Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Colours: Ultimate (Xbox Series X)


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 have been dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 7 September 2021
Originally Released: 11 November 2010
Developer: Blind Squirrel Games
Original Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S (Remaster); Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS (Original Release)

The Background:
Despite what people would have you to believe, Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 2006) was an absolute travesty and one of the lowest points in the franchise. Sonic Team pulled out all the stops to make up for that dismal failure with Sonic Unleashed (ibid, 2008), which was a commercial success thanks to the speed and exhilaration offered by Sonic’s gameplay despite the inclusion of the lengthy and maligned “Werehog” stages. Development of a follow-up title began soon after the release of Sonic Unleashed, and producer Takashi Iizuka aimed to not only create an equal balance between speed and platforming but to appeal to a wider, more casual audience by making Sonic the sole playable character. In lieu of Sonic’s extended cast, the developers introduced the “Wisps” to act as temporary power-ups that expanded on Sonic’s moveset, and took inspiration from Disneyland for the game’s amusement park setting. Originally released for the Nintendo Wii and DS, Sonic Colours was well-received for its gorgeous graphics, exciting gameplay, and was considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise despite some criticisms of the game’s difficulty. After years of being exclusive to Nintendo’s machines, Blind Squirrel Games were drafted to produce a remaster of the title for modern consoles to coincide with Sonic’s 30th anniversary, which included a number of graphical and gameplay updates to the original title. Unfortunately, Sonic Colours: Ultimate was mired by numerous reports of bugs and glitches, especially on the Nintendo Switch version, though the charm and fun of the original was still noted to be present.

The Plot:
After Doctor Eggman builds a gigantic interstellar amusement park in orbit seemingly as penance for his evil deeds, Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower investigate and quickly discover that the evil genius has enslaved several worlds and an alien species known as Wisps in order to harness their energy for a mind-control laser that will allow him to take over the world.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played Sonic Unleashed, or most of the main console Sonic games that came after that title, you’ll be instantly familiar with how Sonic Colours: Ultimate looks, feels, and plays. Like its predecessor, the game is a 3D action/platformer that also switches to a 2.5D perspective and has a heavy emphasis on speed, some extremely minor puzzles (mostly just sliding under walls, hopping over pits and steps, activating switches, and kicking away blocks) and a bit of exploration as you’ll need to search about to find optional items for additional unlocks. Unlike Sonic Unleashed, Sonic is the sole playable character here; there aren’t even sections where you get to control the Tornado, and hub worlds have been excised entirely and replaced with a world map, of sorts, where you can select the planets you visit and which level (referred to as “Act”) you want to play on the world. Sonic’s controls remain largely unchanged from before, however; you can still boost ahead by pressing and holding B, though your boost is limited to a meter than can only be filled by collecting Wisps and can no longer be extended or upgraded using experience points. A allows you to jump and holding it will let you jump higher while pressing it in mid-air gives you a very limited double jump. You can also press A during a jump to fire Sonic at enemies, objects, and springs with his iconic Homing Attack, or press X while jumping to perform a stomp to destroy enemies or break through certain blocks.

While you can blast through 3D sections and hop around in 2.5D, control is often taken away from you.

Quite often, Sonic will be placed in an auto-running segment where he has to quick-step to the left and right to dodge walls, hazards, or smack away Motobugs; sadly, this function is limited to the left analogue stick rather than being mapped to the shoulder buttons, which can make avoiding laser beams or obstacles a little tricky. Sonic can also perform a wall jump to reach higher areas, grind on rails, bounce off springs and balloons and other objects to progress, and players can repeatedly tap A after jumping or passing through a rainbow ring to perform tricks and reach new areas. While the 3D sections emphasise boosting and high-speed action, and often take control out of your hands and require you to do little more than quick-step or jump out of the way of hazards, the 2.5D sections focus on platforming; you’ll jump across gaps, to platforms (both stationary and moving), and use wind tunnels to reach higher paths, which typically hold more rewards and are a faster route to the Goal Ring. As in pretty much every Sonic videogame, Gold Rings are your life support; Sonic will be able to take a hit from enemies and obstacles as long as he’s carrying at least one Ring, and he can reacquire them when hit and suck them towards him while boosting. Sonic can pass through checkpoints to respawn if he falls into a death pit or gets hit without any Rings; however, while the life system has technically been done away with, this isn’t strictly true as you can be saved from a fall by grabbing a Tails pick-up, which will see Tails airlift you back to solid ground without having to go back to a checkpoint.

Sonic can grab Wisps to gain temporary power-ups and new forms that allow him to reach new areas.

As mentioned, Sonic is the only character you get to play as; Tails is relegated to a supporting role and only appears in cutscenes or as a new power-up, and you don’t even get to experience a different style of gameplay with a brawling transformation as in the last game. What you get instead are the Wisps, a series of alien lifeforms that you progressively gain access to as you play through the story. When you pick up a Wisp power-up, you can activate it with the Right Bumper and transform Sonic for a brief period of time, which will greatly expand your moveset and options for exploration and attack. The Cyan Wisp allows you to dart through enemies or bounce off surfaces and between jewels as a laser burst, the Orange Wisp turns you into a rocket and blasts you vertically upwards and allows you to float across distances, and the Yellow Wisp turns you into a drill so you can burrow through the dirt or swim through water (though you have to keep topping up the power meter or you’ll risk getting trapped in the dirt and dying). The Green Wisp allows you to hover by holding A and perform a Light Speed Dash across rows of Rings by pressing B, the Blue Wisp briefly turns you into a cube and changes blue rings into solid cubes so you can progress further, the Purple Wisp turns you into a voracious, frenzied monster that eats anything in its path, and the Pink Wisp lets you cling to any surface using spikes and perform Sonic’s signature Spin Dash to blast along at high speeds. New to the game is the Jade Wisp, which turns you into a floating ghost and allows you to teleport across distances, but the Wisp powers are incredibly limited because your power meter is so small and they essentially act as very brief power-ups to mix things up and let you blast through enemies or reach new areas and, for me, are a poor substitute for playing as Tails or Knuckles the Echidna.

Stages are nice and varied, if a bit short, and there’s a slight difficulty curve in the final area.

