Title: Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (played on 3DS XL model)
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Release Date: September 27th, 2016 (NA), September 30th, 2016 (EU), October 1st, 2016 (AUS), October 27th, 2016 (JP)
Review copy provided by Sega
Here we are at last. It’s been almost two years after the Sonic Boom branch of the series launched with the TV show and the accompanying Wii U and 3DS games. We now have the second main Sonic Boom game (depending if you view Rise of Lyric on Wii U and Shattered Crystal on 3DS as a sibling pair of games), and this time it’s only on 3DS. Like Shattered Chrystal before it, Fire & Ice is once again developed by Sanzaru Games, who is also known for the Sly Cooper HD trilogy remaster and the fourth Sly game a few years back on PS3 and Vita. While Big Red Button’s Rise of Lyric launched in a poor and buggy state on Wii U, Shattered Crystal on 3DS was considered to be at least decent, though it had issues of its own. The question is, how does Fire & Ice fare?
Full disclaimer before I continue: first, I’ve officially beaten the game at 100%. I’ve acquired every last collectable prior to writing this review because I wanted to make sure I saw EVERYTHING that this game had to offer. Second, I sadly did not play Shattered Crystal so you won’t see many comparisons to that game from myself, although you can read Jason’s take on it here.
With that said, let’s talk about Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice itself.
2D gameplay, just like Shattered Crystal before it.
The game is a 2D sidescrolling platformer, such as is common in handheld Sonic games. The main gimmick this time is the ability to push the L or R button to change into Fire or Ice mode; Fire lets you pass through ice blocks while Ice freezes said blocks to walk on them. Most times you’ll need to change quickly to maintain speed and not fall into spike traps and the like.
The game features 5 playable characters: Sonic, Amy, Tails, Sticks, and Knuckles, in that order. You only begin as Sonic but you unlock them all by the time you’re late into the second island. Sonic, of course, is the speedy one but his main gimmick is being able to Air Dash – this is crucial in time trials to bypass numerous obstacles others would have to use homing attack on (and yes, they all know it). Sonic can also Spin Dash but it has the drawbacks of forcing you to bounce when colliding with an enemy after destroying it, thus slowing you down, and that you can’t go for long stretches as you’ll slow down by default, so only use it when a dash panel is close. Amy has her hammer attacks, which are used to move specially marked pillars. Tails can hover and fly through blowing fans, but also wields a laser to destroy certain steel blocks; some will require him to hold the laser shot and aim to bounce it off steel surfaces to shoot a block that’s out of natural reach. Sticks has her trusty boomerang, which she uses to hit special switches, such as to move a specific spinning pillar of spikes, and to grab items unreachable by any other character. Knuckles can naturally dig underground in certain areas, and while underground, Knuckles can pull a NiGHTS and circle around enemies to kill them. All characters share Fire and Ice powers and need to use them when appropriate.
Tails in Seaside Island.
The game features four varying bosses, including the final boss, all featuring dual-screen gameplay, which was vital in some fights because you can see attacks coming you’d have no chance of avoiding without it. They each also have a time trial and also a 20-ring requirement mission (which is ALL of the available rings, so don’t lose a single one). Boss battles will pair up Sonic and one of his friends; the first phase is with one (not always as Sonic) while the character force-swaps with the other halfway into the fight. One boss has you using Ice as Amy to scale the left or right side of the screen to reach its head, and another has you using Tails to hover down from above while avoiding bubbles of tar.
As for the worlds, the game is split into 6 major islands: Kodiak Frontier, an ice island; Seaside Island, a beach island; Paleo Tarpits, a dinosaur island; Cutthroat Cove, a pirate island; and Gothic Gardens; a vampiric island. Each island has four main stages, and a few mini-games, which feature Tails’ Sea Fox in a 2D submarine level, Tails’ hovercraft for a vertical shmup-style level, and a long tunnel racing level for Sonic to boost through. Occasionally, Eggman will stop by to challenge Sonic to a mandatory race against one of his EggBot Racers (literally when you reach that space on a map you’re automatically taken to it without any action needed). These races consist of three laps and your main goal is to collect and maintain 200 rings, while also winning under the time limit towards 100% completion. Every stage in the game has challenges to complete for that 100%, including the time trial. Never worry about lives as there is no lives system; you can die over and over again without the risk of a game over. When you’re on the map, it’s in a classic Mario-style format where each level is marked in a coloured space: red means it’s new, blue means you simply finished it, and gold is when you got all collectables and beaten the time trial.
One of the tunnel-racing levels as Sonic.
In the aforementioned Tails levels, you can also find trading card pieces (the Sea Fox ones in later islands make you try to grab two pieces). The Sea Fox has a set amount of health that reduces itself as time goes on and chunks disappear when you get hit by sea cavern walls, naval mines, and debris, and it can get quite frustrating to beat. You can collect pink clocks to restore a bit of the bar, but you also have the real time to consider for that time trial completion (the pink clocks don’t affect this). The hovercraft levels have a similar time-based life but you can actually boost with the R button and shoot icebergs with the X button. These are done uber quickly and I find them to be the easiest levels in the game by far.
