Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice (3DS) Review

Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice (3DS) Review

The phrase “Sonic Boom” is enough to send any Sonic fan reeling into flashbacks. Chugging frame rates, wonky controls, and bounce pads—so many bounce pads. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is rightfully remembered as an unholy bile heap of a video game, and one that many considered to be the final nail in the Blue Blur’s coffin. Yet alongside it was Shattered Crystal, a decent, if admittedly unpolished, 2D platformer for the 3DS that also tied into the mediocre reboot. In a historically rare but increasingly common case of Sega making a good decision, a sequel to this solid little title was greenlit… only to be delayed by about a year for extra polish.

Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice (3DS) Review 2Luckily, this delay was well worth the wait. While Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice isn’t quite the second coming I’d hoped for, it’s a more refined game than we’ve seen out of the series in quite some time. Speaking as a longtime fan, it’s refreshing to play a title that’s blissfully devoid of any technical problems. There’s a clear level of effort that went into making sure this game not only played well, but felt like a smooth, precise platformer that players of all ages could get behind.

But considering that “hey, it works” is the bare minimum that a game should offer, is Fire and Ice actually worth your time? That depends.

In Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice Sonic and the gang find themselves going up against Doctor Eggman yet again. This time around, he’s created a little robot who’s opening up fissures all around the world that are sending the elements of out of control. It’s up to our wisecracking heroes to close the fissures, fix the weird weather patterns, and save the world. The set-up is pretty trite and goofy, but then, this hasn’t always been a franchise known for provocative narratives.

The central gimmick of the game revolves around aforementioned weather patterns. Players are given control of fire and ice, which either set your anthropomorphic animal of choice ablaze or encases them in ice. In terms of gameplay, this allows players to melt ice obstacles or freeze bodies of water. They’re also used for other purposes later on in the game, such as lighting the fuses of powder kegs. It’s a simple but fun little mechanic that allows for some pretty interesting level design choices later on.

It also helps that the core gameplay of Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice feels pretty solid. Movement is tight and precise, and maintains a nice balance of both the speed and verticality that put Sonic on the map. Each character manages to feel relatively uniform, but with enough differences and unique abilities to make them not run together. As far as the actual platforming mechanics, Fire and Ice manages to be a pleasant, harmless romp, not breaking any moulds but not ever feeling particularly offensive either.

same can’t be said of the included mini-games, which are (thankfully) optional. Tails’ vehicles make up the two major ones, which involve submarines and hovercrafts. These segments play fine, but they’re obnoxiously timed and don’t bring a whole lot to the table outside of temporary diversions. For example, why would I come to a Sonic title for a low-rent shmup instead of playing something by Cave? These side diversions aren’t bad, and again, are optional, but I question their worth in a title where platforming should be the sole focus.

Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice (3DS) Review 1On the presentation side of things, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is a bit of mixed bag, but an overall positive. The levels are pretty varied, ranging from pirate-infested coves to medieval castles to dark tarpits, and have a vibrant, colourful art direction that makes them compelling to run through and explore. It almost makes up for the fact that, from a technical standpoint, the whole package is a bit lacking. There’s some pretty bad aliasing on almost everything, and some levels’ backdrops are essentially badly archived, static JPEGs. It’s not a showcase for the 3DS’ (admittedly limited) horsepower, is what I’m trying to say. Yet Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is far from a hideous game, and the steady framerate combined with a winning set of design choices make it acceptable enough.

While franchise diehards might hail Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice as a master class in platforming design, I think those sentiments probably come from a place of historically low expectations more than anything. Because, really, it’s nothing exceptional. That being said, it also isn’t a bad game, and I would argue a case for it being a pretty good one. Strangely enough for a Nintendo console, there really aren’t a ton of solid 2D platformers on the 3DS, and Fire and Ice scratches that itch quite nicely. It’s a pleasant, quick jaunt through a series of colourful worlds brimming with collectibles and inhabited by witty cartoons that spout endearingly cheesy one-liners.

to Sonic Mania and whatever that new Sonic Team game winds up being, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice will likely be remembered as a lesser title. But in a series that’s been as horribly mismanaged as this one, Sanzaru’s second outing is pleasantly inoffensive and surprisingly fun.

I’ll take that over “literal gutter trash” any day of the week.

Can The Sonic Franchise Be Saved?

Can The Sonic Franchise Be Saved?

Sonic is like that family member who just can’t get himself together. You know, the one who is constantly in and out of jail (or rehab), he says he’s different, shows some progress, but eventually falls back into his old habits. After some time, that family member hopefully changes, but he or she has to hit rock bottom first. Luckily, that’s where Sonic is. Sonic Boom—that pretty bad game based off the pretty bad kids show—is officially the worst selling game in the franchises history. Both the 3DS title (Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal) and the Wii U game (Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric) combined to move around 490,000 units across the globe. That’s saying something, considering his is past stained with titles like Sonic ’06, or Sonic and the Black Knight.  This, mixed with the news of Sega’s massive layoffs looks like it could be the end of the blue blur, but it could just be the start of something different.

