Both Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U and Sonic Boom: Crystal Shards for the Nintendo 3DS were playable at EB Games Expo 2014 and I got the chance to try out both to see what was similar and different between the two.
I first spent some time with Sonic Boom: Crystal Shard which I played on a 2DS system. The controls were rather simple with B being Jump and Double Jump, Y being Boost, X being a attack that is unique to each character and A allowing you to use the new Energy Whip that all characters can use to pull shields off enemies or swing from beams Indiana Jones style to continue moving forward. The touch screen allowed you to change character which you will have to do from time to time to advance through the level. Sonic can air dash through drill blocks while Knuckles can dig through ground are some examples. The game play in the demo was strictly 2D but I was told by a rep that classic ‘tunnel’ sections like the original bonus levels will be making a return.
Every character plays rather similarly but has a unique attack only they can perform. Sonic uses Spin Dash (it can be charged however can’t be used for speed at all), Tails throws out bombs, Knuckles punches and newcomer Styx throws her boomerang. You have a good deal of control over your characters movements and it feels good when you land a double jump or attack on one of the robotic enemies present in the game.
The environments are fairly simple to traverse and have multiple paths you can take to reach the end. Each level also has a number of challenges you can complete such as collect 200 rings, complete it in under 5 minutes or collect a certain number of gears. You can rush through levels at a fairly high speed or choose to explore them more which will reward you with rings and other collectibles. The graphics are pretty good for the 3DS’s small screens and the game performs well without any slowdown during game play. If you’re looking for a ‘classic’ 2D Sonic experience, then this is shaping up to be a good title to add to your collection.
While my experience with Sonic Boom on the 3DS was rather positive, the same can’t be said for Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric. This demo was broken up into three distinct parts all featuring different game play.
The first I played was a race level that felt very similar to the day time levels that were present in Sonic Unleashed but without the boost function which didn’t feel necessary here as the game play felt more than fast enough. The sense of speed was very satisfying and there were also multiple paths that required you to press the A button to use your energy beam whip to grasp onto energy ropes. You could side step left and right with the L and R buttons just like Unleashed and getting to end of the level was a fun and challenging experience with a great sense of speed. Unfortunately the positives end there as this part of the demo suffered from a poor frame rate, choppy animations and PS2 like era graphics, the latter two which are present throughout the entire game. Keep in mind this is a demo so these issues could be solved in the release build.
The second part of demo focused on a boss battle between the four characters and Dr. Eggman in yet another new mech. Dr. Eggman has been much more characterized as a comedic villain archetype in Sonic Boom, even going as far as to pull his mustache to ridiculous lengths in frustration at his own failings. Some fans won’t like this but remember Sonic Boom is a new branch for the series aimed at a younger audience so this decision was influenced by that fact. The boss battle was rather easy with you using your energy beam to lasso missiles that had dropped on the ground after being fired at you and flinging them back at Eggman. After he would become stunned you then rush in with your team and mash the X button to attack him with your entire team. The boss battle was the classic 3 stage boss we’ve come to expect from similar games but was still a fun time. It was good to see your teammates help fend off other enemies on the stage while you focus on the missiles. There wasn’t much challenge here thanks to the ring system as picking up rings in the 3D space is insanely easy meaning you essentially have unlimited health.
The third part of the demo focused on a platforming/exploring part in a 3D environment featuring Sonic and Amy as interchangeable playable characters. This was easily the worst of the three demos I got to play with the sloppy graphics, flat textures and poor animations really standing out against the slow and lackluster game play. Combat with Sonic just wasn’t fun and didn’t flow well and even his fun spin dash bounce attack that turns Sonic into a bouncing ball of destruction couldn’t make up for this shortcoming. Amy’s combat was slightly better but was also very slow however her special Hammer Tornado attack that seems like it can be pulled off infinitely was fun to use but overpowered. The platforming sections can only be described as basic, Amy featuring a triple jump to reach higher ledges and jump further and Sonic being able to spin dash in the air to connect himself to different nodes. Occasionally separate paths open up that can only be traversed by a separate character and that was perhaps the most original and interesting part of the demo.
I got stuck a few times in the demo with the path to advance to the next part of the level not always clear. One example was when I had to destroy a stack of destroyed rubble that blended into the environment and didn’t give any indication a lever that needed to be pulled was behind there. Problems like this are indicative of poor design and I can imagine the younger audience being completely stumped when they arrive at sections like this. There was also a forward running section reminiscent of the Truck chasing you scene from the City Escape Level in Sonic Adventure 2, however unlike then there was literally no challenge as holding back towards the screen and not doing anything else was enough to escape the monster chasing you. The monster later reappears to chase you again, except this time you have a few easily missable pipes to dodge.
The two titles share characters and the universe, but have obviously been produced by two different teams with completely different ideas of quality. If you could only pick up one of these Sonic Boom titles, I would definitely go with Crystal Shards on the Nintendo 3DS over the sloppy Rise of Lyric for the Wii U which would still be a very mediocre title even if the issues with graphics and performance were fixed. For all our other coverage of this years EB Games Expo please follow the link.