Despite some issues, we have the first good Sonic Boom game.
It’s quite easy to ignore Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice. The previous two games in this line from 2014 left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, my own among them. Sanzaru Games’s 3DS effort, Shattered Crystal, was looked at as having potential and Sega decided to give them the biggest chance of all by leading Sonic’s 25th anniversary. The result has some flaws, but it’s an overall solid game that could lead to another chance for the team.
The story is an incredibly basic one, even for modern Sonic. Dr. Eggman has built Eggbots – racing robots – with the sole purpose of beating Sonic in a race and humiliating him. Apparently Sonic would get so down if he lost that he’d leave the island he lives on for good. This is what drives the game forward, and it’s a pretty weak premise. Thankfully, the characters have some good one-liners and funny interactions with each other. It’s not as good as the Sonic Boom TV show, but it’s solid.
The key to a successful Sonic game is in how it plays though, and this is where Fire and Ice shines. Most stages are 2D based and feature Sonic and friends using the usual Sonic homing attack and their own unique abilities. Although the stages are easy, this is nice compensation for Shattered Crystal where the stages required too much exploration. The stages in Fire and Ice seem to strike a balance, and it’s still fun to Y-button (sprint) through levels where it was possible. If a secret item is available, it’s a brief detour to snag it and then back to the main path.
Despite the streamlined level design, Sanzaru still managed to make Sonic’s friends usable. Knuckles can burrow underground to find items, and Amy Rose’s hammer allows for moving of pillars. The fire and ice powers are sadly underutilized, despite being in the title. These powers can be used to take out enemies, or for small bits of navigation, but there’s not a lot of focus on them. It’s a fine line between a fun gameplay change and an overused gimmick, but this time the temperature skills end up not meeting their potential.
In addition to the 2D and obligatory boss levels, there’s four different mini-games that can be played as variants of the stages. The Bot Races, which pit you against one of Eggman’s specially constructed robots, were quite entertaining. Notably, there’s more than just jump timing involved, as classic Sonic skills like the Spin Dash have to be used to proceed. The Fissure Tunnel, a behind-the-back running level similar to Sonic 2’s secret stages, are simple yet thrilling. As Sonic races to close a fissure, keeping him out of pits with an energy beam is fun, and highly rewarding. Sea Fox Submarine stages have Tails manning a sub to locate a trading card piece under a time limit, and hitting the right combination of quick and accurate moves also served as a nice change. The only problem is in the final stage variation, Tails’s Hovercraft. The craft doesn’t handle very well, and it slides around the area making precise movements frustratingly difficult.
Unlike most previous Sonic games, the boss battles can occur at random times instead of being the final challenge. As usual they’re mechanical monstrosities, and due to their size it takes multiple characters to take them out. As an example, the first boss slams a fist from the top screen to the bottom, which a Homing Attack counters, but then Amy has to bring a tower up while dodging ice. At the top of the boss, Sonic comes in and uses the fire or ice powers to get in close and score with the homing attack. The bosses are one of the more graphically impressive parts of the game.
With a couple more years of experience under their belt, the team at Sanzaru have been able to mostly improve the graphics from Shattered Crystal. There’s a great deal of colorful flair that brings the tropical settings together, but the in-game cutscenes drop the graphical quality quite a bit. Although the pre-rendered cutscenes are fine, ingame ones are muddy and unclear. The music fit the stage themes well and went a long way to really get the game’s atmosphere across.
Despite an overly simplistic story and maybe being a bit too laid back, I really enjoyed my time with Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice. It’s a well-paced platformer, with the right mix of stages when I’d get bored of the basic platforming. Although it’s missing some of the polish I’d expect from other platformers, there’s a good foundation here for possible greatness if Sanzaru continues to be given the opportunity.