Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (3DS) Review

Here we are, ladies and gentlemen! We have arrived at not just the final review of 2016, but also the final post of 2016! We covered Mario earlier this month with Super Mario Run, so let's take a look at his former rival's latest with Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice for the Nintendo 3DS. Let's see if this is a marked improvement over Shattered Crystal, which released a couple of years ago.

Fiery Hot or Icy Not?

When Sonic Boom was revealed, fans of the Blue Blur and gamers alike were flabbergasted. How could they bastardize a beloved gaming icon! While others gave the new side-series a chance, that goodwill soon soured with the release of the Wii U's Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, a game that rivals the dreadful Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 in pure, unadulterated awfulness. Though the CG cartoon Sonic Boom is a quality series, the gaming portion of the franchise has yet to strike gold... or even come close, for that matter. Will the newest Nintendo 3DS entry, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice heat things up or leave players in the cold?

Things have been overhauled since Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. Levels are less like labyrinths and more like action stages as seen in traditional 2D Sonic games outside the Boom lineage. There is also no focus on being required to collect items in levels. Instead, everything in a level is purely optional to obtain, though those wanting the most bang for the rings will want to explore every inch of a level for goodies, such as hammers for Amy, springs for Sticks, and special challenge areas, possessing the most difficult platforming trials in the game.

While quite tropical, this level is hardly a summer getaway for Sonic and friends.
Levels in Fire & Ice see themselves along two planes, one in the foreground and one in the background that with springs, your character jumps between. There's great attention to speed in the levels, though these are purely automated boost segments, where your character rushes through loop-de-loops, bounces along springs, and jets past boosters without any possible input from you the player. Fire & Ice includes its fair share of these sections, which makes the game sort of play itself at times.

Most levels feature shared obstacles to avoid and contraptions to interact with, such as spheres that Sonic and friends can tether to in order to swing across gaps, platforms that shortly disappear once a character stands on them, and aforementioned things like springs and boosters. Thankfully, some levels do introduce new contraptions and obstacles for Sonic and friends to contend with. These include things like platforms that swing back and forth from a chain, a barrel that blocks progress that can have its fuses lit to cause it to explode, and character-specific obstacles.

The tether, something that Sonic and friends will be using a lot in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice.
Starting out in Fire & Ice, you just have Sonic as an available character. As you progress through the game, Sonic's friends join up as playable characters, which you can switch between automatically by tapping their icons on the touch screen. Different characters have different abilities, which makes them able to access locations that other characters can't. For instance, not only can Sonic's best buddy Tails ride the winds of fans, but he can use his blaster to aim at enemies and blast specific blocks to smithereens either directly or with a laser guided sight, ricocheting a shot off a mirror into the block. Meanwhile, Amy, who is a playable character for the first time in the handheld Sonic Boom series, can use her hammer to smash down certain pillars for access to new areas. Each of the five playable characters is worthwhile to use, though in speed runs, I heavily preferred to use Sonic due to his ability to spin dash and boost in the air.

Tails has two special abilities: the ability to slowly hover to the ground
like so, as well as the ability to use a blaster.
Of course, that isn't all that levels have to offer obstacle-wise either in general or when specific to a certain character. I haven't mentioned what the "Fire & Ice" in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is all about. Through pressing either shoulder button, Sonic and friends can change between a fiery aura and an icy one. With the fire form, ice can be melted, while with the ice form, bodies of water can be frozen solid. Initial levels give you plenty of practice with this central mechanic, and all later levels use it in some regard. The most difficult sections of Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice tend to require you to switch between forms quickly and in the correct order to pass specific obstacles, especially in the aforementioned challenge areas of levels. Though, a central mechanic, I feel that Fire & Ice doesn't fulfill the mechanic's full potential, so it seems like a gimmick than anything else, and not something that makes the game stand out.

You better heat up, Sonic, before those spike blocks crash down on you.
Other than traditional 2D levels, Sonic Boom's second installment on the 3DS features alternate level types. Rather than be inside the traditional levels, ruining the pacing of said levels, sections where you pilot Tails' submarine through a side-scrolling maze of sorts to search for treasure, are separate levels entirely. In addition to those, the returning behind-the-back rushes through caverns, not too far removed from the half-pipe special stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, make their return. There are also three-lap races against one of Dr. Eggman's robots, as well as quick jaunts with Tails in a hovercraft, blasting icebergs while avoiding mines to reach the goal. The Tails levels are simple and quick enough to complete, but they feel like nothing but filler regardless.

Even Knuckles gets in on the speedy action in Fire & Ice.
During four points during the story, Sonic and friends face off against one of the game's bosses. Each battle takes up both screens of the Nintendo 3DS, and has Sonic teaming up with a different pal each boss fight, with Sonic and his friend tagging each other in automatically depending on the part of the battle. These fights are relatively easy to beat both the optional time requirement and ring count, though you might have to restart them multiple times to do so, as you learn each bosses' attack patterns.

Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice isn't a long adventure by any means. To 100% complete it, you'll need about 8-10 hours, though thankfully this time around the bonus for 100% isn't just the Sonic crew dancing, mocking you wasting part of your life going for 100%. There are numerous things to unlock, such as new bots to race on Thunder Island, the racing destination of the game; as well as currency to spend on behind-the-scenes content like concept art and sneak peeks at stuff from the upcoming season two of the Sonic Boom cartoon.

Fire & Ice is a serviceable game visually. There is a great deal of detail in the backgrounds, and the different environments presented through them are the stars of the show here. Sonic and friends' character models aren't as well done, however, looking a bit bizarre up close, and due to each level's ending screen, you'll be seeing them up close quite a lot. The game also has some minor frame-rate issues, some most noticeable in certain sections of levels, where for me it slowed down to a single digit crawl for a brief couple of seconds. However, those times are awfully rare. When it concerns sound, the voice actors do a fine job bringing the Saturday morning cartoon feel of the show to Fire & Ice, though the music is quite forgettable-- a shame considering the same composer did tremendous work with Sonic 3D Blast's Saturn version and Sonic R.

The backgrounds and environments, like the one in this special challenge area, look best in Fire & Ice.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a tough game to recommend at full MSRP, just because how fast the game is over, even for completionists like myself. Nonetheless, if you can nab it for $20, then you'll find yourself with a game that serves the Blue Blur well as a genuinely pleasant platformer. The central mechanic of switching between fire and ice forms to melt and freeze platforms may not be fully realized or implemented to its fullest potential, but it's fun enough and offers a change of pace. The Sonic Boom franchise might still not have its blockbuster, totally way past cool entry yet, but Fire & Ice is hardly a fail of a game.

[SPC Says: C+]

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