It has all of your favorite friends in it, like The Incredible Hulk
As a character, Sonic gets a bad rap these days. No matter what is announced, I can practically hear the collective groaning from my desk. Like any popular franchise with consecutive releases, some of them are going to be good, some of them are bad.
Recent games like Generations and even Colors or Lost World were decent, and despite the bad apples, I’m generally hopeful good Sonic games still exist. Sadly, Sonic Boom is not one of them.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Wii U)
Developer: Big Red Button Entertainment
Released: November 11, 2014
Sonic Boom is not a reboot per se, but a re-imagining of the Sonic universe with a new art style and villain. The biggest problem is that developer Big Red Button not only changes many things for the worse, but the “alternate” universe is a half-measure. First off, you might notice the new crew (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy) are wearing different gear and wraps — lots and lots of wraps. While the actual designs are passable, the in-game personalities aren’t.
The most criminal change of all is the decision to make Knuckles a lumbering idiot. As a once-respected protector of the Master Emerald, I enjoyed Knuckles’ proud nature and his ability to bravely take on any problem head-on. He was a great counterbalance to Sonic’s carefree attitude. But in Sonic Boom, he is a complete moron, billed as the “brawn” of the operation like a poorly produced Saturday morning cartoon (and it does have a cartoon now, which may explain things a bit). Case in point, this conversation between Sonic and Knuckles:
Sonic: “And as we know, there’s no time like the present!”
Knuckles: “Wait, there are presents?!” Ugh.
Tails, Amy, and Sonic are more than tolerable, but a lot of soul is missing, particularly when it comes to the titular hero. There’s absolutely a way to make Sonic cute and campy and get away with it. Although a large group of people are always going to find the character annoying, I’ve found the “you’re too slow” finger-wagging cockiness of Sonic endearing and sometimes unintentionally funny. In Sonic Boom, he’s milquetoast, which is a shame.
Lyric, the new villain in town, is a creepy lizard-like take on Dr. Paradigm from Street Sharks. He fits the mold quite well and is a foe worth chasing, but things start to take a familiar turn as Dr. Eggman once again makes an appearance. Big Red Button had so much opportunity to turn things on their head and craft a new world we haven’t seen, but instead the studio played it safe with the same exact personalities as before, just dulled down. I just don’t get it. As the promising story takes familiar turn after familiar turn, it becomes forgettable.
Actual gameplay, on the other hand, is decent when not marred by technical issues. The platforming in particular feels right, and the camerawork is impressive throughout the adventure. In terms of frame rate, Sonic Boom feels like it caps out at 30 frames per second with occasional stuttering and choppiness. It’s not broken, as the game is still playable throughout the annoyances, but it — and the sound outages and messy cutscenes — are something to be aware of. These issues affect the presentation but don’t necessarily impede gameplay.
It’s a bit odd though, because the game looks worse than most of the recent 3D Sonic titles. The characters are bright and stylish on-screen and the indoor environments have a penchant to delight, but the outdoor settings feel half-finished in certain instances, like the team didn’t get to flesh out most of the details. This is no more apparent than when you attempt to run on water in zones where you “aren’t supposed to,” and are met with a “glub glub” effect and instant death.
Gameplay is predictable. Think of a basic 3D Sonic, but with areas only specific friends can reach (you can tag-switch characters with the d-pad). Tails can use gusts of wind, Sonic can spin up ramps, Knuckles can climb on certain walls, and Amy can triple-jump and balance on marked beams. Notice the words “certain” and “marked”; Sonic Boom isn’t as open as you’d expect.
While Sonic Boom‘s design inherently limits where you can go, it also makes for some fun puzzles in the indoor dungeon portions. Billed as an open-world adventure, that claim only feels half true. While there is a big hub with a few NPCs, it mostly acts as a gateway to the other zones, which are more linear affairs with branching areas.
In terms of combat, all of your favorite moves are back like the Sonic Spin and homing attack, and character operate mostly the same way outside of Tails, who employs a more ranged style. It’s not the most ingenious fighting system in a 3D mascot game, but it works. The new “Enerbeam” mechanic lets you use a beam-whip as either a tether to certain areas or as a weapon, but it functions exactly as you’d expect and barely comes into play. Like most of the game, its addition can be described as “adequate.”
Co-op (up to four players) makes things heaps more enjoyable, especially when kept at a maximum of two. Since one player can opt for the GamePad and the other a traditional controller on the TV, things get much more fun when it comes to the action and exploration areas. Switching characters is also smoother in co-op as you can basically tackle any obstacle in tandem without having to stop, wait, and do every puzzle individually.
My favorite part of the game was playing with a partner and figuring out some of the clever indoor jumping puzzles together, often times saying out loud things like “What if I tried this? I’ll go around and meet you there.” If you have a friend who can’t get enough of Sonic, you may want to pick up Boom at a discount and go halfsies on it. There’s also an arena-like mode to experiment with, but it’ll only last you an hour tops.
When I first saw the announcement for Sonic Boom, barring the weird Knuckles redesign, I was excited by the prospect of change. The Sonic series hasn’t taken many risks in recent years, particularly when it comes to the 3D aspect of the franchise, and Big Red Button had a lot riding on its inaugural effort. Unfortunately, the game could have used a few more months in the hopper and taken many more risks. Better luck next time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]