I played the original Wii release of Sonic Colours, and still own the Nintendo DS version of the game, but it’s been a while since I sat down with it. I don’t remember it being too difficult to play through, though, and the game is littered with hint orbs, tutorials, and warning signs to help hold your hand if you’re struggling. Luckily, you can turn these off at the main menu, which I’d highly recommend, but the game is mainly just a high-speed action adventure that forces you to get through a bit of platforming here and there to get to the next exciting sequence. Gameplay is pretty standard across the board but there are notable things to mix up each of the game’s worlds; there’s pulleys and switches and temporary stairs in Tropical Resort, popcorn to blast through and huge missiles to dodge in Sweet Mountain, and neon pathways to race across in Starlight Carnival. You’ll be quick-stepping across girders on Planet Wisp, punching your way through the gloopy water maze of Aquarium Park by rapidly tapping A and swallowing air bubbles to stay alive, and hopping between high-speed rollercoasters and Homing Attacking asteroids and springs in Asteroid Coaster. You’ll also encounter sections where gravity is reversed or skewed, parts where you need to continuously bounce on a moving spring to cross a death pit, and watch for huge blocks that will force you off the screen and to your death if you stay in their path. Overall, though, the difficulty is noticeably toned down from Sonic Unleashed; Acts are far shorter and designed to be played in fun, short bursts and there are copious checkpoints and Tails power-ups to keep you going.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Colours was always a very vivid and graphically impressive title, especially for a Wii game, and Sonic Colours: Ultimate is no different. Everything really pops here; the colours, the textures, and the environments are all really vibrant and there’s lots to see in the background and foreground. If anything, the game’s environments are a little too busy at times and it can be a bit disorientating and distracting trying to focus on what you’re doing, where Sonic is, and what can or can’t hurt you in each of the game’s unique areas. Sonic, however, continues to look fantastic; as ever, he comes with some amusing idle animations and it’s fun seeing him transform into his different forms. The switch between 3D and 2.5D continues to be a little clunky when you’re blasting through Acts and I can’t help but feel like things might have been easier if certain Acts were dedicated to each perspective rather than switching between them, but the camera is never an obstacle and platforming sections are never too tricky beyond getting your jump high and timed well enough.

The worlds are varied, vibrant, and full of life but sometimes a little too busy and colourful.

The entire game takes place in Dr. Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park, and there’s a definite feeling of being strapped in for a high-speed, high-excitement rollercoaster of an experience. This is literally the case in areas like Asteroid Coaster, where you ride a dragon-themed rollercoaster hopping between seats over the vast cosmic void, and Skylight Carnival, where you race along cyber pathways as huge neon spaceships loom nearby. Tropical Resort is probably the least interesting area of the game, which is somewhat fitting as it’s basically the entrance to the amusement park, and even that is made visually interesting with all the bright signs and rails and little details like potted plants and benches. Planet Wisp is the closest you get to actually having your feet on natural, solid ground and is a fantastic mixture of nature, foliage, and a huge construction site. Sweet Mountain is easily the game’s most bizarre area and is comprised of cakes, sweets, and desserts amidst a missile factory; blasting through popcorn and using rotating sweets to fly above doughnut plants makes this a very surreal but memorable level. There’s also a real scope added to the environments in Aquarium Park, which essentially takes place within a gigantic aquarium and sees you exploring a vast underwater area and locations heavily borrowing from Japanese temples and aesthetics.

While the lack of hub worlds is disappointing, the graphics and presentation are top-notch.

The game’s final area, Terminal Velocity, is simply a race down the huge connecting tube that keeps Dr. Eggman’s amusement part anchored to the planet, and conjures up memories of the final areas in Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog’s stories in Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic Team USA, 2001), and you’ll find a number of pretty basic, almost textureless obstacles courses waiting for you in Game Land. Unfortunately, the game does take a bit of a step backwards as hub worlds are gone entirely, replaced by a world map where you select which planet/location to visit and then pick an Act to play, meaning that the game’s focus is far less on story and exploration outside of the in-Act collectibles. Cutscenes are really well done, however, maintaining the same charming cartoony aesthetic from Sonic Unleashed and featuring some fun, if cringy, jokes and one-liners from Sonic and banter between him and Tails, and Dr. Eggman. Sonic Colours saw Roger Craig Smith take over the role of Sonic, and he’s a far better and more enjoyable voice than Jason Griffith, who I could never stand in the role. Mike Pollock continues to shine as the blustering Dr. Eggman, who’s now joined by Orbot and Cubot for some bungling shenanigans, and the game’s soundtrack is catchy and enjoyable enough. Sonic Colours: Ultimate allows players to select different language options for the dialogue and subtitles, and even switch between the original and the remixed soundtrack, but there’s some jaunty tunes on offer here from Cash Cash and composer Tomoya Ohtani to keep the energy levels high when blasting through enemies.

Enemies and Bosses:
In his quest to free the Wisps from Dr. Eggman, Sonic comes up against many familiar robotic enemies courtesy of the rotund mad scientist; these include Badniks like Motobug, Spiny, Jawz, and Buzzer, and Dr. Eggman’s more military focused creations, like the Egg Pawns and Spinners. Destroying these robots will free the Wisps trapped within, powering up your boost meter and allowing you to plough through them without worry, and you can easily cross chasms and progress further by chaining Homing Attacks of groups of enemies. Probably the most persistent and annoying enemies are Dr. Eggman’s chaser robots, the Aero-Chaser and the Big Chaser. These flying robots will hover in front or behind you, firing lasers and taking swipes at you as you desperately side-step out of the way, and can be a real hassle where you’re also fending off Motobugs or racing towards the camera at high speed with limited visibility. You’ll also face a sub-boss in Asteroid Coaster in the form of a gigantic robotic eye within a shifting gravitational field and protected by some spiked balls; you’ll need to hop between the spiked balls when the gravity field expands outwards to ram into it three times and put Dr. Eggman’s production facility out of commission.

Although the six bosses are fun, it’s a bit disappointing that they’re recycled and reskinned.

Dr. Eggman has ensnared six worlds to build his amusement park; six worlds means six bosses to face as you play through the story but don’t get too excited as it’s really three bosses that you simply battle twice, with the difficulty increased for the second bout. The first boss you’ll battle is Rotatatron, a massive Ferris wheel-type robot that has you dodging its huge claws, hopping between platforms, and ramming its big ol’ face while avoiding its buzz saws. This boss returns again on Planet Wisp, albeit reskinned as the Refreshinator and now protected by spinning circles and laser beams, but you can make these bosses (and all the game’s bosses) even easier to bring down by grabbing the Wisps found in the boss arena and dealing additional damage with their power-ups. Captain Jelly awaits you in Sweet Mountain, requiring you to Homing Attack across some cannonballs on the deck of his airship and hit a switch to force him out into the open. You then need to watch for his little minions and attack him when he stops to taunt you after hopping about, and Admiral Jelly is very much the same scenario except this battle takes place underwater and sees you luring homing missiles to the switch and chasing after the boss using the Drill Wisp. You’ll also have to contend with Frigate Orcan and Frigate Skullian, which are boss battles that take place on an endless running path and see you dodging bullets, spiked balls, asteroids, and lasers to chase each ship down and rapidly Homing Attack different parts of it to deal damage.

