Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizon is a free update that no one expected. At least, not before the announcement quite shortly after Frontiers’ release. Within the wake of Frontiers’ success came a rise of new hope, a resurgence of the Sonic formula that would take fans for a victory lap around well-trodden grounds in the Starfall Islands.
For the first time in many years, we received Tails, Knuckles, and Amy as playable characters in a mainline Sonic game. This update serves to bring more than just well-desired characters back, acting as the true ending for the game that emphasizes Sage and the Ancients’ roles in the story. With a revamped version of Supreme’s boss fight, the final touches bundled with Final Horizon made The End a much cooler and more formidable foe to tango with as Super Sonic.
While there are plenty of things to enjoy about Final Horizon, the crux is the unfortunate control scheme for all three new characters. While Amy is relatively free of problems, Tails and Knuckles both suffer from stripped abilities, having only limited ways to move in comparison to their more capable forms in other games.
Concerning Sonic’s challenges and cyberspace stages, Final Horizon is a genuinely difficult update that some superfans might not have expected. While the fact that many Sonic fans met this challenge with hilarious complaining is amusing, the truth is that this update is not accessible to everyone and borderline excludes some community members, even on Easy mode. Very few fans have beaten the game on Extreme difficulty, a feat that is only possible through multiple exploits of the game’s pause function.
- Developer: Sonic Team, SEGA
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox and PlayStation
- Price: Free Update
- Release Date: September 28, 2023
Tackle Ouranos Island Again, But Not Alone
The game starts you off back on Ouranos Island, at the climax of Frontiers’ storyline. After a few lovely characterization moments and exposition, it immediately brings you into Amy’s gameplay, starting you off with a freshly wiped map and a horde of puzzles to solve. Amy is undoubtedly the best new character in the update, her top-notch navigation being especially helpful. Her Tarot Cards allow her to float, move quickly, and attack for short distances.
Amy’s puzzles are a delight, featuring pink platforms and heart-shaped boost rings. They all rely on her ability to triple jump and glide and are some of the most satisfying to complete. While Tails’ sections may rely on navigation in the air, Amy relies more on the timing of your jumps since you have little air time before you begin to glide down. It feels satisfying to climb as Knuckles, as many of his challenges feature corridors you need to climb through to reach the end strategically.
Knuckles, while being one of the most navigation-knowledgable members of the cast according to his character history, is unfortunately limited in both his gliding and climbing capabilities. Climbing is limited to set walls, either red or green. This means there’s no free climbing, making speedy navigation a constant reminder of what you can’t do rather than what you can.
Every island is covered in rock faces and steep climbs, something that Knuckles should handle very easily. While cyber corruption could be the canon reason for this limitation, it doesn’t help ease the deflation fans no doubt felt when they realized Knuckles doesn’t traverse like he used to. His gliding mechanic handles like a bulky truck, instantly making Tails and Amy superior to him when it comes to getting around.
Tails comes with big pros and cons, making him a divisive character. On one hand, his flying ability is fantastic for getting around, giving players a whole 15 seconds to fly around at a set height. The height is based on your jump area, which means you unfortunately can’t get major height, but that’s hardly an issue with the way most platforms are structured. Fifteen seconds is a long time to fly, which makes most of Tails’ trials astoundingly easy and fun to navigate. His Cyclone makes up for his lower speed, giving major lift and power to the game when you get your full capacity of Rings.
The major con to Tails’ moveset is his lack of a Homing Attack. This mechanic is as old as the series is, and Tails has always had it. As funny as the Wrench Toss is, going from Amy, Knuckles, and Sonic, who can all Homing Attack, to Tails, who cannot, is an adjustment that has cost me many platforming sections. The Homing Attack acts as a centering force that can often save you from falling off a high platform. Without this in place, Tails becomes a character that must rely on flying around to have any sure footing. The Wrench Throw is massively inferior, being nothing but a projectile enemy destroyer without the added benefit of movement.
Final Horizon Brings Final Closure To Worldbuilding Questions
With a new update, we get new lore—nothing groundbreaking like what we obtained with the Egg Memos, but new lore all the same. Most cutscenes in the game featuring conversations between characters on the map help explain the purpose of the towers, the backbone behind the Ancients’ tech, and how (and why) the Chaos Emeralds are stored. While most of this data is to support the plot, it’s nice to have the finer points explained if you take the time to listen.
Stepping back from big-picture lore, we have more characterization of all members present. Eggman is wonderfully animated in this update, adding more funny moments to the pile as he banters with Sonic. Everyone gets a spotlight, although there is not enough time or trials for character development in the short burst that is Final Horizons’ story. Amy shows her more insistent side, reacting with straight-up anger to her cyber corruption and The End’s intimidation.
