Review: Sonic Boom, Sonic Boom, Sonic Boom & Sonic Boom
Sega has pulled out all the stops for the new entries in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Not only are there two new games for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, Sonic fans have been treated to a new animated cartoon on Cartoon Network and a new title from Archie Comics, for a total of four if you count the magazine-sized Sonic Super Special. Not bad for a game series that over two decades long.
So you can’t expect me to review just one of them, can you?
Both the video games feature a new villain, Lyric, a serpentine scientist from the dawn of time, the last of a race known as the Ancients, which if you think about it, is an odd thing to name yourselves since you’re not ancient when you name yourselves. In addition to Sonic and his able sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower, Knuckles the Echidna and Amy Rose make a welcome return as playable characters. A new character, Sticks the Badger, has been living in the jungle by herself most of her life, causing her grasp of reality to be a tad…tenuous.
Working with Lyric is the Moriarty to Sonic’s Sherlock (that is, if Moriarty weighed 300 pounds and was an unrepentant boob) Dr. Eggman and his android creation, Metal Sonic. Answering to no one is the mysterious Shadow the Hedgehog, also making a welcome return to the series. The player can choose from the four heroes to use as their playable character, a game mechanic not seen for years in the series, not to mention the first female playable characters in quite some time in the main line of Sonic games. Both games feature a new device, the Enerbeam, an electronic device which can be used like a whip or a lasso to snare enemies, latch on to outcropping for scaling and swinging, and generally giving the players more ways to interact with things than running and jumping.
SONIC BOOM – Rise of Lyric is another of Nintendo’s exclusive Sonic games, this one for the Wii U System. Our heroes accidentally awaken Lyric from his island prison and spend the game chasing him and his new allies Dr. Eggman and Metal Sonic. The gameplay is starkly different from a standard Sonic game – flat-out running stages are in the minority, replaced by both 3-D exploration levels and 2-D puzzlers where the team jumps, presses buttons and bounces about on jump pads. For those who find the breakneck speed of a Sonic game to be almost incomprehensible, it’s a welcome change – those who live by the edict “Gotta Go Fast” may find themselves disappointed. the camera is a bit hard to maneuver in the exploration levels and there’s some loading hesitation between areas in the larger free-play areas, but it’s largely a fun ride if you’re not one of the purists who only want to feel the wind in your quills and bot parts in your teeth.
In SONIC BOOM -Shattered Crystal for the Nintendo 3DS, Lyric appears all on his own, capturing Amy Rose and holding her hostage, trying to pry the secrets of the lost crystal which has been, as the title reveals, shattered and hidden. While players keen to get past the cliché of “Damseling” (as media critic Anita Sarkeesian describes it) may find this story point disappointing, they may take solace that the hole in the playable character roster is taken by Sticks the Badger, a new female character with a wicked boomerang and a stack of evidence that the Moon landing was faked…by Martians.
Shattered Crystal is largely a 2-D side-scroller with more in common with Metroid than Sonic. The levels are sprawling affairs where the player must use an assortment of acrobatic moves to reach all of the area to track down the various crystal shards, blueprints for new power-ups and more. Some areas are only passable by certain characters, which means backtracking and re-trying once each new ally is unlocked. The levels are VERY large, and in some cases must be completed in their entirety before proceeding – get ready to comb the game for that last crystal or blueprint scrap.
SONIC BOOM is also an animated series, running Saturday mornings on Cartoon Network, using the popular 15-minute format, doubled up to fill the traditional half-hour timeslot. The character designs are the same ones from the video games (very possibly the same renders), as is the voice cast. Roger Craig Smith returns as The Blue Blur, and Mike Pollock ever remains your villain of choice Dr. Eggman. Cindy Robinson is back as Amy Rose and voice veteran Nika Futterman joins the team as Sticks. The tone of the show is pure wacky sitcom – Eggman is forced to room with Sonic for a bit too long after his lair is destroyed, Sticks needs manners lessons for an upcoming soiree, etc. But the gags fly hot and heavy, and almost all hit the mark. Considering how serious, even complex some of the previous Sonic series had gotten, a funny one is a welcome change.
SONIC BOOM #1 from Archie Comics looks like it will stick more with the more long-form narrative format that series writer Ian Flynn has done so well with on the other two current Sonic titles. Running in its own continuity, it features the same characters and designs from the other media, though as with the cartoon, Lyric has not yet appeared, After a fun intro battle, complete with fourth-wall winks and expository introductions, complete with logos in the word balloons, things take a turn for the serious quickly with a surprise twist on the last page. The Archie Sonic titles have a rabid fan base, and have been chugging along merrily for years, only recently crossing over with fellow video game franchise Mega Man. Presuming this title is equally successful, one wonders what excitement we can look forward to in the coming year.
Sega has also licensed a boatload of new toys and clothing for the new addition to the series, so if you’ve got a Sonic fan in your life, you won’t be short of things to pick up for them this holiday season, and just about all of it will bring happiness and excitement.