Review: Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (3DS)

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Even though everyone keeps mentioning the “Sonic Cycle,” it is difficult for me to avoid getting slightly excited for a new Sonic game. I’m 29 years old, and I still get excited every time a Sonic game gets confirmed. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet obtained a Wii U, but I do have a 3DS. In all honesty though, I always prefer my Sonic games to follow the side-scrolling formula, so I didn’t feel left out when both a 3DS and Wii U version of Sonic Boom were announced; however, this is the first portable Sonic game not published by Dimps (known fondly for their Sonic Advance series) since Sega went third party. Does it hold a flame to those classics? Or did it burn out as soon as someone else grabbed the torch from Dimps? Tighten that athletic tape and hit the jump to find out.

Immediately, you are greeted with a great-looking cut scene laying out the plot involving the new villain Lyric: a snake in crazy armor hell bent on reclaiming shards of a crystal with unlimited power. Amy attempts to take him down on her own, only to be distracted by a message from Sonic and then captured. Way to go, Amy. As if texting and driving wasn’t bad enough.

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The first level introduces the basic controls, some of the most complicated in any Sonic game. The prevailing difference is that every face button has a different function rather than all of them letting Sonic jump:

  • B = Jump
  • A = Enerbeam
  • Y = dash
  • X = character ability (Sonic – spin dash/jump dash, Tails – bomb toss, Sticks – boomerang, Knuckles – punch/dig)

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This in mind, I was completely thrown off when I tried to push the thumb stick down to perform a spin dash and could not. Only Sonic can do a spin dash, which is done by simply pressing the X-button. I soon learned the spin dash was useless compared to simply holding down the Y-button to dash. The characters actually move slowly enough that I found myself holding down the Y button almost entirely. Another major difference is Sonic and his pals (who you unlock as the game progresses) do not turn into a ball when jumping, which caused me to die immediately against the first enemy. Instead, every character can now perform Sonic’s signature homing attack. A completely jarring change to a long-time Sonic fan like myself, but the homing attack in Sonic Boom is the most precise I have ever experienced of any Sonic game.

I was a bit skeptical with all these new abilities due to the fact that the tutorial level took over 15 minutes to complete. No level should take that long in a Sonic game, but it didn’t bother me initially since it was the introduction to new game mechanics, and I assumed, I was spending too much time exploring the vast level. How I wish that was the case.

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With all these different abilities, the game opens up many branching paths, puzzles, and accessible areas that are only discoverable after revisiting old levels with new characters – something I first compared to playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as Knuckles. At first, this return was a fun option until I realized I could not progress until playing though and exploring every inch of each level. I quickly ran through the 4 levels in the first area, Seaside Coast, and collected a Sonic Emblem each time upon completion. When approaching the gate to the next area, it required 5 emblems to progress. I was admittedly baffled because there were only 4 levels, so how was I to collect 5 emblems? I then learned in a load screen that I can unlock more emblems through collecting crystal shards, or finding blueprints. This was depth I was not expecting in a Sonic title, but accepted it as something fresh.

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The collected blue prints allow Tails to edit your map in his workshop, so that certain items will appear on the touch screen’s map during gameplay. An immensely helpful tool, right? Yes and no, but mainly no. It was then I realized just how much this game was turning into a Where’s Waldo book. When I explore the in-game map, I can only explore so much until I enter a certain door (which is actually a “slingshot” to add touchscreen functionality) and access that portion of the map. Because of this, a lot of my time was spent attempting to memorize what door led where and in turn completely giving up on the tokens associated with completing a level in a certain amount of time. Combining this with trial and error, levels would take me an average of 10 minutes to complete. Ten minutes is way too long for a level in a Sonic game, with or without exploration. I thought this amount of time was inexcusable, but then I saw some of the par times to complete levels were as high as 6 minutes.

I will admit the endless runner type levels were a nice break from exploration, and possibly my favorite part of the game; however, these levels only allowed 1 unlockable emblem. So if anything, I was using them as a stress reliever after spending 15 minutes searching for 5 crystal shards.

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Now you may think, “oh you were able to progress once you grabbed those 5 emblems and breeze through the game!” Negative. Every time I unlocked a new world, I would attempt to play through a level quickly, clear each level in a world, and come to the slingshot which would always require at least 1 more emblem than I currently had. I realized after unlocking Tails, Sticks, and Knuckles, that I was being forced to replay levels. And so I did.

In the first few worlds, I unlocked Tails who could ride the breeze of fans to higher locations. Sticks had her trusty boomerang to hit switches to open different locations. And Knuckles could dig underground. As a Knuckles fan, I was immediately annoyed that he had no gliding or climbing ability, but calmed down by convincing myself this is a spin-off from the Sonic universe. Sonic’s mid-air dash allowed him to break through certain blocks. Each character was assigned to a different direction on the D-pad, so you would have to switch between them to access certain areas.

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With each character unlocked, the Metroid-vania of Sonic Boom began. Let me state that again. The METROID-VANIA of SONIC Boom began. I understand that Sonic games have never necessarily been entirely focused on speed, and also include exploration, but this became absolutely ridiculous with each level taking me almost 10 minutes to complete without even exploring. The fact I had to switch between characters made it feel like each character was only added to add aesthetic variety to the game. I compare this to Rayman Origins or Rayman Legends where your abilities are unlocked, and you can play as any chosen character. It really is unnecessary to first press the D-pad and then press a button to use an ability. This doesn’t add personality to Sonic Boom, just extra steps in a game already chalk full of extra steps.

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When I started comparing Sonic Boom to such recent side-scrollers as Rayman Origins, I realized just how little this feels like a Sonic game. I would go as far to say that it feels like this game was not initially intended to be a Sonic game. You could take away Sonic’s friends, map the abilities to one button to cycle through, and have the next Dynamite Headdy for all it matters.

In other words, this is the best Dynamite Headdy game I have played in years.

  • This game is better than Sonic Lost World (3DS) but worse than every other Sonic side-scrolling game.
  • If you get Addicted, you may want to try Super Metroid.
  • A better name for this game would have been “Anything without ‘Sonic’ in the title”
  • Buy/Rent/Avoid: Avoid…like the plague
  • Sonic Boom was a chance to see a different side of Sonic, but it goes so far from the expected formula that you wonder why Sonic would even be associated with the exploration and forced collect-a-thon.

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