Preview: Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal

Sonic Boom. It’s going to be interesting, considering the wide range of reactions we’ve had so far to the promotional stuff. And it’s going to be interesting very, very soon – it’s the late evening of the 6th of November as I’ve begun writing this. The Boom is about to begin. Because of this, they’ve started releasing the demos for the video games. Obviously, everybody’s convinced that the new franchise is going to be riding on the success of the WiiU game. As for me, well…  Well, I don’t have a WiiU, so I can’t say anything about that one! I do have a 3DS, however, and I have actually been considering the 3DS version for purchase.

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal Box ArtNow, if you’re wondering how I already felt about Sonic Boom walking into this, shoo. Stop it. You’re supposed to be here for how I felt walking out of it.

The demo you’re given for Shattered Crystal (the name of the 3DS game) only has eight uses, presumably because it’s so close to release date. Upon booting it up, you get to see a… very, very strange-looking statue on the bottom screen. The guy on the right might be Lyric, the guy on the left some kind of demonic mutated Sonic. What? Also the top screen has palm trees. Which reminds me, Segabits need to update their tumblr*. Press start, and you’re given a world map with five locations on it, laid out in a コ formation. This is presented as a small but densely packed 3D area in which Sonic runs around on a dirt path between the locations. There’s a lot of very pretty detail in this space, with tortoises munching on leaves, birds flying overhead and even the boss fight popping out to say hello to you when you run over to him.

At this moment I’m also going to point out that I’m pretty sure the main typeface used in this game (for menus, area titles and such) is the exact same one used in the Jak and Daxter series. Actually, apart from the Sonic characters and robots, the entire game looks a lot like the Jak and Daxter series. I shouldn’t actually be surprised, since Big Red Button is made of and headed by ex-Naughty Dog staff, but I didn’t expect the visual similarity to go to the typeface. Did they give Sanzaru Games (developers of the 3DS version) their default asset set or something?

As for the locations, they are as follows:

Two of the locations are ‘Amy’s House’ and ‘Sticks’ Burrow’ – Sticks being the new ‘Jungle Badger’ character for the Boom series. Both of these areas are locked, and I actually have no idea how to unlock them because of a reason I’ll detail in a second.

The other three locations are the levels you’ve been gifted: ‘Seaside Beach’, ‘Seaside Race’ and ‘Worm Tunnel’, which can be classified as ‘Adventure Stage’, ‘Race Stage’ and ‘Boss Stage’ respectively. Highlighting each of these lets you see the expected time, number of items collected and to collect, and such. Let’s take these on in that order, then.

 

Seaside Beach

You’re obviously expected to go for this stage first, since you open the demo on this space. It’s also the stage that’s full of help nodes, which bring up the BEN-ish** robot on the bottom screen to give you the one-bubble tutorial. You’ll start the stage as Sonic by default but do have the option to switch between characters if you wish – different characters have different abilities and as such can access different areas.

By standard, every character jogs, and has a separate Sprint button. I find this personally unusual, seeing as they’re, you know, Sonic characters. This is definitely a very platforming-oriented game that wants you not to go 0-60, but it’s still really odd to have to push a button in order to make these characters reach what should be their starting speed. The game is designed for this speed, but they still feel very slow.

Characters also have a double jump used to close bigger gaps, a Homing Attack, a Ground Pound, and the new plot device of the hour, the ‘Enerbeam’, which is a little plasma-like energy beam (no shit, Shin’ichi***) that can break pots and baskets, break enemy shields, and latch onto points in order to swing from them, something that in previous handheld Sonic games would have just been covered with a hanging rope but let’s not hate on modern technology! After all, it also saves you when you run into a level hazard – I got knocked over many a time and was transported back to the last bit of clear ground. I dropped a lot of rings but never died.

Every character has unique abilities: Sonic can Spin Dash on the ground (very painfully slowly), and Air Dash to break blocks (or add height/length to a jump); Tails can hover while in the air, throw bombs while on the ground, and launch the Sea Fox (which you can test by going left at the very beginning of the level); Sticks can throw her boomerang willy-nilly or psychically control it (I couldn’t get that to happen though); and Knuckles can punch, burrow, or burrow harder. The first half of the stage needs Sonic to be played in order to get through it as it chucks in a lot of those blocks, though, so don’t switch character just yet.

