This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Sonic Boom.
So all the major pre-Christmas releases have shuffled out like the elderly residents of a retirement home queuing up for a nice restful euthanasia, and there's time for a bit of catching up before the year ends. So let's have a look at Sonic Boom on the Wii!
As the game begins and the usual slew of idents plays, the CryEngine logo is accompanied by the words "Achieved with CryEngine". And you know, I don't think "achieved" is the word I'd use. "Shat out" with CryEngine, maybe. "Tortuously prolonged" with CryEngine. Or perhaps, "enabled" with CryEngine, in the same way one "enables" a crippling drug habit. Fuck yes, I'm reaching for the low-hanging fruit. It's been a long year, and taking it out on something no one with even a passing interest in reality will defend is my equivalent of a day at the spa!
Where is this invisible mob of deluded twat-blasts that still buy Sonic reliably enough to bank new instalments? 'Cause it's reached the point that even the 2D good ones have been retroactively tainted! Having said that, Sonic Colors was tolerable and some people seemed to like Generations, even a couple of people who are allowed outside without adult supervision. So Sonic Boom being a spunk-bubble wasn't a given.
I know the character revamp that gave Sonic a Nathan Drake scarf and turned Knuckles into a slow-witted give-way sign probably made the fanbase moo a bit, but it made sense to me. At least they're physically differentiating the characters a bit for once. Although I'm not sure what's with all the bandages wrapped around everything - maybe everyone's gotten paper cuts from signing acceptance forms for all the shit they're being given.
The gameplay is based around switching between the four marginally-different playstyles of John, Paul, George and Ringo, which hearkens back to good 'ol Sonic 2006, the game that learned the hard way that no one buys a Sonic game to play as one of Sonic's fucking roommates. But perhaps it'd be superstitious to blame Sonic's entourage alone for the fascinating awfulness of Sonic '06 and Sonic Boom. The far more reasonable explanation is that the games were both developed by syphilitic gibbons.
The plot opens with Sonic et al running fast and fighting Dr. Egg-robot-man-nik. Blimey, that's a bold stride in a new direction, no wonder we needed a fucking reboot! In short order, Sonic frees an evil snake monster from the past who claims that it was Sonic himself who imprisoned him a thousand years ago. And so the plot starts making time travel noises as Sonic is transported back to do the thing he already did. You might reasonably think at this point that we're setting up a Zelda-esque mechanic wherein we hop back and forth between two different time periods throughout the game, and you'd be all wrong and a bag of chips. We go back in time, imprison the poor bastard, and come straight back. It's never brought up again and we're not even a quarter of the way through the game.
The rest of our time is spent going to the next level to find the power crystal that opens up the level after that, while evil snake dude does absolutely nothing to indicate that they are in the slightest bit threatening or effective. Unless they murdered most of the population of the connecting world offscreen, which would explain why entire hub towns can contain maybe two NPCs. And I suppose the big evil snake must've nailed their feet to the floor as well.
Over the weekend, an associate asked me what kind of game Sonic Boom was. And you know what? As I opened my mouth in a shower of angry spittle and rum, I realized I had no idea how to answer that question. There are the token bits where you run fast along a long an inexplicable running track with no apparent relationship to the surrounding scenery, where the framerate drops like a sparrow with a plum pudding and obstacles appear about one-sixth of a second before it will be too late to avoid imprinting your little freak one-eyed hedgehog face upon it.
There's also combat, or at least I think so. The characters are quite small on screen, and with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme all fighting off multiple enemies, it's like watching a vibrating tray covered in Star Wars miniatures, except you’re also still coming off the anaesthetic from a slightly botched corneal transplant because the camera follows you sluggishly and refuses to behave itself. I’m also not convinced that the characters are trying to hit each other when they could just as easily be trying to wipe snot off their hands.
There are also platforming sections, most of which are contrivedly laid out with everything needed to accommodate the movement abilities of all the characters you’re dragging along like toy ducks on a string, like the mandatory wheelchair ramps on public buildings. And I have to wonder why we’re even bothering with multiple characters if any of them will do. And of course, there are the side missions from the aforementioned solitary NPCs, mainly related to finding or wiping snot off on five things around the map, and which I swiftly learned to ignore because your only reward is upgrades, and I think the designers must have been having some kind of drunken competition to come up with the most useless ones imaginable. Slightly increment the damage of an ability that almost always instant-kills, vacuum-up rings as long as they’re within arm’s reach, increase the arbitrary one hundred ring maximum capacity - that might have been useful, if only to make the deluges of rings the game throws at you not so much golden piss in the wind, but the game arbitrarily locked that upgrade until I bought the accompanying 3DS game. One of Sonic’s random witticisms for picking up rings is, "Can never have enough rings!", and somehow he says it with a straight face. Not that it matters, since even if you die you just spawn exactly where you were with twenty free rings. Challenge must have of gotten shunted down the priority list to pay for the voice actors humiliation insurance.
So again! What kind of game is this? A racer? A Brawler? A Platformer? A Gather-things-for-twats-er? Action Adventure? You need either action or adventure for that. No, I know what it is - it’s an endurance test, you see how much of the dialogue you can listen to before you slice your own ears off with a paper guillotine (or perhaps just turn the volume down, you spaz). "Getting sniffy about random quips not meeting your comedy standards again, are we Yahtzee?" I would be, if they were quips. They seem more like matter-of-fact running commentary. “Bounce-pad!”, announces Sonic as he touches a bounce-pad. “It's Bounce-pad time!”, he adds. “I’m bouncing off something with pad-like characteristics!”, he clarifies. And when it’s not that, it’s the game weakly attempting to praise itself. “This is awesome!”, cries a sprinting character as they faceplant into another rock. “This place looks amazing!”, they say, taking in the boxy buildings worthy of a pre-analog sticks PSone game. But saying something isn’t enough to make it true, unless you say something like, “Sega are attracting derision, the massive wankers”. And when the dialogue isn’t awful quips or self-aggrandizement, it’s just treating the player like an absolute cretin. “That wall looks breakable! I notice you haven’t broken it in the 2.7 seconds since I last mentioned that. That’s cool, I’ll check in 2.8 seconds!”
What makes you think I’m this stupid, Sonic Boom? "You bought me!" Touché!
- Spiky little bastard: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
If, like me, you now have that song from the Sonic CD intro sequence stuck in your head then you, too, may be getting too old for this shit
See y'all after Christmas I suppose