Go head-to-head in tough races against Metal Sonic and end Dr. Eggman’s plot by using the Wisp’s full power.

Collect enough Red Star Rings and you’ll unlock a new feature to this version of the game as Metal Sonic challenges you to a “Rival Rush”, which is basically a race through one Act of each area; while this sounds exhilarating and fun, it’s actually one of the hardest parts of the game as Metal Sonic is ridiculously quick, easily catches up and overtakes you, and you have to finish the race in one perfect run to succeed. Once you’ve destroyed all of Dr. Eggman’s bosses, however, you’ll finally face the egg-shaped madman himself in his Nega-Wisp Armour. This battle is also on an endless running path and sees you dodging various attacks themed after the game’s Wisp power-ups; you’ll need to side-step past cubes, jump over spikes, and avoid ricocheting lasers, amongst other attacks, while desperately grabbing Rings, then deliver a series of Homing Attacks to damage Dr. Eggman’s craft. You can also hit him with a boost attack and, after dealing enough damage, Wisps will be released and Dr. Eggman’s attacks will become more aggressive, faster, harder to dodge, and he’ll even combine Wisp attacks to really make things frantic and frustrating. Once you’ve freed all the Wisps, though, you can press RB and perform a Homing Attack to finish Dr. Eggman off with with the “Final Colour Blaster”; then it’s simply a case of racing to safety as the umbilical cord breaks away around you and you’ll have saved the Wisps and defeated Dr. Eggman once more.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike the vast majority of Sonic videogames, there are none of the traditional power-ups on offer here; you can collect Rings either one at a time or in increments of ten, but there are no shields, speed-ups, or invincibility power-ups to find during the game. Instead, you need to collect Wisps to fill your boost meter or provide a temporary power-up that lets you burrow through the ground, blast across surfaces, or zip through enemies in a blast of vivid colour. Each of these is timed and lasts only as long as your meter and, often, you’ll need to collect subsequent Wisp capsules to solve puzzles, reveal collectibles, or progress further but, other times, the Wisps will not respawn and you’ll be left with only one shot to bounce between jewels. Although you don’t earn or collect extra lives, you can collect the new Tails power-up to save yourself from a fall, which is essentially the same thing, but this is merely to save you a bit of time as it avoids you having to restart from a checkpoint.

Additional Features:
There are forty-six Achievements to earn in Sonic Colours: Ultimate, with the majority of them being awarded for completing each of the game’s worlds. You’ll also pop some G for defeating a certain number of enemies in certain ways, achieving an S-rank, destroying the score tally at the end of each Act, and playing/waiting through the game’s obnoxiously long end credits. Achievements can also be earned for defeating bosses in two hits instead of three using the Wisps or getting an S-rank against them, collecting every Red Star Ring, and for getting S-ranks on every single Act in the game for 100% completion.

Take on additional challenges, find the Red Star Rings, become Super Sonic, and customise Sonic’s gear!

Five Red Star Rings are hidden in each Act; the game helpfully keeps track of how many you’ve collected and in which order, which makes searching them out a little easier, and collecting them unlocks additional challenges in Game Land. Game Land sees you take control of a recoloured Sonic robot and completing short tasks that basically amount to platforming and gameplay challenges; there are no lives or time limits here, so it’s a good way to kill some time, and you can even play against a friend in this mode. You’ll need all 180 Red Star Rings to unlock every Act in this mode, however, and to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds to play as Super Sonic. You can challenge yourself further by taking on the Egg Shuttle, which forces you to play every single Act of the game on a handful of lives, and you can also collect Park Tokens in each Act or from besting Metal Sonic to purchase skins that change Sonic’s gloves, shoes, aura, boost effect, and your gamer icon. Unfortunately, this is an extremely limited mode and doesn’t allow you to apply other skins to Sonic, but you can acquire components to have him resemble his Hollywood counterpart, so that’s something.

The Summary:
I remember really enjoying Sonic Colours when I first played it on the Wii; sure, I haven’t revisited it since finishing it years ago, but that’s more due to my dislike of the Wii than of the game. When it was announced to be coming to modern consoles at last, I was more than happy to get my hands on it again, bad press and bugs be damned. Personally, I consider Sonic Colours to be one of the most fun entries in Sonic’s modern era for its focus on action and it’s a blast to play in short bursts, with a difficulty curve that’s perfectly manageable until you hit Terminal Velocity (and that’s just because I struggled with timing my quick-steps). I never encountered any graphical or gameplay glitches on my playthrough, and the only negative I had about the presentation was some lag in the menus and the lack of any kind of additional cutscenes when encountering Metal Sonic. As enjoyable as the game is, though, it is a bit of a step back; using world maps and menus in place of hub worlds is a bit of a disappointment and, while the Wisp power-ups are great, it annoys me how prominent they are here and have become since as an excuse to not include a playable Tails or Knuckles. It also can’t be denied that the game is a bit too easy at times; I enjoy how every other Act is basically like a little challenge for you, but it’s laborious having to collect every single Red Star Ring, the lack of skins or in-depth customisation is a missed opportunity, and the recycling of the game’s few bosses is really disappointing. Still, it’s a super fun time for the few hours it’ll take you to blast through it and absolutely gorgeous to look at and listen to; Sonic Colours: Ultimate shows the potential a big, triple-A Sonic game has but could have benefitted from just a few more tweaks and additional modes and such to make the package all the sweeter.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What do you think to Sonic Colours: Ultimate? How do you think it compares to the original Wii version and what did you think to the new features included? Did you enjoy the focus on short, action-packed gameplay or did you feel the game was a bit too simplified? What did you think to the Wisps and which of these power-ups was your favourite? Would you have liked to see other characters included to play or race against? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Sonic Colours: Ultimate down below, or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content later in the year!

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Unleashed (Xbox 360)


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.


GameCorner

Released: 18 November 2008
Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (via PlayStation Network/Now), Xbox Series S/X, XboxOne (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
These days, people would have you to believe that Sonic the Hedgehog (ibid, 2006) is an under-rated classic and worthy of your time and attention. Don’t listen to them. Play it if you must but make no mistake about it, take it from a life-long Sonic fan: Sonic ’06 is an absolutely dreadful experience. Great cutscenes and music, yes, but the gameplay (the core of any videogame) is diabolically bad and there’s a reason that the game was not only received terribly and is almost universally seen as one of the lowest points in the franchise…it’s because it’s a travesty of a videogame. Following that game’s dismal release and reception, Sonic Team scrambled to make good on their next mainline Sonic title, which started out as a semi-continuation of the Sonic Adventure games (ibid/Sonic Team USA, 1999 to 2002) but soon took on a life of its own and began the annoying trend of having Sonic be the only playable character. Sonic Unleashed saw the development of many new lighting, graphical, and gameplay mechanics for the series, chief amongst them the “Hedgehog Engine”, which allowed Sonic to boost ahead at breakneck speeds without losing graphical fidelity, while also incorporating 2.5D  perspectives to hearken back to the series’ roots. The game was somewhat controversial for also including brawling combat in the form of the “Werehog” in stages that were criticised for their length and tedium. Regardless, Sonic Unleashed was just the shot in the arm the franchise desperately needed after Sonic ’06; the game was a commercial success and critics lauded the speed and exhilaration offered by Sonic’s gameplay.

