Game News, Previews

E3 2014 Hands-On Preview: Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (3DS)

(Thanks to Shigs from our sister-site SEGAbits for providing the write up! Go check them out, they’re classy people.)
Nuckles87 and I have been at odds with the Sonic Boom games at E3. While he was more forgiving of Rise of Lyric on Wii U, I found it a dull and mediocre experience overall. However, for Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal on 3DS, I really enjoyed this platformer while Nux was not as pleased. Surprisingly, I agreed with most of his complaints, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game. So what’s in this game that makes me not only enjoy it much more than Sonic Boom on Wii U, but might be my favorite Sonic game on 3DS? Read on.

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Shattered Crystal is both your typical and non-typical Sonic game. It has some of the features that make a solid 2-D Sonic game such as boosting, homing attacks, boostpads and loop-de-loops while adding all new elements that are closer to “metroidvania” (I hate that word) styles of 2-D games with large, maze-like levels. While the game at it’s fastest isn’t near as fast as other Sonic games like Sonic Rush, it’s meant to have moments that go at a slower pace for exploration. Unlike the Wii U it’s new features compliment the old mechanics rather than being something so different it could star any game character.
The first and main level I tried out in the demo was a Jungle level where you can control all four characters. In the full game, you will only start as Sonic in this level and you can return to it with more of the characters you’ve unlocked later to find new areas to explore and new puzzles to solve to find extra items. Each character has their own unique ability that adds to the game. Sonic has an air dash move that can make him go through large blocks and get to higher platforms, Knuckles can burrow in a very similar fashion to the Drill power in Sonic Colors, Sticks can throw her boomerang to hit triggers which unlock new areas and Tails can fly when there are fans around. From what I’ve seen this is similar in the Wii U version where Tails needs some kind of assistance to fly and can only float down when he jumps. Why are they gimping Tails flight abilities? Amy Rose is out of action in this game as she’s been kidnapped by Lyric because he wants her to find these crystals he needs to power up his army.
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The levels are very large and maze-like and include areas where you take an enerbeam sling shot to a new area on the map. Doing so also changed the music (composed by Sonic R’s own Richard Jacques). At first, these levels are designed to mainly run through to the goal, but you can come back with your friends and fully explore these large levels for extra items. For instance, there was a blue box I passed where Tails can drop a remote controlled miniature version of the Sea Fox. A new mini game opens up where you’re piloting the Sea Fox through a narrow trench, destroying boulders in your path with missiles and grabbing time bonuses on you way to grab an important item. You then needed to get the sub back through a tube before time ran out. It’s like a level inside a level and is something you can completely bypass if you wish. The map at the bottom of the screen not only shows you your position, but how much of the level you haven’t discovered yet. A Godsend for those 100% completionists.
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Speaking of large levels, while I didn’t get lost myself they could easily be a drawback for some. I was done with my demo way sooner than Nux who got very lost in the level he was in. I personally consider that fairly minor as it didn’t affect me at all. The issue I have with the game right now is the cumbersome, “stop and go” nature of it partially due to constantly having to switch characters by tapping on the bottom screen. This wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the bottom screen is shared by two other screens. The bottom screen has images of the characters you can touch and choose, then a map of the entire level and then the options menu all on separate screens you have to navigate by pressing the L and R buttons. This means if you want to change characters (and in the demo, that was pretty often) you may have to tap R or L twice, then take your fingers off the buttons to tap the screen for what character you want. I talked to the lead level designer about the possibility of short cutting the character select by putting it on the D-Pad. He said it’s possible since the game is mostly done and they are now fine tuning it and taking in feedback so hopefully this complaint will be worked on and fixed before release.
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The other levels I found using the overhead map in the game that’s similar to the ones you see in games like Sonic Lost World or Donkey Kong Country. The next one I tried was a more 3-D style tunnel level similar to the kind seen in the rails sections of Lost World. Here’ Sonic is boosting along at top speed dashing left or right on purple tracks while avoiding traps. You also jump and grab onto rails using your enerbeam. While hanging off the rail, you’re grabbing rings and dodging attacks from the giant robot sand worm. At the end of the level, Sonic jumps into the sand worm and destroys it from inside. “Nice kill, Sonic!” It’s a fairly simple and straightforward level, but still fun. My only gripe with this level is that you have to let go of boost in order to dodge to the next track and after years of dodging left to right while boosting, it feels a bit off.
Finally there was the “Rivals” level. This level is very similar to Sonic Rivals in which it’s a one on one race through a 2-D level with alternate paths and shortcuts. Here, I played as Sonic racing Sticks through Shadow Canyon. Sonic’s air dash came in handy as there was some areas on the tack in which I could air dash through to get a short cut and boost ahead of Sticks. However, one little screw up ans Sticks was leading again. Still, while it was close, I managed to beat her to the finish line. This level was great and managed to do what two PSP games couldn’t, make 2-D Sonic racing fun.
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Overall, Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is coming along very nicely. It has a lot of the Sonic mainstays but slows down at bit to add some new gameplay elements and a focus on exploration. You can control the speed in which you go through the level. Do you boost your way to the goal or do you slow down and explore the large environment? Taht said, the large environments can be too big and confusing to some. Plus, changing characters is not only fairly cumbersome, it can bring the game to a halt at times. However, some of these things may be worked on and changed before release and in the end, I really did have a lot of fun with the game. If these complaints can be addressed, this could be my favorite Sonic 3DS game yet! Although considering how Lost World on 3DS came out, that’s not exactly saying a whole lot.

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