like a dream. His turning circle is tight, his speed is manageable. His double-jump finally feels normal, instead of the Sonic Colours Ultimate brand of double-jump, which I deem "shite". In a nice little touch, you're able to futz around with Sonic's top speed, acceleration and et cetera in the settings menu, which on PC is otherwise threadbare. Let me play at higher framerates than 60fps, please!
I'm five or six hours into the game, and I'm still in the first hub world of an apparent five, and my map is festooned with icons to investigate - festooned, I say! It's in this element, the tidying-up of the map, that Sonic Frontiers seems like it could, in time, threaten to become rather repetitive. Frankly, though, I don't see that happening for a good while - I'm still getting used to Sonic's new combat system, sort of old-school God of War-lite, and that's an absurd thing to write but I'm doing it anyway. Like Sonic Unleashed, you'll gain experience and level up, improving your vital statistics and unlocking new moves on a skill tree. In a Sonic game, of all things.
Anyway - look - Sonic Frontiers is, at this juncture, the best 3D Sonic I've played since Adventure. This is not as impressive an achievement as it would seem, given the chequered history of this series, so I'll praise it in a more impactful way - Sonic Frontiers represents a concerted effort to produce the best Sonic game possible, to move on with the times at last while keeping a firm grip on its roots. It's when that grip is too firm that the game is at its weakest, but in its best moments it fulfills the promise of this old Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) promotional render:
They did it, folks. They finally did it.