The Plot:
Sonic is unsuccessful in his attempt to thwart Doctor Eggman’s latest scheme and the mad scientist fires a giant laser cannon at the planet, blasting chunks of the surface to the atmosphere and awakening the ancient beast “Dark Gaia”. Though outpouring of evil energy causes Sonic to transform into the animalistic Werehog at night, he resolves to travel across the world, accompanied by an amnesic sprite nicknamed Chip and his old friends Miles “Tails” Prower and Amy Rose, to restore the power of the seven legendary Chaos Emeralds and undo the damage caused to the planet.

Gameplay:
Sonic Unleashed is a 3D action/platformer that switches to both a 2.5D perspective and a third-person brawler during your progression through the main story. Very similar to Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), Sonic navigates a variety of hub worlds across the globe, talking with non-playable characters (NPCs) and performing a number of challenges and side quests in his quest to activate the seven Gaia temples (and the Chaos Emeralds) to restore the splintered planet.

Sonic boosts, grinds, and blasts his way through stages at breakneck speeds!

Players are put into the high-speed shoes of Sonic the Hedgehog; Sonic can jump with A (which you can tap for a hop and hold for a higher jump) and attack enemies either with his regular jump or by pressing X when in the air to perform his patented Homing Attack. An aiming reticule directs you towards the nearest target and you can chain together successive Homing Attacks to hit springs or cross gaps over bottomless pits to progress. Sonic can also crawl and slide (and perform a sweep kick) with a press of the B button; this doesn’t come up often but it’s essential for getting you through small spaces when running at high speeds. This is the big gameplay mechanic for Sonic in Sonic Unleashed; similar to the God-awful “Mach Speed” sections of Sonic ’06, pressing and holding X while running will send Sonic boosting ahead at breakneck speeds. When boosting, you can charge right through enemies without fear and will also suck up any nearby Golden Rings, which are essential for maintaining your boost as they power the mechanic. While this can cause you to fly right off the edge of stages later in the game and can cause the game to spaz out on occasion when Sonic’s speed increases, you can perform quick-steps with the Left- and Right Bumper to dart through narrow alleyways and such, and perform quick turns to stay on course on tight curves. Overall, the boost mechanic is exhilarating fun and it’s brilliant to fly through stages at full speed, crashing through enemies and bouncing and grinding your way towards the Goal Ring.

Fight, swing, and platform your way through slower, trickier stages as the Werehog.

Of course, you can also play as the much slower “Werehog” in the game’s night-time stages; Sonic Unleashed has a rudimentary day and night mechanic where, by attacking hourglasses in the hub worlds, passing time on the main map screen, or as dictated by the story, day will turn to night, transforming Sonic into this monstrous little brawler. Clearly taking inspirations from popular hack-and-slash titles, Sonic Team made the Werehog distinct by having him attack with his elongated limbs and perform grapples to take down his opponents. While the controls remain mostly the same, there are some differences: you can now perform a double jump with A and the X and Y buttons allow you to pull off different strikes and combos. Holding the Right Trigger allows you to dash on all fours (and can extend your jump) while LB puts up one of a limited number of shields to protect you from attacks. Pressing B lets you grab onto objects and ledges to save yourself from falls, grab objects to throw at enemies, or grapple enemies to pull of quick-time events (QTEs) to deliver massive damage. As the Werehog attacks enemies or smashes barrels and such, you’ll build up your “Unleash Meter”. Once it’s full, or hits the minimum marker, you can press RB to “unleash” the Werehog’s true power, which will dramatically enhance his strikes and speed to help you clear out groups of enemies or larger foes. The Werehog’s stages are far longer than Sonic’s and also involve a bit of puzzle solving (usually mashing B to pull switches or open doors or bringing gems to special alters to progress further) and some very tricky platforming. This involves a combination of jumping to and from platforms, grabbing to poles, and balancing on narrow beams, all of which can be extremely difficult as the game’s camera often makes it hard to judge the distance between your targets, button inputs can be a bit slow and clunky, and a lot of the platforms you’ll be grabbing and jumping to will either be moving, collapsing, slippery, or damaging in some way, which can lead to a lot of annoying deaths.

Perform QTE tricks and defeat enemies with style to get EXP and a sweet S rank.

As is the standard for Sonic titles, Sonic is protected from damage by Golden Rings. This time around, when Sonic is hurt, he won’t lose all of his Rings and, when playing as the Werehog, you have a more traditional health bar that is replenish by the Rings. Collecting one-hundred Rings awards you with an extra life, which you will also find scattered here and there around stages (usually right before a dangerous area), and you pass through checkpoints to allow you to continue from later in the stage should you die. Deaths can be quite frequent as Sonic gets a bit slippery at times and it’s pretty easy to blast off out of bounds or over the edge and to your death, and you can also fall to your death in hub worlds! When you complete a stage, though, you’ll be given a grade based on how fast you finished and how any tricks you performed as Sonic (by jumping through special hoops and performing QTEs), among other things. This, and defeating enemies, will provide you with experience points (EXP) that you can use to power-up Sonic’s base speed and Ring Energy, and the Werehog’s strength, Unleash Meter, maximum life, and learn new combos and attacks.

There are many hub worlds and Medals to collect but I could’ve done with more Tornado sections.

