There was a time at one point where Sonic the Hedgehog was in the midst of a renaissance in platform gaming. The original Sonic became a mainstay on the Sega Genesis, and the sequels that followed, including 2, 3 and Knuckles, continued to carry the series to prosperity.
Since that time, however, the saga has been hit-and-miss. On one hand, we've gotten some great racing games, like Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, as well as the under-appreciated Sonic Generations. On the other, hand his transition into "new" territory has been questionable at best. Most notorious was his disastrous 2006 debut, featuring poor level design, too many limitations, and a weird, creepy romantic interlude with a human girl. Seriously, we're still trying to shake it off.
Sega tried to return Sonic to form last year with Lost World for the Wii U and 3DS. Even though some innovative ideas came into play, the game came up short in several areas, particularly with cohesive control (there were way too many accidental deaths) and problematic difficulty spikes. Plus, it just wasn't as much fun as Sonic's main platforming competitor, Super Mario 3D World.
So, the publisher has turned to a new publisher, Big Red Button, to bring Sonic out of the doldrums and into the light. However, upon introduction, Sonic Boom left a few fans upset. That's because the characters went through a redesign similar to what the animated show of the same name will have, with tall, lanky models compared to the Sonic characters of old. In fact, Knuckles is about as tall as a basketball player, easily towering over Sonic.
Still, Sega was determined to show that Sonic had indeed made changes for the better this time around, and a few weeks ago, brought the game to E3 for all to see. The new open-world approach to some levels is novel, and the ability to play with three others in co-op fashion is interesting, to say the least. However, a new video posted by the team at Nintendo World Report shows signs that we should be concerned.
How, you ask? Let's break down the three main problems.
It isn't entirely Sonic
As demonstrated through the video clip above, not every aspect of Sonic Boom's gameplay is really true to the nature of the series. For some strange reason, Sonic is now able to assault characters using his fists, rather than just bopping on them in a timely fashion. That's not all, though. There are some situations where you'll have to solve puzzles to move ahead, such as bumping a mine cart over to a fence in order to spring your way out.
Sonic games of the past didn't rely too heavily on puzzles. They were a cut-and-dry run through a stage, while finding secret routes along the way to unlock bonus goodies, such as 1ups. By doing this, Sega is essentially turning Sonic Boom into a more conventional platformer, rather than focusing on the gameplay that made him such a marvel to begin with.
That's not to say it won't work, as some fans may welcome the change. However, it's something that not all players will easily accept.
The new grapple technique
Again, Big Red Button is applying a game change that doesn't feel like Sonic, although it does present an interesting case as it goes on. The grapple technique enables Sonic and crew to grab onto wires, enemies and objects using some sort of electrical harness, instead of, you know, picking up something and hurling it at someone.
This is questionable. Did Tails build the tech that enables the grappling? Or does Sonic somehow magically seem able to interact with objects after getting hit by lightning? Either way, some fans may be turned off.
Again, the ability has its moments, particularly during boss fights, like the one featured in the video above. Still, it leads to Sonic assaulting Robotnik with his fists, instead of his tried and true methods.
Not everyone will be a fan of this mechanic, but, thankfully, it still works better than just plain punching. However, it can't overcome the biggest problem with the demo…
NO. ONE. SHUTS. UP.
Having characters talk in a video game can be a crucial element sometimes, moving the story forward or even showing the nature of how they get along. The Uncharted series, for example, is wonderful in this regard, as Nathan Drake talks to his cohorts (or bad guys) while performing actions seamlessly in the game.
Other times, however, it can be downright annoying. Exhibit A: Bubsy 3D, and the narrator who absolutely had nothing positive to lend to the experience. The reason that we bring this up is because Sonic Boom is filled with a lot of this sort of banter. No, we're not kidding. Just take a listen.
It's one thing to have characters talk every now and then. Throughout Sonic Boom, however, they do it a lot. Even if they have nothing worthwhile to say, they make lame comments. Case in point with Tails, who actually says at one point, "Last one to the bottom is a rotten Eggman!" Ugh.
It's one thing to carry over the tone of a game based on an animated series. We've seen it done lots of times, and in many cases, done right. But here, it almost seems like they're just afraid of silence. Even during the boss fights, we have to put up with ridiculously bad banter from Eggman ("Seriously, this suit makes me look cool, right?").
Can it be fixed?
When introducing something new to a general gameplay formula, it can go one of two ways. It can be an absolutely brilliant change for the better (like what Retro Studios with the magnificent Metroid Prime trilogy) or it can be a train wreck. Unfortunately, judging by what's been seen so far, Sonic Boom leans toward the latter, becoming more of a conventional licensed platformer, rather than evoking the magic we've come to expect from the Hedgehog to begin with.
Granted, the game still has months to go in development before its release, and Big Red Button could make changes that do away with some of these problems. Otherwise, as stated, there's plenty of reason to be concerned... even without the flaws that weighed down the other problematic games in the series.
The 3DS version, on the other hand, could be completely different. Being developed by Sanzaru Games (the same team behind the brilliant Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time), it looks to be closer to Sonic's general side-scrolling nature than the Wii U release. The addition of new characters still gives us pause, but we're more optimistic about this one regardless.
We'll find out for sure when Sonic Boom releases later this year for Wii U and 3DS.