JReviews: Sonic Boom: Fire And Ice

Time for a less-spotted blog post now, where I shall take a look at a video game and say whether or not it's good, because I can. And the game is a Sonic game, specifically the new Sonic Boom: Fire And Ice

So, to kick off, I can start by saying that this game is not Sonic Boom (which was broken) nor is it Sonic Boom: Rise Of Lyric (which was one of the worst games ever), so that is at least something. One big problem Sonic has had recently is that SEGA can't seem to stop themselves changing the formula and Sonic has become somewhat of a laughing stock because of it (remember when SEGA was Nintendo's biggest challenger for video game supremacy? Well now-a-days you can only get Sonic games on Nintendo systems) , but this game seems to be a continuation, development and improvement of themes we have seen in the other Sonic Boom games, so at least that is something, even if the prior two games are not the best of building blocks.

However, one big problem that all these games share is that they all have the same character designs, and that is universally agreed on as being "a bad thing". I mean, anyone play Sonic 3, when Knuckles was introduced? Take a look at him now. And of course, all the bandages. But these are old complaints. Would have been nice if they were addressed, but they haven't. Other than that the game is aesthetically pleasing, the levels look good, palette is vibrant and colourful, as you'd expect from a mascot platformer and there's a nice variety to the level themes, so all good on that front. Next problem though, is that the dialogue in this game is entirely catered towards children. Now I'm not against that, but that means you are resorting to a child's levels of humour and at points this makes Sonic come across as a 9 year old trying to be edgy and cool, Sticks is entirely insufferable baby-talk and everything Tails (who is the main plot exposition in the game by the way) says is just background noise because you've zoned out by that point. He even tries to explain why everything is happening early on in the game and the only bit that I can remember is that he ends by saying "Because, science", because that's how relevant everything he says is. Now, I know that slagging a Sonic game for its script is pointless and the last time a Sonic game actually had a plot it nearly killed the franchise (hi Sonic '06), but come on guys, it's not like a mascot platformer has to be completely  brainless and inane when it comes to dialogue and story. Spyro was doing this way better back in the '90's and Ratchet And Clank just had a game of the year candidate out with great snarky dialogue and a decent plot, so it isn't hard. Oh and there's an utterly hideous toy line promotion fourth wall break by Amy at the point where we meet the games main villain D-Fekt. So, we're pretty consistent with the previous two games on that part then.

Gameplay-wise, we have a mixed bag. The majority of the game is a classic Sonic 2d side-scrolling zoom-fest, which is certainly enjoyable. Each level also includes sections that require a certain characters special skill (Sonic has a boost jump, Amy has her hammer, Tails can fly in a limited capacity, Sticks has her boomerang and Knuckles can dig) as well as challenge rooms. The challenge rooms are possibly the best part of the game, consisting of tight, fast paced platforming that is more often than not incredibly challenging. So that's great. As for the levels themselves, the difficulty curve is about right, you start off with very little in the way of hazards and are introduced to more tricks and techniques as you go so by the end there are sections where you are tricking over hazards for an entire section between checkpoints without touching ground. The set up for collectables in each level is done pretty well as well. Usually consisting off 9 collectables each level (one being in the challenge room), they are placed on alternate routes from the route to the end of the level and always require some test of skill (with either Sonic or another character) in order to obtain them and by the last levels it becomes really rewarding to have found all of the collectables in a level due to the challenge of getting them all. The fire and ice system is implemented well as well, with ice blocks and water pools that must either be melted or frozen over in order to progress. As the levels progress, anticipation of what is coming up becomes very important as you might find yourself in Fire mode going over melt-able blocks of ice and falling into a hazard. So, platforming basics are decent. The boss fights are also good, if a bit formulaic. Sonic and one other character team up to take on a giant boss that requires both screens to battle, you dodge attacks (3 usually) then hit the boss 3 times. It's standard, but they don't exactly immediately hand you the solutions on a plate and chances are you'll die at least once before figuring out how to deal with the bosses attack pattern or how to do damage to him.

