Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric – Hands-On Wii U Preview

It's a Bad Sign When You Start a Demo Thinking, Is It as Bad as They Say?

sonic boom: rise of lyric
The most unusual feature in the game is its energy lassos. SEGA

UPDATE: I ended my preview of this game by saying I hoped that, in spite of appearances, the final product would prove to be better than anticipated. I never played that final product, but it was completely slammed by those who did and is considered one of the worst games to come out on the Wii U. 

 

The first thing Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric’s lead producer Stephen Frost wanted me to know when I arrived for a demo of the upcoming Wii U game was that I was wrong in thinking of it as based on the upcoming TV series.

Frost tells me the game and series were being developed independently when the TV series’ developers decided they liked the look of the game and wanted to use it as a template for the series. It’s understandable he would want to clear that up; gamers, after all, know that games based on television and movie properties are generally dreck.

The Basics: Sonic Without All That Running

While Sonic is best known as the star of a series of speed-based platformers, Sonic Boom will be an action-adventure game in which Sonic and his friends solve puzzles and fight bad guys. Each character’s skills allow them to access different areas in the game; Sonic can zoom up ramps while Amy can climb and balance on pipes. There will always be two characters in play, the second one controlled either by a second player or the computer.

While I didn’t see it in action, there are places where the two characters will split up.

In co-op mode, the one holding the gamepad will use that screen while the other player will use the TV.

The developers seem anxious that their young target audience not get too frustrated; if you’re struggling during a boss battle the game will lower its difficult during the battle then reset it to where it was at the end.

Hands-On:

Mr. Frost seemed content to quickly play through the game and tell me how great it was, but eventually I wrested the controller away from him and tried it out for myself. The controls still need a little work, as the camera seemed a little jerky and movement a little uncertain. Not terrible, but not refined.

Battle is mainly standard punching or jump-punching, although I also was able to use an electronic lasso to grab attacking robots and hurl them at my enemies. I was unclear on exactly how to aim but I usually hit my target nonetheless.

After seeing the E3 gameplay trailer I was concerned that the character’s constant chatter - “you need better minions, Eggman” – would drive me up the wall, but I couldn’t tell how much of an annoyance that would be, since Frost was advising me so I could finish a level before the end of my appointment. The level involved some fighting, jumping and puzzle solving.

The Other Bits: Running, Scanning

While the primary focus seems to be on combat and platforming, the game does has some traditional Sonic speed runs. Unlike a game like Sonic Lost World in which you can fall off a platform to your death, if Sonic misses his footing he simply drops down to a platforming area from which he can climb back up to run some more.

Sadly, time ran out before I could try out the running levels.

Besides using the gamepad as a second screen in co-op mode, it can be used as a scanner to find hidden paths, and in scanning mode you can rotate the gamepad to view the scene. However, you can also use the analog sticks, and the scan view appears on the TV as well as the gamepad, so I wouldn’t call it an impressive use of the touchscreen.

Final Impressions: Eh…

Those who played the Sonic Boom demo at E3 have made scathing comments, so I was prepared for the worst, but my brief experience with the game didn’t make me want to send it to the fiery pits of hell.

While it’s hard to compare a game with something I played long ago, I feel like it was a better action-adventure experience than the reprehensible werehog sections of Sonic Unleashed.

The good news is that the demo didn’t confirm my worst fears. But while I feel some of the response at E3 was overly harsh, I cannot say I’m especially optimistic about the game. While the minor control issues are likely to get ironed out in the next few months, the forgettable graphics and been-there-done-there gameplay suggest we’re in for just another kids-oriented action-adventure platformer with nothing to distinguish it beyond the presence of a gaming icon.

Gameplay demos are a chance to show off a game to its best advantage; I raved in my preview of Sonic Lost World even though I wound up unimpressed with the final product. If the Sonic Boom isn’t considerably better than I’m expecting it to be, then Nintendo’s three-game Sonic deal with Sega, which has previously produced Lost World and Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, will be a bit of a bust. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed that in spite of all indications, the final game will be surprisingly enjoyable when it arrives this November.