James Stephanie Sterling
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric Review – Hot Bandage Action
The only way to write a fitting review for this one is to get… kind of dark.
Developer: Big Red Button Entertainment
Format: Wii U
Released: November 18, 2014
Copy supplied by publisher
“Look ramps,” yelled Sonic, immediately after using the gigantic ramps he saw.
“We can use these as ramps,” was Tails’ reply. He too said this after having already used the ramps. The ramps that he declared could be used as ramps.
This exchange of dialog, truly a meeting of the minds, came after an hour or so of Sonic and his three malingering chums acting as if every single bounce pad was the first one they’d seen. There are many bounce pads in the game, and you’ll know that they can be bounced on, because Sonic’s friends will remind you all the time. They regard each new bounce pad as the most surprising innovation ever, declaring every time that the bounce pad is indeed a bounce pad. See, Sonic Boom thinks its audience is stupid. It reminds its players of the simplest and most obvious things, repetitively, constantly reinforcing rudimentary information in the most patronizing and insulting way possible. It does this because Sonic Boom thinks you’re all stupid, and who can blame it? People will actually purchase this thing! Sonic Boom is an idiotic baby’s game for children, the kind that believes its status as a kids’ game gives it free license to be lazy, broken, and poorly designed. Some might argue that developing a game for children is no excuse to cut corners, especially for a heavily marketed project with its own tie-in cartoon series and plenty of merchandising deals. Sega and the cohorts at Big Red Button Entertainment think differently, however. They’re making an idiotic baby’s game for children, and don’t really give a crap if thousands of kids are getting a middle finger made of hot garbage for Christmas.
I could talk about how the game’s cutscenes are poorly compressed and littered with visual artifacts, as if they were archaic PC game FMVs from the nineties. I could talk about the myriad glitches and the broken A.I. of companion characters. I could talk about the banal and braindead button-mashing combat, or the headache-inducing on-rails running sections. I could even talk about how Sonic games are usually incredibly beautiful, but this one is full of jagged edges, fuzzy character models, and a framerate that struggles to maintain a consistent 30 per second. All of these things, I could talk about. That’s not going to happen however, because there’s a far more pressing subject concerning Sonic Boom that deserves our utmost attention.
Let’s talk about bandages.
Sonic the Hedgehog has bandages on his shoes. I don’t know why that’s a thing. What, exactly, is Sonic getting out of that? It’s as if the designers of Sonic Boom (and all its related merchandising) were desperate to give Sonic some edgy new look, but realized there’s not a lot you can do with a blue cartoon hedgehog, so settled for a ratty scarf and random bandages. I need to make sure you clearly understand what’s going on with Sonic’s visual design here – he has bandages on his shoes. Who even does that? What kind of dribbling idiot wraps his footwear in bandages? I can only assume that Sonic’s feet, blistered and raw from years of running at speeds no hedgehog should be capable of reaching, are constantly weeping from open sores and pulsating wounds.
The only logical conclusion one can draw from Sonic’s design is that, by the end of each day, copious amounts of black blood and stinking pus have soaked through his footwear – a pair of shoes that have become inseparably fused to the maggot-filled lumps of decayed flesh that hang mournfully from our beloved hedgehog’s ankles. Sonic realizes that eventually he’s going to need a doctor to saw off his bloated, festering feet, as if the gangrene hasn’t already spread throughout his body. In denial, however, he simply wraps his feet in fresh bandages each morning, does his best to ignore the smell of corrupted meat, and spends his hours addled on milk of the poppy, his agony reduced to a dull, drug-suppressed throb. He tells himself he’ll see a doctor tomorrow. He never does. One day he’ll just… stop… moving.
Knuckles is an altogether more fascinating case. He has a greater number of bandages than any other cast member, and the reason is quite clear. At some point between every other Sonic game and this one, Knuckles stopped being physically comparable to Sonic and mutated into something resembling a half-transformed Incredible Hulk. I’m no medical expert, but my theory is that Knuckles underwent intense cosmetic surgery, perhaps pressured by our modern society and its impossible standards for beauty. I’m guessing he consulted Dr. Eggman – who himself appears to have undergone some twisted form of liposuction that left him with PopEye arms – and had the mad scientist perform the procedures.
His biceps are now intensely swollen with collagen, so it’s natural to assume that Knuckles’ skin is constantly tearing, ripping open thanks to unnatural pressure, and consequently leaking medical fluids – hence the need for bandages. Furthermore, his entire skeletal structure has likely been remodeled in order to cope with an impractical top-heavy build. I can’t begin to imagine the intense pain Knuckles must be going through after having his shins and spine snapped into pieces before getting bolted back together with steel rigging, but I am convinced the poor echidna has had parts of his brain removed to cope with it. It explains why he’s also presented in the game as a simpering dullard, incapable of higher thinking.
To be fair, all of the game’s playable characters must have undergone lobotomies, given their constant surprise at the existence of bounce pads, and the fact that Sonic regularly says “You can’t have enough rings,” despite the ring count maxing out at 100, meaning that you can have enough rings. Then again, it must take a lot of brain power to figure out that ramps can be used as ramps, so I don’t want to suggest anybody’s critical thinking skills are in any way subnormal.
You can switch between the four main characters – Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, and Amy – at any time, and when I say “any time,” I mean, “when the game isn’t breaking itself.” You see, when not being directly controlled, our colorful heroes love getting themselves stuck, or randomly jumping up and down for no good reason whatsoever. You can’t switch characters when they’re jumping, which means it’s entirely possible to get stuck as one character, unable to switch. That’s generally fine, as there’s no real mechanical reason for there being four characters. They all technically have different skills, with Knuckles able to climb, and Amy able to triple-jump, but environments are designed with paths for almost everybody. I think there are four playable characters because you sell more toys that way, and selling toys is why idiotic baby’s games for children exist.
The main bad guy is a robotic snake called Lyric, and Lyric is a stupid name for anything, let alone a robotic snake. Just felt like I had to mention it.
Sonic Boom is a boring game at its very best, with its simpleton’s idea of progress. You trudge along the kind of platforming environments that felt old fashioned by the time of the PlayStation 2, then punch robots for a bit, then do more trudging, then punch more robots. Along the way, Sonic and pals will clip through the floor and walls, get stuck in certain animations, and generally feel awkward to control. There’s no real sense of impact in the combat, and the camera is absolutely worthless. It’s a game that frequently doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. It’s ugly. It exists to sell toys and a cartoon series. It’s depressing to try and play.
There are so many bandages. I don’t know a single person who wears bandages as a matter of fashion, let alone feels the need to wear so many of them. I don’t know why the Hedgehog Engine has produced several gorgeous looking games, and now we have this hideous little mess, supposedly “achieved” with CryEngine. I don’t know why CryEngine would have its name attached to something so visually appalling. One thing I’m sure of is that Sega ought to be embarrassed for pouring so much hype, so much marketing money, into this project, only to have a sad, miserable little dog’s dinner of a product to show for it. I guess it doesn’t matter, though. It’s an idiotic baby’s game for children, and it exists to sell toys. It also thinks you’re all dumb, and it wears its contempt for you on its sleeve. A sleeve covered in bandages.
Sonic Boom reminds me that I am going to die one day, and that I’ll probably die alone. I doubt I’ll want to die, but the fact I’m dying won’t matter, and the fact I lived at all will be even less important. We’re all going to die, and everything we spent our dank lives building, everything we’ve worked for, will be as ash in the wind. The people we’ve come to love, whose existences we’ve enhanced and impacted in some profound way, are meaningless, because one day they’ll all be dead too. Eventually, the Sun will expand to the point of annihilating everything on this planet, swallowing our entire history, wiping all evidence of humanity from existence. It’s all for nothing. It’s all so very pointless. Sonic Boom exists because we’re all going to die one day, and we don’t matter.