Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.
Released: 11 November 2014
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; as I’ve already detailed, Sonic’s design and backstory were dramatically different outside of Japan, where he was more of a snarky rock star as opposed to a Freedom Fighter who was once friends with the kindly Professor Ovi Kintobor. Sonic’s design was further altered for his jump to 3D, where he was redesigned as a more aerodynamic, anime character and many long-term Sonic fans have seen Sonic’s lore go through numerous changes so it’s honestly strange to me that there was such a negative backlash when Sonic and his friends were redesigned once more for SEGA’s CGI Sonic series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). While the over abundance of sports tape was a bit strange, I was actually very much onboard with the redesigns at the time and fully believe that SEGA should have wiped the slate clean and started over with a fresh, new take on the franchise. Unfortunately, as great as the Sonic Boom cartoon was, the accompanying videogames irrevocably damaged the spin-off’s appeal; the Wii U title, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Big Red Button, 2014) was notoriously glitchy and is generally regarded as one of the worst games in the franchise. The 3DS counterpart, however, was developed by a completely different team and, while Shattered Crystal was met with criticism for its lacklustre, repetitive gameplay, it was still received slightly more favourably than Rise of Lyric.
In a prequel to the Sonic Boom cartoon, Sonic and his friends race to rescue Amy Rose from the clutches of the malevolent, serpentine cyborg Lyric, the recently awakened Last Ancient who seeks to claim the fragmented Lost Crystal and, with it, the power to dominate the world!
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is a 2.5D action/adventure platform title with a heavy emphasis on exploration, character switching, and both finding collectibles and finishing stages as quickly as possible. If you don’t mind the headaches and eye strain, you can adjust the 3DS’s slider to activate the 3D effect, which adds a decent amount of depth and causes the colourful graphics to pop out nicely enough but I prefer to have this turned off to avoid being distracted by this effect. Like in Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), when you first start the game you can only play as Sonic and will unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, and Knuckles the Echidna) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Each character can be switched to on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, allowing you to quickly swap between the different characters and their unique abilities quickly enough, but all characters share some basic abilities. They can all jump with B, Homing Attack nearby enemies, springs, and other objects by pressing B again in mid-air, sprint by holding Y (basically the same as the Boost function that has become a staple of Sonic games), perform a stomp by pressing down and X in mid-air, and bust out the “Enerbeam” by pressing A to swing from certain platforms and remove shields from enemies.
Each character also has their own unique mechanics to help you explore the game’s locations: Sonic can perform the Spin Dash when on the group and a vertical and horizontal air dash by pressing up, left, or right and X in mid-air to smash through blue blocks, and Tails can hover by holding B in mid-air (which he can use to ride air currents but this isn’t the same as his usual flying mechanic as he’ll quickly descend downwards as soon as you start hovering), toss bombs with X, and use his submarine, the Sea Fox, in certain areas. Sticks’ main gimmick is her boomerang, which you can throw with X to activate switches, collect Golden Rings and items, or defeat enemies; you can even hold X to manually guide her boomerang for as long as the onscreen meter lasts but you’ll have to be very precise when trying to guide it through narrow passageways. Finally, there’s Knuckles, who disappointingly can’t glide or climb walls anymore but he can punch with X and burrow through specific parts of the environment to reach new areas and items; however, if his meter runs out when you’re burrowing, you’ll be deposited back where you started and take damage so be sure to hold Y to burrow faster, avoid any mines, and pop out of the ground before you lose all of your Rings! Speaking of which, as always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and can be found…sporadically….across each of the game’s locations. Unlike pretty much every single Sonic game, though, Shattered Crystal doesn’t have a standard life system; collecting one hundred Rings will earn you a Token but doesn’t grant you an extra life and, if you fall down one of the many bottomless pits or fall into water, you’ll be deposited back to the last piece of solid ground you were on and take damage rather than dying. If you get hurt without any Rings, you’ll simply respawn at the last checkpoint you passed (or at the start of the stage) and can continue on, all of which makes the game significantly easier than most Sonic games as you never have to worry about running out of lives. This is helpful as I found myself struggling a bit with the controls; for some reason, I just didn’t find them very intuitive and it seemed like the developers went out of their way to use all of the buttons (except for L and R) when they really didn’t need to.
I mentioned Tokens just now and you can earn these in every stage by finishing with a hundred Rings and/or within a specific time limit. If you take too long to finish a stage, you’ll simply miss out on the Token rather than having to restart, which is helpful, but Tokens are a mere distraction rather than an incentive to play as they’re simply used to purchase “Toys” from a shop and to add to your overall completion percentage. Each stage also hides a number of Crystal shards and Blueprints, both of which also unlock additional, extraneous features, but the main reason you’ll want to find these and finish stages is that they award “Sonic Badges” (kind of like the Emblems in Sonic Adventure) which are necessary to unlock stages. If you don’t collect enough, you’ll have to go back and replay previous stages and explore a bit more to find these items and earn a Sonic badge in order to progress the story, which is a bit like Sonic Unleashed’s (ibid, 2008) Sun and Moon Medals (though I never had any instances in that game where I was locked out of stages like I was here). Thus, the best thing to do is to take your time and explore every stage as thoroughly as possible and then replay it afterwards to go for the fastest time since the Sonic Badges are actually needed to progress. Stages in Shattered Crystal are unlike anything I’ve seen in a Sonic game before; you enter them from a limited overworld map (from which you can also access Tails’ Workshop and the aforementioned shop and travel to other islands to take on more stages) and, rather than being divided into or labelled as “Zones” or “Acts”, you’re simply presented with a large, multi-layered stage to explore.
