“This is NOT how it ends for you…” It’s a fairly poignant moment partway through Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric when the Wii U exclusive breaks the fourth wall, seemingly promising those that have endured the monotonous opening hours that SEGA’s intrepid blue blur can recover from such a tragic outing.
It’s an inevitable shame, considering Sonic Team have tirelessly worked toward allowing the iconic hedgehog to don his red sneakers and dash off in a more exciting direction after some regrettable missteps. Sonic Colours and Sonic Lost World showed promise, with the celebratory Sonic Generations still lauded as nearing what loyal fans have been clamouring for since the spiky hero’s uneasy shift into 3D.
With Sonic Boom, SEGA set their sights on transmedia storytelling to carry the adventure across TV, comics, toys and video games. With such lofty goals, Sonic Team left Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric‘s development to western studio Big Red Button Entertainment who outline their mission as “creating great character action games.” It was an exciting move, but even the combined efforts of Naughty Dog, Heavy Iron and High Impact Games veterans can stumble under such pressure – the end result being impressively awful.
We join Sonic and pals during another run-in with Dr. Eggman, when, after stumbling into nearby ruins, they accidentally awaken Lyric. With the ancient serpentine villain threatening to dominate the world with his robotic army, it’s down to you to recover the crystals that he requires in order to stop his wicked plan. It’s as nonsensical as Sonic plots get, hindered by jarring dialogue that only ever lets Eggman’s witty remarks allow you to occasionally raise a wry smile.
You can allow yourself to momentarily marvel at the scale of the world around you, but it won’t take long for such a moment to be immediately shattered as you realise just how sparsely populated and uninteresting it is to explore. If there’s one thing that becomes clear early on, it’s that Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric overshot on ambition and failed to rein itself in to accomplish a more streamlined experience.
That’s evident in the lack of gameplay diversity, which, coupled with repeated technical issues, easily allows this to become one of the dullest games I’ve played through in quite some time. The entirety of the Wii U exclusive revolves around jump pads, neon Enerbeams, simplistic combat scenarios and, somewhat ironically considering the developer’s name, slamming big green buttons.
You’ll enlist Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy on your quest, each with their own abilities that will be put to use in certain circumstances. These are fairly predictable, whether that be Sonic’s Spin Dash and Homing Attack, Tails being able to hover and deploy Buddy Bots, Knuckles clambering up crystal-encrusted walls and burrow, or Amy showing how agile she is by traversing pink beams and leaping high with a triple jump. While you will often stick with your favourite, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric frequently splits your team into two pairs, forcing you to try each even if you don’t want to.
While side-scrolling platforming (in both 2D and 3D spaces), light puzzle-solving and exploration amount to Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric‘s majority, Big Red Button Entertainment has also haphazardly chosen to implement mundane single button-bashing combat, uninspired boss battles and queasy speed sections. Sonic’s always been about speed, and racing across water partway through the game is a rare moment of rewarding momentum. But, connecting much of the world are tracks that you must race across, ruined by framerate stutters and poor camera implementation that means that you’re often unable to react to incoming obstacles in time.
Rings can be collected, as always, although these now act as an energy meter – depleting slightly whenever you take damage. The meter’s capacity can be extended as part of a selection of party upgrades, although increasing the number of rings that you can carry requires that players connect with Nintendo 3DS exclusive Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. Which seems a fairly underhanded move.
Collectibles come in hidden Chests and Crowns, robotic scrap becoming a currency that can either be spent on available party upgrades or sprucing up the lifeless towns that you wander through. Rather than breathing life into your surroundings with new inhabitants, these instead open up new paths that will lead to, well, more collectables. Fairly pointless then, and only the diehard will hunt these out in entirety.
Unresolved flaws regularly make their presence known whether that be in the inconsistent frame rate, untimed dialogue mumblings that see characters repeat the same guidance in quick succession, and object pop-in as a result of short draw distances. It doesn’t paint CryEngine 3 in a particularly proficient light, even though the modified version allows for Big Red Button Entertainment to put the Wii U GamePad to use.
Another player can quickly join in on the action through drop-in/drop-out co-op, the Wii U GamePad’s secondary screen tracking their own heroic deeds as another remains in control of their character on the TV. This works well, although not without some necessary reduction in visual detail. You can also use the GamePad to scan your surroundings to uncover secrets, tingeing everything in blue as you hunt high and low.
If the Story Mode wasn’t enough to trouble you, there are also diversionary Team Challenges for up to four players. These are equally terrible and comprise of wave survival ‘Arena,’ race to the finish ‘Hazard Course,’ and ‘Collector Ball’ where you must use your Enerbeam to tug spheres to your designated goal. Clumsily designed, these are unenjoyable additions.
While the accompanying TV series has struck all the right chords, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric strums so hard that the string snapped before it even gets started. Little do we know the struggles that went on behind the scenes, but even those resolute in wanting to deliver a product worthy of your time haven’t managed to do so. Sonic’s struggle to nail an adventure continues, and I can only hope that lessons have been learned from the broken mess that SEGA has pushed out to retail.