Developed by Big Red Button Entertainment, which is made up of former Naughty Dog employees, including Bob Rafei of Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter fame, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric acts as a prequel to the current Cartoon Network series of the same name. It’s also the last game in the exclusive three game partnership with Nintendo, so you’d think they’d go all out for their big finale right? Yeah Sonic Boom is an absolute mess right from the moment the game boots up.
The story hits you with a ton of lore immediately, detailing a civilization from thousands of years ago called The Ancients, who lived in harmony with the rest of the world. One of The Ancients, Lyric, a snake-like creature who needs a mechanical suit to live, hates all organic life and makes it his life’s mission to destroy all of it and replace it with machines. He gets sealed away in a stone statue because of it, and it’s not until Sonic and friends accidently set him free while fighting Eggman and Metal Sonic that he sets out to collect all the magic crystals to make his dream a reality. While the background on the character is interesting, he’s completely underutilized throughout the six hour campaign and proves to be nothing more than an occasional nuisance every now and again, rather than the big baddie he’s billed as. Not only that but tonally he really doesn’t fit in with the rest of the game, but then again the tone always seems to be at odds with itself throughout the entire game. One minute it’s this dark and serious story about the forthcoming end of the world, the next minute it’s a Saturday morning cartoon with one-liners, outdated pop culture references and physical humor.
I use the term humor very loosely though, as not even the youngest of kids would find most of the jokes funny. They’re inane, juvenile, redundant and they come at you so quick and with such frequency that you just want to mute your television. Seriously, the characters in this game never shut up. If it’s not Sonic and friends, it’s Eggman or one of the numerous underdeveloped side characters that they toss at you in the hubworld. It’s never funny, and half of the time they’re just pointing out obvious things like how much they love running or bounce pads or that they need to do this to move onto the next area. The rest of the sound in the game is no picnic either, as sound effects, voices and music will cut out or not play during certain important scenes, thus taking away almost all of the impact that those scenes would have otherwise had. It doesn’t help that the music is about as generic as you can get, which is odd since Richard Jaques, who’s worked on a number of different Sonic titles did the music, but nothing ever stood out or made me want to go back and listen to it again.
The audio glitches aren’t the only major problem though as the game is riddled with bugs, almost to the point of making the game unplayable. Characters, environments and enemies will all pop in and out at random, sometimes causing you to encounter cheap deaths because the floor was no longer there, and half of the time you’ll end up respawning in an area where you can’t advance any further causing you to have to restart the game, that is, if the game doesn’t restart it for you with how many times it crashed during my playthrough. You’ll phase through walls, quests won’t load, items or points of interest won’t properly function, it’s a mess. If you wonder what the purpose of quality assurance and testing in a videogame is for, this is literal proof of why it’s necessary. It also doesn’t help the framerate can barely maintain 30fps, with many, frequent dives into single digit numbers, and it gets even worse when you’re playing on co-op, rendering that mode fairly useless to all except the most diligent.
When you can play the game though, it’s not much fun. A good portion of your time is spent wandering around a hub world, which is fairly barren and without much to do in it. Not only that, but there’s no real direction or map to help you along the way and so there will be many, many times that you find yourself lost while playing. While you’re there, you can take part in various side quests, most of which amount to “grab this, bring this here,” and none of it really has any bearing on the rest of the game so they end up being pretty useless.
The actual missions essentially break down into three sections: running sections, where you run, zipline and jump through various areas, both 2D and 3D, getting from point A to point B, battle sections, where you fight waves of enemies until you can move on to the next area, and puzzle sections, where you solve extremely easy puzzles so you can progress to the next section. Running sections are probably the most interesting, as they actually utilize what Sonic is known for, but with the framerate issues and the way the camera wildly swings around, you can die fairly easy in these sections. Combat is essentially mashing the same button over and over until the enemy is dead, though you can always use the new enerbeam to pick up your enemy and throw them off a ledge to make combat go by quicker. It’s dull and repetitive, and enemies are basically sponges that do nothing but take up more time than you’re willing to put in.
Graphics are colorful, but feel lifeless overall. Characters look dead behind the eyes, environments and textures have trouble loading properly and the palate gets worse the longer you play, going from lush, colorful areas, to drab brown, blacks and tans. There’s also an upgrade feature, which unlocks certain features for your character, but nothing ever really feels different while playing and the only feature worth upgrading, money bags, which lets you carry more than 100 rings at any given time, requires you to own a copy of the stand-alone 3DS title as well, thus rendering it useless.
Overall, Sonic Boom feels like a complete waste of a decent idea. The story, while interesting in theory, proves to be a tonally confused mess with juvenile humor, useless throwaway characters and cameos and main characters that never shut up the entire time you’re playing. The gameplay, when it works, is repetitive, tedious and boring, though the amount of bugs, glitches and framerate drops make it nearly impossible to do so. The voice acting is boring, the music is lifeless and nothing about this game made me want to continue after the credits finally rolled. I think it’s best to do as Sonic once said and just say no.