Out in the hub world, you can spend your Rings on food and other items and must perform a few tasks to open up stages. The main way you’ll access new areas, though, is by finding Sun and Moon Medals; I’ve heard many complain that this slows the game down as you have to replay stages or hunt around to find them just to progress but, honestly, I have never experienced this problem. There is a bit of backtracking and replaying of earlier stages required, though, as you sometimes need to farm for extra lives and need to hop from one location to another, playing stages out of order in order to access the next boss or area as part of the story. Gameplay is given a bit more variety when you acquire a camera that you can use to battle Gaia Beasts that have possessed NPCs and through the inclusion of auto-scrolling shooting sections in which Sonic mans the armaments of the Tornado while Tails flies him towards their next destination. Unlike in Sonic Adventure, this involves pressing the right buttons when they flash up on screen and alternate between mashing LB and RB to refill your power meter if you press the wrong button or are hit. Also, these sections only appear twice in the game, which is a shame as they’re quite fun, though you can replay them (and any other stage of boss) from the main world menu.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, Sonic Unleashed looks absolutely fantastic; the game has a crisp, colourful presentation and everything really pops when onscreen, especially compared to how drab and muted Sonic ’06 was. Sonic looks fun and full of energy and has a number of idle animations in both his base and Werehog form; Sonic is also constantly accompanied by Chip, who acts as an annoying guide, and is voiced by Jason Griffith who was always my least favourite voice actor for the character. The rest of the Sonic X (2003 to 2004; 2005 to 2006) voice cast are fine, with Mike Pollock absolutely nailing Dr. Eggman, but I always found Jason to be so lifeless and boring as Sonic, though the game does stand out by briefly having Sonic’s usual confidence shaken by his monstrous appearance. Graphically, though, the game is gorgeous; Sonic, the Werehog, Tails, and Amy all look vibrant and full of life and fit perfectly with the game’s Pixar-like aesthetic for the NPCs. Rather than have the NPCs be realistic-looking humans like in Sonic Adventure, Sonic Unleashed’s are exaggerated, cartoony characters with large eyes, noses, and larger-than-life properties that help them to be visually interesting even when they mainly just wander around in short animation cycles, stand in one place, or communicate using text boxes and gibberish. The most prominent human NPC is the kindly Professor Pickle, who offers advice and exposition regarding Dark Gaia and has a penchant for cucumber sandwiches and souvenirs.

Stages are gorgeous and varied and full of unique elements, gimmicks, and jaunty music.

The game’s hub worlds and stages are all based on different societies and cultures of the real world. Apotos is based on Greece, Spagonia on Italy, Mazuri on Africa, Holosoka on Antarctica, Chun-Nan on China, Shamar on Egypt, Empire City on New York City, and Adabat seems to be based on the likes of Hawaii. This means that every area feels distinctive and unique, mainly thanks to having different seasons, hub worlds of various sizes that all look and feel different, and are populated by different NPCs. This translates into the playable stages as well as you’ll blast through the air, grind on rails, and plough through alleyways, race up winding paths, and fall through the sky in a variety of colourful and action-packed environments. When playing as Sonic, you’ll naturally often blast past your environment without really noticing little details here and there but, when the game switches to its 2.5D view or you tackle the Werehog stages, these subtleties are brought to life wonderfully. This means you can see markets, animals, and entire cities in the background, discover alternative paths by jumping through boost rings or hopping up walls and rails, and run up and along pathways at breakneck speeds while dodging axes, laser traps, and blasting through enemies. Stages become increasingly bigger and more complex as the game progresses, with you hopping from collapsing ice floats and using a killer whale and a bobsleigh to progress in Cool Edge, grabbing onto rockets and hopping to spinning platforms in Dragon Road, and running across water and through ruins making tight, dangerous turns in Jungle Joyride.

The game’s high-quality cutscenes are incredible and the best in the series at that point.

As beautiful and detailed as the game’s stages are, though, Sonic Unleashed goes above and beyond with its high-quality cinematics. While these are a notable highlight of Sonic ’06, even the cutscenes that use the in-game graphics are a joy to watch here as Sonic and Chip bond and overcome numerous obstacles on their journey. When the cinematics kick in, Sonic and his world are rendered magnificently and it honestly baffles me that Sonic Team never used this style of animation to produce a CGI feature film. These sequences, and the graphics in general, are only bolstered by the game’s jaunty, uplifting, and varied soundtrack; the game’s main theme, “Endless Possibility” by Bowling For Soup’s Jaret Reddick, is a catchy little punk-rock piece that captures the high-spirited adventure aspects of the game while the ominous Gaia themes help sell the threat and menace of the monstrous Dark Gaia. Even better is the fact that the day-time Savannah Citadel stage uses a remix of the ending credits theme from the 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog (Ancient, 1991), which was especially pleasing to me since I am a big fan of that game and it was the first Sonic title I ever played.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you blast through Sonic’s stages at full speed, you come across a number of Dr. Eggman’s robots; mainly comprised of Egg Fighters, these robots will throw slow punches or swing swords at you and defend themselves with shields. Later, they’ll bounce you back with springs, blast at you with laser bolts or homing missiles, and attack with electrified swords but, for the most part, they’re largely disposable pawns that you can bash through with your Homing Attack or boost. You’ll also use the small robots (who sometimes blast at you or defend themselves with electrical shields) to get across gaps and have to watch out for spikes, Eggman-branded springs that often push you into spikes, crushing platforms, and other environmental hazards that can mess up your run.

Bash through Dr. Eggman’s robots and beat down Dark Gaia’s minions with your combos!

Although Sonic also has to fight Dark Gaia’s minions, you’ll mainly battle against these as the Werehog. Gaia’s creatures take a variety of forms, from small, annoying little critters to the larger, more commonplace “Nightmare” variants. These guys will attack as a group with their own punches and combos and even defend themselves from your attacks by putting their guard up. You’ll also have to contend with Dark Masters, wizard-like enemies who can fire elemental blasts at you or replenish the health of other Gaia creatures, and the ever-annoying Killer Bees, who always seem to hover just out of reach and dive at you with their stingers. The Werehog also has to battle the much larger Big Mothers and Titans, often while dealing with many other enemies at the same time; the Big Mother will endlessly spawn smaller Gaia creatures and its rotund belly allows it to absorb a great deal of punishment. The Titans are much worse, though; attacking with giant clubs and causing shockwaves to cover the immediate area, they can blast you into a stun (which you must desperately mash A to get out of) or even off rooftops and to your death with a ridiculous amount of ease. For both enemies, I recommend expending your Unleash Meter and using the Werehog’s QTE combos/grapples to take them down quickly.

Sadly, as fun as they are, the boss battles against Dr. Eggman are all very similar.

Just as there are two distinct playstyles in Sonic Unleashed, there are also two types of boss battles; those against Dr. Eggman and his latest contraption and those against Dark Gaia’s gigantic guardians. The battles against Dr. Eggman, however, are largely similar in each instance; when you battle the Egg Beetle, Egg Devil Ray, and Egg Lancer, you’ll be continuously running around an endlessly-looping track, collecting Rings to boost towards Dr. Eggman and ram into his cockpit. Each machine sports a variety of lasers, missiles, and bombs and tries to fry and bombard you with its armaments and you’ll have to use the quick-step and the advantages of the 2.5D sections to dodge these hazards. The battles do get more difficult as they, and the game, progresses, though; I recommend avoiding using the Homing Attack when running across walls or ceilings as you can sometimes drop to your death and you’ll also have to complete a QTE when hopping from wall-to-wall to land hits on the Egg Lancer. Dr. Eggman also erects protective shields and drops flaming hazards into the arena and also challenges you in the Tornado sections in the Egg Cauldron, though here it’s simply a case of hitting the right buttons to destroy his missiles and damage his weak spot.