Tails’ character development, in contrast, goes just a half step backward. During one of his conversations with Sage, he says that before the events of Sonic Frontiers, he wouldn’t be sure if he would be able to work with Eggman to face The End. This is an odd line for Tails to have, considering the fact that he’s worked with Eggman at least once to prevent the end of days. Still, everyone on the team faces the cyber corruption with determination and grit, all proving in their own ways that they can stand up to the same punishment with great resolve as Sonic.
Fight Through Trials As Sonic, Over and Over Again
Outside of the aforementioned trio’s gameplay, Sonic’s gameplay loop remains the same. Complete Cyberspace stages, climb towers, and complete trials. The Cyberspace levels this time around take a more unique approach, being more challenging with the addition of saving small animals throughout a level. This can make 100 percenting the game much more difficult with the additional challenge, but Final Horizon is all about challenge.
The trials range from uncharacteristically easy to hard all the way around. To get to the trials in the first place, you must climb the towers, which are slimmer and higher than the previous ones in Frontiers. Each tower climb is a challenge, and you cannot save your game while in the middle of climbing one. Some may have found this inconvenient, but this is also part of what makes Final Horizon a difficult playthrough, meaning even if you do set the game to Easy, you will still have a few stubborn obstacles to overcome. The new tower climbing loops you need to grind through add a bit of extra pleasant bite to the entire experience.
The Dragon Trial is a classic situation where you must beat many enemies within a time limit. No matter what difficulty you pick for a majority of these trials, the result is a hard-fought win. Comparatively, though, the Dragon Trial was nothing in comparison to the Snake Trial, which had just about every fan wishing the clock would slow down. With enough repetition, however, the Snake Trial is easier than what comes after all four trials are under your belt.
The Tiger Trial is the least interesting out of all four towers, featuring a super-powered singular enemy instead of many. The Crane Trial, while an intimidating prospect of having a Ninja that can keep up with Sonic, was ultimately easier than Dragon or Snake. I consider both of these to be blessings in disguise for the game as a whole, a bit of breathing room so that you can save your energy for the real gauntlet to come: The Master King Koco’s Trial.
Sonic’s Friends Could Use A Boost
One of Final Horizon’s biggest grievances is that each character has a skill tree mostly comprised of basic abilities. Knuckles has always been able to climb, punch, dig, and homing attack by default. The fact that all of these abilities were locked behind a tree makes the game feel like not as much love and care was put into these three characters as the final boss, despite the three containing more gameplay time. This issue sprawls across all three characters and is more sorely felt with Tails, who doesn’t even get a Homing Attack to unlock in the first place.
However, that is not to assume that the entire skill tree for everyone is bad. If you take the time to level everyone up fully, you are greeted with skills that feel worthy to unlock. Everyone gets a parry that either lowers defense, attack, or health for a limited time, as well as unique abilities that help them either navigate or fight from a distance. However, it seems that the characters we play that aren’t Sonic simply aren’t built for the minibosses that roam Ouranos Island. While getting every single ability can help even the odds, they simply aren’t fast enough to dodge effectively or hit quickly enough to contend with the kinds of threats Sonic can easily handle when fully upgraded.
There are a precious few minibosses, like Caterpillar, who seems meant for specific characters, such as Tails. Because he relies almost entirely on long-distance attacks, you can whittle Caterpillar down by shooting at the damage button as often as possible. The only trouble is not getting hit while in Cyclone because if you lose any rings at all, Cyclone is lost to you until you gain full Ring capacity again. The lack of fishing in this update is noticeable, not only because fishing as Amy or Tails would be cool, but because the fishing aspect gave players a way to build up characters very quickly.
Master King Koco’s Trial Is A Gauntlet For Hardcore Frontiers Players
The final trial that Sonic must face before taking on The End is the Master King Koco’s trial. This is easily the hardest part of the game; The End fight does not hold a candle to how hard it is with Ring conservation at play.
No matter how much you upgrade Sonic before the trial, you’re only allowed 400 Rings, and all of your stats are reset to nothing. While you still have all of your abilities, the time crunch on this boss rush is insane. At lower difficulties, the bosses are just a tad squishier, but even on Easy mode, this Trial is anything but easy.
Concerning the boss fights themselves, everything is the same regarding their movesets and how they react to your attacks. The only visual change is an upgrade to their textures, which all look just a little bit better. You hardly notice it until you’ve fought both Giganto and Wyvern a few dozen times. The spikes in difficulty do not change the prospect of the challenge itself, only the amount of damage the bosses can take and how forgiving Perfect Parry is. Otherwise, it’s just you, 400 Rings, and prayers that Wyvern won’t stall you too badly.
