Return To Form
The chronicles of Sonic the Hedgehog, a once vibrant and glorious franchise, fell to mediocrity and gimmicks in the latter stages of its lore. Its storybook, filled with the critical and commercial successes of Sonic the Hedgehog, 2, and 3 (among others), sat in tatters during the PS2/Wii/Wii U era. Still, Sega never quite gave up, continuing to release new iterations of Sonic before eventually seeking consumer advice. The result of its soul searching was Sonic 4, the mobile and, eventually, console addition to the series that reinvigorated the hopes of Sonic fans worldwide. Fast forward to 2016, when, after the critical flop of Sonic Boom: The Rise of Lyric, Sega released a Sonic Boom spinoff entitled Fire & Ice.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice follows Sonic, Tails, and friends as they race through their world after a small robot – created by the nefarious Dr. Robotnic (Dr. Eggman) – responsible for opening up dangerous geysers all throughout the various lands. In their journey, they must close each geyser and collect Ragnium while continuously racing the good doctor on his private race track facility. The story takes the characters through several areas that force the player to utilize each character’s unique abilities (including the universal fire and ice abilities) to successfully complete all the stages with 100%.
What makes Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice truly shine is its level construction. Each level is built with what appears to be structured complexity, simulating a fast paced experience that often requires the player to make split second decisions in order to conserve coins and health. Speeding through stages is pure bliss, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing and mentally stimulating adventure. This isn’t to say there aren’t flaws within Fire & Ice, but the overall set up struck a nostalgic and technically sound chord from my perspective.
Gameplay in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is similar to classic Sonic games of old (and the newer Sonic 4). The camera sits in a side scrolling setup, and players speed through each level in a general left-to-right sense. In Fire & Ice’s meticulously crafted levels, however, players can race off the beaten path to explore the often expansive levels. Not only did the game feel good, but it also played extremely well. Sonic can spin, sprint, jump, and destroy like he always has been, each necessary for different situations. Additionally, with the press of the L or R button on your 3DS, Sonic and friends can coat themselves with fire or ice. This ability is vital in navigating each level, as Sonic will routinely need to melt blocks of ice or freeze chunks of water in order to proceed without meeting his demise.
Unfortunately, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice didn’t offer a wide variety of gameplay options. Each world was set up in an identical fashion as the last. A handful of traditional stages populated each world with the addition of a submarine, cave run, and speed boat level. One would think the addition of three separate level types (five if you include the Robotnic races and boss battles) would liven up the experience, but I dreaded both the submarine and boat levels. To make matters worse, there was no variation in each of those additional stage types. Each suffered from extremely similar level design, like the developers decided adding more content made up for any overlapping experiences. Thankfully, the level design of the main stages was truly great.
Aesthetically, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is pretty average. Since the game maintains a side scrolling style throughout its entirety, the visuals don’t have a chance to excel. Most of the game is zoomed out for the purpose of gameplay, while the cinematics were decent. The 3D works decent enough, I suppose, but it’s under utilized. The game does regain some style points, as the course design allows for some pretty incredible visual feats. Watching Sonic and friends blaze their way through levels, spinning and bouncing across obstacles and jumps is one of the most satisfying set of visuals in a game I’ve played recently.
The biggest drawback in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is its paltry narrative. I know, I know. It’s a Sonic game; why do I expect a decent story? Honestly, I don’t. This iteration, however, is so childish that I struggled through the cringes. While Sonic and friends are attempting to close the earthly geysers – most likely caused by D-FEKT, Dr. Robotnic’s failure of a robot – the Egghead’s master plan is to beat Sonic in a race. It’s a battle of the highest stakes, as he seeks solely to… embarrass Sonic? The only positives that come from the narrative are the race battles, where you must navigate Sonic through Robotnic’s race course against his mechanized suits.
In all, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice provides players with a decent Sonic adventure that’ll last you about 10-12 hours. Unless you’re a completionist, there isn’t much extra content to keep you occupied. If you are, however, you may be able to squeeze out about five more hours of gameplay. And while the gameplay is varied a bit with each character’s special abilities and the in between boss fights, there isn’t much innovation in the entirety of the game. Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice fixed many of the issues of Rise of Lyric, but its lack of content, poor sound direction, and silly narrative hinder the overall experience. Still, the return to form of Sonic’s content is something worth supporting.