However, there are some problems. Overall, the levels are good, fun, challenging, they are incredibly samey. There is no variation of hazard, just the same spike pits and spiked blocks. The enemies do compensate for this, but most of the time they are just things to trick off of in order to get to the next platform. And there are a lot of points where the game feels "on rails". The boost panels and jump pads are often strung together in such a way that you can cover half the level without touching the controls. Whilst it looks cool to see Sonic go zooming off around a level with the neon effect of whichever element you have equipped blurring behind you, it takes away the engagement somewhat. And there are problems with some of the characters skills. Sonic and Amy are easy to use when it comes to the skills (although sometimes you don't quite get enough of a boost from using Sonic's skill as you might like). Tails' skill is fairly easy to master but there are a few points in the game where you have to ascend multiple whirlwinds to get to the next platform and the gulf between the whirlwinds feels too far for Tails to cross. You just end up slightly underneath where you're suppose to be each time and in the end it's far more a case of dumb luck than skill when you do make it. Sticks' boomerang is a very good skill and is implemented in some very fun ways (having to melt ice blocks before throwing it to trigger switches or wait for the platform you need to be on to get to the next platform to move before you throw it to hit the switch), but it is difficult to control and there are plenty of times where the manoeuvrability, or lack there of, will frustrate you no end, especially later in the game. And then we have Knuckles. Good God, I hate his digging skill. He will just go whether you want him to or not and your only control is which direction he goes in and if he goes annoyingly slow or way too fast. To kill enemies in these digging sections you have to circle around them and then they just die for some reason (cave-in I assume), but the controls for the digging are so loose that you'll end up hitting either the enemy, a hazard, another enemy or a wall and won't complete the circle. And other than the digging, there is literally no reason to use Knuckles. Sonic, Amy and Sticks are all comparatively fast when it comes to running through the levels and they all jump with the same power and over the same distance. Tails isn't as fast nor does he jump as well, but his flight skill means he can cross hazards just as easily and he can hover descend on to platforms which can be useful if you mess up a jump and need some time to reposition yourself to try again. Knuckles though? He's the slowest and he doesn't jump well at all, plus being the biggest character there are some sections he simply cannot go, such as when there's a hazard on the ceiling or you need to go into a dip to avoid a moving block. I've been caught by those with Knuckles when I've had no problems with any of the other characters.

Outside of the main platforming levels there are 4 different mini games that you can play throughout the game to earn more collectables. These are Hovercraft, Submarine, Pipe Run and Race. The hovercraft and submarine are both Tails mini games and both are stupid. Both are time trials, where you race against the clock to get the collectables and of course there are little clocks scattered over the courses that give you additional time, which is standard, but the timer also depletes if you touch anything. So with the hovercraft minigame, your best option is to hold down both the boost button and the gun button and just run through as many obstacles as you can in the hope that you get enough of the clocks to make up for all the time you lose. As for the submarine minigame, well, you can't touch the mines because you lose time, you can't tough the sunken vases because you lose time and you can't touch walls of the passage ways because you lose time. Problem is that the passageways are only just larger than the sub at most points and the camera is zoomed in too close so by the time you see an obstacle you're already on top of it and blasting it with your torpedoes will only result in you losing time from the blast. So, I can't say those two minigames are a success.

The pipe run minigame is more successful. Taking a leaf from the earlier 3D Sonic games, it is a straight runner where you just avoid obstacles and collect rings. The controls are mapped to correspond to Sonic's left and right, so there are points where that can get confusing (especially when Sonic is upside-down, so you need to move right to get him to go left and visa-versa) and they can be quite sensitive and send you into a hazard you are trying to avoid if you aren't careful, but overall these minigames were pretty enjoyable, second only to the challenge rooms in terms of gameplay that I enjoyed. The races are exactly as they sound, you race on a course against Eggman in a mech. It's 2D Sonic racing, pretty much like the main levels only you have to race against a CPU. This also makes up the courses for the versus aspect of the game, which I haven't delved into because I don't know anyone else who owns the game. The races themselves are fun, even if they do suffer from the "on rails" complaint that I talked about earlier, but you have to be on your wits a lot more because of it, because if you are quick enough to catch when you actually need to do something, change element to deal with a hazard or do a trick, it will probably cost you the race.

Then we have the issue of game length. This game is very short. I wasn't expecting Dark Souls or anything, but I've 100%ed this game and I doubt I was playing for anything over 6-7 hours total. The last game I reviewed on here, Yo-Kai Watch, I played for at least a good 20 hours before I completed the main game and after that there were still side-quests to do, a whole post-game storyline and I hadn't even completed half of the Yo-Kai medallium. This game though? Done and dusted in a quarter of that time. Yes, they're different games, one is an RPG and the other a platformer, but still, sub-10 hours for a full priced game isn't good now-a-days, even on a portable (this game is for 3DS).  And it's not like there's any replayability for Sonic Boom either, you unlock and use all the characters in the main storyline, so you can't go back and replay it with another character (oh and this game has multiple save slots. Why?). Starting a new game would just result in you playing exactly the same game over again, with no difference. Sure you can try to beat your best times on each of the levels, but other than that? Nope. I mean it is a Sonic game, so I guess everything has to be quick, including the run time.

So, overall, a good experience. Has its problems that hold it back from being a really good game. The character designs still suck, the inanity of the dialogue, the problems with certain character and minigame mechanics, the detached-ness certain segments bring and the relative brevity of the game mostly balance out the good parts of the gameplay. I honestly in all good faith can't give this game anything higher than an average score. If you are a Sonic fan and you've been put off by SEGA's misguidedness with him over the last decade, you should at least try it out, it isn't a bad game, especially not when held in comparison to its predecessors. But still, I'm giving it 5/10.

JR19759

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