The game runs at a pretty slow speed for the most part; you have to hold Y to move faster and there are an abundance of automatic boost sections where you can literally take your hands off the 3DS since your input is not required, but speed is not the objective of this Sonic game. Instead, you need to explore high and low using each character’s abilities to find all the hidden times. Sometimes, you’ll need to grind on some rails and quickly chain together Homing Attacks or ride air currents and swing across gaps on the fly to reach these items, while others you just use the touch screen to slingshot your way to different parts of the stage to find them and work you way towards the exit. Gameplay is mixed up a little bit in the Sea Fox sections, which see you controlling the submarine in a series of underwater caves lined with mines. By touching the touch screen, you’ll activate the radar and get a brief look at the layout of the area and you can fire missiles with X to destroy mines and rocks that block your progress but be sure to keep an eye on the meter and avoid getting hit as this will cost you time (though you can, and absolutely should, collect the clocks scattered around the area to refill this meter). Each of the game’s islands also includes an auto-running section where, you (as Sonic) must race along a tunnel very similar to the Special Stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), avoiding electrified barriers, switching lanes, Boosting through walls, collecting Rings, and using the Enerbeam to grapple onto overhead lines. If you fail to grapple at the right time or hit a barrier, you have to start from the beginning again and you can’t switch lanes while Boosting or jumping, which is extremely annoying, but, while these sections get faster and trickier as the game progresses, they’re pretty simple to complete on one or two (maybe three) tries. Similarly, you’ll also be asked to race against certain characters (including criminally underused cameos from Shadow the Hedgehog and Metal Sonic) in sidescrolling races that remind me of those from the Sonic Rivals games (Backbone Entertainment/Sega Studio USA, 2006 to 2007) except you can’t attack your rival like in those games.
Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal looks serviceable enough, for the most part; the graphics seem a little distorted at times but, to be fair, I find that to be a common issue with the 3DS. The camera is maybe zoomed out a little too much, though, or in this weird, awkward position where you can’t really see enough of what’s ahead to make the split-second jumps or actions required of you. It’s also, at times, a little difficult to see what’s part of the environment and what can hurt you; I found this especially troublesome in the Ancient City stages, where it wasn’t immediately clear that pools of water or waterfalls could damage you.
The game is split into six islands, each with up to three stages to play. Each island is modelled after such age old gaming clichés as a beach, a canyon, or a volcano and is distinguished by little more than a slight change in the overworld design and layout of the levels. As you progress, you’ll notice more breaks in the grinding rails, for example, or more air currents and switches, or a mixture of these and other mechanics to put everything you’ve learned along the way to the test. By the time you reach the final island, Air Fortress, the game finally ditches the hint balloons and leaves you to figure out for yourself to switch to Tails at the last second or has you desperately trying to hit switches with Sticks as platforms appear and disappear beneath your feet. Sadly, there really isn’t all the much to make each island unique; the aforementioned temporary platforms and rails look the same no matter which island you’re on and it’s rare that stages get a chance to be much more than a skin swap.
The Scrapyard and Robot Facility give it a go by introducing a grimy, industrial aesthetic and substituting spikes for jet flames, but you’ll see these elements repeated in the Volcanic Caverns and Air Fortress, which takes away from their distinctiveness. Some stages, like the Ancient Ruins, remind me a little of similar “Ruins” stages from other Sonic titles, which is a nice call-back if nothing else. The game’s story is told using both CG cutscenes in the style of the Sonic Boom cartoon and partially animated sequences where characters talk using speech balloons that are often way too big for the words they are saying. Voice clips are also used in these sections, and during gameplay, and the writing is about on point for the show, being an amusing mixture of bickering, confidence, and absurdity amongst the main four characters. As for music, I can’t really say I was massively impressed with what Shattered Crystal had to offer; it was catchy and fitting enough but nothing too special and the sound effects were the same recycled tunes we’ve heard over and over again from recent Sonic releases.
Enemies and Bosses:
In a rare change of pace for a Sonic title, Shattered Crystal does not feature the traditional Badnik enemies we’ve all come to know and love; indeed, Dr. Eggman himself appears only in one, very brief scene and he and his robot army are, instead, supplanted by Lyric and his…robot army. Lyric’s robots are very similar to the Badniks of old, firing projectiles your way and generally being a nuisance, but lack a lot of the character and charm of Sonic’s usual enemies. Occasionally, you’ll have to use the Enerbeam to relieve an enemy of its shield or maybe switch to Tails or Sticks to attack from a distance but, for the most part, robots exist simply to be an annoyance or act as an alternative route to new areas and goodies, often respawning in order to fulfil this function, and aren’t even made satisfying to smash since no little woodland critters are released upon their destruction. In another change of pace for not just a Sonic game but videogames in general, Shattered Crystal doesn’t actually have any boss battles except for the final bout against Lyric. Instead, you’ll race down the Worm Tunnels as a giant mechanic worm tears up the environment around you; the worm itself, however, cannot harm you and all you really need to do is stay alive through quick lane switching to win.