Dark Gaia’s minions may be big and require more strategy but they all come down to QTEs.

The Werehog’s boss battles are much more varied and interesting by comparison. When battling the Dark Gaia Phoenix, you need to throw barrels of water at it to douse its flames while avoid its flaming shockwaves and feather barrage; the Dark Moray is protected by a shield that can only be lowered by attacking the eel heads around the base of the arena, then you have to freeze the beast (while also avoiding being frozen yourself) to attack its glowing weak spot; finally, the Dark Guardian is similar to a Titan, but a bit smaller, and must be stunned long enough for you to push blocks over to a switch to weaken it. In all three cases, the bosses become tougher and increase the rate of their attacks as the fight progresses and you’ll be tasked with performing a series of QTEs in order to deal massive damage and put them down. Thus, the length and difficulty of these fights depends greatly on how good you are at QTEs as, if you fail, you’ll have to go through all the motions to get to that point again, which can be annoying.

After conquering the gruelling Eggmanland, you’ll battle Dr. Eggman’s most dangerous machine yet!

Speaking of annoying, while the game is generally a lot of fun with only a few frustrating moments, Sonic Unleashed really kicks you in the balls when it presents you with its final stage, Eggmanland. A giant amusement park literally filled with traps, hazards, bottomless pits, and every kind of enemy and obstacle you’ve encountered so far, this stage is a true test of anyone’s mettle as you’re forced to switch between Sonic and the Werehog and take on a series of incredibly challenging platforming and combat tasks in order to progress. Easily the longest and most difficult stage in the game (or any Sonic game for that matter), Eggmanland can take up to an hour to get through and will have you tearing your hair out at its finicky platforming and frustrating sections. Once you finally get through his chore of a stage, though, you’ll have to battle Dr. Eggman one last time in his most interesting and dangerous contraption yet, the Egg Dragoon. You battle this as the Werehog and run around a small platform in freefall while avoiding Dr. Eggman’s shots and taking out his robots to attack the glowing green core on the machine’s tail. Once you do enough damage, you have to pull off another QTE sequence and then the fight moves to the next stage, which involves more aggressive attacks from Dr. Eggman and less windows of opportunity to strike. Still, it doesn’t seem as though you can fall off the platform you’re on and your attacks still do damage even when Dr. Eggman is guarding himself so just keep pressing your attack and make sure you don’t fail the QTTEs and this boss is nowhere near as intimidating as it first appears.

Plot the unwieldy Gaia Colossus then battle the tricky controls and camera to finish Dark Gaia.

Although Dr. Eggman is defeated, Dark Gaia rises from the planet’s core so Chip, finally remembering his true purposes as Light Gaia, causes all of the Gaia Temples to come together as the titanic Gaia Colossus and engage with his dark counterpart one-on-one. To do this, you need to hold X to boost the slow, clunky ass of the Dark Colossus towards the beast, guarding against or desperately trying to punch the flaming boulders it sends your way. When Dark Gaia charges up its big energy beam, try to move out of the way but for God’s sake put your guard up as it can instantly drain all of your health otherwise! Once you get close enough, you’ll have to perform another QTE and then you’ll switch to Sonic and be given a few seconds to race past Dark Gaia’s deadly tentacles and energy blasts and bash it in the eye (again, after completing a QTE). This must then be repeated twice more, with Dark Gaia’s attacks and ferocity growing each time; thankfully, your health is restored for each phase of the battle and you don’t have to restart right from the beginning if you die but this is still one of the more frustrating parts of the game. Dark Gaia isn’t so easily defeated, though, and mutates into the gruesome Perfect Dark Gaia. Of course, Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic for the final battle of the game. Unlike other Super Sonic levels, you don’t have to worry about a time limit as your Rings aren’t depleted over time; instead, you must fly/boost towards Perfect Dark Gaia, who has encased itself in an impenetrable shield, collecting Rings to fill up your health bar and dodging asteroids. While the Gaia Colossus distracts the creature, Super Sonic must fly around the shield avoiding obstacles, flaming meteors, and that same massive energy beam to attack the snake-lake tentacles that poke out sporadically through the barrier. This is easier said than done, though, as it’s really hard to see where you’re going or target the heads (there’s no aiming reticule this time); there are also no extra Rings to get and it’s ridiculously easy to get hit by Perfect Dark Gaia’s attacks or ram into an asteroid and deplete your health bar. Once you do finally destroy all of the heads, you’ll of course have to complete one last massive QTE sequence but, as long as you hit the right buttons and mash them into oblivion, you’ll finally destroy the beast and return the planet to normal.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike many Sonic videogames, there aren’t actually that many in-game power-ups on offer in Sonic Unleashed. Gone are the speed-up shoes, invincibility, and protective bubbles, replaced by simple Golden Rings and a few extra lives floating about the place. The Werehog is able to pick up power-ups that will instantly fill his health and/or Unleash Meter, power-up his attacks, increase his shield count, or bath him in a protective aura, though, which makes it worth your while to smash crates and doors in search of them.

Sonic can grab new shoes to perform additional abilities and reach new areas.

In addition to increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities with EXP, Sonic can also purchase a variety of foods that, when he eats them, will award him additional EXP (they can also be fed to Chip to increase his bond with Sonic, though this has no impact on the actual gameplay). Furthermore, like in Sonic Adventure, you can acquire additional abilities by finding special shoes in the hub worlds; the Stomping Shoes allow Sonic to perform a stomp to bash downwards through glass and blocks and onto enemies with a press of B in the air, the Light Speed Shoes let you dash along rows of Rings, the Wall Jump Shoes allow you to jump vertically up walls to reach new areas, and the Air Boost Shoes let you blast through the air by pressing X while jumping in order to cover large distances quickly.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements to earn in Sonic Unleashed; six of these are awarded simply by playing through the story and restoring the planet to normal but you’ll naturally also earn others through regular gameplay as you get Achievements for increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities and finishing stages with an S ranking. Sadly, considering the vast potential for fun and quirky Achievements, most of Sonic Unleashed’s are quite by-the-numbers; finish a Tornado section without missing a shot, talk to every NPC all over the world, collect half of (and every) the Sun and Moon Medals, and use the different shoes and you’ll snag some G but by far the most challenging Achievement sees you having to complete the various “Hot Dog” challenges in each area. The various Hog Dog Vendors will let you take on a series of challenges for the cost of a few Rings; these have you collecting a certain number of Rings, defeating a certain number of enemies, or finishing stages in a certain time limit but these aren’t like challenges in some Sonic games as you still have to finish the entire stage even once you complete the objective, By far the most difficult of these tasks you with completing Eggmanland in just forty-five minutes, which is all-but-impossible given that you’re guaranteed to die at least once during this stage and dying in these challenges means having to restart from the beginning. In the hub worlds, and scattered throughout the stages, you’ll find CDs, books, and videotapes that allow you to view the game’s cutscenes, artwork, characters, and listen to music in Professor Pickle’s laboratory. To do this, though, you’ll need to buy certain furniture from the game’s various shops, where you can also purchase some of these items and souvenirs to gift to the Professor. Other NPCs will give you side quests, such as finding lost children or clearing out enemies, or even challenge you with answering quizzes to help mix things up a bit. Finally, you can take on perilous obstacle course-like additional stages in each area and these can be expanded upon with some downloadable content that truly test your speed and reaction times.

