Hands-On Preview: Sonic Boom – One of These Things is Not Like the Other
Nestled in a small, unassuming corner at New York Comic Con (NYCC) was a demo showing off Sonic Boom for both 3DS and Wii U. After the demo builds received nearly universal panning by critics and players alike at E3, I was curious to see what made these titles so hated. The results of my playthroughs were…mixed.
Note: The build I played was an updated one from the E3 build, which means that some changes and tweaks were made by the time I got my hands on this one.
Despite the version you play, five characters are available to switch between freely:
Sonic– Specializes in high speed sections and his Dash Shot is the only one that is able to destroy special blue blocks.
Knuckles– The powerhouse of the group with strong physicals and the ability to scale and burrow through walls.
Amy– The platformer specialist who can traverse through high risk areas and triple jump.
Tails– Genius gadgeteer who uses his three tails to glide over gaps and obstacles.
Sticks– Newcomer that favors a boomerang which can reach faraway items and attack enemies from a distance.
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal
This was the first version I played and the results were surprisingly good.
It plays similar to other portable Sonic titles (such as the Sonic Adventure series, Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure) with a bit emphasis on the puzzle platforming aspects. A few of you old school Sonic fans might be gasping at that statement, boldly ready to declare “Sonic is ruined forever” again, but, in all honesty, the execution is spectacular. There are plenty of classic high speed sections as well (including one that functions as a race between Sticks and Sonic), which mix well with the platform puzzle aspects since your reflexes must be top notch to multitask a variety of commands consecutively.
Even though it plays similarly to the other Sonic titles I mentioned before, there are some noticeable differences, such as the overall feel to the game that requires a bit of practice to fully grasp, as well as changes to controls and attacks. You can sprint with the “Y” button and, when jumping, a Dash Shot can be used to attack enemies, speed over a gap and reach areas above. The Unibeam is used to grab and pull shields off foes protected with them, in order to safely attack them. It can also be used on certain enemies with an energy discharge to swing across large expanses by pressing the “A” button. Homing attacks can also be used to target foes and objects in quick succession.
Each character can be switched out with the D-pad and they all have unique properties (outlined above) that aid in exploration, although the game can technically be beaten using only Sonic.
I had a blast playing through the available levels and found the game surprisingly hard to put down. It has all of the elements of the older portable titles that made them great, while exuding its own charm and unique properties.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
Unfortunately, my experience with the Wii U version wasn’t nearly as positive. Before anything else, no this game is not as bad or worse than Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). The latter was essentially a beta that released too soon, with horrible load screens, game-breaking bugs, and a host of other technical issues. Sonic Boom for Wii U, for all its issues, does not have that level of technical incompetency.
That said, while the 3DS title could be described as “tight,” the Wii U version can more aptly called “loose.” I’ll admit, I’m actually warmed up to the concept more. The easy and often funny banter between the characters, as well as the emphasis on adventure and exploration in gameplay, reminds me of the old Saturday morning cartoons I grew up with. In execution, however, controls are very floaty and often counter-intuitive. When sections work, they work well and the feeling of satisfaction is there in spades. But a lot of the time, you end up feeling confused and fall victim to wonky controls and bad input lag.
Then there’s the bizarre camera, which is perfectly normal during brawl and exploration sections but fails miserably when it comes to general platforming. When you jump from platform to platform, the camera chooses to use a direct back shot instead of the typical 3/4 aerial view. This makes judging distances between platforms difficult and will inevitably cause you to misstep and die.
Attack types are similar to the 3DS title, with the Unibeam still in place, the classic homing attack and the Dash Shot used for foes or dropping platforms. There are also unique additions like attacking with combos, using charged attacks and lassoing enemies into each other using the Unibeam. Combat is decent and just as in any other beat-em-up, foes fall pretty easily. There are puzzle sections and chase scenes scattered throughout the levels; the latter are quite thrilling and remind me of the City Escape level in Sonic Adventure, while the former is pretty standard.
Just as in the 3DS version, you can swap out characters using the D-pad with each character performing unique roles. Unlike the other title, however, you’ll actually need to switch characters in order to proceed. In the level I played, I had control of Sonic and Amy and was able to try out the latter’s platforming sections. Once I was accustomed to her movements, it was quite a blast watching her motion. She had great animation and it was very satisfying seeing her so integral to the plot and game.
Sonic performed as the speedster type, being able to dash up steep ramps and use homing attack to bash foes and move quickly over hazards. Unfortunately, his homing attack is very wonky and sometimes won’t even activate when it should. This reminded me of how inconsistent homing attacks were in Shadow the Hedgehog, but even then it worked most of the time. Somehow, the tight controls of more recent Sonic titles were thrown out the window and we ended up with this issue from almost ten years ago.
As you can see, I ended up with two wildly alternating impressions of these titles — an unfortunate side effect of them being developed by two separate development teams. It’s a shame that only one of the two is a solid entry in the franchise, but I suppose it’s better than both of them being underwhelming titles.