Sonic Boom has certainly been a source of contention from many fans of the franchise, both old and new. Presented as a new branch of the Sonic series primarily led by the people at SEGA of America, it’s hard to argue the experiment has won any favors from longtime fans. While the TV show has been performing well, the 3DS game didn’t turn into anything more than a mediocre platformer. All that’s left to talk about is the Wii U game.
Unfortunately, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is the weakest element in the Boom bandwagon. The title shows off way too many glaring issues that seem as if the developers were rushing to get the game out the door in time for the TV show’s premiere, and boy, we got stuck with another unfortunate misstep for the blue blur. Plagued with infinite jump glitches, weird collision bugs, opportunities to soft lock the game and some of the worst special effects seen in the CryEngine…wait, the CryEngine 3? The same one powering performance hungry games such as the Crysis series? Indeed, the same one, only now the game is running poorly optimized for the Wii U and has some of the most awkward special effects in a modern 3D game.
I don’t doubt that the engine could work well for Sonic providing an open world environment, but that kind of experience is not delivered well here. Now, some of you arm chair experts are probably sitting there saying the game is terrible due to Sonic losing his speed, turning the game into a glorified beat-em up and changing the iconic style of the character, the plot and all the things that make Sonic work. But that couldn’t be further from the point on why exactly this game is bad.
The story tries to convey a philosophical point with Lyric, who wants to take over the world to enact revenge on the ancients who had stopped him from attempting to extend his life through selfish gain. After stumbling upon a tomb and avoiding an ambush from Eggman, Sonic and his friends accidentally free Lyric from his 1,000 year imprisonment. Thus, they must seek to collect crystals that the crazed mechanized snake is also pursuing, intending to awaken ancient machines to disrupt the harmony of nature and technology and wreak wanton destruction.
The subplot of the game covers Sonic and his friends on how they must overcome their differences to strengthen their bond in order to stop Lyric. The opening act shows Sonic’s cohorts getting upset with him after trying to find a way to protect his friends, taking a major risk by hiding in an unidentified tomb and overcome perilous tutorial stages. The plot is then bridged together through one-liners and inane chatter with lines constantly repeating throughout the game. Whether its Sonic lecturing Tails on how to spout smart-ass catchphrases, Amy Rose explaining to Knuckles on how they take care of evil for…no contextual reason, or strange creatures starting an argument with each other about what flavored ice cream to eat before informing you on where some precious unclaimed crystal hides, it’s hard to follow what the plot is trying to do. All of the dialogue feels disjointed or unnecessary, with certain characters having a short appearance to feed the plot without letting their character development evolve.
The best example of this sort of exchange is in the Sonic/Shadow encounter, when Shadow appears to shame Sonic for his friendships, only to be sent somewhere in time possibly to die. Sonic doesn’t seem to really care what happens to him once their encounter is over, especially since he doesn’t seem to appear any other time in the game. But why care about who is in the game when there are more pressing matters, such as their fascination with bounce pads! Buttons! RINGS! Girl power! (At least according to Amy who seeks women equality being the only playable girl character, I guess?) The game at least decides to not take itself too seriously most of the time and tries to keep things lighthearted. Some of the exchanges between characters can actually be funny, even with situations that involve characters like Knuckles, who is painfully dumb yet every now and then gets his moments of brilliance coming up with a solution or outwitting his cohorts.
This is not a traditional Sonic game. That in itself doesn’t make the experience bad, but if you’re looking for high speed action, there is a sort of appeasement in the game via speed sections where Sonic and friends travel a linear path collecting rings and avoiding traps. Instead of being a highlight, this is one aspect of the game that not only feels superfluous, but also showcases the worst aspects of the Cry Engine running on Wii U. When you’re running through loops, the game struggles to keep up as the framerate chugs down to 10-15 frames per second. Along with a camera that makes it difficult to judge where everything is in your path, it tries to show a cool looking angle while making you run into objects or miss the collectible trinkets that the game won’t let you go back to get unless you’re up for starting the entire level over. To me these sections seem to only serve as a bullet point on the back of a box that reminds you that you are indeed playing a game with the Sonic brand attached to it.
Then you get to the main levels of the game that feature combat, which while not a stranger to the Sonic series, hasn’t been established very well. As presented in the Wii U game… it still isn’t established very well. All four characters have their own set of unique abilities, though some are more useful than others. Knuckles for example deals double damage and can burrow underground to launch an uppercut, while Tails who can attack from a distance by throwing projectiles, bombs or lay down Buddy Bots™ that can explode on contact. Once you are surrounded by enemies it becomes difficult to avoid certain attacks.
The rules of Sonic with rings still apply here, (Which by the way, they –LOVE- rings, in case you were not aware of) and just like every game before, as long as you have one, you cannot die. Usually. However, there are times the game decides that you’re going to get killed in one shot by certain enemies, and this isn’t really consistent or made clear as to why this happens. You can dodge enemy attacks and harmful obstacles by using the shoulder buttons. While it is possible to avoid all damage by rapidly tapping these buttons, it does make some of the combat trivial, until you have to make use of the EnerBeam™ weapon to rip shields away from enemies or waiting for your character’s animation to finish before control is restored back to the player. Its difficult to raise your defenses while you are in combat which makes the mechanics feel stiff.
Luckily, death is trivial as you’ll respawn where the last combat situation took place, your only penalty being a low ring count and losing some robot scrap. Robot scrap comes from fallen enemies and treasure chests hidden throughout each level which is used to repair attractions, huts, and other establishments in the hub world that can lead to collectibles. Ultimately, it’s unnecessary when it comes to finishing the game. And put those worries to rest: all those extra paths also contain rings. You’ll also come across puzzles that are solved with character specific context-sensitive puzzles such as Amy, who can balance on pink bars, and Sonic, who can spin dash up ramps, all of which separate each section of a level. These segments never become too difficult, and characters give off hints very often to make sure you know what to do for each objective.
