A song of ice and fire.
We all love Sonic, but let’s face the facts- the franchise is a total and utter mess, and in a state of absolute disarray right about now. I mean, it’s always been more miss than hit ever since it went 3D with Sonic Adventure, before hitting its absolute nadir with Sonic the Hedgehog in 2006, but there was a brief while there, with Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, that it looked to be on the path to recovery. This was before Sonic: Lost World came out and turned out to be a step back from both of those games.
And then, Sonic Boom happened.
Oh, Sonic Boom. The 2014 Wii U exclusive Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was arguably an even worse outing and showing for Sega’s spiky blue mascot than the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog had been. Riddled with bugs, glitches, poor voice acting, and atrocious level design, not to mention an entirely misguided combat system, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric ended up resetting the franchise, and any goodwill that it may have been garnering, back by at least half a decade.
In all the discussion of the overwhelmingly negative reception that Rise of Lyric got, it is sometimes easy to forget that a Nintendo 3DS Sonic Boom game, Shattered Crystal, also released alongside it. Shattered Crystal was… also not good. While it wasn’t as terrible as Rise of Lyric was, it was still a very bad game, fraught with terrible animations, a slow pace (unforgivable for a Sonic game), and extremely linear and simple mechanics. That said, there was at least a shadow of a good game hidden somewhere in Shattered Crystal. Apparently, that was enough for Sega, because for the next Sonic Boom game, they chose to follow up on the 3DS outing, not the Wii U one, focusing instead on addressing all the flaws of the 3DS game, while also working on improving what it already did well.
The result? A game that is, surprisingly enough, actually reasonably fun to play.
"The more you play Fire and Ice, actually, the more apparent it becomes that the game actually manages to strike a fairly good balance of providing the player to rush ever onwards though the levels, while also providing them with enough incentives to explore and find secret paths and hidden collectibles."
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the excruciatingly slow as molasses speed of Shattered Crystal is gone in Fire and Ice. You can actually go fast again, which you’d think would be a given for a Sonic game, but I mean, that just tells you how low the bar set by the previous two Sonic Boom games really was. Just a few minutes with the game are also enough to show you that the game has addressed the complaint of monotonous, linear, and repetitive level design that was often leveled at Shattered Crystal.
The more you play Fire and Ice, actually, the more apparent it becomes that the game actually manages to strike a fairly good balance of providing the player to rush ever onwards though the levels, while also providing them with enough incentives to explore and find secret paths and hidden collectibles in the vein of the old school Sonic games. The levels generally constantly keep you on your toes, though, with new threats prompting you to respond at a second’s notice, and with the game having made the wise decision of making Sonic as small on screen as he is fast, the better to give players a field of view so that they’re not unfairly caught unawares by environmental hazards.
More complexity is added – theoretically – by the eponymous fire and ice mechanic. The mechanic, quite simply, lets you freeze water into ice, or melt ice into water, with you being able to switch modes on the fly while playing. I say theoretically because while you would assume that this leads to more nuance and depth to the level design, with perhaps more opportunities provided for hidden secrets, cordoned off areas, or just the ability to build up or maintain speed, none of that actually happens, and the mechanic seems to just be used for some simplistic puzzles, rather than put to some real meaningful use with the game’s level design. It’s a shame, because I can see it being genuinely clever should the designers decide to go all out with it.
"Even for a 3DS game, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice looks pretty bad."
Another mechanic that should add some nuance to the game, but doesn’t, is Sonic’s friends. While, again, you can switch between different characters on the fly, there just isn’t much reason to- Sonic himself seems to work well enough, and if you find some other character that you like more, you are rarely given any actual incentive to switch away to some other character- the odd puzzle notwithstanding. This is, again, a mechanic that could have used some more fleshing out.
It is also a shame that, for as well as Fire and Ice plays and is designed – and it plays and is designed reasonably well – it looks highly generic and painfully mediocre, like some low budget slapdash shovelware game put together in a hurry at the last minute to capitalize on a brand’s fleeting popularity. Even for a 3DS game, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice looks pretty bad, with levels especially suffering from generic visual palettes, and with characters themselves looking really out of place (and poorly animated, just like in Shattered Crystal).
But if you can look past that, you end up with a Sonic game that’s pretty fun- and especially if you’re a younger fan, one that you should be able to enjoy, or one that should serve as an excellent gateway to the franchise. Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is not ever going to rank in the top echelon of Sonic games, and is definitely not good enough to make up for how bad the two previous Sonic Boom games were- but judged on its own merits, it’s fun enough that series fans won’t necessarily regret giving it a go.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
Plays well, with most of the flaws of the previous game having been addressed; provides good balance between exploration and speed running; reasonably good level design; the ice and fire mechanic is conceptually good
The game looks pretty bad, even for a 3DS game; the ice and fire mechanic is underdeveloped and underutilized, as are Sonic's friends
Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is not ever going to rank in the top echelon of Sonic games, and is definitely not good enough to make up for how bad the two previous Sonic Boom games were- but judged on its own merits, it's fun enough that series fans won't necessarily regret giving it a go.