Giving exploration incentives in a platformer can be a tricky business. It can be a fun aspect or make your game an absolute chore. Sonic Colors does it very succesfully by having you look for red rings to unlock bonus levels. Unleashed does it poorly as it forces you to look around for sun and moon medals to progress to new stages. Many times making you return to some boring, 30-minute Werehog level desperatley looking for sun medals so you can get a new, fun daytime level with Sonic. Sanzaru Games’ Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal works both ways. At best, it can be a thrilling, fun platformer where you’re going a a full speed flow. Juggling homing attacks, enerbeam swings, springs and speed boosts into a beautiful blend that feels like a mesh of classic Sonic and Sonic Rush. At worst, you’re contantly stopping your character without pausing to scroll the bottom map and look for blueprints and crystal shards you need to progress further in the game like your on GameFAQs. Ironically, it’s usually on the exact same level.
In a slightly separated storyline from Rise of Lyric, Amy Rose is checking out some ancient ruins when she is attacked by Lyric, whom in this continuity she’s only meeting for the first time. She manages to dodge an attack only to whip out her “Miles Electric” style cell phone to talk to Sonic, brag like an idiot and be blindsided by Lyric. Lyric then puts a mind control device on her head to capture her. (Remember kids, no texting while fighting.) From there, Sonic must meet up with Tails, Sticks and Knuckles to defeat Lyric and rescue Amy. This is done both through cutscenes either pre-rendered or using in-game models and an Archie comic book in Sonic’s house that does a better job of showing the backstory with art by the always awesome Evan Stanley. While the comic story by Ian Flynn is just fine, the writing in the cut scenes is just one bad joke after another. While it’s more in tune with the comical stylings of the show, the jokes just come off really bad. The only one that gave me a chuckle was Sticks’s speech about teamwork at the very end.
The graphics are very solid. The backdrops during play look gorgeous, but the models close up look a but ugly, especially Knuckles whose bulk is a bit much. The music by Richard Jacques is not his most memorable, but it fits the levels well and still has that mellow feel that Jacques does so well. The game takes place in 6 hub worlds with 3 types of levels, adventure levels, rival races and worm tunnels. Adventure levels are the main meat of the game. This is where you can either boost through the level swinging on your enerbeam, do homing attacks on robots or search the level for blueprints and jewel shards. Rival races are very similar to the 2-D races in the Sonic Rivals series as you race either Sticks, Shadow or Metal Sonic through a track full of loops, springs and boosts. Worm Tunnels are a 3-D style auto running level where you need to collect rings and boost through blue boxes while dodging electric fences and the giant, robot sandworm boss from Rise of Lyric.
Despite the variety of styles, there’s so few levels. Far less than what is deserving of a $40 title. Each hub world has a worm tunnel, but only one or two adventure levels and there’s only three rival races through the entire game. In fact, if you count it all up, that’s 6 worm tunnels, 3 rival races (4 if you count the final boss fight) and only 8 adventure levels. The game pads this out by it’s rewards. Badges are what you need to unlock more levels in the game. Finishing each kind of level unlocks one badge, but that’s usually not enough to progress to the next level, so you need to go back and hunt for blueprints and jewel shards to unlock more badges. Unlocking blueprints allows you some extra bonuses at Tails lab. You can uncover all blueprints and jewels on the map, be a rings magnet and eventually get an extra speed boost. Collecting tokens (completely optional) lets you unlock prizes at Q.N.C’s toy shop. Mostly just spinning 3-D models of enemies, but at least it’s an optional challenge and beating the best time in a level can give you a sense of pride. The final unlock goes for Rise of Lyric game. The further you get in the 3DS game, the more rings your team can collect in Rise of Lyric. Beat Shattered Crystal and your team will slowly build up rings on their own.
As I was saying before, when the game lets you get into good flow and your not concentrating on badges, it really shines. You can boost like a slower Sonic Rush, hop from dissapearing platforms, get into a juggling act of swinging from an enerbeam to hitting a robot to hitting a spring, then another enerbeam swing into a boost pad. It feels like vintage Sonic. While you can’t boost through a robot (something I had a hard time getting used to) you can hit them with an attack while still running. Even when you need to use the different abilites you can keep it flowing fast (with one exception) if you can remember each characters position on the D-Pad. You can blast through blocks as Sonic running super fast only to hit a fan and quickly turn to Tails and fly up to a new area and keep the run going only to hit a hole and dig through and start running again only to hit a wall, turn into Sticks and……stop completely to hold X and throw a boomerang to make the wall go down. Yeah, Sticks kinda sucks.
The main problem I have with the game is the badge collecting. This forces you to search all over the levels for blueprints and crystal shards in order to earn enough badges to continue on to the next level. Given the maze-like design of these levels, it can take you up to 20-30 minutes to finish a level with the goals you need. Stopping, not pausing, stopping in place while you look down on your map for where you need to go. Killing all momentum. Then again, you may get to the end and miss a jewel or blueprint and have to replay the level another 2 or 3 more times. This is how they make a game with so few levels that you could get through it in 90 minutes otherwise and turn it into a 4-5 hour game. If it were an optional thing like Sonic Colors (and this game had about twice as many adventure levels), it would work much better as it would be optional and I”d still look for blueprints and shards because I WANTED to, not because I have to.
Overall, while still a solid 2-D Sonic title, Shattered Crystal does not offer enough content to validate it’s $40 price tag. When playing just to get the best time, it can be a fun, fast-paced platformer but when you have to repeat levels over and over to hunt down items for badges, it can slow down considerably. It’s still better than Lost World 3DS, but not quite on par with Generations 3DS. While I like exploring huge, maze-like levels as much as anyone else, I think Shattered Crystal goes a bit too far with it just to pad out an otherwise short game.