The Summary:
Sonic Unleashed was exactly the breath of fresh, exhilarating air the franchise needed at the time; after Sonic ’06 proved to be such a broken, glitchy, disappointing mess of a game, it’s no exaggeration to say that even I had started to lose faith in Sonic Team. Thanks to the Hedgehog Engine, which allowed for crisp, vibrant visuals and high-speed action to be the order of the day, Sonic Unleashed was an incredibly fun and exciting gameplay experience that was an absolute blast to play through again. At the time, Sonic had never looked or played better and the game’s many varied locations and fantastic music and graphics really went a long way toward making up for the awfulness of Sonic ’06. And then there’s the Werehog stages. Truthfully, I didn’t really mind these all that much; yes, they could get overly long and annoying and very repetitive but they did help to break up the gameplay a bit. I think if maybe they had been a bit shorter (and fairer), and if Sonic Team had scrapped the Sun and Moon medals, these stages might have been received a bit better (or if the Werehog had been scrapped completely and replaced with, say, Knuckles the Echidna!) If there’s one area that truly lets the game down, though, it’s the entire finale. Eggmanland is an absolute ball-breaker to get through and is less a test of the skills you’ve built up throughout the game and more a test of your sanity and patience. Similarly, while I enjoyed the Egg Dragoon fight and playing as Super Sonic, the final battles against Dark Gaia and its perfect form were a clunky, frustrating end to an otherwise solid gaming experience. Thankfully, once you clear the game, you never have to endure these sections again unless you’re a sadist and can focus on replaying the games other, more entertaining sections instead.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Sonic Unleashed? Did you enjoy the boost-based mechanics introduced in the game or did you feel they made it too simple? What did you think to the Werehog and its gameplay sections and would you have preferred to see Knuckles used instead? What did you think to the story and Dark Gaia as the main antagonist? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Unleashed, sign up leave a comment below or share your thoughts on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content next Saturday!

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (Nintendo 3DS)


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.


GameCorner

Released: 27 September 2016
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
As I mentioned in my review of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (ibid, 2014), Sonic is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; even before the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic’s appearance and backstory were notably different from the Japanese designs and long-term Sonic fans saw the character interpreted as a slapstick Freedom Fighter, a rock star prince, and an angst-ridden superhero across numerous cartoons and comic books, to say nothing of the anime-inspired makeover he received in Sonic Adventure (ibid, 1998). Yet one of the more controversial redesigns for the character (aside from the initial design for the live-action movie) came when SEGA commissioned the production of a computer-animated series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). For me, these new designs actually made a lot of sense (aside from the sports tape) and I think SEGA should have started over with a complete franchise reboot with these designs. Unfortunately, concerns over this new direction and the negative reception of the Wii U spin-off title significantly soured the impact of this new series. Although not nearly as derided as its Wii U counterpart, Shattered Crystal still considered to be a disappointment so the announcement of a sequel came as something of a surprise for me. Even more surprising to many was the fact that the developers’ claims to have learned from their mistakes actually paid off, resulting in Fire & Ice receiving a far more positive reception from critics and fans alike.

The Plot:
After discovering an element known as “Ragnium”, Doctor Eggman harnesses its powers to create robots fast enough to outrun Sonic and his friends and pollute the environment to his liking. With the planet suffering from a series of earthquakes, and opposed by Eggman’s newest creation, D-Fekt, Sonic and his friends race to put an end to Eggman’s schemes using their newly-acquired powers of fire and ice.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a 2.5D action/adventure platformer that involves a fair amount of exploration and character switching. Interestingly, though, there is nowhere near as much of this as in the previous game; because the map (helpfully displayed on the lower screen) shows the entirety of every stage, exploration is easier than ever and, since Sonic Tokens are no longer a thing and the game simply unlocks automatically as you clear each stage, there’s far less emphasis on backtracking and replaying previous stages. You’ll have to do it if you’re going for 100% completion but, this time around, the rewards for this are tied to additional gameplay options rather than story progression so you’re free to blast through stages as just Sonic if you want.

All the characters return with a handful of new abilities and a new playable character in the form of Amy Rose.

Just like in the last game, you can only play as Sonic at the start but you’ll unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, Knuckles the Echidna, and Amy Rose) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Once again, you can switch between each character on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, and all of their basic abilities carry over from the last game (they can all jump, use the Homing Attack, sprint along, and swing around using the “Enerbeam”). Their unique character abilities also remain intact but with a few added extras: when performing Knuckles’ dig move or Sticks’ boomerang throw, you no longer have to worry about a meter running down so you’re free to use them as much as you like and Tails’ Sea Fox sections have been moved to a dedicated spot on the overworld map.

Switch between fire and ice to create and destroy platforms and progress through stages.

Otherwise, things are very much the same but slightly tweaked: Sonic can still perform the Spin Dash and air boost and Tails can still hover along air currents but he now fires a reflecting laser rather than tossing bombs and Knuckles can also now perform a flying punch attack. The addition of Amy to the playable roster adds her patented Piko-Piko Hammer to your arsenal, which is primarily used to lower or move platforms and blocks with a tap of the X button. New to the game, though, are the random powers of fire and ice each character possesses; with a press of either L or R, you’ll switch between a fire and ice aura, each of which allows you to traverse stages in different ways. Switching to ice, for example, allows you to run across bodies of water by turning them into temporary ice blocks and using fire allows you to melt through ice; Tails’ laser can also be powered up with these elemental powers to reflect off surfaces and clear obstacles and, as the game progresses, you’ll be tasked with quickly switching between ice and fire to complete stages. As always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and the continued absence of a traditional life system means that you’ll simply lose Rings if you fall down bottomless pits or enter water. As long as you passed by a checkpoint, you’ll respawn in the stage you were in if you fall or get hit without any Rings, once again meaning that the game is far easier than most traditional Sonic titles.

Challenge Rooms and Dragon Rings add a bit of variety to the stages and award you with collectibles.