As for the level itself, the level map is essentially split into a bunch of rooms that have to be travelled between using a slingshot (fired using the touchscreen). I had the feeling several times that I was re-entering a previous used map until I went further in and discovered the hazard arrangement was different. There’s one bit where you’re suddenly directed left instead of right, but that’s it. There’s a decent amount of little nooks and crannies to visit, though, and I stretched out my experience trying to go through them. After all, there are collectables, and even if there aren’t any big collectables, there are a ton of rings and ring boxes everywhere. At one point I’m fairly sure I had more rings in my possession than is normally found on an entire Sonic level.

The stage’s visual design itself is basic – it’s essentially just a lot of boardwalk and beach area. There’s an occasional water hazard, but it’s a beach. It’s rendered rather well, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t present anything particularly unusual-looking that isn’t obviously going to be a standard level aspect. It also deeply resembles several other Sonic opening stages, and what distinguishes it is mostly the stuff that identifies the rest of the game.

Also, the loops and some of the longer stretches are automated via the magic of boost pads. Nothing particularly visually flashy is done with this, though. Kind of a letdown.

It actually took me around eleven minutes to get through the stage for the first time, getting used to the game’s speed and controls (there’s a lot to learn and it was pretty easy for me to get muddled up). The recommended time for the level was about six and a half minutes, but even that time is still pretty long for a Sonic first stage. It’s got a few reasons to go on for so long, I suppose – the nooks, the number of textboxes it wants to show you, the number of abilities it wants to introduce you to in one go – but still, I needed to boost as consistently as possible and ignore all the nooks in order to get within the suggested time.

(Since it’s relevant to place here, you don’t get an all-over grade in this game, but you do get medals for completion, item collection and overall time.)

Sea Fox

Let’s quickly talk about this ‘secret stage’ before we go. The Sea Fox is essentially the special stage – you need to access it through a hidden area using Tails. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be in the Sea Fox, deep underwater. You have a short amount of time in order to find a ‘secret’ collectable, then plunge to the bottom of the sea to reach the pipe out, or you can just take the pipe out without getting the object. Depth is communicated via the darkness of the blue background. There are mines and blockages impeding your way, but luckily you’re equipped with a torpedo launcher that you can vaguely aim using the Circle Pad. You’re also given a bunch of time boosts to collect. This is trickier than you think it is, since the area you’re given to work with is slightly cramped and the mines can take up a lot of space. You can also only collect those time boosts once, so you have to drive carefully.

You don’t have a limited number of entries into the level, though, so if you mess up you can go straight back in, as long as you’re still controlling Tails.  Anyway, now we’re done, and it’s time to go to the world m- Wait. Did the demo just reset?

Because it went back to the title screen.

And it’s not listing the collectables I got in that stage.

My current limited experience with 3DS demos is that they don’t save data between sessions. However, they don’t throw the data out during the session. If you’re going to give me a screen showing the number of items to collect with the obvious implication that you won’t get them all in one try, I actually expect that temporary save.

This actually kind of spoils the replayability value of the level a little, as it just makes it more obvious how laborious the level feels when you don’t register any progress made. It’ll be the same for all the other stages, but it doesn’t sting nearly as hard as this one here for many obvious reasons. But, oh well, there are still two other levels to play.

 

Seaside Race

Do you remember the game Sonic Rivals? Well, this stage is essentially Sonic Rivals. There’s no use in beating around the bush. Sonic and Sticks are racing down the track. I didn’t test if you could attack her to try and slow her down since I was spending the entire time boosting for my life. AI Sticks has all your speed and it’s your job to boost first and early and then make sure you don’t flub the platforming. It honestly felt like I could screw myself over at any second, and I felt genuinely successful when I won. As I said before it’s off-putting and annoying to have to boost to get Sonic feeling ‘normal’, but what makes or breaks this stage really is just – did you like Sonic Rivals?****

I mean, what else am I supposed to say about it?

