Sonic Boom is the most unbelievable game I have ever played, and I mean that in the very worst way possible.

Sonic "solves" "puzzles" with his dash attack.

Sonic "solves" "puzzles" with his dash attack.

Let's start with the 3DS version, because while it's arguably worse, it has less expectations on it. The Sanzaru Games developed Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is ostensibly a side-scrolling platformer. I've made the argument before that platformers should be called "jumpers" since that's most of what you're doing within them, but Sonic Boom stands to throw that argument out wholesale. I don't think I can legally describe what Sonic does in Sonic Boom as "jumping". He certainly moves up and into the air at certain points, but he does it almost a full second after hitting the jump button. Sonic is hilariously unresponsive, and that goes for the rest of the playable characters too. Knuckles, Tails and newcomer Sticks the Badger don't "jump" so much as they "agressive get their feet unstuck from the glue they're standing in". Jumps are shallow, with an even shallower and less responsive second jump to make up the height difference. Sonic and pals don't move fast, rather, they're content to leisurely jog through levels. There's a dash button, but the extra speed it gives you also happens to make your jumps even LESS responsive. It's sort of unbelievable.

Yes, it does look this bad in-person.

Yes, it does look this bad in-person.

Sonic also sports a new energy whip, which he uses for grappling between points and pulling shields off of enemies. Of course, this is all supposed to play into the (very slight) puzzle-platformer nature of this new game, but it falls completely flat. Stages are separated into squares, each containing a puzzle. Sometimes you can only open the square's blocked path by using Sonic's dash. Sometimes Knuckles has to dig his way out. None of it really matters though. There's no thought to any of what you do. The levels are brainlessly cobbled together from various hazards, most of which repeat again and again throughout the level, and eventually, you reach the end without understanding how or why. Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is an aggressively unimpressive, unexciting, boring game. It's awful. But somehow, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is worse.

This is the promise....

This is the promise....

Even putting aside the (slightly less) unresponsive controls and the early 3D-platformer level camera controls, the Wii U version of Sonic Boom is a genuinely impressive mess. A new Sonic game is already cause for some concern, but I don't think they've ever made a 3D Sonic game THIS bad before. The demo segregated the game into and action-adventure portion, a boss fight, and a more traditional Sonic running level. I started with the running, and about halfway through the demo, the Nintendo PR rep standing next to me said "looks like we've got a pro over here!" I'd hit the A button twice. By the end of the stage, I'd hit it maybe three more times, and did nothing else. 

...And this is the reality. Middy textures, jagged edges on the character models, and whatever's supposed to be happening to Sonic's...hair? Quills?

...And this is the reality. Middy textures, jagged edges on the character models, and whatever's supposed to be happening to Sonic's...hair? Quills?

I know that Sonic games playing themselves is a fairly common complaint, but this is ridiculous. I actually did nothing. I just watched as Sonic and pals ran and made made inane small talk. That, by the way, is the worst part of the game. At one point Sonic yells "Built for speed!" before reiterating "can't slow Sonic down!" He says this to no one in particular, just confirming to the player that he is either an arrogant prick, or that Sonic's primary means of communication is talking about himself at all times. His friends make sure to chime in with their own cries of "sweet!" and "booyah!" after a successful jump. "And I'm awesome," Sonic says. "Nice job!" Amy replies. It is a wittiful tit-for-tat between these two neon-furred hedgehogs, let me tell you, and in no way does it get old, boring, or hideously uncharming.

A cut scene plays after this, then you do it all over again twice. Because video games, I guess.

A cut scene plays after this, then you do it all over again twice. Because video games, I guess.

I moved on to the boss fight next, which, admittedly, I quit after one stage. Using the energy whip, Sonic had to swing missiles back into Dr. Eggman's robot. The issue, of course, is that the unresponsive controls meant I would release the A button to release the whip's hold on the missile) before getting hit, but the animation wouldn't finish until after the next missile slammed Sonic into the ground. I hit Eggman of course, but if the game had actual responsive controls, I'd be able to dodge and end this chatty hellhole just a little bit sooner.

Finally, there was the action-adventure section, which was presented as if it was the majority of the game. Nothing in the demo betrayed developer Big Red Button's roots as much as this portion did. It bleeds early-3D platformer. If you were to run a DNA test, you'd get some Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter in there, almost certainly. The janky platforming, the unresponsive jumping, the torturously slow walk speed coupled with hilariously slippery movement, it's all there, just as your remember it. The camera is serviceable, but it's by no means up to par with anything that's coming out on modern consoles.

Bland enemy design? Check. Weird lighting? Check. Awful character model? Check. Weird, muddy floor textures? Cheeeeeeeeeeeck.

Bland enemy design? Check. Weird lighting? Check. Awful character model? Check. Weird, muddy floor textures? Cheeeeeeeeeeeck.

Speaking of things that aren't up to par, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is aggressively ugly. I'm not talking about the new character designs either. While I'm not a terribly big fan of the new, lankier Sonic (a Sonic you'll want to protect, he mused, while vomiting), I'll accept it on the simple level that's it's not even close to the worst part of the game's aesthetics. Everything just looks bad. Jagged edges and smeary textures everywhere, to the point where this game would look just as at home on the PS2 as it feels. Again, it's unbelievable, especially when compared to the gorgeous Smash Bros. demo that was running right next to it. I'm not a person who really cares so much about graphical fidelity, art design has always been my aesthetic barometer, but when it's this bad, it's impossible not to notice.

At least Eggman still looks great, I guess. Too bad his robot was borrowed from 2004.

At least Eggman still looks great, I guess. Too bad his robot was borrowed from 2004.

Sonic Boom is a game out of time. It would have been a janky, if slightly above mediocre platformer in 2004. It would have been Sonic Heroes: bad, but you wouldn't know how bad until you replayed it a decade later. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric doesn't have that safety net. It's a game that has to stand toe-to-toe with platformers like Mario 3D World and Sonic Generations. It's a game that has to stand up visually to stuff like Sunset Overdrive and Smash Bros.. And in every respect I am amazed it is a game made in 2014, being released by a major publisher. It feels like a licensed game from a decade ago, and that's just unbelievable.


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