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Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice Review

Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice’s existence is a strange one. A sequel to 2014’s Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, the 3DS game was delayed an entire year to be a game that, “fans will continue to play for years after they pick up the game” and an overall, “stronger, more enjoyable experience”. It was a bold move by SEGA who have come under criticism for the way they have taken the Sonic franchise in new directions with the previously released and poorly received Sonic Boom games.

So what does Fire & Ice do that Shattered Crystal doesn’t? Two main changes become instantly apparent: to start, your progression is no longer hampered by unlocking items like blueprints and crystal fragments. Shattered Crystal saw the player unlocking emblems by collecting certain items in every stage or by meeting certain goals. These emblems would in turn unlock the next playable stage. The unfortunate downside to this is that you would often spend around 10 minutes per stage, looking in every corner for items you may have missed and sometimes even revisiting the same stage again to edge yourself closer to those precious emblems. It was a poor design decision that meant you never felt like the progression was coming naturally.

Fire & Ice counteracts this design choice by simply unlocking the next stage when you complete the stage that precedes it. That’s a classic Sonic design formula that works just as well now as it did then. There are still plenty of items to collect like trading cards and new hammers for Amy, but they’re entirely optional now, playing more to the completionist crowd. It’s a strong move that means your progression through the game hits a steady momentum.

The other big change comes in the design of the stages themselves. While the stages in Shattered Crystal would often unfold into these enormous, maze-like structures that were more focussed on exploration rather than progression, Fire & Ice cuts away a lot of the fat and makes its stages more streamlined as a result. It is now more likely you’ll complete a stage in 4 minutes or less instead of the often tiresome 10 minute slogs you’d get in Shattered Crystal.

So the real question that springs to mind after seeing these changes is, “do they do enough to make Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice a classic Sonic title?” Sadly, the answer is, “no”. The real problem with Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is just how weird the structure is. Each island of the game features 4 main action stages to complete and then a series of bonus stages that can vary from menial things like driving Tails’ hovercraft through a series of hazards, racing one of Eggman’s robots around a circuit or navigating Tails’ Sea Fox through an underwater maze to find an item. These side quests detract from the main Sonic experience and simply feel like padding for a game that has obviously become a lot shorter thanks to the streamlining of the main level design.

You also seem to get very few boss battles to tackle. Not every island seems to have one which is a strange decision because it feels like the natural conclusion to each island should be a boss battle that tests everything you’ve learned to do in the stages that preceded it. What’s even more confusing is that the game’s final island doesn’t even include any action stages in favour of a series of the aforementioned bonus stages that culminate in a final boss battle. It just doesn’t seem right for a Sonic game.

This is not to say that Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a bad game. When you’re barrelling through the main action stages you’ll generally find yourself having a good time with this game. What Fire & Ice and Shattered Crystal both do well is focussing on how it feels to progress through the stage. There’s a wonderful rhythmic flow throughout the game and when you hit a perfect line of homing attacking enemies and then linking it to a swing across a pit and then switching your fire and ice abilities at just the right time to pass through a platform and then hit a speed booster, this game makes you feel like a platforming master. This is where Sanzaru Games should have put more of their focus because they’re surprisingly good at making Sonic stages that complement Sonic’s speed and abilities. This is a huge improvement over Shattered Crystal which would often have you stop to switch characters to activate some switch or dig into a cave, killing the momentum in the process. You still have the ability to switch to different characters with different abilities in Fire & Ice, but mostly not to the detriment of the game’s momentum.

Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is definitely an improvement over Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, but it’s only an incremental one rather than a huge leap into the brilliance that its delay seemed to promise. For fans of Sonic and platforming in general, the main action stages often deliver an exciting and focused experience that will reward you as a player. Sadly, there’s still a problem with this game’s structure and the bonus stages and lack of boss battles make the whole thing feel a bit inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Sadly, I don’t think many, “fans will continue to play for years after they pick up the game” and that’s the real tragedy of the Sonic Boom games as a whole. If this ends up being the last Sonic Boom title then I think it’s safe to say that this whole endeavour was a little underwhelming and an experiment that SEGA will not want to repeat in the future. It’s a real shame because as we’ve mentioned, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a competent effort that shows signs of improvement that maybe another title could absolutely nail.

7/10

Written by Lewis “Sonic Yoda” Clark on 22/01/2017

Cover Artwork, Instruction Sheet and Cartridge Scans
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Screenshots
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