Sonic Frontiers – Zero Punctuation

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Their handling of their signature franchise was like watching two blind sea urchins trying to get through their wedding night. Any half-decent idea for a Sonic game in their hands is as useful as a pro-quality drawing tablet at a baboon finger painting class. I’ve said a lot of mean things about Sonic Team in the past. And currently. And in the very near future too. Sonic Frontiers sucks balls. Well. Look, as far as I’m looking forward to anything, I’ve been looking forward to Sonic Frontiers. Because my game reviewer’s instinct, forged over many years in the melting pot of disappointment and cake, told me that open-world design might just be the thing that ultimately makes 3D Sonic work. OR it’s going to suck completely and both cases will at least be fun to write about. The actual result is a mixed bag, whatever that’s worth, I mean a bag of dog poop and a bag of dog poop and cake are equally hard sells. I’ve always hated the aggressive linearity of Sonic levels, the way they keep shooting me off stage for mispressing the stick or not pressing jump in time or failing to get into an uncontrollable series of boosters and springboards with the right positive attitude or because it was a Tuesday.

But in an open world, falling things isn’t exactly a failed kick in the bollocks, you just end up somewhere else. Worst case scenario, you crash through someone’s kitchen window and have to apologize for interrupting their bar mitzvah. And that’s what Sonic Frontiers does well. End it somewhere else, not the bar mitzvah part. The world is packed with mini platforming challenges, you can’t walk ten feet without tripping over a gravel rail. It’s impossible to predict where you’ll end up bombing a random bounce path, which is hugely annoying when you’re trying to get somewhere specific, and it’s unpleasant that there’s absolutely no cohesion between the environment and the platforming stuff. It’s like they’ve taken a faded generic hillscape and then sprinkled randomly disconnected gravel rails over it like it’s a still image after an explosion at the U-bend factory. Reminds me of those custom races people make in GTA Online where there’s just a cargo container mysteriously floating in the air, because it’s more important to have something to drive off at that specific moment than to have a world that is somewhere looks like.

Oh sorry, I started praising the game there, and somehow we ended up floundering. That’s the mixed bag experience, you try to gently squeeze the cake out, but sooner or later you have to deal with the dog poop. Anyway, the plot is that for some reason Sonic and his friends fly to some island, there is a big blunder and Sonic’s friends get stuck in cyberspace or something. And when Sonic awoke alone in the pouring rain in a faded landscape surrounded by the imposing ruins of a once-vibrant civilization while haunting music plays, I felt, not for the first time, a strong urge to take the Sonic franchise by the lapel to grab. , shake it back and forth and yell DISCOVER YOUR FUCKING TONE. YOU ARE A FUCKING CARTOON MOUSE IN SNEAKERS. YOU ARE A CONCEPT FOR BABBIES. YOU ARE NOT DEATH STRANDING. YOU ARE NOT ATTACK ON TITAN. YOU ARE NOT… WHATEVER THE FUCK SONIC 2006 TRIED TO BE. Possibly Final Fantasy X if mixed with dizzyingly awkward slash fiction. You’re not Shadow of the Colossus either, and it’s not surprising I even had to say that to you, Sonic the Hedgehog. I feel like I’m trying to explain to a couch cushion with a toilet roll tube that it’s never going to be a real boy.

But honestly, aside from the bleak setting and weird tone, at its core gameplay, Sonic Frontiers isn’t bad. Essentially it’s a collectathon, each chapter focuses on one of Sonic’s friends and Sonic progresses through their storyline by collecting a bunch of valentines for Amy or tubes of implied second asshole cream for Tails and that’s the excuse to seamlessly roam the land in and from a smorgasbord of micro-challenges, as well as a handful of very seamless classic Sonic levels that, with the best will in the world, are mercifully short at the very least. Combat is harmless with one or two pretty neat ideas that integrate well with the format, I like how you can do a sort of defense interrupt attack by literally running rings around a dude. It is let down by an exorbitantly pointless upgrade tree. Almost everything on it was just “press a button during combo to have Sonic tell everyone to stop moving and pay attention he’s doing a little stunt like a hyperactive 12 year old about to perform amateur dentistry with a skateboard and a concrete step.” Halfway through I bought it all and then I just had a bunch of unused character points on the GUI for the whole game like a bloodstain on Henry Kissinger’s glasses.

Damn, I forgot I was trying to praise the game again. But this is the point, isn’t it. Sonic Team’s problem is that they don’t know when to stop while they’re ahead. They are like a magnet demonstration in a nail factory, the longer you let them go the more likely something terrible will break. They sometimes do a good job focusing on core mechanics, but you look away for two seconds and they bring back Charmy the fucking Bee. Sonic Frontiers’ critical path is littered with obligatory random mini-games. I’m not even talking about fishing yet. I like fishing. I like that if I can put up with Big the Cat for ten minutes, I can get 20 keys, which means I don’t have to bother with the rest of the game’s nonsense. I’m talking about things like stopping the plot at the end of the third island to let us play pinball. What’s wrong with pinball, Yahtz? Nothing, if you don’t mind playing on a third of a table with physics as if you were playing nerf baseball on the International Space Station. You don’t let that go until you have earned five million points and if you lose three balls you have to start all over again. It fit into the critical path as smoothly as a cricket ball in a seagull’s throat.

But honestly, I was already gaming by then. It was touch and go. The story is mixed up with very little lightheartedness and I checked those lapel for another tone conversation, but I was having fun with the core gameplay for now, until I got to the first giant boss at the end of the first island and then said “Oh okay this sucks balls Thank you for freeing me from my world of uncertainty.” You have to do them as super sonic within a time limit set by your number of rings except the boss sets the pace of the fight so there’s very little you can do to kill it faster it keeps knocking you away and against the time you’ve flipped the camera to see what it’s doing, you’ll be just in time to unsettle you again And if you fail and reload, you’ll have to reboot with just 100 ringtones regardless how much you started with Thank you so much game I’ll do much better now that I’m a quarter of the time limit and a raging hate stitch restricting the blood flow to my brain So yeah Sonic Team screwed up again In many it’s reassuring. Nice to know there’s some stability in the world. No matter what happens, the sun will still rise in the morning, Sonic Team will still screw up, and a seagull will still react badly to a cricket ball in his throat But miss maybe it shouldn’t have gotten big ideas about my bag of chips, jeffrey.

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