Somewhere along the line, Sonic lost his mojo. Much like Austin Powers – Sonic fans will probably get outdated references – he’s on the search to get it back. Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is the latest attempt to recapture some of the magic that the original games possessed. How do they plan to achieve this you might ask? By adding the powers of fire and ice.
Calling this “the most insanely awesome thing ever” is pretty hyperbolic, and to be honest, the fact that Sonic and Amy initially gain fire and ice powers from some kind of steam-filled fissure is grossly underwhelming. It becomes even more so when Tails manages to transfer said powers to all the other characters via their watches thanks to science, apparently. The overarching story then sees Robotnik/Eggman chasing after the crystalline Ragnium, and that’s it.
The first stage introduces you to all of Sonic’s abilities, but the first is the most heinous of all: you have to press Y to initiate a sprint. Sonic will now trundle along at walking speed without a little extra help from you or a bumper. In practice I found myself merrily strolling along for extended periods for no reason other than I couldn’t get used to making Sonic run faster with a button. I can literally see no reason for this at all.
The homing attack makes its fairly obligatory return, along with a double jump, while a grappling hook called the Enerbeam allows you to swing from specific points in a level. Sonic even has a ground pound attack now, as well as an air dash. What this all boils down to is that every face button on the 3DS is used up.
In addition to these, the fire and ice abilities are cycled using the shoulder buttons, and allow you to melt blocks or freeze them. All of this serves to hugely complicate the purity of Sonic, though admittedly it’s been a fairly steady decline to where we are now. What makes this worse is that you can’t even used the D-Pad to move, with the touchscreen’s page cycling needlessly mapped to it, when you can already cycle via the touchscreen itself. Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice does not make a good first impression.
Things aren’t quite as bad as they initially seem. Each level plays out in a largely Sonic-esque fashion, albeit with gated areas that require different character abilities. Character switching is available via the touchscreen, with Amy, Tails, Knuckles and Stick all bringing their own special moves on your adventure. As you progress you’ll find sections for characters you haven’t unlocked yet and will have to return later on to grab all of the collectibles.
Each level has a series of challenges and collectibles, with pieces of Amy’s hammer and coiled springs generally hidden in places the opposite direction from where you’re supposed to be going. Challenge rooms appear mid-level which serve to test your abilities with the promise of a trading card going to those worthy. These sections can be quite fun, but if anything they serve to emphasise the muddled controls and the main level’s loss of focus on speed. There’s also a reward for performing a speed run so all in all there are reasons for multiple run-throughs.
Those speed runs simply don’t capture the magic of the original games though, despite their best attempts. The freedom and speed for which Sonic is renowned is not showcased here at all really, with the different abilities and complicated controls making it far less intuitive to play. Staccato pacing combined with hands-off bumper-led sections rob Fire & Ice of the essence of a true Sonic game.
There are some odd interlude levels where you take control of Tails’ submarine, the Sea Fox, and have to find your way to pieces of trading cards while the clock ticks down. They do break up the action, but otherwise feel completely throwaway, as if they’ve been ripped from a different game.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice isn’t a bad game, it just isn’t a good Sonic one. It’s a solid, if bland, outing for a character that still deserves much better. Fans of the Sonic Boom animated series will still likely find something to enjoy, but younger gamers may struggle with the new-found emphasis on multiple abilities and gated areas.