Why You Shouldn't Count Out the Next Sonic Boom Game Just Yet

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  1. News Bot

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    Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal wasn't a good game for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common knocks against it was that it just didn't feel like a Sonic game. Its follow-up, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, has taken this criticism to heart. Gone are most of the barriers preventing your progress; you'll run into dead-ends much less frequently, too.

    In Fire and Ice, moment-to-moment gameplay emphasizes speed and flow. You can chain actions together into level-long combos, and levels are built to get you from point A to point B as fast as possible. There are secrets along the way, of course, but I had a hard time ever pulling myself away from the entrancing flow of moving through the levels. That flow is Sonic at its best, after all. And parts of Fire and Ice feel like the Sonic games of old.


    This is the core of Fire and Ice's gameplay: running, jumping, dashing into enemies, and getting through the level as fast as possible. And these parts of the game feel as good as they've been in a long time; these moments are exhilarating, exciting, and fun. In my hands-on time with Fire and Ice, I fell into familiar gameplay grooves created from long hours with old Sonic games, and I was impressed with how natural it felt to control Sonic through the levels.

    I was also surprised to find myself enjoying the fire and ice mechanic. Using the shoulder buttons, you can flip your character between fire and ice modes. Fire allows you to fall or run through giant ice blocks, while ice freezes those blocks and lets you skate across them. It's a simple way to add some complexity to traversal, but when you're running at high speeds, it's satisfying when you can time those switches perfectly and continue your combo.

    But there's a lot built on top of the fun, fast 2D platforming that feels out of place. During my demo, I saw a level in which you take control of Tails' submarine, the Sea Fox. It was short and simplistic, and it stood out in sharp contrast to the rest of the game.

    Then there are the levels where the camera shifts behind Sonic and the game becomes a runner. It's Temple Run in a less exciting form, tasking you with dodging obstacles and either melting or freezing ice with your abilities. It doesn't even have the relatively interesting randomness of a game like Temple Run: these levels are set, and you just have to endure them to move on.

    Developer Sanzaru wants to build this game for any type of player, from kid to adult, and this philosophy underlies the decision to include these incongruous minigames. But I couldn't help but wish that they weren't included at all. I didn't feel that they provided much in the way of gameplay diversity, because they seemed so superficial. The difference between these modes and the rest of the game is particularly dramatic considering that Sanzaru has, in fact, improved a lot upon the core gameplay.

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    I was impressed by the boss fight that I played, however. Although the minigames feel like afterthoughts, the bosses feel much more meaningful. In my fight, the boss towered across both screens of the 3DS, looking menacing and dangerous. What struck me, though, was that the boss and the way to beat it both evoked boss fights from Mega Man (or, more recently, Shovel Knight). Indeed, creative director Mat Kraemer confirmed to me that he drew inspiration from Mega Man games when making the bosses. This fight was also the only time during my demo when I still had fun even though Sonic wasn't running. It was encouraging, and hopefully the other boss fights in the game can make good on this.

    I came out of my demo with reason to feel hopeful about the future of Sonic. It felt good to run through the levels of Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, and I had a blast navigating worlds that are more streamlined and more classically Sonic than those in Shattered Crystal. But Fire and Ice also needs to prove why the other parts of the game are necessary. Beyond a well-designed boss battle, the additional modes I played felt unnecessary and shallow.

    And yet, when everything is going right, it still feels great to string together a super-fast combination of attacks, jumps, and running into a level-long sequence. That challenge is the cornerstone of Sonic games, and at its best, Fire and Ice seems like it might be able to pull it off.

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