 

Worm Tunnel

From my handheld Sonic game experience I was expecting something similar to the circular bosses in Sonic Rush and Sonic Rivals. Or maybe something a tad more traditional and 2D-ish, but with a lot of platforms and use of Sonic’s Air Dash. I wasn’t expecting Sonic Dash.

Especially, I wasn’t expecting a nerfed Sonic Dash.

That’s literally the level. Your controls are left, right and the Enerbeam whenever you’re alerted. All you have to do is dodge these electrical gates by moving into an adjacent track and collect rings. Occasionally the floor gives way and you have to use the Enerbeam to attach to a pole on the ceiling, and even more occasionally angle yourself to collect rings or avoid something here. There are no turns in the road, just a straight line through a giant tunnel. So yeah, it’s Sonic Dash, but with no jump, no slide, only one hazard, and being told what to do.

Unlike the other stages, this one is specifically designed for the directional buttons, not the Circle Pad. Sure, you can use the Circle Pad during this stage, and I did, which caused a massive problem when the track I was running on was perpendicular to the ground. The next safest track was directly below me, so of course I push the Circle Pad down. This resulted in not moving, the electrical gate catching Sonic, and the stage starting over. Like Seaside Race, there was no control tutorial to inform me of this.

It’s not actually classifiable as a boss stage – though it makes plenty of appearances, you don’t actually get to fight the boss at any point during the playable level. The only time Sonic makes an impact with the boss (the Worm, if you hadn’t guessed) is during the ending cutscene of the level. You don’t even get a quick-time event to input. Sonic just flies forward and jumps on the boss, and there. S’done. Good job, hedgehog. Let’s go home.

At this moment you’ll notice the space he jumps on has a horrendously low texture for a 3DS game, especially for something that’s going to be in close view of the camera. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by every other game I have for this system, but it’s just not good, especially when Sonic, whose texture work is more than decent and face detailed and expressive, is right there.

So, in other words, this stage has no real gameplay or visual payoff. Which is… kind of infuriating, as you’ve given me a giant robot basilisk to work with here. I was damn well expecting during the level that after chasing it down through the tunnel I was going to be able to do something to it by myself, but nope.

 

Presentation?

Uh, it looks pretty nice apart from that poorly-textured boss. The animations are all pretty good. There’s people complaining about a 30fps frame-rate, though – no, it doesn’t go up from that, and though I can’t really see where this game would improve with 60fps, that’s still a thing people have on the brain.

Voice clips feel a little too common, but don’t sound off every time you’re doing something. I think they sound a little too joyous, but I’m a terrible person who doesn’t want their cartoons to be happy. Or something like that. I don’t know, maybe I dislike the sound of happy people. There’s that possibility.

As for music, nothing instantly memorable, but nothing terrible. Just functional.

 

Thoughts?

It’s far too close to the release date now to start suggesting improvements, as considering how close the demo has been released to the release date, this is how the final version is going to work. It’s playable, but that’s really a bottom line at best.

It’s turned midnight, by the way. It’s the 7th now. A day closer to the release now.

I’m fairly sure what’s making up most of my mixed feelings is the demo’s complete inability to hold any data beyond a level’s completion, as it is pretty discouraging in the context of an item-collecting platformer, but the ‘boss stage’ we’re handed literally doesn’t include an actual boss fight, and I’m wondering if there isn’t an actual boss fight that’s been withheld from the demo for some reason. Still, the race stage does exactly what it sets out to do, and I’m guessing the platforming part becomes a lot more varied of a matter when you’re past the tutorial phase and just given the chance to explore it.

But, if you were expecting anything amazing, and you came to the 3DS version to look for it, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place.

* If you didn’t know, the Segabits tumblr is called ‘Segabits Presents Palmtree Panic!’ and is entirely about palm trees in SEGA games.

** BEN, as in the defective robot from Treasure Planet.

*** I’ve been watching Detective Conan. Sue me.

**** I personally like Sonic Rivals, so I liked this stage, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Author: DoubleXXCross

A fairly short being with a proclivity for handheld games, and who enjoys fantasy, mysteries and other good stuff. Has some minor nerd cred, and also a nice hat. Wants more hats. Give me more hats. Give them to me. Give thEM TO ME NOW.

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