What do you get when you mix Sonic with fire and ice? A pretty enjoyable follow-up it seems!
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal wasn't a terrible game, but it had issues. The pacing was completely off putting, you had to complete levels several times and the exploration was overall pretty boring. Shattered Crystal did create a solid foundation though, and so developer Sanzaru was tasked with creating a more polished follow-up. Their effort became clear from playing the latest demo of Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, which I played at a recent Nintendo event.
The first thing I noticed was the game’s sense of humor, especially in the cutscenes. Both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS Sonic Boom games didn't have any fun dialogue and felt dry in their delivery. Naturally, these games were released before the hit television show and it shows. With more experience, the characters in the opening movie and cutscenes played off each other quite well. It immediately sets the stage with Dr. Eggman speaking about a mysterious and powerful rock, and how he found the perfect way to defeat Sonic once and for all. Following this, we see Amy and Sonic trying to close chasms created by an unknown entity, but the creature ends up blasting them. The blast makes way for new powers that change up the way you play the levels.
One of the more egregious problems with Shattered Crystal was just how long the levels were. Shattered Crystal didn't know when to stop, and it became irritating as a result. Although the levels were designed for heavy exploration, it became quite easy to be confused about where to go. Luckily, the levels are now the standard 2D length, with the average stage being about three minutes. That is the absolute sweet spot for a handheld title as well, which is always a big plus. There are still optional paths, but they all converge on the same goal. I tried a few levels multiple times and it never felt that I was getting lost.
The game plays closer to a regular 2D Sonic game as well. It is slightly toned down for everyone to enjoy, but it still feels quite solid. All the tricks are back: running, jumping, rolling and the Homing Attack all help to take down enemies. The Enerbeam from the previous Sonic Boom games returns as well, but it is way more effective now as it can be used to swing on robots or move obstacles aside. Each character has their own ability which was a bit underplayed in Shattered Crystal. Sonic's mid-air dash in particular is super useful to break blocks. It grants access to paths that are exclusive to him and makes your trip in the air last slightly longer.
Befitting the game’s name, Sonic and friends can use elemental powers as well. With the Fire Mode, Sonic can destroy any ice blocks that are in his way which also opens up new paths to run down. In the demo, these weren’t used very often, but they’ll likely see more use in the final game. The Ice Mode powers freeze water on contact, which can be used to avoid one-hit kills from spikes and other obstacles. One of my biggest questions about the final game is how much use these powers will get, and if there’s any more unusual uses.
Another thing of note are the bonus stages. I got to try a special underwater stage in which you pilot the submarine Sea Fox. Your goal is to take it slow, avoid bombs and make it across alive. Although it was fun, I was more excited by another set of special stages that are based on Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It has the same structure as its predecessor as you avoid obstacles in a halfpipe. Although it requires good lateral movement to succeed, the fire and ice powers also come into play at points. These were by far my favorite moments in the demo time.
While the game looks nicer than Shattered Crystal, I still wasn't really impressed by the graphics. The environments and characters are put together well, but the main thing that stands out is how colorful the game is. The music was alright for the most part. I wasn't really over the moon with it, but no tune really irritated me either.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice seems like an improvement over Shattered Crystal, and the extra time it had helps out a lot. The game is more streamlined, which makes it more fun to play through. There is less complex exploration, fun new mechanics and it feels very similar to a regular 2D Sonic game. Is it slightly easier? Absolutely, but this is also meant as a game for everyone. It is a kid friendly Sonic the Hedgehog that pays homage to the classics with its special stages and neat new ideas. We have to wait and see if the powers remain refreshing, but I am eager to find out. That is already a good sign in my book!