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- Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice
It only took 22 years to get back to form.
And for anybody wondering, that 22-year marker is based on Sonic 3 on the Genesis, the last truly special-feeling 2D Sonic game. The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has had some turbulent times over the last fifteen years or so. Moving into 3D kinda started the downfall, and subsequent sequels, developers, ideas about RPG battles, and werewolves haven’t helped much. To be perfectly blunt, the speedy blue blur I grew up with changed from a chubby little speed demon into a skinny, “hip” demon on speed. Which, ironically, only helped in slowing his adventures down.
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for 3DS was lambasted when it released two years ago, mostly because it didn’t really feel much like a Sonic game at all with its slow pace and maze-like, collection-centric play. And so the developers at Sanzaru Games decided to try again, this time with the focus that early titles spent their entire existences trying to hone: the feeling of being faster than even the flush-on camera could handle. Whether you remember it as being able to almost button-mash a side-scroller or as simply the result of “Blast Processing,” it wasn’t everything… but it was the thing.
And this is why, sitting in the Streets of Rage meeting room at Sega's base in muggy San Francisco with a 3DS in hand, is why I’m glad to be the retro guy of GR sometimes. Because what the original threesome of Sonic titles worked to perfect is getting some good ol’-fashioned run-like-the-wind company.
The dynamics of Fire & Ice are simple: sometimes to make it through a stage you’ll need to freeze either the blobs of water beneath you (which look pretty cool in blobby form, by the way) or melt the barrier in front of you to reach the end goal. The whole point is to reach the end, which is perfect for the casual player, but throughout the stages are diversions, challenges, and collectable items that can be explored to make the game more challenging for advanced players. Like the Sonic of old, the speed is there, though tempered by both the heat and the cold.
Multiple characters are available on the fly for working through environmental puzzles. Sonic has his Spin Dash and Jump Dash to reach new ledges; Tails has a sniper rifle this time around to clear out new locations; Amy has her hammer which can break or slam the ground to adjust certain environments; and Knuckles can dig into certain types of ground, even looping to collect underground materials or do damage to enemies à la NiGHTS Into Dreams. The devs here did their homework for little ideas like those, really shows care put into their work.
There are mini-games tossed in as well, at least three that I know of: Tail’s submarine in specific stages, a race on rails, and a race against Metal Sonic. The “race on rails” stages are obviously inspired by the bonus stages in Sonic 2, with the goal being to collect as many rings as possible (though it’s not necessary to reach a certain number). I was able to play that, and it was a tightly-controlled challenge that will take practice to learn the layout of. Unfortunately. the other two weren’t available, so I can’t report at all on them.
It also looks fantastic. Bosses are big and colorful, taking up both screens, and each character’s model and animation is as good as anybody’s seen Sonic in a generation or three. Once they’ve finished the final project it should be even more polished, and should what I played hold true to form, it could be something to take the characters from being old-school Sega mascots and put them back into worthwhile projects again. The mighty have fallen, and while one game won’t bring them all back to life necessarily, this is a good way of getting them back on their feet.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is currently scheduled for release on September 27th in the US and September 30th in Europe on Nintendo 3DS. But really, it’s just nice to see a 2D Sonic sidescroller that doesn’t, from what I saw, suck. Here’s to hoping this keeps up the quality, and begins a positive trend for the blue blur.