Sonic Frontiers – Zero punctuation

Want to watch Zero Punctuation ad-free? Join The Escapist+ today and support your favorite content creators!

Their handling of their signature franchise has been like watching two blind sea urchins try to get through their wedding night. Any decent idea for a Sonic game in their hands is about as useful as a pro-grade drawing tablet in a baboon finger painting class. I’ve said a lot of bad things about Sonic Team in the past. It is currently. And also in the very near future. Sonic Frontiers sucks balls. Well, um. You see, to the extent that I’m looking forward to something, I was looking forward to Sonic Frontiers. Because my gut as a game reviewer, forged over many years in the crucible of disappointments and pies, told me that open world design might be the thing that finally makes 3D Sonic work. Either it will totally suck and either way it will at least be fun to write about. The actual result is a mixed bag, for what it’s worth, I mean, a bag of dog shit and a bag of dog shit and cake are just as hard to sell. I’ve always hated the aggressive linearity of Sonic’s levels, the way they keep shooting me off the stage because I mispressed the stick or didn’t press jump on time or didn’t enter an uncontrollable sequence of boosters and trampolines with the right positive attitude or because it was a Tuesday.

But in an open world, falling off things isn’t instant failure, kick in the balls, you just end up somewhere else. Worst case scenario you crash into someone’s kitchen window and have to apologize for interrupting their bar mitzvah. And that’s what Sonic Frontiers is right about. The ending somewhere else, not the bar mitzvah part. Its world is chock full of mini platforming challenges, you can’t walk ten feet without tripping over a grind rail. It’s impossible to predict where you’ll end up bombing on any given random bounce, which is annoying as hell if you’re trying to get to a specific place, and it’s disheartening how there’s absolutely no cohesion between the environment and the platforming stuff. It’s as if they’ve taken a generic washed-out hilly landscape and then randomly sprinkled tracks of bumpy grinds over it like it’s a freeze frame after an explosion at the U-Bend factory. It reminds me of those custom races people do in GTA Online where there’s just going to be a shipping container mysteriously floating in mid-air because having something to wheelie at that specific moment is more important than having a world that makes sense.

Oh sorry, I started praising the game there and somehow we ended up blabbering. This is the hodgepodge experience, you try to squeeze the cake carefully but sooner or later you’re dealing with dog shit. Anyway, the plot is that Sonic and his friends fly to an island for some reason, there’s a big mistake and Sonic’s friends get trapped in cyberspace or something. And when Sonic wakes up alone in the pouring rain in a faded landscape surrounded by the towering ruins of a once vibrant civilization as eerie music plays, I felt, not for the first time, a strong urge to grab the Sonic franchise for the cuffs, wave it back and forth and yell FIND OUT YOUR FUCKING TONE. YOU ARE A FUCKING CARTOON MOUSE IN SNEAKERS. YOU ARE A KIDS CONCEPT. YOU ARE NOT DEATH STRANDING. YOU ARE NOT AN ATTACK ON TITAN of him. YOU ARE NOT… WHATEVER FUCK SONIC 2006 WAS TRYING TO BE. Maybe Final Fantasy X if it was mixed with incredibly uncomfortable slash fiction. You are not Shadow of the Colossus either, and it is not surprising that I needed to tell you too, Sonic the Hedgehog. I feel like I’m trying to explain to a couch cushion with a roll of toilet paper stuck to it that he’ll never be a real boyfriend.

Honestly though, drab setting and strange tone aside, in the main play area Sonic Frontiers isn’t bad. It’s a collecting marathon at heart, in each chapter one of Sonic’s friends is in focus and Sonic progresses through their storyline by collecting a bunch of Valentine’s Day cards for Amy or tubes of second implied ass cream for Tails and that’s the excuse to roam the land seamlessly dipping in and out of a smorgasbord of microchallenges, plus a handful of seamlessly classic-style Sonic levels that are, with the best will in the world, at least mercifully short. The combat is inoffensive with one or two really nice ideas that integrate well with the format, I like how you can do a sort of guard breaking attack by literally spinning rings around a dude. It’s let down by an exorbitantly useless update tree. Most everything was just “push a button during combo to make Sonic tell everyone to stop moving and pay attention to him doing a little stunt like a hyperactive 12-year-old about to perform amateur dentistry with a skateboard and step concrete”. I’d bought everything on it halfway through and then had a bunch of unspent character points sitting on the GUI for the entire game like a bloodstain on Henry Kissinger’s glasses.

Damn, I forgot I was trying to praise the game again. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Sonic Team’s problem is that they don’t know when to quit while they’re ahead. They are like a demonstration of magnets in a nail factory, the longer you let them go the more likely something will go horribly fucked up. Sometimes they do a good job focusing on the core mechanics, but look away for two seconds and they bring Charmy the fucking bee back. Sonic Frontiers Critical Path is infested with compulsory random mini-games. I’m not even talking about fishing. I like fishing. I like that if I can stand Big the Cat for ten minutes I can get 20 keys which means I don’t have to engage with the rest of the crap in the game. I’m talking bullshit like blocking the plot at the end of the third island for us to play fucking pinball. What’s wrong with pinball, Yahtz? Nothing, if you don’t mind playing on a third of a table with physics like you’re playing nerf baseball on the International Space Station. This won’t let you go until you’ve earned five million points, and you’ll have to start all over if you miss three balls. It fitted neatly into the critical path like a cricket ball down a seagull’s throat.

But frankly by that point I was already down in the dumps. It was a lifesaver for a while. The story is very lightly muddled and I was looking at those twists for another conversation in tone, but I was tentatively enjoying the core gameplay, until I got to the first giant boss at the end of the first island and then went “Oh okay this sucks to the balls. Thanks for freeing me from my world of uncertainty. You have to make them like Super Sonic within a time limit set by the number of rings, except the boss sets the pace of the fight, so there’s very little you can do to kill him faster just keep throwing off and when If i got the camera running again to see what he’s doing you’re just in time for him to throw off again And then if you fail and reload you have to start over with just 100 rings no matter how many you started Thank you so much game I’ll do a much better job now that I’m a quarter through the time limit and a raging hate boner restricting blood flow to my brain ello. So yeah, Sonic Team screwed up again. In many ways it is reassuring. It’s good to know that there is some stability in the world. Whatever happens, the sun will still rise in the morning, the Sonic Team will still screw up, and a seagull will still react badly if it has a cricket ball down its throat. But maybe he shouldn’t have had great ideas about my bag of chips, Jeffrey.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: