Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric Review (Wii U)
Sonic has lost a lot of rings throughout his adventures, and while his franchise has been rebooted a few times before, we were hoping that Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric gaves him the push he needed to hit the current-gen running at full speed. Big Red Button Entertainment has answered the call when it came to redesigning Sonic the Hedgehog (yet again) for the modern era. The last time someone tried to properly reinvent Sonic, the abysmal 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog was made, which many fans believe to be the worst of the series. As more and more 3D Sonic games were released over the past decade, one thing was clear -- Sonic needed a breath of fresh air so he can stretch his legs and land back on the ground. The team at Big Red has redesigned Tails, Knuckles and the rest of the Sonic Squad to kick off the Blue Blur's debut on the Wii U with a tie-in animated series debuting on national TV to boot.
A lot of controversy hit Sonic Boom before the game (or TV series) arrived, due to the new designs of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy. Sonic has become lankier, wears a scarf and has bandages around his feet and ankles. Knuckles has gotten the Chris Redfield steroid treatment. Tails wears a mechanic's belt and welder's goggles. Amy relatively remains the same but with a new outfit. Personally, the character redesigns are of little consequence to me, just as long as the end product justifies the means. Unfortunately, these character designs seem to have been done more in favor of causing controversy in the gaming world and to help with the Sonic Boom cartoon series. In the end, these deformed characters are a telltale sign of how warped the once heralded franchise has become and how far Sonic has fallen.
For a current-gen Sonic game, Rise of Lyric looks horrible in most aspects (all gripes about the new character designs aside). The graphics' focus, of course, is on the four main characters, but it seems that everything else, including textures, backgrounds, NPCs, enemies, levels, objects and even Lyric (the main antagonist), did not get anywhere near as much polish as Sonic and his team did. The light, shadow and particle effects just look horrid. Everything in this game that isn't Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, Amy, Metal Sonic, Shadow and Eggman just looks like it belongs on the original Xbox or PlayStation 2. Ultimately I felt that Rise of Lyrics' visuals did not even come close to meeting the standards of the 2006 Sonic game. Even worse, there were times where Sonic Boom's graphics reminded me of Sonic Adventure, which came out on the Sega Dreamcast over 16 years ago.
My biggest complaint with Sonic Boom's visuals comes from its substandard and erratic frame rate. The game rarely delivers a consistent frame rate, with animations suffering tremendously as a result. I originally thought I was having issues with my Wii U system -- I had to load another game just to make sure that my console wasn't messing up (mind you, I downloaded Rise of Lyric from the Nintendo eShop, so I didn't even have a disc to worry about). Alas, Rise of Lyric's bouncy frame rate left me legitimately thinking that my console was broken. The cutscenes, exploration stages, side-scrolling mode, combat and even its speed sections were all crippled due to Sonic Boom's frame rate varying between below-average to flat-out slow. When you're playing a Sonic the Hedgehog game, a low frame rate can murder the experience. There is no excuse for these graphical detriments -- Sonic Boom is unpolished, unfinished and displays all the obvious signs of sloppy, rushed development.
The music and sound effects of Sonic Boom are just as sloppily mashed together as its graphics. The Sonic franchise has had some of the most unforgettable sounds and songs in video game history, and Rise of Lyric does absolutely nothing to tap into its lush history. Instead, its songs do not match any of the events on screen. You don't have any upbeat songs playing during the speed sequences, and there are overworld-like songs that evoke a sense of exploration playing during the horrific combat sequences. The voice acting is Boom's only saving grace in terms of presentation, but its undermined by one-note characters who keep trying to get in the same style of one-liner every chance they get. It's obvious that they were trying to help bridge this game to the TV show and its intended audience is for children, but there is still some very sloppy writing across the game's story and script.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric shows some very conflicting and disappointing development choices. Instead of focusing on a traditional, side-scrolling experience like Sonic 4 or expanding on the series' tried-and-failed attempts at 3D platforming, Rise of Lyric ineffectively pulls the Hedgehog in multiple directions, messing things up worse than any other game in the franchise has done before. Gameplay primarily consists of exploratory areas, combat, side-scrolling puzzles/platforming, a town hub (to get missions) and automated speed sequences. Sonic's sense of speed and platforming, the franchise's two biggest redeeming qualities, had the rug pulled out from under them. Sonic and his team only move at a jog-like top speed during a vast majority of the game, which is an absolute sin to the video game medium. The combat sequences are drawn out, enemies take too long to destroy and there is zero variety to fighting (minus the boss fights) -- you just spam the same melee attack combo over and over or use your character's special attack. These fighting sequences are boring, cliche and exist as poor attempts at copying Devil May Cry's style of combat. There is a whip-like energy beam that you can use to throw enemies around, but there isn't anything else you can really do with it.
Sonic Boom's gameplay slows down even further during its side-scrolling sections, which you would think would be one of its fastest parts due to the series' background. The side-scrolling sequences have you in snail-paced platforming sections that are filled with puzzles and backtracking. You would think that you would use Sonic, Knuckles, Tails and Amy as a team and switch between them frequently to solve some thought-provoking puzzles. Instead, your team gets split up regularly, and you must traverse each part of these sections at a snail's pace and the game holds your hand through it all, forcing you to take your time. You know that animation Sonic used to do after standing still for a long time? I did that a lot during these parts.
The speed sections of Rise of Lyric are huge disappointments. Obviously inspired by the previous 3D titles of the franchise, these parts have your team running through tunnels at full speed with the camera stuck behind the team. You have the option to switch lanes and jump to avoid obstacles, and that's all you can do. If you hit something, you lose your rings and resume your speed. These sessions would be acceptable if it weren't for the horrible camera system combined with the dragging frame rate, which hits the hardest during these parts of the game. The tunnels twist into loop-to-loops and other patterns to help add some variety to what's happening. Unfortunately, the camera does not properly follow you during any of these turns, resulting in your characters almost always hitting the first obstacle after each twist. It's also hard to judge which lanes you need to stay in to avoid what's in the way. I found out that you can put the controller down during each of these sequences without dying -- it always gives you a few rings after each hurdle so these sequences are stuck on easy mode.
Just like his redesigned look, Sonic Boom does nothing but tries to put bandages on the Hedgehog's recent woes, only to find that it made him even slower. In the end, these character designs fit: this game looks weird and out of place during this era of gaming because of its substandard graphics and horrific frame rate. Rise of Lyric features an atrocious combat system that never should have been added into the game in the first place. It's exploratory and side-scrolling sequences provide lukewarm instances of puzzle and adventure, but never felt like they ever belong in a Sonic game. The speed sequences, which should have been Rise of Lyric's bread and butter, are actually its worst parts due to a poorly designed camera system and constantly lagging visuals. Its two-player gameplay (with one person using the Wii U GamePad and another person using a WiiMote and Nunchuk on the TV) only makes things worse. The frame rate drops even harder, despite the game's overall texture quality going down when playing co-op.
Sonic Boom's poor quality reflects a quick and dirty rush job by Big Red Button Entertainment. Rise of Lyric shouldn't exist as a Sonic game or as a current-gen game, because it fails to meet the standards of both. Instead, we have nothing but over-hype and controversy from its redesigned characters with absolutely nothing to back it up. Just when you thought there was nothing else that could be done to ruin the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise even more than its previous incarnations, all it took was a Big Red Button.
This review was based on a purchased, digital copy of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for Wii U.