NS Review- Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (3DS)
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (or as I like to refer to it; “Sanerc & Frondo’s do the Big Boom: Spicy & Icy”) is the 3rd instalment in the Sonic Boom series, a sequel to both the catastrophe that was Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric on the Wii U, and then Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal on the 3DS. In this game our heroes have the ability to control fire and ice, and are attempting to restore natural balance with said powers while Eggman harvests a material called “Ragnium” and periodically kidnaps Sonic to…race…yeah.
Fire & Ice returns once again to the roots of the franchise, a side scrolling platformer littered with items, enemies, and obstacles. Main stages allow you to focus either on speed; getting from start to finish as quickly as possible, or a slower route with more focus on exploration and completionism. Ultimately the choice is on the player in how they wish to experience the game in this regard. At it’s best it’s mostly fast with agonizing disruptions. Those who have mastered the temperamental control scheme will still find themselves suddenly plodding along on grind segments, waiting around on platforms and in ditches, and even when switching characters (a necessity to completing some stages). Often it looks like the developers have tried to make many scenarios tight and precise, but when your Enerbeam doesn’t lock on or your homing attack just decides to not work and you actually do end up with that spike 4ft inside your colon you’re just…dead…not in a memorable situation where you escaped by the skin of your ringpiece. So, while the game does allow for a “Speedrun” option, it hasn’t quite got it down yet, a slight kick in the face for those fans who’ve waited so long to go fast once again before the sweet release of death.
Fire & Ice suffers from multiple instances of inconsistency, miscommunication, and needless clutter which is where this game really starts to fall apart for me. Certain Finish Lines don’t actually let you finish, and a lot happening on both tiny screens at once can make it easy to get distracted, overwhelmed, or lose track of what’s actually going on. There are multiple options for a single action in one place, which just makes the game feel a bit uncertain. Tail’s plane will take you elsewhere, but so will pressing down, or opening up the menu. Multiple options exist to switch your character during stages, and despite the visual cue of your character being surrounded by ice or fire, the bottom screen continues to frantically shower your eyes with an intense animation indicating what’s already been told. The game also seems to operate on a “chunk system”; stages are divided into invisible sections where if the player falls, regardless of how far they’ve progressed, they’ll get sent right back to the beginning of the chunk.
Visually it’s not the best game I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly not the ugliest. Environments are lush and vibrant, each Island theme is well adhered to, and the water in the Hovercraft stages is genuinely impressive. Fire & Ice regularly decorates itself with cutscenes to convey plot, and if you remember the good old days of Nintendo Video then you’ll probably know what level of quality you’ll be viewing these in. An inclusion I loved however was the boss shunting the gameplay down onto the lower screen and providing a very interesting spin on the task at hand. User interfaces tend to be clear, and fit with the overall tone of the location. The music isn’t anything spectacular, simplicity and repetition makes for memorability but it’s also an easy way for something to become annoying. The media player features in Sonic’s house are very appreciated, even if his headphones don’t really work with his head. The sound effects in Fire & Ice tend to work excellently for what they’re intended to convey.
Removing the outside context of this game I’d probably feel Fire & Ice was a mediocre at best product with some nice ideas but ultimately a sloppy delivery with some technical flaws and nothing worth paying too much long-term attention to. (The kind of game you wouldn’t think twice about deleting if you needed to free up some memory.) However Fire & Ice is another instalment in one of gaming’s biggest series, a series which has a history of frequently slipping downhill in both technical delivery and missing the mark with what the fanbase wants, providing instead faulty gameplay, poor stylistic choices, and sorely underwhelming stories. With that in mind I’d say Fire & Ice is a stepping stone, one that leads the Sonic series in the right direction. It’s a callback to days of old while keeping a modern Sonic spin on things and effectively utilizing current gen hardware. It’s honestly an alright bit of fun, not completely horrendous, but certainly not a shining example of how to go above and beyond when making a video game. With Sonic Mania and Project Sonic 2017 on the horizon, hopefully Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is the start of Sega pulling their beloved blue hedgehog out of his rut, buckling up his bright red shoes, and sending him on his way to a speedy recovery.
Bring back Espio
Thanks to Nintendo for providing a copy of Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice for me to review, and thank you very much for reading.
Will you be getting the game? Do you think Sonic is redeemable at this point? What are you expecting from Sonic 2017? Leave us a comment below, or tweet me @MattiasMay.