Sonic Boom Shattered Crystal Review: How the mighty have fallen

Find out why SEGA's new take on Sonic has left us a little blue

Sonic Boom Shattered Crystal Review How the mighty have fallen
3rd December, 2014 By Mia Cruddas
Game Info // Sonic Boom Shattered Crystal
Sonic Boom Shattered Crystal Boxart
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Players: 1
Save Slots: 4
Subtitles: Partial
Available On: 3DS
Genre: Platform (2D)

There was a time that the very mention of Sonic the Hedgehog would send our eyes dazzling with anticipation of the blue speedster's new adventures, but these days, it's getting hard to remember the last Sonic game we really enjoyed... Sonic Colours and Generations (well, half of it) were probably two of the best Sonic titles in recent years, and while we have fond memories of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle (even if it was a buggy mess), it's been a long time since Sonic could really challenge Mario for the platforming crown.

So, after multiple iterations and reboots of the Sonic universe (including last years (poor) Sonic Lost World), Sega have loaned out the IP to American developers for the brand new Sonic spin-off 'Sonic Boom'. This 'reimagining' is comprised of an animated TV show and two video games on the Wii U and 3DS respectively, and marks the first time the game's been developed outside of series' perennial developers, Sonic Team. Sanzaru (developer of the Sly Cooper platforms on PlayStation) has taken the job of bringing the world of Sonic Boom to the small screen on 3DS, with Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. And it's not quite as we'd expected.

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal takes place in a drastically reinvented Sonic world - a world where the classic characters you know and love seem to have developed Dolichostenomelia, while Knuckles has been hitting the protein shakes, as he's now the size of a Fiat Punto. Needless to say, it all looks a little bit... weird. 

Your new redesigned heroes. Now with added sports tape.

Its difficult to tell just what's happening when you first start playing Shattered Crystal. The game gives the player next to no back story, apart from a very vague opening cutscene. Clearly designed for those of you who've already watched the Sonic Boom animated show and are familiar with its take on the Sonic universe, it takes a while to get your head around what's going on here, but still - the story's never been the most important part of a Sonic game...

In keeping with the brand new world (and oddly proportioned characters) though, the gameplay here offers a similar twist on the familiar, mixing your traditional 2D Sonic platforming, with more moves than the prize dancer at the local ballroom. Your characters have a double jump and homing attack, an enerbeam energy whip that removes enemy shields and can grapple across chasms, and an automatic run button.

Each character is also equipped with a special ability; Sonic can spin dash and air dash to destroy blockades, Tails can throw grenades and fly using vents, Sticks has a controllable boomerang to hit switches and Knuckles can punch and dig to hidden areas. With this many options, the game can sometimes end up feeling more akin to a rhythm action game, as you quickly switch between button presses to keep up with the many sequences the game throws at you. At best, it can be extremely fiddly.

It's great to see Sonic back in all his 2D platforming goodness.

Unfortunately, it never really glues together all that well, and the levels feel unusually segmented, with unnatural transitions between the various "chunks". At certain parts of the level, you'll find yourself forced to stop at a dead end, as you'll have to switch characters and use their abilities in order to advance. At other times, you'll have to use the touchscreen activated enerbeam to slingshot your character to the next part of the level - something that's extremely jarring, and could have been easily assigned to a button press.

In fact, the enerbeam in general seems like it was only shoehorned into the game to give some actual function to the touchscreen, as this is it's only real use - other than a horribly designed level map. Both these instances only serve to break the flow of gameplay, even more so when you consider that just pressing a button would be far easier.

This slingshot crops up during gameplay far too much...

All this comes together to form some very uninspired and repetitive level design. The constant stop and start nature of gameplay means that there's no real flow or feel of speed like in past Sonic games. We'd have loved to have been able to run from one end of the level to the other, bouncing off hoops and skipping over platforms trying to find the quickest route possible - it's part of what made the original Sonic the Hedgehog so brilliant, yet it's something that's totally impossible in Sonic Boom.

Of course, if the focus isn't on speed (which is a huge faux pas in our opinion), it must be on exploration, right? Well, yes. Sort of. There are plenty of collectibles (crystal shards, blueprints & tokens) hidden in sealed off sections of levels, which are of course only explorable using said specific character abilities like Tails' flight and Sticks' boomerang, etc, meaning you'll have to come back to each level, and replay it with the full compliment of characters in order to find all the hidden bits and pieces. It's an easy way to give a game some replay value - and something the LEGO games manage incredibly well - but it does help to have levels that are enough fun that you'd want to go back and play them again. Sadly, Sonic Boom is nowhere near good enough to warrant a second play through, and as level progression is 'gated' until you earn enough emblems to unlock the next stage, it can be extremely frustrating if you're only planning on playing for the story alone.

Each character's special abilities let you access hidden areas.

It's not all mediocre however. Versus races provide that familiar sense of speed based gameplay from past Sonic games, and Worm tunnel missions are a breath of fresh air. In the latter, your perspective switches to behind Sonic as he runs automatically through a tunnel, and it's up to you to dodge the attacks of a mechanical worm, while collecting rings, and avoiding the other obstacles, in a flashback to the half pipe mini game from Sonic 2. These levels were genuinely the most fun we had while playing, and if Sega ever decided to create an endless runner they would have a great base to work from, and we'd certainly give it a look.

Visually,  the game isn't too impressive. Despite being published by the Big N, and as part of the much vaunted three exclusive Sonic game deal, it lacks the polish of a first party Nintendo game. On the plus side, the character models are well made (if a bit bizarre looking), and feature plenty of variation. Shattered Crystal's world is populated with bright jungles, sandy coastlines, caves, factory's and ancient temples to explore, but somehow, it all seems a little bland. Long gone are the luscious chequered fields of the Green Hill Zone. 

Worm Tunnel levels are probably the best thing about this game.

In all, Sonic the Hedgehog is a prime example of a game series that developers have no idea what to do with, and unfortunately, Sonic Boom Shattered Crystal is no different. What you'll find here is a game that focuses more on technical skill and minor puzzle solving than the speed and exhilaration Sonic's known for, and one that falls flat in the process.

Unfortunately the whole game ends up as a muddled confused experience that does little to cater for fans of the classic Sonic games. Overall, there's little to be enjoyed in this uninspired entry into the Sonic series.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS

StarStarEmpty starEmpty starEmpty star
"Mediocre at best"
  • +
    Interesting take on the Sonic universe
  • +
    Characters have cool new abilities
  • +
    Worm Tunnel missions are a lot of fun
  • -
    Gameplay is disjointed
  • -
    Level 'gating' is inexcusable
  • -
    Dialogue is awful
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