If you’ve been paying attention to the Sonic universe, you’d know that Sonic Boom is the cartoon that featured a redesigned Sonic and his team. The launch of the series coincided with a new game series, also titled Sonic Boom. The two last year, Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for Nintendo 3DS and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for Nintendo Wii U were not well received, but developers Sanzaru said that they had learned from last year’s mistakes. Have they? I put on my running shoes and race along to try and find out of Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice really has learned from its predecessors. Try to keep up, will you?
Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, in true Sonic fashion, is a 2D sidescrolling platforming game where the object is to make it to the end of the level, ideally in as fast a time as possible. The game opens with cutscenes that look straight out of the cartoon, and explain that mysterious vents have been opening across the world, spewing out some kind of energy. This energy gives Sonic and his friends new powers to enrobe themselves in a halo of fire or ice at all. Naturally, Doctor Eggman is behind all this because of course he is, and these vents are all in aid of obtaining a mysterious new mineral called Ragnium.
Much like its predecessor, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice has you switching between members of the team: Sonic for his dash ability, Tails for his ability to hover and for his laser, Amy Rose for her hammer, Sticks for her boomerang, and Knuckles for his ability to dig underground. You only really need a given character for any sections specific to them, though, so otherwise it’s a matter of preference. Every character has the fire/ice ability, and switching between them is a simple matter of pressing one of the shoulder buttons. These abilities come in more useful than you’d think, and allow Sonic and his friends to not only freeze or melt water, but also light fuses, freeze enemies, and so on.
The levels are built in such a way that you can blaze through most of them (see what I did there?) with any character, but exploring each level to find all the collectibles takes time and characters. The levels are the usual assortment of platforms, hazards, robots, checkpoints, and the ubiquitous rings, and if you’ve played one Sonic the Hedgehog game, you’re not going to be too surprised by this game. One fun aspect of each level is finding the hidden Challenge Room which contains a collectible at the end. These challenge rooms are NOT misnamed: they can be a serious test of your platforming skill and your reaction times. That sense of happy relief when you complete one is hard to beat.
The platform stages are broken up by the occasional side diversion, such as races for Sonic, and stages where you play as Tails in a submarine or a hovercraft, trying to get to the end before time runs out. There are also the odd challenging stage reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s special stages, where you have to race along collecting rings and switching between fire and ice as needed. These stages break up the platform stages in a way that the platform stages themselves are unable to. I think back to the original Sonic games on the Sega Genesis, and I realize what the issue is with the newer games: beyond a retheme and reskin of older levels, the later levels don’t really provide any new mechanics to enjoy and learn. Each zone in the Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Genesis, for example, is not just a skin of older zones, but is actually laid out differently and features something not found in other zones.
If not for the side diversions, the individual stages in Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice can be taken as a mechanically undeviating, monotonous whole. It’s the same speedways, the same bounce-pads, the same enemies, the same rotating spikes, the same loops, the same blocks of ice and water, and the same swing-struts, even if they all look different. The first Sonic the Hedgehog game had Green Hill Zone, which was mostly flat with few gimmicks, then Marble Zone that had blocks that floated on lava not found in any other stage, then Spring Yard zone filled with insanely tall U-bends to speed down, Labyrinth Zone that had the water and the drowning, Star Light Zone which featured the see-saws…and you see where I’m getting with this. Is it fair to compare a newer Sonic the Hedgehog game to its predecessors? Yes it is, because there’s a precedent for exceptional, varied, and colorful gameplay, not the same mechanics presented over and over again.
Ahem. Sorry…rant over.
One of the most bizarre decisions with Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is the button configuration. Let me describe a playthrough so you understand. You start a stage with the A button, which is the default button press on Nintendo consoles. You then learn that jump is assigned to B. Okay, not a problem. Swinging, a less-used function, is assigned to A. So you bungle through the level with this button configuration, and finally make it through to the end of the stage. Guess which button is assigned to proceeding to the next level. If you guessed A, then you’re living in this reality with everyone else. If you guessed B, then you either live the same demented reality as Sanzaru, or don’t understand Nintendo consoles at all. Or understood that I was heading in this direction with that question and preempted my answer, but then you’re just being a smartass.
Graphically, the game is fairly competent, looking much like the cartoon in many places, and it runs at a good pace. Even when Sonic or his team are racing along at speed, the game keeps up nicely. It’s a game meant for speedrunner types, since each level has an optimum time attached to it that you can try beating. Mostly, these routes through the stage will be the simplest one, leading through many automated speedways. I am in such a case of two minds about these speedways. On the one hand, it looks impressive with Sonic and co zipping along at ludicrous speed, loops and spirals and running on the ceiling and up and down walls. Very cool. And then there’s the other hand, which isn’t operating any of the controls because these bits, albeit short, require nothing more of the player than to simply watch until the game hands control back to you. Not as much fun as I’d have thought, just watching sections go by. Sure I can’t explore you a bit, Sonic Boom? No?
Overall, it feels like a much better game than Shattered Crystal. So while I agree that Sanzaru has learned from its mistakes of the previous title, it hasn’t taken to heart the teachings from the original titles that made Sonic the Hedgehog so much fun to play. In fact, the last game that did this was Sonic Generations, and for good reasons. Sonic Boom: Ice and Fire is still fun to play, and there’s a lot of replayability here, especially given that many of the earlier levels are made for you to go back to with new abilities. You probably won’t achieve everything that the game has to offer in a single playthrough of each level, and that’s okay. Mastery takes practice, after all. And that goes for Sonic himself, too, I guess.