One of the many, many points of contention among fans when it comes to Sonic Frontiers has to do with its cyberspace stages. Some of them reimagine past levels such as Green Hill and Chemical Plant, which many fans rightly see as redundant since the last decade has seen most Sonic installments doing the exact same thing. On the other hand, several fans stated that they would find the reuse of level themes acceptable as long as these stages boasted original layouts. Unfortunately for the latter group, it looks like the cyberspace stages in Sonic Frontiers copy not just past themes, but past level layouts as well.
It all started yesterday when footage of the Gamescom demo first dropped online. When analyzing footage of the first cyberspace stage, which uses Green Hill’s aesthetics, eagle-eyed fans noticed that its layout closely matches that of Windmill Isle Act 1, the tutorial stage of Sonic Unleashed. Note that this side-by-side comparison edits parts of the Frontiers footage to make it sync up better with the Unleashed clip.
Then more footage of the cyberspace levels dropped today, and fans found yet more conspicuous instances of reused level layouts. Another Green Hill cyberspace level plays out almost exactly like Modern Sonic’s Green Hill stage from Sonic Generations, albeit with certain portions cut and the giant Chopper nowhere to be found. In a similar vein, one of the Chemical Plant cyberspace stages borrows much of the layout from Generations’ modern rendition of the same level. Retrospective analysis of yesterday’s Sky Sanctuary cyberspace stage even reveals bits of level design from Unleashed‘s Windmill Isle Act 2. So far, the only original cyberspace stage we have seen is this city one.
— Mikester (@mikesterp1) August 24, 2022
Going back to the past once again
Considering that the cyberspace stages make up such a significant portion of Sonic Frontiers, seeing the developer reuse so many level assets from past games comes off as concerning, to say the least. At the same time, though, we can point to a narrative justification. It seems the reason for players to be running around Green Hill and Chemical Plant for the umpteenth time is because of Sonic’s jumbled memories. The reused level design likely just exists in service of whatever story Sonic Frontiers is going for here.
Even with the memory reason, the rehashed level layouts found in the cyberspace levels of Sonic Frontiers still come across as disappointing. After all, Sonic Generations saw players revisiting old levels due to space-time shenanigans, and that game still had original level layouts that pushed Sonic‘s gameplay to new heights.
To make matters worse, the reused levels do not even look as enjoyable to play as they were in past games. They all have simplified level geometry and nowhere near as much dynamism. We may have only seen a small fraction of Sonic Frontiers‘ cyberspace stages, but it seems highly likely that these problems will persist in the later ones, which is a real shame.