That said, the adventure is plagued with dozens of technical problems. Sound clips will cut out in cutscenes at random times, sound will emit incorrectly through the TV or the Wii U GamePad separately, and there are a handful of ways to softlock the game, forcing players to restart the level or restore to their last save. Usually these kinds of situations involve hitting a checkpoint, dying, then respawning in an area that was previously closed off only to find that you can’t get back in. If you’re up for deliberately breaking the game, you may even find some unfinished or test areas that were left behind by the developers. You can play through the game from start to finish without fear that you’ll have to start the game all over if a checkpoint is triggered incorrectly or some other mishap happens. Much like Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic Boom‘s best aspect comes from the many different ways you can find these flaws and can keep you playing for this aspect alone, though obviously this is probably one feature the developers aren’t too proud of.
Exploring areas usually lead you to rings that you don’t need in a path that ends up nowhere. Rings can be collected to add to your total ring count that unlocks concept art, if you care for that sort of thing. There are also a number of puzzles to solve, most of which involve stomp switches, throwing enemies into objects, pull switches, character-specific challenges and zip lines. Characters also give off hints like nobody’s business, even for the most inane challenges to make sure nobody could ever get stuck in the game. Ever (if the glitches don’t get you, anyway.)
To further aid players, the GamePad can be used to scan areas for weak walls to destroy and uncover paths and secret areas. Some of those can contain collectibles, but the rest are just dead ends with rings. There is also a hint system that is run by the community on Miiverse, where users can post their thoughts and tips in certain sections of the game. Most of these posts are done by apologist fans trying to boost their morale and justify to the world that the game is not bad, or you’ll see a bunch of drawings from your favorite tired memes that you found on the world of the internet.
Outside of the regular levels are challenges that can range from objectives best seen in an MMO game which usually involve fetch quests or small platformer challenges. Otherwise, you’ll come across vehicle shooter sections that come up periodically which are mildly enjoyable, yet they are short lived. The vehicles appear only once or twice, but they at least break up the action from the usual fare of platformer puzzles, switches and robots to punch.
You can also play with up to two players in story mode and compete and cooperate in four player mini games. In the main game, player one plays on the Wii U GamePad and player two takes over the TV. There is a loss in graphical detail when a second player joins in, but that’s not nearly as inexcusable as the zoning properties of the environment. In the hub world, both players would have it in their best interests to stay together as a trailing player will be teleported next to the other player hitting the triggers to load up specific areas of the world without warning or any reason why. This makes splitting up in the game to complete multiple objectives needlessly difficult. Its not quite as bad in the regular levels, and having a second player to solve puzzles and assist in fights helps so much more than computer controlled characters. Then you have the four player multiplayer mode that also features unlockable environments and game condition modifiers by finding hidden collectibles in the three party modes. Challenges include defeating all enemies, rolling spheres to collect points then cashing them in to boost your score, and obstacle courses with a camera that tracks along a set path for players to follow. These challenges play similar enough to the main game with the camera centering around all four players. The multiplayer aspects helps make the game more tolerable, but isn’t enough to make the game more enjoyable to play.
Is this the worst Sonic game of all time? Honestly, I would argue this isn’t worse than Sonic 2006 as the game is certainly playable, and it can be finished without being nearly as frustrating, but at the same time I can’t see this being recommended to anybody. The game has way too many unforgivable flaws wrapped in a bland story, trivial challenges and rings! Copious amounts of rings! Its also a shame that the game feels largely disconnected from the 3DS game and television show in terms of writing and interaction with characters and the environment. Even with any fixes given to the game it would still be the same unenjoyable experience. These issues along with the technical problems make the experience barely functional enough for the general public which only blemishes the third party line-up in the Wii U library, especially as it pales in comparison to other games, let alone platformers that are better designed for the platform.
SECOND OPINION by Willie Melfer, current worldwide record holder of the high score for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Tiger Electronics
Sonic the Hedgehog has seen his ups and downs over the past years. While we’ve seen great games like Sonic Adventure 2, we’ve also seen atrocities like Sonic Colors and the abysmal Sonic Generations. Now, Sonic Team is at it again with their latest game Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. While developed by Big Red Button, Sonic Team staff played the crucial role in allowing SEGA West to make such a game.
Now I may not have played Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric first hand, but from the many Let’s Plays I’ve watched, helped by the commentary of YouTube celebrities, Rise of Lyric is true Game of the Year material. The Knuckles glitch was one of the funnier moments in most of, if not all of, the videos I watched. While the game seems short, at least its not long.
Fan favorite Shadow appears, but sadly his screen time is cut short. We do, however, see Metal Sonic making a return – though it only made this reviewer remember SEGA’s recent retro release of Sonic the Hedgehog CD for iOS. I’m sorry, but SEGA should stick to Sonic 4 games, not these pointless retro revivals.
Knuckles sees a much improved redesign with emphasized muscles and yes folks, he even chuckles! Amy Rose loses her red dress for a much more versatile outfit and a peppy personality. Tails is the brains of the group, sporting cool new goggles. Sonic, meanwhile, sees very little changes with his signature blue arms and scarf (last seen in Sonic Labyrinth if my memory is correct).
Sadly, only true fans of Sonic will appreciate Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. If you care about “old school” nonsense like fun gameplay and next-to-no cutscenes, better to download Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for iOS. Fans who stick around (or is that Sticks around? haha!) will find a fun action/adventure platformer that succeeds in setting out to do what the original 1991 game failed to do. Yes folks, unlike the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is truly a game changer. We give it a 4.5…out of 5.