Sonic reborn…with a scarf
I’ll confess that I didn’t initially get Sonic Boom, neither on Wii U nor on 3DS, when I played it. My first impression was “Is this Sonic? What’s going on here?” but I went back to it and I’m glad that I did. From my time sitting down with the 3DS version, hope may be on the horizon. SEGA, don’t make me eat my words!
My memories of playing and hating Sonic: Lost World for the 3DS were surprisingly not triggered during my hands-on time. That is not to say I can't lob any other compliments at developer Sanzaru Games; all the platforming feels solid and there’s a greater focus on exploration. Frequently interrupted momentum proved a major issue with previous iterations. The dissonance in those levels ran thick as Sonic perished repeatedly in ridiculous race courses peppered with slow enemy encounters or he was forced to do plainly stupid activities to proceed.
Instead of this jarring play style, the intentions were clear: areas where Sonic and team are meant to run get well-defined and genuinely encourage players to keep running. Playing through Seaside Jungle, a level in the first area of the game, I felt comfortable meandering around, looking for items and secrets. To aid your quest, players can now switch between the four main characters on the fly, sort of like Trine but utilizing the touch screen.
Sonic can spin dash in multiple directions, Tails can lob grenades and helicopter briefly across distances, Knuckles can punch and burrow into the ground, and new character, Sticks the Badger, can throw a controllable boomerang as a weapon or switch trigger. The concept behind the story is that Amy has been kidnapped by the new antagonist, Lyric, and Sticks jumps in to help the team recover the shards of the titular crystal. This may fuel Sonic timeline theories, but apparently this narrative is intended to be an alternate to Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for Wii U, yet both are prequels to the animated series.
Omar Woodley, a producer at SEGA of America, explained that they conceived Sonic Boom as a “branchise.” The new games and series are heavily tied together and the focus is entirely on kids, ages six to twelve. (Sorry, slash fiction writers and Rule 34 fans.) What could appeal to fans should be the solid gameplay. Be warned—it is not the Sonic you remember, but this new take could revitalize the character and the “Sonic Stigma” if successful.
Until its November release, I will remain cautiously optimistic, something I certainly didn’t expect to feel after the last games. The three levels I tried, two of which were bonus speeding/racing levels, were all smooth and without frustration. For the dying series, this alone could turn a once dulling flame into a fire again.