For the past ten years, Sonic the Hedgehog has been on a roller coaster of quality. After the horrendous atrocity that was Sonic ’06, we were exposed to games ranging from disappointing (Sonic Unleashed) to a remarkable return to form (Sonic Generations.) However, possibly the lowest point in the franchise’s history was the duo of Sonic Boom games, Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal. Universally panned and lambasted, the Wii U and 3DS titles were among the worst of the blue blur’s series. With Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, will the hedgehog and his friends break the stigma the 2014 titles had?
Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice follows Sonic and his friends Amy, Tails, Knuckles, and Sticks as they try to investigate the strange weather patterns that are occurring on their island. After a mysterious encounter with a weather fissure, the gang is given the power to control both fire and ice elements. Soon, they are caught up in a mysterious plot regarding the discovery of the element Ragnium by Doctor Eggman and D-fekt, a small robot with ulterior motives. The story feels like an extended episode of the Sonic Boom television show, which is surprisingly better than the average Saturday morning cartoon. That said, it fits the lighthearted tone of the game as well as the focus on exploration, so it’s neither an advantage or a disadvantage.
Fire and Ice plays similar to its 2014 predecessor, and finely tunes the controls. There are four types of levels across different islands, with the most prominent ones being the exploration sections. You control one of five characters, each with similar running speeds and basic attacks as well as a special ability: Sonic can dash, Amy can use her hammer to pummel obstacles, Tails can use a ray gun to destroy certain blocks, Knuckles can dig under some platforms, and Sticks can use her boomerang to obtain out-of-reach objects. You can switch characters at any time, and there is a plethora of unlockables scattered throughout each level. Each exploration level has a checklist of items you can collect as well as a time trial; you’re going to have to play each level at least twice in order to fully complete it. While it does artificially increase the length of the game, gone is the requirement that forces you to do this in order to go to new islands, so you can play at your leisure. Also gone are limited lives, which I think put a damper on previous Sonic games (including Sonic: Lost World, which felt at times unfairly difficult.) In its place is a frequent checkpoint system, which is a welcome addition to some of the trickier parts of a level.
The main gimmick introduced in this Sonic Boom title is the inclusion of fire and ice powers. Throughout the game, your character can switch between having a fire and ice aura, which can be changed with a press of a button. What looks like an icy obstacle can be easily melted with fire, and water that is covered with spikes can be frozen and traversed. While it does seem interesting in theory, it unfortunately hampers the game because of its uninteresting uses. Aside from a couple of admittedly innovative uses, the mechanic doesn’t really work out since there really isn’t much to do with it for most of the game. Basically it’s there to move the story along and to differentiate it from Shattered Crystal. The inclusion of Amy (or basically all of the other characters) seems tacked on as well; they all play similarly, save for Tails, who can fly. I ended up using Sonic for most of the game (because his special ability seems tailor-made for the exploration levels) switching for the one time I needed another character, and then going back to Sonic. It would have been more enjoyable if each character had distinct play, such as differing jump heights or homing attack powers, which would make each character unique and more interesting to utilize.
In addition to the exploration levels, there are new challenge sections embedded in the aforementioned areas. Bite sized and a tad more difficult, these levels are pure platforming goodness, which is great since the controls during these sections are very tight; I felt glee in effortlessly jumping and dashing around to escape mortal peril and enemies. These sections harken back to classic Sonic action, and the updated graphics make these feel a bit more modern. These levels were my favorite part of the game, and while they’re short, they’re pretty frequent, which means you’re going to experience classic Sonic gameplay often.
Similarly, there are race levels sprinkled within the islands where you’ll have to face off against Eggman’s robots with Sonic. Another type of level included was a light tunnel-like halfpipe, similar to the mobile game Sonic Dash, where you have to dodge hazards and switch to fire and ice in order to break through different obstacles. They’re not particularly hard, but it feels like classic Sonic gameplay with an emphasis on pure speed, so they were a nice respite from the slower feel of the exploration levels.
New to this game are levels utilizing Tails’ vehicles, and these are probably the weakest moments of the game. Using a submarine and hovercraft, your job is to grab trading cards by flinging missiles in order to destroy debris and icebergs before time runs out. The submarine levels depend on radar, so you have to tap the screen frequently in order to view a map. The hovercraft slowly inches about as you dodge ice, bombs, and whirlpools. Both of these vehicles have a time limit that can be extended by grabbing watch power-ups and decreased by bumping into the surroundings. They seem like a nice addition (especially since they use a character other than Sonic) but end up being a bit annoying because of how barren and lifeless they are.
I really enjoyed the boss battles here: Sonic tag-teams with one of his teammates as they try and defeat another one of Eggman’s creations. It’s here where the fire and ice powers as well as the character switching mechanic work to the game’s favor. By only focusing on a couple of characters, the battles become all about getting used to each character’s special ability, which turns into a pretty fun experience. For example, in one phase of a mid-game boss battle, I had to use Knuckles in order to dig and hit the enemy’s weak point with respective fire and ice elements. These battles are few and far in between, but they’re very nice and a highlight of the game.