Sonic and the Black Knight
Sonic and the Black Knight

Let’s be honest. Sonic’s third party console games are usually bad. There is the occasional gem like Sonic Colours or Sonic Generations (which I don’t usually count—it’s more like a greatest hits album), but for the most part, everything is pretty lacklustre. The reason for their success has a lot to do with the size of the game. Sonic works best under constraints, when he’s given too much freedom things go wonky.

Sonic Generations
Sonic Generations

That’s why something like Sonic Boom just doesn’t work, there is too much going on. One big issue is the amount of characters. For the story, the amount of furry friends makes the plot a mess. In terms of gameplay, those characters screw up the natural flow of the game. Even some great 3D Sonic games suffered from these issues. Sonic Adventure is one of the first games that come to mind. The fun, fast Sonic or Tails levels get dragged down by the slower Big the Cat or Knuckles stages.  So it’s been an issue for a while. Another long running issue with the series is the camera control. For whatever reasons, Sonic’s speed and level design do not compliment the camera very well. Sonic shines when it’s just him (or with characters that play similar). It makes for a streamlined story—Dr. Eggman is snatching up your friends so stop him—and the gameplay doesn’t suffer because of different styles. The variety comes in levels instead of characters. For instance, you can’t play a water level the same way you play an ice level because one is slow and the other is slippery.

The only thing we know for sure is that Sonic has hit rock bottom, now it’s his time to clean up his act.

This is where there is a chance to save Sonic from being the poster child of bad games. Sega has already announced plans to move towards smaller mobile and PC titles, and this is where Sonic can really get some traction.  In mobile land, there is a little more forgiveness with how a game looks and plays. There’s also a huge market for classic style games on the go. Titles like Crusaders Quest or the countless other games that play or look like the games of yesteryear but they play on a device that’s smaller but more powerful than the actual consoles they ran on back then. So classic style Sonic games could work. There wouldn’t be a need for a forced story and the camera angle won’t have to follow a fast mess of design flaws. Sonic might find a niche there. Sonic Dash was a first step in the direction we’ll probably see them take, or maybe more entries in the Sonic the Hedgehog 4 series. Whatever it is, it can’t be worse than where the franchise already is. But Sega needs to be careful in this transition period, if they keep churning out bad Sonic games, the character could end up in Pac-Man or Crash Bandicoot levels of obscurity. But he’s Sonic, a character that was once more recognizable than Mickey Mouse! I think he stands a fighting chance.

Sonic Adventures
Sonic Adventures

But as much as we like to think we know about the inner workings of giant corporations and how they handle their mascots, we can’t really say anything until Sega is ready to reveal their plans for their most recognizable character. The only thing we know for sure is that Sonic has hit rock bottom, now it’s his time to clean up his act. Maybe he will get better, or maybe he falls off the wagon again. But our last memory of the speedy hedgehog won’t be with Sonic Boom.

Big Changes for Sega

Big Changes for Sega

The house of Sonic is closing up shop–in the USA anyway. As part of a massive restructuring plan, Sega has announced they will let go of 300 employees and close down their iconic San Francisco office.

While the news is still fresh, Sega-Sammy outlined a plan for voluntary retirement for around 120 employees as they focus more on PC and mobile titles. On top of that, their San Francisco office will be relocated to Southern California. As for their mascot, Sega plans on reinforcing their merchandising to generate more profit from the character. In other words, rebuild the Sonic Brand.

As of now, there’s a lot of uncertainty for the once dominant console manufacture turned third party publisher. Sega is coming off of two pretty big releases in Alien: Isolation, and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, so it’s surprising to hear all this talk of restructuring. But according to the release, Sega created a group to help with the reform in May 2014. In October they released a plan to divide the company into three groups, generate more revenue and appoint personnel in charge of this restructuring.

New Sonic Boom Details Revealed

New Sonic Boom Details Revealed

In a recent post on the Sega Blog, the full titles for both Sonic Boom games have been revealed, as well as some new details on both games.

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is the Wii U title, and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal will be the 3DS title.

The Wii U title will have Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, Amy, and new character Sticks team up against the new villain Lyric.

All of the characters will play differently; Knuckles is the strongest at fighting, Tails can use ranged attacks, and Amy has a triple jump. Every character also has a Enerbeam, a whip that allows them to traverse around stages as well as help in combat.

The 3DS title will focus more on platforming and puzzles, rather than the action adventure styled Wii U version.

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal will be released later this year, and will be available to play on the E3 showroom floor next week.