Crush 40 once sang about Sonic rolling around at the speed of sound, but, for a hedgehog that was once all about attitude and pace, the blue blur has had far less to be smug about ever since. His impatient foot-tapping soon fell by the wayside as SEGA’s experimentation in establishing Sonic’s modern identity left the chili dog-chomping hero repeatedly left running in a misguided direction.
His once cool and edgy character may linger as a distant memory, but, as with many historic gaming icons, fans have shown unwavering loyalty as Sonic blazed a trail to memorable highs only to plummet to astonishing lows. Where Sonic Team rediscovered firmer footing in Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations, it wasn’t long before they soon lost their way again. And then there was Big Red Button’s Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, a mismanaged project that will long be remembered as an outright catastrophy.
But where SEGA admitted their own disappointment with the Wii U exclusive, the publisher saw far more promise in what Sanzaru Games had been able to achieve with Nintendo 3DS companion piece Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. Whisked back to the drawing board, Sanzaru’s chance for a sequel has resulted in Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice – even if it has taken a little longer than expected to arrive.
Sonic Mania and Project Sonic 2017 may have dominated the news in Sonic the Hedgehog’s 25th anniversary year, but, Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games aside, this will be the only way to celebrate big blue’s birthday.
Dr. Eggman has once again hatched a dastardly scheme to take revenge on Sonic, collecting rare Ragnium minerals to power his Eggbot racers. The moustachioed villain wants to show the world that Sonic isn’t the fastest thing alive, and hopes that once the blue hedgehog becomes a laughing stock he will be shamed into never showing his face again.
Enter D-Fekt, yet another robot that has been neglected by Eggman. The clunky character’s sole purpose is to collect Ragnium, but, when it fails at that, he tasks it with monitoring the island’s energy fissures. Little does Eggman know that D-Fekt has some untapped powers…
With fissures bursting open across the islands as a result of Eggman’s desperate hunt, the weather is thrown into chaos which prompts Sonic and pals rush to investigate. That unexpectedly sees the team’s communicators absorb elemental energy from their unearthed sources. As the game’s title implies, this is core to the gameplay experience in letting Sonic’s intrepid team freely engulf themselves in fire or ice to evaporate obstacles, freeze jet streams, or light wicks to ignite explosives.
Players can also call on each member of the team’s strengths, whether that be Sonic’s speed, Tails’ flight, Knuckles’ strength, Sticks’ Boomerang, or Amy’s hammer, as they chase D-Fekt across the islands to work out what the timid robot is up to. Knuckles can burrow, Sticks can steer her Boomerang to smack out-of-reach switches, while Amy’s hammer can smack pillars out of the way. Each character has a purpose and can be quickly switched on the touchscreen, which will come in use as you return to stages to explore for collectibles.
Sanzaru’s approach to stage design is to help the player maintain momentum, chaining springs, boost pads, Enerbeam swing points, and corkscrews in a way that will leave you swooning. This succeeds on multiple fronts, the fire and ice mechanic testing your reflexes as you weave your way through the level’s confines. Some aren’t as perfect, but it can feel incredibly slick when it all comes together.
There aren’t only side-scrolling stages placed across Sonic Boom’s seven islands, either. Exhilarating, high-speed Fissure Tunnels see you switching between lanes to collect Rings as you race toward the end goal, using the Enerbeam to swing on zip lines, as well as alternating fire and ice powers to melt icicles or freeze water spewing from burst pipes.
Boss fights are also well-designed, two characters taking on D-Fekt in instances where he has used his power to defend himself. Spread across both Nintendo 3DS screens these are impressive showpieces, seeing Sonic and pals switch with each other to take a turn at dealing damage. The strategies for success may be simple, but these are another area where Sanzaru’s creativity shines.
Minigames also give Tails a chance to shine, the Sea Fox submarine seeing you navigating the murky depths in search of whatever treasure lies beneath the water. Whereas Hovercraft stages see you unleash bullet hell, again racing to the finish line to secure treasure. These are a welcome change to the game’s pace, even if they are largely simplistic in challenge and approach.
The developer’s meticulous planning impresses even more so in Bot Racing, multi-lap races that pit Sonic against an Eggbot. These races are initially against the CPU, but a VS. Mode will let you play against friends in Local Play. Pinpoint precision sees the blue hero swiftly moving around his surroundings, and these stages long remain to be a particular and memorable standout – it’s just a shame there weren’t more of them.
That is a criticism that can sadly be directed more broadly at Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice. Dabbling in optional content while playing through the main stages saw the credits roll in around six hours, with a handful still left untouched to return to. Players are challenged to complete each stage in a set time or to concentrate on exploring to collect hidden Hammer Parts and Junk Parts. This can unlock new Hammer skins for Amy, whereas Trading Card Pieces can be taken to Tails’ Workshop to unlock new Bot Racers to play as.
It’s replayable by design as the Sonic series always has been. But, for those not looking to uncover every secret that Sanzaru has hidden, it is hard not to feel disappointed at how soon the credits start to roll.
Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice successfully builds on the lessons that were learned from identifying Shattered Crystal’s faltered mistakes. With flashes of near brilliance, the sense of speed becomes an unrivalled thrill, even if that is best seen in the few Bot Racing stages. Brevity is the game’s pitfall, but we expect some would argue that they would rather have a shorter, more polished adventure than a lacklustre, lengthier experience.