In Sonic’s boost levels, you only have to worry about time and collecting 200 rings, so it’s similar to Eggman’s races in that regard. Timing and careful watch of what’s in the distance is key in these underground tunnel stages. You need to mind when to change between Fire and Ice modes very carefully, but you catch on quite well after a few stages, as when you see the water sprays forming a bridge, go ice, and when you’re in an ice area and you see an ice pillar in your path, go fire.
A Sea Fox level. Not as jarring as you might think.
Each island has three sets of collectables: Amy’s Hammer Parts, Junk Parts to bring to Sticks, and trading card pieces. For the Hammer Parts, you collect them in the main levels with three in each one, and build enough up to unlock new hammers for Amy to use. However in all my tests, none appear to be any stronger than the last, and the changes only appear to be cosmetic. Next are the junk pieces for Sticks. The goal for these is to collect them in a similar fashion as the Hammers with three in each stage, and bring them to Sticks’ burrow to build a machine of sorts (I’d rather leave what it is a surprise, but it’s nothing spectacular or anything). The last are the trading card pieces, which you can also collect in each main stage in a challenge room hidden for you to find. These are only used to unlock new tracks for the game’s local multiplayer bot racing, which I sadly could not test alone. It’s strange because when you collect enough pieces, you can put them together at Tails’ house in a small touch-based mini-game – that’s fine, but when you finish said card, it’s just stock art of the specific character, and there’s no actual “trading” to be done in the game. It’s funny as that could’ve made for a neat StreetPass gimmick (there is one, but it’s for Ragnium mining).
Ragnium is an important currency you gain from beating enemies, from collecting Dragon Rings within a time limit, and as a reward for clearing a stage’s time trial mission. These are used to buy upgrades from Tails at Thunder Island after a certain point in the game, which is where the bot-racing multiplayer mode is also accessed. For Tails’ upgrades, be prepared to mine for ragnium a lot, because I’m talking fees up to 700. Sonic’s Shack is also where you can also watch any previously seen cutscene and listen to any previously heard music track, which is something that ALL Sonic games should have (looking at you, Sonic Lost World Wii U), as well as Ragnium-unlockable Sonic Boom cartoon trivia.
Prepare to do something like this late in the game.
The stages themselves are mostly point A to point B. Your best bet is to try and grab all the collectables while also observing how the level is laid out, as this way you’ll have an easier time beating the time trial afterwards. One thing you might have missed is by hitting up on the d-pad you bring up the map on the bottom screen: this will show you the layout of the immediate area, and also where enemies are nearby. You won’t see the collectables, but you can see where the challenge room and the fissure (the goal point) are located, and all the checkpoints along the way. Hitting down the the d-pad lets you check on your HUD and current collectables. Also, you can actually use left and right on the d-pad to change characters this way, so you don’t only have to switch from the map and tap the character icons on the touchscreen.
But how is the game you may ask? It’s… decent. There are good points but also some unimpressive points and even a pretty bad point. The good bits are that it does look good at times. Personally, I like the Paleo Tarpits the most out of the worlds in terms of appearances. Also you break eggs in to collect rings. That’s just mean. Look, I know you want to beat Eggman guys but leave those poor eggs alone–––although they do seem to be empty aside from that, so… okay?
Anyone order dino-mite omelets?
Anyway, the titular Fire & Ice mechanic is actually really well done and an honestly enjoyable mechanic that doesn’t seem annoying or anything. The variety of playable characters are also a lot of fun, though I admit I mostly stuck with Sonic. However some of the bad notes are that the game is a bit ugly at times. Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice runs at a smooth 30 frames per second which is okay but it’s not 60fps like some would prefer in Sonic games (myself included). The stages look just fine while playing them, but then the camera zooms in at the victory screen which shows the textures looking pretty awful. This is true also during in-game cutscenes where the close-ups do the textures no favours at all and the visuals do feel unpolished as a whole (though well animated character-wise), and only four cutscenes are pre-rendered CGI to make up for them.
There’s also the issue of 3D: the cutscenes are not in 3D at all. The map and the stages themselves are 3D supported of course, and while they do look good, I just never bothered with it. One issue is that you’ll likely be moving the 3DS while playing as I have (note: I’m playing on a regular 3DS XL) so the 3D won’t stay very well, but you might be able to work with it on the New 3DS models. Either way, I certainly won’t tell you to buy it for the 3D or anything.
Another odd thing is when you beat a stage, you see the character(s) up-close, and they do an animation. When you beat a regular stage and some mini-games, the characters have no facial animation, but they DO when beating bosses. Why not just give them facial animation for all of them? Amy, for one, was pretty noticeable with this.
Wrasslin’ with style!
