It's been far too many years since Sonic the Hedgehog had a truly enjoyable adventure. At 25 years old, you have to say that the latter half of his life has been filled with disappointments, at least for the most part. And most recently the Nintendo exclusive efforts have left fans scratching their heads as to what Sega are up to.
The mascot that once rivalled Mario is in dire need of a fresh start, but could the third game in the Sonic Boom series really deliver that? The first two games, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal are the worst selling Sonic titles of all time. Could it be a case of third time's the charm? We've spent a couple of weeks playing Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice on Nintendo 3DS and the sad truth is that this is as far from a masterpiece you can get. It's the sort of game you'd wish for your worst enemy to have to play through.
Let's start on a positive note as there are glimpses of an honest attempt to at return to the series' roots. Unlike some of the less successful past games it combines 2D with speed and platforming, a step in the right direction. We barely had time to start the game before we fell in love with colourful environments that actually resemble the lush Green Hill Zone from Sonic's first adventure. Occasionally we get vibes from the '90s, when the blue hedgehog made a name for himself on the Sega Mega Drive. One thing the series has managed to do quite well is voice acting, and once again it has been implemented well here and the cutscenes were perhaps the highlight for us, especially Dr. Eggman, who sounds as grotesque as he should.
Graphically Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a fairly ugly game which lacks quality character design and is missing the charming chemistry that makes the characters pop. We compared the game on both the new New Nintendo 3DS console and the older model, and if you must buy the game for some reason, we recommend that you play it at on New Nintendo 3DS.
The biggest problem with the game is that it's never fun and not once did we feel the least bit satisfied. As the title suggests, the biggest news here is the introduction of the new ice and fire mechanic and this would have been a nice feature if it had been put to good use. Instead, we suffer through a plethora of stupid puzzles that have been created just for the sake of utilising this feature. You can always switch between the two elements in order to destroy certain obstacles or solve a puzzle. For example, our main character use flames to melt ice and vice versa, but the puzzles are so easy and meaningless that it bored us.
Tails, Knuckles, Amy and Sticks all make an appearance as playable characters, and they all have different abilities that you obviously need to use in order to progress. Tails uses his aerial prowess to reach ledges and so on, while Amy can use her hammer to lower pillars that stand in the way of your progress. The anthropomorphic echidna, Knuckles, uses his hands to dig underground and you can switch between the characters at any time, as you wish, except when there's a boss fight.
We never got the feeling that there was a good balance between the platforming and action. In Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric the hedgehog was transformed into a pure action hero as he spends half the game beating up robots. The platforming was put aside and Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is the exact opposite. Again and again we spin around like a nimble acrobat on the desolate pathways. It leaves an empty feeling as there are barely any enemies around. Sure, the platform element has always been an entertaining part of Sonic games, but when there's just a couple of harmless robots per level to overcome it takes away some of the enjoyment.
Another thing we found unsettling was the lack of variation. It shifts between being very generous and very stingy. Each world comes with some platforming levels and then switches over to mandatory challenges. At first we enjoyed this structure, but when the same procedure was repeated in every world it became thoroughly tedious, and competing in a race against Dr. Eggman for the fifth time just got frustrating.
It's a tragedy that Sega continues to release subpar Sonic titles. And maybe, just maybe, it's time to retire him for good. Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is simply not a good game, and there are far better platformers available on Nintendo 3DS. In spite of this we're cautiously optimistic about the 25th anniversary title Sonic Mania, as Sega puts the woeful Sonic Boom era to rest.