Extreme mode is the only true qualm with the Master King Koco Trial, regarded by many as impossible to beat. The only surefire way the community has been able to do it is by pausing at just the right time to make the battle tip in their favor, but even then, it’s down to the very last Ring. Adjusting to Easy mode is hardly help for many players since the default difficulty level is far harder than anything the main campaign throws at you during the base game Frontiers. And unlike the rest of the Trials, which offer to lower the difficulty even more if you get stuck, this Trial does not offer such pity. Even Master King Koco looks at you and shakes his head with disdain every time you fail.
Considering that the Master King Koco Trial is necessary to see the rest of the update, some kind of Easy mode at all for this Trial specifically would not go amiss, one that makes the game easier for casual or younger players. While the boss rush aspect of the challenge doesn’t necessarily need any adjustment, making Rings available throughout Wyvern, or better yet, all of the bosses, would be just the help casual players need to drag themselves through this very difficult part of the game. While the difficulty is nothing to be berated, the fact that one mode of the game (Extreme) requires exploits to beat is unfortunate.
Supreme Reigns With a Final Upgrade
After getting through Master King Koco’s Trial, the final boss seems easy by comparison. You are relinquished your full strength as Sonic and given a new form to take Supreme down. The transformation of the Titan is one of the best parts of Final Horizon, the entire cutscene being eerie and anything but mechanical looking. The Titan seems to resist being possessed by The End at first, before jutting multiple limbs from its back and crouching to attack you in a completely beast-like fashion. This elaborate and detailed setup only makes your comeback that much more satisfying as Super Sonic 2. This boss fight rights the wrongs of The End that we saw in the original game completely.
Super Sonic 2 and Super Sonic Cyber Are So Incredibly Cool
If you thought Sonic was sassy before, think again. Once he gets blue eyes as Super Sonic 2, he gains an attitude, one with the gall to slap away any projectiles when you Parry against Supreme simply. Every cutscene in this fight is filled with attitude and snarky, silent poses on Sonic’s part, which had me grinning from ear to ear the entire time. Not to mention, the soundtrack that accompanies this fight is a revisit to I’m Here, toned up just a bit to solidify the hype.
Once the final interaction peaks, we get a second transformation that no one expected: Super Sonic Cyber. This form results from Sonic having too much power, which throws him into a manic frenzy as he is shot at The End. If you look at Sonic’s face for the half second he’s in frame, you’ll notice that his eyes are spirals and his teeth are jagged. For newer fans, this must look like the first time Sonic’s ever acted this way, but it’s not. Whether intentional or not, Super Sonic Cyber shares these exact features with Fleetway Sonic, a version of Super Sonic that goes mad with power.
Paths Revisited: A Worthwhile Trip That’ll Blow Your Ears Off
The soundtrack is amazing, as has become usual in the case of Sonic games. While many of the tracks are remixes, the remixes are so heavy that each song feels like a brand new piece, with only a baseline or phrase bringing the two tracks towards any similarity. In particular, tracks like Arrow of Time, Rumble Rave, and Hype Street are outstanding pieces, boasting hyper drum and base parts possessing tone shifts almost as whiplash-inducing as Sonic’s speed.
Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizon is an attempt to bring the Core Four back together, but it could have used way more polish on everyone but Sonic. Despite the fact that navigating as Tails, Amy, and Knuckles was fun, the lack of offensive power keeps them cowering away from minibosses they simply weren’t geared to handle. While the soundtrack for each of their themes and the rest of the game helps carry the entertainment along, it’s not enough to make up for a lack of flexibility concerning both Tails and Knuckles.
The difficulty isn’t an issue for the most part, despite that being the main highlight of the update. Adjusting to Easy can solve most stonewall issues, but this adjustment does not help with the Master King Koco’s Trial, making it a true gauntlet for the determined. While difficulty is far from bad, the fact that exploits are needed to pass the highest difficulty is just a tad absurd. Final Horizon gets points for an enjoyable experience for a Sonic fan, presenting Sonic in new ways with exciting forms while emphasizing Sonic’s friends and Sage’s abilities. The final boss fight was an absolute improvement over the original version of The End, making for a satisfying ending that saves Sage from her previous fate that she suffered in Frontiers. Eggman’s scene at the end, telling Sage that she did well and that it’s time to go home, calling her daughter, really sells the points over for those of us who loved her character.
Final Horizon may have a fair amount of problems, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable conclusion to Frontiers as a game that offers everything you could want in a satisfying End.
Gamepur reviewed Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizons on the Nintendo Switch.