TSS Review: Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Wii U)

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Developer: Big Red Button Release Date: NA/EU/AUS: Out now, JP as Sonic Toon: Dec 18th, 2014

So here we are, the game that was supposed to mark a new chapter in Sonic’s long and treasured history as a new side-series running in parallel to the current Modern Sonic series. Sega entrusted this new series to a not-so-new developer named Big Red Button, I say not-so-new as they’ve been around since 2008! Big Red Button is a team formed by veterans from Naughty Dog, however, that’s where seemingly that relation ends. For a further look into Big Red Button and the folks who worked on the game during the last few years (note that some have departed from the company in the past few months), check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my articles about Big Red Button.

Now before I get to the main review, I want to make clear that sadly I have NOT completed the story for the game as I originally intended, so I want to make sure you know that fact to judge my thoughts on the game more fairly, my deepest apologies.

Also note that this is my very first professional review, so this is a new experience and I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to say.

So I will make the following into a few categories, rather than just put the whole thing in one, as in, I will speak about the game’s Gameplay, Story, Graphics, Audio, and the overall conclusion. I will also do something a lot don’t; I will provide an additional opinion based on the current price, and a bargain price in the conclusion, as a lot of people judge games based on price and can be more willing to pick a game up if they find it for like $10 or $20, also a lot of reviews pan a game for being too short for $50, that sort of thing.

Let’s begin!

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Gameplay:

So the gist of the gameplay is; it’s a beat-em-up with a decent amount of platforming, why can’t I call it vice-versa? Because I kind of find it’s more focused on the combat than the platforming though there’s quite a bit of it as well. You have your punches and your ground pound moves. All characters function basically the same but have some special touches to them, such as Sonic having his homing attack, Tails can glide and use long-ranged weapons like what appears to be a fire cracker shooter, Knuckles is obviously the strongest but I also find Amy with her hammer to be not far behind Knuckles. Amy is able to kill the snake enemies with a single swing which is pretty handy.

Combat is relatively simple, I never felt I needed to go beyond just mashing X or Y to attack, there’s no real strategy, I also find using the enerbeam in fights to be very clunky and they just don’t seem to work, even when I grab, swing, and throw them. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. It’s certainly not as elaborate as in Sonic Unleashed. You are able to unlock things such as upgrades and acquire items to help, but I didn’t really get to experience those fully yet. You also once in awhile find these tiny robots that run from you, and when you kill them, they drop a weapon. Only one I got to try out was a wind gun that shoots a tornado. It was cool, but it has a limited amount of uses. Fun gimmicks I guess.

As far as exploration is concerned, I don’t find any of them to be that fast, only Sonic is when you spam the Spin Dash move, and that’s a stretch since it’s only a bit faster and is absolutely nothing like in Sonic Adventure or Sonic Lost World. Outside of the auto-run sections, Sonic is not his Gotta Go Fast self, so get that out of your head if you came in for speed. And as far as the number of said sections, there aren’t that many and they’re over after a minute or two. You’re slowly running around and fighting a lot more. It’s a side dish. I did find the running on water sections to be pretty fun, at least I wasn’t bumping into obstacles every 2 seconds.

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Story:

Now we get to what is arguably my favorite part of the game. Yeah the cutscenes are very unpolished so you see jerking objects here and uber low-res textures there and you wonder why they had the camera up close in clean sight of then. But the character animation and writing is a true highlight, especially the former. The animation is very high quality and the animators should be given high praise. Buuuut I would not say the same thing for the in-game “cutscenes” where you see the characters just stand there like zombies flapping their gums, Amy is not a pretty sight in these. As for the story, the plot is interesting if not the most original (guy stumbles upon an ancient evil, lets it loose, he done goofs, he tries to undo it), but I really like the characterization. Knuckles is probably my fav of the group, but I also really like Lyric and how he animates, I wouldn’t call him intimidating, but he works, still it would’ve been cooler is he was an Owl (Owlyric?), but what can you do? The humor is part of the highlight. From the subtle facial expressions to the one liners, I certainly laughed and I love anything that can make me laugh.

I will say some of the story so far is really out of place, such as Shadow’s appearance is so far unexplained and feels very shoehorned and that is NOT a good thing. I like to know why things are the way they are unless they let the audience figure it out as a mystery. This is not one of those times. Will there be some big reveal that explains everything? From what I’ve read, that’s not likely.

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Graphics:

It’s a double-edged sword. At times it can look really nice, but the severe lack of polish hurts it so badly. It’s got a very lovely style, especially when you’re outdoors. But the graphical issues such as really bad shadow pop-in, the horrifically low-res textures, especially in cutscenes. Not to mention the game only runs in 720p and 30fps, so they don’t even make up for the short comings with trying to be more ambitious with the technical specs. The game was made using Cry Engine 3, and is the very first Wii U game to support it that’s been released, and honestly I feel that was a huge mistake. The engine very likely not only was not optimized properly for the console, but also they had to exclusively try to work in a function that the engine never used before; split-screen. I’ve not used the mode myself, but as I’ve seen in footage, when you use split-screen/co-op via the TV and GamePad, most shadow and lighting detail vanishes, and apparently the framerate can be even worse, which by the way can get a bit sluggish at points, even in cutscenes.

Lighting is another visual highlight, but again, it’s hard to overlook the flaws. However, I also want to bring to attention some of the geometry and effects of the outdoor sections. When you’re up-close to plants, they do have subtle animation and you see some particles floating in the air, I really, REALLY liked those details.

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Audio:

The voice acting is REALLY good in this game. No one really stood out as being bad, they all really delivered and were really fun to listen to. The music which was composed by Richard Jacques of Sonic R and Sonic 3D Blast Saturn fame, which to me is nothing like the aforementioned games, it does set the mood and some of the outdoor areas had a really nice tune to listen to. Personally the soundtrack could’ve been less orchestral and more upbeat like previous games, but it’s not a big deal. I personally hoped they would’ve brought in someone familiar with classic western platformers like Crash, Spyro, Jak, Ratchet, and Sly (Rocket gets no love…), but I guess they wanted someone familiar with Sonic to do it, even if the music isn’t anything like the series ever had before. Also, Jun Senoue was in the US for a long time as part of the now closed Sonic Team USA, wouldn’t he have been a way more appropriate pick?

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Conclusion:

So in conclusion, it was not at all what I was really hyped for, I mean I was hoping it’d be a gorgeous adventure though big expansive open worlds, like that infamous Cry Engine 3 demo showed. What’s that, they took that out? *sigh*

The game in a word is… okay. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s really hard to recommend it, especially at $50. What really needs to happen is after like 6 months, is that they release a patch that fixes so much in the game, that could give it a much needed and deserved second wind. If you find it for $20, I would say check it out. Compared to Sonic Lost World, if you want exploration, go with Sonic Boom, it’s got that, even if some environments like the desert level are really boring and some of the indoor ones also don’t feel all that exciting to look at or explore. I really hope we see a patch, I truly do. It needed many more months, like at least 6 more months in the oven to polish what they had. Why do so many not follow the wise words of Shigeru Miyamoto?; “A delayed game is eventually a good game, a bad game is bad forever” or something along those lines.

Also, click here to check out Jason Berry’s review of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for 3DS!

So that’s it! What did you think?