Game Review: Sonic Boom – Fire and Ice (3DS)
|Game Name:||Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice|
|Developer(s):||Sanzaru Games / Designer: Mat Kraemer|
|Genre(s):||Side scrolling Platformer|
|Release Date:||September 27th, 2016|
|ESRB Rating:||E- Everyone: Mild Cartoon Violence|
Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is the latest of Sonic Boom games that attempts to merge classic Sonic gameplay with the look and feel of the cartoon series of the same name. It’s a combination of styles that works on some levels and then totally fails on others. Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is neither bad nor good and sadly comes across fairly generic, which is unfortunate for a franchise character that has lasted for well over two decades.
In Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice you can swap between the cast from the cartoon series; Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Sticks and Amy. Each of them have a special move or ability that makes them useful in finding collectibles or opening up areas on the map needed to explore further. Knuckles can dig under the ground, Amy can use her Hammer to bypass pillars, Sticks has a Boomerang needed to flip hard-to-reach switches and Tails can fire a laser rifle to remove blocks from the path as well as float up air drafts. Sonic seems to be the only one without a natural ability and I would say that his speed would be it, but frankly, everyone seems to run at the same speed, which makes zero sense.
The overall plot to the game revolves around Robotnik creating a robot to track down Ragnium, a rare mineral that he is obsessed over. The robot fails in its attempt to do the job and is cast aside from Robotnik and eventually meets up with Sonic and crew. You’ll battle this robot, named D-Fekt, and attempt to also stop the fissures that have sprung up all over the land.
Levels can range in size with some larger levels taking almost ten to fifteen minutes to complete. On average, I completed most of the stages in around five-to-six minutes with collecting nearly all collectibles in the zone. Each level has very generous checkpoints that usually don’t require you to re-attempt large portions of that level should you die. There are a few different mechanics that are required to progress through each zone; you’ll swing across gaps via some sort of light chain ability that isn’t really explained, freeze water with your ice ability to run across it or melt through ice with your fire ability. Each level has bouncing spring platforms that fling you at super fast speeds and it’s the one core element to this game that feels the most Sonic-like. I will say that the reason all of the characters can use the fire and ice abilities is beyond ridiculous and makes no sense what-so-ever. I shrugged and went “I guess so…” and then continued playing.
Hidden in each level are special challenge zones that require you to, in one go, track down a puzzle piece. These levels usually consist of a few different mechanics in quick succession. Usually in these sections, and in nearly all of the later levels, you are switching to Ice to run across water to jump into an ice block as you melt through it with a quick switch to your fire ability then dash forward to press A to swing across a gap, hit a bouncing platform and melt through a pillar of ice to dash up and freeze the platform below you, and you’ll do this all in a span of four-to-five seconds.
The game at certain points does a great job of keeping the experience fast and engaging. Some of the ability switching moments and spin dashing into enemies to bridge gaps over spike pits and other dangers, is super fun. There are a wide range of mechanics at play here that will keep your eyes glued to the screen due to a great deal of quick thinking required at a second’s notice.
There are several mini-game levels here that sadly make the game feel very non-Sonic. There is a submarine game where you track down items, flicking the bottom screen to pulse your sonar. There is also a river rafting level that you fire off guns to destroy icebergs and collect clock items to prolong your time in the mode. These two modes feel very un-Sonic and while they do shake up the variety, they feel out-of-place here and lacked the creativity of the rest of the game. There is also a side scrolling racing element to the game where Robotnik, or Eggman, whichever name you prefer, wants to embarrass Sonic during a race so that his friends would essentially give up on him, which sounds a bit silly, but considering how silly the rest of the story is, it seems par for the course. And finally there is the endless runner levels where you press left or right to change lanes while swapping to ice to build ice bridges or fire to melt through ice pillars. You’ll jump to cable lines above and swap lanes to dodge obstacles that will end in game over should you smack into them.
Aside from the cutscenes, each character will interact with Sonic via the collectibles he gathers. You can assemble the puzzle pieces you find in most of the levels at Tail’s Shop and these unlock racing arena’s that you can compete in the game’s multiplayer offerings with. You can unlock different Hammer’s for Amy and view movies and concept art at Sonic’s Shack. You’ll also bring junk pieces to Sticks for her to build you some sort of mystery machine.
The real high point to this whole experience is the bosses. Each boss in Sonic Boom is split between the top and bottom screens in a vertical showdown. Using both screens, each boss is a towering menace that needs to be put down by a tag-team of characters. As you progress and add new members to the team (which happens naturally and not by chance) you’ll take down each boss with a specific two characters. I wish the game had far more of these encounters as they were an absolute blast.
Visually, Sonic Boom is a let down. Characters are extremely low detail, even for the 3DS. Poses and animations are awkward, with Knuckles having this super creepy grin, like he’s done something really embarrassing and hopes that no one saw it. Level’s are fairly ok, but not a single level impressed me. After a while, they all started to look the same. I do like that the camera is pulled back from the characters enough to allow for faster reaction times to the quick thinking moments that come with a mechanic like swapping between elements on the fly.
There are cutscenes that are both in-game and either from the show (which I have never really watched) or ones made specific for the game. The voice acting is beyond bad with Sticks making me want to rip my ears off. The music is also equally bland and found that playing with the sound off was far more enjoyable.
It’s hard to recommend Sonic Boom as I am not sure what demographic this is for; Sonic fans? Doubtful, there is better elsewhere. Young children who watch the show? Hard to say, some areas require such a fast trigger finger for swapping elements that I feel some people may have difficulty with certain parts of some levels. It also doesn’t help that the game is just simply ok, with only the boss encounters being something to really write home about.
One last gripe I really had with the game was the conclusion to the story. There is a moment at the VERY end during the final cutscene that has a character do something extremely out of character. I pretty much sat there with my mouth wide open in shock. When it was all over, I said out loud “Are you kidding me??”.
In the end, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is a below average experience that doesn’t bring enough quality design choices to the table. Boss Encounters are fantastic, but there are so many non-Sonic style modes here that they feel like additions from another franchise. The Kirby games have always included new modes and mini games that while fresh and new, still make it feel like a Kirby game. You can swap between your favorite Sonic characters to play the game in new and interesting ways, not to mention using their abilities to find new areas and discover the wide range of collectibles scattered around, but if you’re like me, you’ll stick to Sonic and use the other characters only for unlocking secrets. If you are looking for a traditional Sonic experience, you won’t find it here and are better off waiting for Sonic Mania to release this upcoming March.