Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice could be described as a video game, based on a cartoon, which is in turn based on a video game. Well, that might sound a little bit confusing at first, so let me elaborate on this. Sonic Boom is sort of a re-imagination of the Sonic universe and is a spin-off franchise, mostly controlled by Sega of America. The franchise started in 2014, and besides video games it includes a computer-animated TV show, a comic series by Archie Comics and a toy line. Sonic Boom co-exists with the main Sonic franchise; the main difference being that Sonic Boom is primarily aimed at the western audience.
Unlike most games in the series, Sonic Boom titles are made by western studios and not by the Japanese Sonic Team. The first two came out on Nintendo Wii U and 3DS in 2014. While both games were released around the same time, they are actually totally different games made by different game studios. Rise of Lyric was developed by Big Red Button for the Wii U and Shattered Crystal by Sanzaru Games for the 3DS. The reception of the first two Sonic Boom games wasn’t too good upon their releases. The Wii U version has an especially bad reputation. While the 3DS game wasn’t nearly as broken as Rise of Lyric when it came out, Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal had its own issues, mostly with the levels being too long and maze-like. Another problem was that it forced the player to replay levels multiple times in order to progress in the game.
Originally Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice was meant to come out in 2015, but after the fiasco of the first two titles, SEGA announced to delay the game in hopes of exceeding the expectations of the fans. Did the one extra year development time help Fire & Ice to save Sonic Boom’s reputation? You’re about to find out!
The game begins with Doctor Eggman scheming against Sonic as usual, but then we quickly segue over to a snowy environment where we find Sonic and Amy are deploying some kind of scientific device. After the “science pole thingy”, as Sonic calls it, is successfully placed, Amy gives it a hit with her hammer. All of a sudden our two heroes gain their Fire & Ice abilities, which just happens to be the main gimmick of the game. The intro is a pre-rendered animation in the style of the TV show, but sadly it is displayed only in 2D. After the short intro the game drops the player in the first tutorial level. Characters are controlled with the analog stick. Unlike the original Sonic games, where Sonic’s always “gotta go fast”, this one requires a button press similar to Mario. Y sprints, B jumps, the L and R button toggles between the fire and ice modes, A uses the Enerbeam that can be used to grab on floating platforms and swing over obstacles, and X uses the special ability of the character you’re currently controlling.
Speaking of characters, we have another Sonic and his friends game here. There are a total of five playable characters in the game. They include Sonic, Amy, Tails, Knuckles and Sticks. Sonic can dash, Amy uses her signature hammer, Tails can hover and use a blaster, Knuckles can punch and burrow underground, and Sticks can use a boomerang to hit enemies and activate switches. The player can switch between the characters by using the touch screen or the D-pad. Not all characters are available at the beginning of the adventure, but they can be all unlocked fairly early in the game. Most of the levels can be beaten with any character, but occasionally you will need the special ability of a particular hero to progress in the level or to grab a certain collectible.
The long, maze-like levels of Shattered Crystal are thankfully a thing of the past. The stages in Fire & Ice are much more straightforward and can frequently be beaten in 3 to 4 minutes, assuming you forego exploration and just rush to the goal. In fact, you can actually finish the game with less than 30% on the progress meter. For completionists, every level has hidden items to collect and even offers challenge rooms to test your platforming abilities. These got their names for a reason, so I suggest you to come back once you have finished the game and have really mastered the controls. Sometimes Doctor Eggman offers up a side challenge to Sonic where he can take part in bot races. These are side-scrolling platforming levels where you have to race three laps as fast as you can to finish before Eggman’s robot.
The game takes place on seven islands: Kodiak Frontier (a land covered in ice), Seaside Island (a lush tropical environment), Paleo Tarpits (a prehistoric island with exotic hazards), Cutthroat Cove (beware of pirates), Gothic Gardens (mysterious castles to explore), Ragna Rock (the final world) and Thunder Island (a special land where the bot races are held). Each has a distinct look and feel and really help to give the game variety.
Besides the standard levels and the bot races, there are three types of bonus stages: submarine, hovercraft, and half-pipe run (which is similar to the special stages in the classic Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive or the endless runner Sonic Boom game on smartphones). The main problem with the bonus stages is that they aren’t particularly fun. While the half-pipe run has at least a great sense of speed, the submarine and hovercraft stages just feel clunky and boring. At least they aren’t mandatory, so if you don’t go for 100%, you don’t have to play them at all.
Thankfully the main stages are fantastic! The level design is great, especially in the later stages where it becomes more difficult. The controls are tight and the Fire & Ice mechanic really adds to the gameplay. Switching between the two powers is an essential part of the game: fire melts the ice, while ice freezes the water. In some cases, you will need ice to make solid ground under your feet, and then switch to fire to get through obstacles. In later levels you will have to switch between the two states very quickly so that you don’t end up in a pit of spikes or splashed on a wall of ice. The controls might seem a bit confusing at first, but will become second nature as you move on throughout the game.
The boss battles take up both screens of the 3DS and are pretty exciting. Each one has multiple sessions, which is indicated by two or three segments on the life bar of your enemy located at the top of the screen. Each session you must use a predetermined character, so you won’t be able to switch between heroes on the fly during these epic fights.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice doesn’t really focus on precise platforming or quick reflexes. Instead, it relies on rhythm: pressing the right button at the right moment. Usually, the game gives you enough time to react to hazards and enemies, and the homing attack takes care of the precise landing. Once you get the hang of the rhythm, the action becomes very fluid: just jump, do an air dash, use the Enerbeam to swing over a pit, then destroy an enemy with a homing attack and do a double jump while switching from fire to ice in mid-air in order to land on a solid ground. The game is really good at making you feel unstoppable… until you make a mistake and run into a bunch of spikes. The difficulty level isn’t too high. There are several checkpoints throughout the stages and you have unlimited continues, so with some dedication even less experienced players can finish the game.
Graphically the game looks nice, but nothing special. As I mentioned earlier, the pre-rendered animations are only in 2D, and while the gameplay is in 3D indeed, it doesn’t really make exceptional use of the 3D capabilities of the system. The map and the menus are quite ugly too. The characters and enemies are rather small, especially on the smaller screen of the original 3DS, but this is necessary in order to give the player enough space and time to react to the obstacles ahead when running at high speed. The backgrounds are nice and colorful with distinct locales. My favorites are Paleo Tarpits, Cutthroat Cove and Gothic Gardens. The music isn’t anything special, but it offers a great variety and fits the game well.
So it’s time to revisit the question I asked myself earlier: Can Fire & Ice save Sonic Boom’s reputation? Well, my answer is definitely yes. While not perfect by any means, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a fun game with likable characters, a lighthearted story, funny dialog, great platforming, and fantastic level design. The game is short and can be finished in a few hours, but it has a great replay value thanks to the collectibles and the challenge rooms. Put those other Sonic Boom games out of your mind and rest easy picking this one up, as it is leagues better. It is a must-have game for the fans of the Sonic Boom cartoons and a great addition to the collection for anyone who likes 2D platformers.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice Review
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a fun 2D platformer, with a great sense of speed and exciting stages to explore. Fans of the Sonic Boom cartoons will definitely enjoy the lighthearted story and the funny dialog too. While not perfect, this game is still worth your time and money if you like the platforming genre.
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