Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t been an A-lister in a very long time, despite the fact that he ‘gets work’ every couple of years at a minimum, and even appears to have become a staple of the Smash Bros. series. Sonic continually gets a bad rap, with the bulk of his releases skewered on Metacritic and by the public, regardless of successes like Sonic Generations. Undeterred, the blue blur blazes on, continually seeking a new means of being way past cool- his latest being Sonic Boom, a pair of titles for 3DS and Wii U sporting a cast redesign and a tie-in television show for good measure. Based on my time on the E3 show floor with the 3DS version, Shattered Crystal, this new Sonic has a ways to go before it will win over many converts.
Little about the plot is made clear in the demo, with the playtime limited to essentially demonstrating the controls and types of missions that will be available. The first of these demos showcased Sonic maneuvering through a three dimensional perspective in what was essentially a platformer on rails, with Sonic’s position on a selection of flat planes that curved partially up walls instantly swappable using the analog stick. I was instantly reminded of Tempest 2000. I didn’t mind this section, but it wasn’t especially challenging and I didn’t find myself blown away by it.
The second demo section shows off the kind of level that I anticipate being the bread and butter of Sonic Boom. It’s a 2D platforming level in which characters (Sonic, Sticks, Knuckles, and Tails- Amy was absent at least in this demo) can be swapped between at will to take advantage of their unique abilities and means to progress further in a level. If there was a way to do this without tapping the stylus on the lower screen, it wasn’t clear, and swapping in this manner has a habit of kiling pacing. It’s difficult to get up to a Sonic appropriate speed when at any moment a segment might come up that the current character is incapable of conquering.
Lastly, a race section was on display- Sonic vs. Sticks to the end of an obstacle course. This was my favorite of the three sections, featuring the kind of consistent platforming challenge that makes Sonic so enjoyable on its best days. Sticks is slower than Sonic, but she’s very accurate in her jumps and dodging- it only takes a few mistakes for what should be a cakewalk to end up in a loss. It’s a pity that I get the feeling this kind of level will take a backseat to the other two varieties, as it’s the closest Sonic Boom comes to feeling like an authentic Sonic experience.
I would ordinarily give an in development game a bit more benefit of the doubt, but this particular case worries me. The Sonic series, as I previously mentioned, doesn’t have the kind of goodwill it would need to reassure me that this title’s inconsistency is nothing more than a minor hiccup on the way to launch. I’m not sure how they will manage to make character swapping feel intuitive and natural rather than gimmicky and sluggish, and when it’s built so deeply into the base of the game, there may be no easy way to repair it.
Still, the prospect of a new Sonic in any form is enough to get some fans excited, and even if I can’t count myself among them, there’s always the chance this title could pull it all off in the end. We’ll have the final verdict for you upon release.
Which of the new character designs is your favorite? What gameplay mode do you anticipate enjoying the most? Do you think chili dogs are better with cheese or without? Let us know in the comments section!