In fact, the closest thing the game has to traditional boss battles before the finale are the racing sections, which have Sonic race against Sticks, Shadow, and Metal Sonic towards a goal, hopping from springs, rails, swinging over gaps and dashing through objects as you go. These can be a bit challenging as your rival is often only a few steps behind you so it’s best to try and take the higher path wherever possible and keep your thumb pressed to the Y button to sprint ahead. Once you reach the Air Fortress, you’ll have to battle Lyric in a three stage boss battle that is broken up by similar race sections; Sonic’s friends are all captured, completely neutering the game’s core mechanic and theme of teamwork, and you must chase after them between Lyric’s phases. When you battle Lyric, it’s on a progressively smaller and dangerous platform; if you fall or are knocked off, you’ll respawn back on it but it’ll cost you Rings or possibly kill you if you don’t have any Rings left. Lyric’s attacks increase in speed and ferocity as the battle progresses and you’re given less time to counterattack but, fundamentally, the core strategy remains the same and ridiculously easy throughout the fight: avoid his vertical and horizontal lasers, dodge the missiles (grabbing any Rings as they appear), and Homing Attack his tentacles to dispel his energy shield and Homing Attack his cockpit (which you can also attack when he fires his horizontal laser).
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just as it’s disappointingly light on boss battles, Shattered Crystal is equally light on power-ups; you’ll find capsules containing Rings and a protective shield in the stages but that’s all. There is no speed up shoes or invincibility monitors here, no Special Stages to play or Chaos Emeralds to collect for a power-up, and characters are limited to their specific abilities, with no option to upgrade them or learn new ones.
If you collect all of the Blueprints in each stage, though, you’ll be able to build an upgrade at Tails’ Workshop by completing a simple jigsaw puzzle mini game. These allow you to upgrade the map up to three times to highlight secrets and nearby bonuses, grant you an instant shield at your first checkpoint, cause Rings to be attracted to you, halve the amount of Rings you lose when taking damage, and instantly destroy enemies with the Enerbeam or whilst sprinting (effectively turning this function into the actual Boost function).
Shattered Crystal makes every effort to encourage you to explore every stage with each character in order to find all of the Crystal shards and Blueprints and to meet the criteria to win every Token in the game (which you can also earn by working out with Knuckles every twenty-four hours). Sadly, as mentioned, these Tokens are pretty useless; if you want to get 100% and see all the toys the game has on offer, it’s not a bad incentive to keep playing but it’s not that great either as the toys basically amount to character models of the characters and enemies and not much else.
Thankfully, you don’t need to find all of the Crystal shards to finish the game but, thanks to the map upgrades, it’s very easy to find them all; when you find them, you can restore the titular shattered crystal at Sticks’s Burrow and, once it’s fully restored, you’ll get the grand prize of a Purple Token and a special toy of the main characters. If you then collect all of the Sonic Badges, you can unlock Amy’s House and are treated to an amusing (if awkward) scene of the five main characters dancing to a bit of disco music and…that’s it. You can’t unlock Amy as a playable character, don’t unlock any additional forms or skins, and the only reason you’d really want to go back and find everything is so that your save file reads 100%. You can also visit Sonic’s Shack to watch the game’s cutscenes and read a bonus comic, and use the 3DS’ Streetpass function and to connect to the Wii U but I have no idea what these functions do, if anything.
I’d heard nothing but negative feedback regarding Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal; this didn’t necessarily put me off the game as, being a die-hard Sonic fan, I’m happy to play any and all Sonic titles and make my own opinions but I had put this game off for way too long and was happy to finally bite the bullet and experience it for myself. Overall, I have to say that it’s nowhere near as bad as I was led to believe; it’s not great, certainly, and is a very different type of Sonic game but it’s pretty simple to play and complete and was fun enough as a brief distraction. Having said that, though, it’s a tough game to recommend; it’s annoying that you can’t destroy enemies by jumping on them (you have to use the Homing Attack or character’s abilities) and it’s very tedious to lock out your progression with the Sonic Badges and force you to replay other stages just to progress the story. Similarly, even with all the map upgrades, you still need to explore every stage to the fullest as Blueprints and Crystals will only appear when they’re nearby and the lack of a real reward for finding everything is a big letdown. Still, there’s enough here to distract you (especially younger players) for a day or two and it’s not bad as an action/adventure platformer if you keep your expectations low.
Could Be Better
What did you think about Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal? Did you enjoy the game or were you put off by the emphasis on exploration instead of speed and action? What did you think to the different characters and which was your favourite to play as? Were you disappointed with the game and, if so, what were some of the flaws that put you off it? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would you have liked to see SEGA replace the existing Sonic designs with those from Sonic Boom and apply them to more traditional Sonic games? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, good or bad, leave a comment below and be sure to check out my review of the sequel.