Sega really doesn’t know what to do with Sonic.
Despite flirting with a return to tradition with 2011’s Sonic Generations, the series got another mediocre installment last year with Sonic: Lost World. Now, Sega is reinventing the franchise’s characters and gameplay for Sonic Boom, a cross-media event featuring games on the Wii U and 3DS and a new cartoon series.
Sure, the new character designs are kind of weird, but I could easily live with them if the games are good. At the giant Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow in Los Angeles, I played both the Wii U and 3DS versions of Sonic Boom, and, well … at least one of them was good.
And it wasn’t the Wii U version, subtitled Rise of Lyric. It’s not terrible, but it barely resembles a Sonic game. It was more an action-brawler with a few puzzles thrown in (Sonic and friends randomly have magnetic energy whips that they can use to pull levels and platforms around). At no point during the level I played was I able to let loose and go fast. I don’t know if I ever even got Sonic to a healthy jog. I was too busy punching things. Maybe some levels will feature speedy segments, but I’m worried that they’ll be rare.
The voice acting also turned me off. Sonic and Knuckles constantly quipped at each other, similar to how Nathan Drake and Sully would chat during the Uncharted series. However, this feels forced in Sonic Boom, and the writing only focuses on the easiest of character clichés and stereotypes (Knuckles is a dumb brute who likes to talk about his muscles, Sonic is arrogant, etc.). The mediocre voice acting doesn’t help, with everyone delivering their lines with the subtlety of an ’80s Saturday morning cartoon. The Wii U Boom just doesn’t feel like Sonic.
The 3DS version (subtitled Shattered Crystal), however, uses some of these new elements while maintaining more of the series’ tradition, and it’s a much better experience for it. Characters still have their new designs and the magnetic whips, but it’s a 2D platformer based on exploration instead of brawling. You could even actually hit speed ramps and go through loops! You know, Sonic stuff.
Like I said, levels were less linear than in traditional 2D Sonic games, with the design focusing more on searching the stages for treasure. You can also switch between characters on the fly by touching their portraits on the bottom touchscreen. Each one has a special ability you’ll need to get through obstacles. For example, Tails can fly through gusts of wind, and newcomer Sticks can throw a boomerang at faraway targets.
Within a few minutes, I immediately understood what the 3DS version was about and had fun playing. I still don’t know what the Wii U one is trying to accomplish. Maybe I can accept it for what it is after I play more of it, but I know that right now I’d much rather get my hands on the more modest and focused 3DS version of Sonic Boom.