After a bunch of trials and tribulations, it looks like we have the first good Sonic Boom game.
It must be clear by now how I feel about the previous Sonic Boom titles. The original Wii U and Nintendo 3DS games ranged from awful to bad, and I just wanted them to end. As a result, I wasn't really all that fuzzed about the announcement of Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice. I was willing to give it a chance, but I wouldn't certainly go out of my way to play it. Fate reeled me in to play the first three worlds of this new adventure and I came away really surprised. The game is not only much improved from the 3DS’s first crack,, but also another confirmation that you can't judge a book by its cover.
The big thing that stood out to me in Fire and Ice is the humor. The original titles took themselves too seriously, and did nothing to establish a world, characters or something fresh to the Sonic universe as a whole aside from maybe Lyric the snake. With the new game, it was clear what they were going for. You instantly see that spark between the characters and they really play off each others personalities. There is a charm to the whole experience that made me smile and wonder what would happen next.
That being said, I still don't think the story is all that strong. Dr. Eggman, the evil genius that he is, has found a powerful set of stones called Ragnium. He pursues heavy mining operations, which causes fire and ice fissures to appear all across the island. Sonic and his friends will have to close off said fissures to keep the island together and ensure the safety of the inhabitants. So why is Dr. Eggman obsessed with getting Ragnium? Well, he wants to build Eggbot racers that can defeat Sonic in a race. If he loses, Sonic would be too ashamed to show his face ever on the island again. There’s no deeper meaning behind it- Dr. Eggman just wants Sonic to lose in a race.
Luckily, the story isn't the main selling point of the game. The gameplay matters and it’s what should drive people to play Fire and Ice. Most of the levels follow a familiar 2D formula. Sonic and friends move left and right through a variety of stages, use the Homing Attack to hit enemies and switches and have a variety of special powers at hand. There is a nice sense of speed to the game,.. but even while sprinting with Y it’s still possible to react to anything coming your way. It’s enjoyable, even if it’s a little easier than a typical Sonic game.
Shattered Crystal, the previous Sonic Boom game, had a major focus on exploration. This carries to Fire and Ice, but far more streamlined. In the original game, the stages would take way too long and it was easy to get lost. The exploration was forced as progress was tied to finding collectables in the levels. Fire and Ice lifts this requirement and the levels are way more streamlined as a result. The various paths are better connected with optional passageways only being a slight detour. After finding the required item, it’s rightback to the main path without unneeded sidetracking. What helps is that there is a map on the bottom screen that shows the character’s exact location, which comes in handy quite often.
The various abilities on offer are also impressive. Next to the well known moves, the Enerbeam from the previous Sonic Boom entries makes a return. It’s used to swing from robots and make it safely to other side of a spike filled environment. Each playable character has their own special move, which are emphasized but not to the point that the game was shoving them down my throat. Sonic can use his Spin Dash as well as an Air Dash to destroy special blocks in his path. Amy can move pillars out of the way, Tails can hover and has a blaster weapon, Sticks uses her boomerang to hit switches and Knuckles can borrow underground to access new areas. These abilities are often key to locating hidden items.
Sonic and friends can also use the new elemental powers. With the Fire Mode, Sonic can destroy any ice blocks that are in his way, which also opens up new paths to run down. The Ice Mode powers freeze water on contact, which can be used to avoid one-hit kills from spikes and other obstacles. While each has some limited functionality, they can very effective in combat. When Sonic touches an opponent with the Ice power, it freezes them on the spot for easy destruction. Personally, I feel that the powers could have evolved beyond this, but ultimately they are like an extra ability within the stages.
With shorter and nicely paced levels, the collectibles now become a fun extra activity instead of a slog. The levels are only a few minutes long normally, which makes replaying for treasures easier. There is naturally the Ragnium shards which can be used to buy upgrades and bots for the Bot Racing minigame, which you play at select points in the story and via Local Play. Next to this, Ragnium also unlocks exclusive pieces of concept art from Sonic's Shack. There are a lot of tidbits about the television show and even some teasers for the second season. Hammer and Junk Parts haven’t shown any significance yet, but should unlock things for Amy and Sticks eventually. Finally, there are the Trading Card Pieces. Finding enough card pieces will unlock brand new stages for Bot Racing mode. These pieces require you to complete special Challenge Rooms in the regular levels, which are the game’s biggest tests of platforming skill.
Sonic Boom offers more than just the Adventure mode, though. As mentioned, Bot Racing is one of the game’s biggest side attractions. In this mode, Sonic and friends will duke it out against one of Dr. Eggman's bots in a sidescrolling race to the finish. Abilities like the Spin Dash and the Fire and Ice powers are necessary to get over the finish line first. Honestly, these were the most difficult stages in the game. The bots make very few errors, so the ability to focus and learn courses quickly. These stages felt like a fairer version of the races in Sonic Rivals.
Unusually, the boss battles in this game come up at random parts of the levels instead of always at the end. I expected them to be a cakewalk with a three hit structure straight out a Super Mario game. In fact, these buggers require you to stay on your feet, think strategically and dodge quickly. The initial boss tries to slam down with his hand, which has to be countered with a Homing Attack. This is only the start however, as Amy has to send a tower upward while dodging ice blocks. After that, Sonic has to use the Fire and Ice powers to get to the boss’s face and give them another Homing Attack. The boss fights are well designed and span both screens which makes for an impressive-looking fight.
Then there are the Fissure Tunnel challenges. This is a high velocity race that sets up similar to the bonus stages from Sonic 2, in a third person perspective. The goal is simple: reach the end of the track and close a fissure. The gameplay is simple as Sonic switches lanes, uses the Enerbeam to float around and other powers to avoid untimely death. This and other minigames don’t have a lot of room for error – one hit restarts the run.
The Sea Fox Submarine missions are about tactical movement. While avoiding the walls is simple, there are obstacles that have to meet the business end of a missile. The goal is to find the Trading Card Piece that is hidden somewhere in the level. There’s a time limit to these missions, so quick but accurate movement is essential. Finally, there is Tails' Hovercraft. The goal is to get to the end, similar to the tunnels, while dodging ice, bombs and other obstacles. There’s a lot of risk involved, as this game doesn’t allow for slow movement. Spotting shortcuts and ways to save time are vital here but making the perfect run is exhilarating.
Of the worlds I’ve played to this point, I’ve enjoyed the different flavor each one has provided. The initial world, Kodiak Frontier, sees you traversing icy slopes while getting used to the game’s flow. Seaside Island, home to Sonic and his friends, bringss a heavy amount of tropical atmosphere to the game. The final world I can talk about, Paleo Tarpits, is all about sticky pits and plenty of what appear to be dinosaur bones. The graphics are much improved from the previous 3DS entry, and are quite fun to watch. Fire and Ice is a colorful spectacle that nails a lot of the smaller details. Is it the best looking Nintendo 3DS game out there? Absolutely not. This is most notable in the in-game cutscenes, which look quite muddy. The background music is fine, but I’m not over the moon about it.
I’m feeling pretty happy with Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice at this point. By streamlining the regular stages compared to Shattered Crystal, it makes exploration fun instead of a chore. The regular stages aren’t too difficult, but they are fun to play. What helps to elevate it are the other four level types. Each has their identity and give the game some much-needed variety. The plot isn’t all that interesting so far, especially compared to other Sonic titles, but that might be fleshed out more later. So far, I’m really entertained by Fire and Ice, and can’t wait to dive back in.