It’s my own fault for being excited for a new Sonic game. After two full days playing more videogames than I can count and seeing even more guided demos and videos, one game in particular stood out to me far more than the rest – but for all the wrong reasons. That game, of course, is Sonic Boom and if this is seriously the best Sega can do with Sonic then they may as well not even bother.
For starters, I’m not sure why they bothered using the CryEngine when the game, and I say this without exaggeration, looks like a high-resolution PS2 game. The textures themselves were low-res and blurry, and animations were stiff, and water was simply a single texture stretched across a plane with no animation. Everything lacked detail and the levels displayed no real sense of design or thoughtfulness and instead just looked like objects were placed randomly along a flat plane and they called it a day.
Things got even worse once I started playing it. Sonic Boom isn’t a platformer, it’s much closer to a brawler that uses only one button. Pressing the Y button causes Sonic (or God help you, Knuckles) to jump to the nearest enemy and hit them, and repeatedly pressing the button allows you to perform a combo that will kill most opponents. You can also use Sonic’s electric whip (Sonic has an electric whip now) to grab enemies and throw them or tear away their shields, but throwing didn’t actually seem to do any damage besides to the boss, and ripping the shields away is only good on enemies that, you know, have shields. Jumping and moving was even worse. Running is very fidgety to the point where moving in a straight line is hard, and the camera was pulled in so close it was hard to see what was around you. Sonic also has a spindash (that was only used to solve simple puzzles) but the only way to have in move anywhere is to hold down the X button. Simply pressing the button causes him to spin up and then immediately stand back up. Jumping was a bit better since Sonic would get plenty of air and pressing it again would allow him to double jump for a slight boost, but thanks to the controls and the camera it was very difficult to judge distances with any sort of accuracy.
The Gamepad screen is used as a mirror of the television screen with the addition of a picture of Sonic’s head that acts as a button. Pressing this button cloaks the game in a blue hue and allows you to see secrets such as a trail of footprints leading to a cache of treasure. The big problem with this is that you are rendered completely immobile and you’ll have to constantly switch the mode on and off if the footprints lead around corners and you can longer see them. Finding treasure caches or breaking obstacles will give you rings which in this game are used as life. Getting hit causes a couple rings to shoot out of Sonic, as does falling into the water or an open pit. The water is a particularly interesting case because as soon as you touch it you are immediately teleported back to land and lose some rings in a process so quick it left me a little confused as to what actually happened. Finally, there’s Sonic’s electric which can be used to solve puzzles by attaching it to blocks and pulling, or by using it to swing from glowing grapple points. Oh, and while all this is happening the characters are throwing out quips with so much ‘tude it would make the 90’s blush in embarrassment.
All of this was the good level.
The next level I played could barely be called a game. In this stage, you play as sonic and are joined by three of his friends as you race at a highspeed through loops and winding paths in a way very reminiscent of the other 3D Sonic games. Unfortunately, the poor controls get in the way and ensure that you can barely control Sonic at all, but that honestly doesn’t matter too much at this point. After a few obstacles in the beginning you hit so many boost pads and the the path becomes so clutter free that you can just set down the controller and watch the game play itself as the blurry scenery whizzes by in a confusing mess.
In the interest of full disclosure I have to mention that the demo I played actually featured 4 different playable stages, but after the disaster that was the first two stages (actually the first and last) I just couldn’t bring myself to play any more.
I also got to play the 3DS version of the game which, while still bad, is at least better than the console version. This version is less of a brawler and more of an exploration based platformer. The controls feel much better in this version (possibly due to it being a 2.5D game rather than full 3D) and just running around the stages is pretty fun. Of course, I say running but I really mean “gently strolling around the levels”. There were very few areas large enough to actually run in (which is accomplished not by momentum, but by using a run button) but at least it actually had some more platforming than it’s console brethren. One level actually did let me take advantage of Sonic’s signature speed but was unfortunately inspired by the endless runner games that are so prevalent in the mobile space. You run into the screen while dodging obstacles and collecting rings, but after the first few segments it quickly lost it’s sheen and bored me.
Graphically, the 3Ds version looks like an up-ported DS game. The textures or pixelated and the environments are fairly unimpressive with very little going on at any one time. The 3Ds may not be as powerful as the other platforms on the market but it can certainly do better than this.
I know that in previews we’re supposed to be super positive and talk about how a game is still in development and all the rough patches will be ironed out, but Sonic Boom is nothing but one giant rough patch. I almost can’t believe that Sega decided to show the game in this state, but since it’s due out in only a few months they didn’t really have a choice. I don’t have an optimistic outlook for this game and frankly, neither should you. Getting Sonic Boom into a state even remotely worth playing is going to require a complete overhaul and there’s just no time left to do that. You can tell that this game was designed as an afterthought and targeted to the children that will watch the upcoming TV series and media blitz, but they (and we) deserve better.