The Sonic Boom spin-off franchise has been rather hit and miss for Sega. On one hand, the television show and merchandise have been rather well received. The games however, not so much. Sonic Boom’s 2014 outings on the Wii U and 3DS were critical and commercial failures.
Sanzaru Games were the developers of the first Sonic Boom 3DS game, Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. With Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice, the team has been given another shot at making a good Sonic Boom game for Nintendo’s lovable little portable. After a year long delay and tons of talk about how much they’ve listened to the critical reception forShattered Crystal, was Sanzaru Games able to produce a Sonic Boom game that’s worth playing? Let’s find out.
Fire & Ice’s story was marketed as being an extension of the Sonic Boom cartoon, almost like a television special. It retains the cartoon’s trademark elements of humor and action, and wraps it all up in a neat little adventure. The writing isn’t as strong as the cartoon, but there were a few scenes that did manage to get a laugh out of me (there were also a few interesting references to past Sonic the Hedgehog games).
Doctor Eggman discovers a series of islands that are home to a powerful new element known as Ragnium. With the help of his new robot invention named D-Fekt, Eggman attempts to conquer these new islands. Naturally, Sonic and his friends stop him dead in his tracks.
The story is told through a combination of pre-rendered and in-game cutscenes. The pre-rendered scenes look pretty good, although they do suffer from the resolution of the 3DS. Each of the series central voice actors reprises their roles for Fire & Ice, and they all do an awesome job.
The in-game scenes are… kind of ugly. Character models are passable at best (there are 3DS games that came out in 2012 that put Fire & Ice to shame), but the animation on them is pretty nice. Environments look cool though, they’re colorful, vibrant and really diverse in appearance. Textures are a bit on the flat side, but they’re not too terrible to look at. The soundtrack is bland and forgettable (which really hurts to say about a Sonic the Hedgehog game), but it does a decent enough job of matching the tone of the levels
Gameplay is what’s really important in Fire & Ice. Shattered Crystal suffered from overly long, maze-like levels and mandatory collectibles. I’m really happy to say that Sanzaru Games has taken these complaints to heart, and as such, Fire & Ice is a much better game than its predecessor. Levels are much more streamlined, while also maintaining the exploration elements of the Sonic Boom franchise.
Fire & Ice allows players to control any of the 5 members of Team Sonic, namely, Amy, Tails, Knuckles, Sticks and Sonic himself. Each character has the same basic moveset of a double jump, a sprint, the Enerbeam and the Homing Attack.
Each of the game’s playable characters also has their own unique abilities. Sonic has his trademark Spin Dash, as well as an incredibly useful air dash. Amy has her Piko Piko Hammer, which can be used to alter certains parts of the terrain. Tails can ride air currents, and use his blaster to destroy metal barriers. Knuckles can dig through the ground, and Sticks has a remote control boomerang.
During my time with Fire & Ice, I mainly stuck with Sonic (it’s like the game was built for him). His unique abilities made going fast and platforming much more comfortable. Another reason I stuck with Sonic is the fact that the other characters abilities are pretty much only useful for their character specific puzzles. While Tails and Sticks’ abilities can be used to defeat hard to reach enemies, Knuckles and Amy’s were no more useful than the basic Homing Attack.
Outside of Sonic, character abilities are really underutilized, especially in the case of Knuckles, as his digging sections are few and far between. By the end of the game, I only switched from Sonic when I needed to access a level route that he couldn’t reach on his own.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as Fire & Ice does stress the importance of player freedom in terms of character choice. There’s nothing stopping players from spending the majority of their time as any of the other members of Team Sonic, and you won’t be punished for doing so.
As the name implies, Fire & Ice introduces new elemental abilities for Sonic and co. At the press of a button, characters can toggle between fire and ice mode. The game is full of ice that can be melted in order to proceed deeper into the level, as well as water that can be frozen to function as platforms.
The fire and ice mechanic is simple, but intuitive. It’s just interesting enough to add a new layer to the core gameplay without over-complicating things. Later levels introduce torches that have to be ignited in order to proceed, and I would have really liked to see them do more with this type of design. But what they gave us was perfectly good enough.
Fire & Ice is all about going fast. By the end of the game, I was chaining together air dashes, Homing Attacks, Spin Dashes and Enerbeam swings like an old pro. I’m a sucker for arcade-like games that challenge the player to chase best times and high scores, and while Fire & Ice doesn’t quite nail this as well as previous Sonic the Hedgehog games such as Sonic Rush, Sonic Unleashed and the Genesis games, it’s still a speedy game in it’s own right. Overall, Fire & Ice has a really great sense of flow and momentum.
The maze centric level design of Shattered Crystal has been discarded in favor of levels that are much more speed oriented. Every character moves at a pretty good pace, and there are plenty of springs and dash panels to keep the speed going. Depending upon player skill and preference, levels in Fire & Ice can fly by in a flash. The game even encourages players to go fast by rewarding them with Ragnium for achieving certain completion times.
While Fire & Ice does have an emphasis on speed, it hasn’t forgotten its roots in exploration. The game’s level design is full of branching paths and hidden areas that often lead to shield power-ups, collectibles and best of all, challenge rooms. These rooms contain fun little platforming puzzles, and are Fire & Ice’s biggest source of challenge (the game is pretty overall, especially considering there is no life system).
Outside of the main stages, Fire & Ice has a few different styles of gameplay. First are the Tails Submarine and Hovercraft, short aquatic sections that award the player with collectibles. These sections are rather harmless, but I would not miss them if they were gone.
Every island in Fire & Ice also has a tunnel level. These levels remind me of the boost gameplay of the Modern Sonic games, as they challenge players to have twitch reflexes and reaction time. In addition, Sonic will have to periodically race against one of Eggman’s robots. Similar to the tunnels, these levels are also fun tests in reflexes and precise timing.
Fire & Ice has a handful of boss encounters against Eggman and D-Fekt. These require Sonic to team up with one of his friends in order to defeat them. The fights are pretty standard platformer affair, just watch the boss’s patterns and wait for an opening. Nothing too different here.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice improves on Shattered Crystal in just about every way. It manages to be a fairly speedy game, while also appealing to gamers that are more of the explorative type. In a world where we are just a few months away from Sonic Mania, an authentic 2D Sonic experience, it’s kinda hard to wholeheartedly recommend Fire & Ice.But I will stand by the game as being a really fun platformer for the 3DS in its own right. If you’re even a little bit curious about the game, I’d say go ahead and give it a try.
Note: Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice has an area called Thunder Island that contains the game’s multiplayers modes. Unfortunately, I was not able to try them out for this review, as I did not have anybody to play them with me, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. My deepest apologies.