Review: Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is way past cool
Hah, old Sonic references
Platforms: PS4 3DS (Reviewed on n3DS)
"Wait...you're saying it's good?"
Right off the bat, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is the most fun I've had playing a Sonic game since Sonic 3 & Knuckles. I can't say it's the best Sonic game since then, as I haven't played too much of Generations or Colors lately, but it's definitely fun.
Up front, I had skipped the previous 3DS game Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, because I was unfortunate enough to get the Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric review and it soured me on both entries. After beating Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice with 100% completion, I remembered that Shattered Crystal was said to be a better game than Rise of Lyric. To make sure I had a basic point of comparison, I downloaded the Shattered Crystal demo from the e-shop.
Holy crap, in the past two years Sanzaru Games has improved tenfold as Sonic game developers. There's still room to improve on Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, but color me impressed. With that in mind, lets take a look at the best new Sonic game in years.
The other characters are holding the game back
This picture is a great metaphor for the game: There's Sonic and then there's everyone else.
There are several flaws in Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, a few of which I'm sure readers can guess: Characters other than Sonic. Each character has similar basic moves like the double jump, homing attacks, sprint, grinding, energy tether, and fire and ice modes. However, the unique aspects of each character just don't balance out, creating the game's main problem.
Amy is now playable and uses her hammer. Tails has an elemental laser beam instead of grenades and can use his twin tails. Sticks has an improved boomerang that can be elementally charged. Knuckles can dig in certain areas and has an aerial hay-maker/ground pound that can extend the reach of his jumps slightly.
What does Sonic have? His signature spin dash, which is now much, much faster, and the best air dash in platforming games. In Shattered Crystal, Sonic's air dash had a long start up, was slow, and stopped all momentum at the end. All of that is gone. Now Sonic can do his high-speed air dash after each of his jumps, and still use the homing attack after that. Bouncing off of enemies resets the air dashes too, allowing him to string them together for long periods of time. Essentially Sonic's god tier in this game.
In their own self-contained levels, the other characters would be fine. The problem is when players are forced to switch from Sonic to take alternate paths, and switching to the others instantly slows the game to a (relative) crawl. Fortunately, outside of the stages that introduce specific characters, switching is only required for collectible hunting. Players can spend the rest of their time rolling around at the speed of sound.
The game is short, but has lots of replay value...
The antagonist isn't much of a villain.
Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice has distanced itself from the previous Sonic Boom games, and instead draws on the awesome Sonic Boom cartoon. To that end, the story has about as much depth as a mediocre episode of the show and is just about as long. In a handful of hours, playing at a slow pace, I saw the credits roll.
However, the collectibles and time trials really add extra meat to the game. Normally I hate time trials, but playing a game where it feels so damn good to move fast as Sonic made me want to complete them all. Abusing Sonic's special abilities to blast through stages at high speed is too much fun. Mission accomplished Sanzaru Games.
There's also multiplayer, but I was unable to try it since the game hadn't been released at the time. It looks like it will follow the same formula as the Eggman races in single player, where Sonic was forced to race against one of Eggman's creations in looped stages, and the first to complete three full laps wins. Some of the the collectibles even unlock new tracks and robotic racers to use in multiplayer.
The controls have greatly improved, for the most part.
Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is a huge improvement over Shattered Crystal
After playing Shattered Crystal, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice has more fluid controls and a better sense of speed that feels reminiscent of Rayman Legends. Seeing as I've gone on record as saying that Rayman Legends is what new Sonic games should aspire to be, I welcome this turn of events. It just works.
There are a few decisions in control and UI that throw me for a loop, though. For starters, why is there a sprint toggle? I want to go fast, there was no point in Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice where I didn't want to be sprinting. Why is the double jump and the homing attack tied to the same button? Tie the homing attack to the friggin' sprint toggle button so players don't accidentally zoom across the screen when trying to double jump or double jump instead of using the homing attack to clear a gap.
While I'm at it, I love that the spin dash was greatly improved, but it's missing something: Sonic's spin dash will eventually slow down to less than running speed if he maintains it for too long. Why not have Sonic pop-up and sprint once the speed drops to that level?
Finally, the level select map tries to be fancy and show character traveling to each area on a 3D map. Screw that, give me a flat SMB3 or SMW style map. It's easier to navigate and provides all needed information at a glance, instead of a zoomed in view of Sonic walking around an island.
They could have just called it Sonic Boom: It's Fire.
While it's not perfect, the Boom universe character designs and portrayals are divisive, and the story is now more than ever a throwaway construct to move from point A to point B, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is definitely a great game. It has the speed and well-placed obstacles one would expect from a Sonic game, and the Fire and Ice mechanic is a nice way of adding an extra measure of skill. The Blue Blur hasn't been this much fun to control since his 2D heyday. Gotta go fast indeed.