Another issue is the music, which is once again composed by Sonic veteran Richard Jacques. While I liked a couple of tracks, it’s a very bland soundtrack overall – sadly a shadow of his glorious Saturn days of Flickies and feeling that sunshine.
I should mention an issue I encountered that had to do with a crash: a single crash early on in the first boss fight when I was using Amy. It was the strangest thing! It froze, and fifteen seconds later, the game quits on its own, my 3DS telling me that an error had occurred and the system restarted on its own. This never happened to me ever on 3DS. Whether this is an issue with the game itself, or a freak accident and a fluke of sorts, who knows. I stress this only happened once, so I can’t be certain, but I’m mentioning it so that if anyone else has experienced this, please let me know.
Another frustrating thing is the difficulty spike later in the game. Difficulty is one thing, but oh god did I loathe playing in a couple of levels in Gothic Gardens (and one challenge room in it, uuuuugh). Just be prepared when you’re at that point in the game as you will die a lot and will have to retry so many times to beat those time trials. Some levels give you about 30 seconds to a minute of time to spare so you can goof up here and there but if you die—hell, even by just being hit and sent back like 10 seconds earlier—you’re not going to make it in time. The Sea Fox levels are another as I said as just touching the walls (and they can get narrow) will eat at your health quickly.
All in all, I’d say this is a decent playthrough, but sadly I don’t think it’s worth the asking price ($40-$50). It’s a “wait for a sale” kind of game in my personal opinion. It’s fun in a few parts, but rough in others.
+ The titular Fire and Ice mechanic. It’s well done in my opinion and is a nice way to keep you on your toes.
+ The character and level variety is also a nice way to change things up so it doesn’t get too repetitive.
+ The stages, when playing them, do look good.
+ The satisfaction of finally completing an area after the hard work of collecting everything.
+ The pace is good when you’re in constant motion, particularly as Sonic with his air dash abilities.
+ The game, while a bit rough in spots, does feel more polished than you’d expect from a Sonic Boom game.
+ Being able to rewatch any cutscene and listen to any music track in Sonic’s Shack is definitely a plus and very appreciated. I’m looking at you, Sonic Lost World Wii U.
+ The game has 3 save files. Why a game ever has just one, I’ll never know (again, looking at you, Sonic Lost World Wii U…)
– The later levels and the difficulty awaiting you there. The Sea Fox also is really frustrating trying not to hit the walls when it’s cramped and narrow.
– Mining for Ragnium to buy the last of the upgrades.
– Cutscenes, while well animated, can look pretty ugly, as do the textures in general when the camera zooms in during the victory screens.
– No 3D in cutscenes, CG and in-game. The 3D during gameplay is also not very recommended for regular 3DS owners due to your natural motion while playing.
– The music is bland and just sad how Richard Jacques can’t be like his glorious Saturn days.
SECOND OPINION by VIZARDJEFFHOG
The announcement of Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice last year was met with anticipated jeers and hostility. After SEGA and Big Red Button’s mutual disaster with Rise of Lyric and a Shattered Crystal from Sanzaru Games that did not live up to expectations, a sequel to these games was not one fans were expecting nor wanting. And yet, here we are, one big promise from SEGA and an extra year of development later; Sanzaru is once again at the helm with Fire & Ice, a game built to correct its predecessor’s missteps.
Levels are a lot shorter and much more streamlined, and with no roadblocks barring me from continuing the game because I didn’t find “enough” collectibles this time around, I actually felt motivated to explore for myself rather than feeling forced into it! The game as is turned out to be as fast and as fun as I came to expect from a Sonic game, complete with a lighthearted and cheeky story that felt like it was pulled straight from the actual cartoon.
That said, I did encounter a couple of problems of my own. Fire & Ice was built to be a faster game, but I found it disappointing that its sense of “speed” were built on a lot of auto-running and boost pads. I found myself going through a ton of zany and dizzying twists and turns between stage segments, and while it was really fun to watch, I felt let down by the fact that this wasn’t done through my direct control – uninterrupted speed wasn’t a reward, as it was instead thrust upon me without merit. I was also puzzled by a distinct lack of momentum physics, best shown with Sonic’s Spin Dash – jump as you release the charge and don’t hold your direction on the circle pad, and Sonic drops like a bag of rocks. Finally, I’ve also taken issue with the game’s hint system, which had almost every necessary action already labeled for me within the stages, and it all just came across as patronizing for me – an option to turn them off would have been greatly appreciated.
Overall, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a pretty good game that helps redeem the name of the spinoff series, but has a few lingering kinks that needed to be ironed out in order to be considered great. I still find that it’s a worthy addition to any Sonic fan’s library, and hope to see Sanzaru build upon its foundations for a bigger and better Boom game in the future. If anything, it makes for a neat distraction until Sonic Mania arrives this Spring.
If you’d like to know more about my time with the game, you can check out my own personal review for Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice over at Gamnesia!