Sadly, while much of the game is improved (or, at least, streamlined) over its predecessor, the controls are still a bit unintuitive (at least for me) since the developers made sure to use every single button available on the 3DS this time around. Thankfully, though, stages are no longer locked out by Sonic Tokens; instead, the overworld map (which is now much bigger than before and features more stages per island than the last game) opens up as you complete each stage. You can even fast travel to a specific stage and island from the main overworld screen, which is very helpful, but this fast travel screen doesn’t tell you anything other than the stage names so you’ll need to know where you missed any collectibles when using it. When playing stages, you no longer have to worry about being slingshot all over the place by Enerbeam points; instead, traditional springs and grinding rails are the order of the day, making the game far more linear. While this is great for blasting through it, it does mean you’ll have to replay each stage from the start if you missed any of the collectibles rather than being able to backtrack within the stage as before. Again, the average game speed is quite slow, meaning you have to hold Y to sprint ahead and control is frequently taken out of your hands by loops, speed boosts, and auto-running sections. Every stage also includes a “Challenge Room” that is hidden a little bit out of the way; enter it and you’ll be tasked with completing a short obstacle course of sorts and navigating through a few hazards to grab a Trading Card. Also, you’ll find “Dragon Rings” in each stage; grab one and ten more will spawn along a path for you to collect within a time limit to earn a piece of Ragnium.

Alongside returning Sea Fox and racing sections, the new hovercraft and tunnel races add some variety.

Trading Cards and Ragnium are essential if you’re going for 100% completion as they can be used to unlock courses and Bot Racers on Thunder Island. This new gameplay element is presented alongside the aforementioned returning Sea Fox sections; now found on the main overworld map, they are much bigger and have more hazards and requirements than before but the controls remain the same (tap the screen to activate the sonar and see hazards and collectibles and fire missiles with X). This time around, though, once you’ve blasted the Trading Card, the stage will end automatically and you can try to finish them (and every stage) faster for a Ragnium shard. The racing stages also make a return, though this time they take place in a three lap format and pit you against Eggman’s Bot Racers rather than traditional Sonic rivals. Again, you’ll need to switch between fire and ice and use rails, stomps, and the Homing Attack to win and these races are often quite tricky as the computer controlled Bot is easily able to overtake or match pace with you. Also returning are the Worm Tunnel stages from the last game but without the worms and themed after ice and fire instead; while you still boost along down an auto-run tunnel and switch lanes to avoid bombs, this time you’ll need to switch to ice to run across frozen surfaces and fire to blast through ice blocks and will have to avoid more obstacles and race against much tighter time limits than before. A new bonus stage is also included, however, which sees you piloting Tails’ hovercraft in a vertical shooter of sorts. You can boost ahead by holding R and shoot missiles at icebergs with X but also have to watch out for whirlpools and mines, collecting clocks to extend your time and trying to reach the goal to earn another Trading Card before you’re destroyed or run out of time.

Graphics and Sound:
Graphically, not much has really changed from the last game; in fact, everything basically looks and sounds and plays exactly the same except with a stronger emphasis on ice and fire scattered throughout each stage. The camera is still positioned in this awkward way where your character and enemies are big enough but you don’t necessarily get fair warning of any hazards that might be in your way but, again, the game’s slower pace does somewhat compensate for this. As before, the game’s overworld is divided into islands; this time, there are seven, with six being home to the playable action stages where you’ll progress the story and the seventh being home exclusively to your upgrades and Bot Racers.

Some islands feature a bit more life and unique aesthetic and mechanics but they’re few and far between.

Thanks to the emphasis on ice and ice, you can expect to see a lot of elemental hazards and themes used throughout each stage, which again largely stick to the usual platforming clichés such as forests, deserts, and volcanoes but each island does try to add some variety in its bonus stages (such as the race missions, for example, which take place in a much more industrial, mechanical environment and the tunnels, which are all in caverns). Just like the last game, though, stages often appear largely barren and lifeless even though they’re generally much brighter and more varied in their appearance. You’ll notice that there is an abundance of spikes this time around and far more rails to grind and springs to hit than there are Enerbeam swing points this time around, which contributes to the game trying to be a bit more like a traditional Sonic title, and islands like Cutthroat Cove and Gothic Gardens try to bring some visual flair to the proceedings by including skeletal remains, haunted graveyard-like aesthetics, and having you explode barrels with your fire ability but, again, stage variety mainly comes down to a reskin of the same mechanics, meaning that the game can get quite boring quite quickly even with the added mechanics.

Thankfully, not only does the game utilise CG cutscenes for its story but Dr. Eggman is back as the central antagonist.

Thankfully, Fire & Ice ditches the boring speech bubbles and partially-animated cutscenes of its predecessor and doubles down on the CG cutscenes. Any time there’s a new story element or the plot progresses, a fully animated and fully voiced cutscene is used to show this progression and, even better, these look and feel exactly like an episode of the cartoon, containing all of the same wacky banter and hijinx you expect from these characters. These cutscenes, and the game in general, are bolstered further by the presence of the bombastic Dr. Eggman, whose absence really sucked a lot of the life out of the last game, though, again, I can’t say that I was blown away by much of the music, with is serviceable enough, at best.

Enemies and Bosses:
Although Dr. Eggman returns as the primary antagonist, many of the robots you’ll encounter are just as uninspired as in the last game; again, they don’t release little woodland critters upon destruction and generally appear sporadically throughout stages to act as destructible platforms to higher areas or brief hazards to shed you of your Rings. You can still use the Enerbeam to relieve them of their shields and many of them will respawn when you leave the screen to be used again but, for the most part, they’re nowhere near as memorable or quirky as Eggman’s usual Badniks.

Switch between the different characters to dodge Unga Bunga’s hands and avoid sticky tar.

However, this time around Fire & Ice actually includes boss battles! Four of them, in fact, with each one featuring an auto tag mechanic that has you (as Sonic) switching out with another of your team mates during the battle (unlike the last game, which ditched your teammates altogether for its one boss battle). Each boss is a massive mechanical monstrosity piloted by D-Fekt in his desperate attempt to win his master’s affections by destroying Sonic and his friends and requires a bit more strategy than just bouncing into a cockpit to bring down. The first boss, Unga Bunga, sees Sonic and Amy team up against a giant series of totem poles that tries to smash you with its flaming hands. Once you’ve dodged out of the way and scored with the Homing Attack enough times as Sonic, Amy will tag in and needs to use her fire hammer to melt the ice blocks to that Sonic can alternate between fire and ice to climb the totem pole and attack the boss’s head. Honestly, the hardest part about this fight for me was the brief moment of stupidity where I didn’t realise that Amy needed to be in fire mode to destroy the ice blocks; once you crack that, though, it’s simply a case of having the right element equipped to attack its head. The second boss has Sonic and Tails take turns battling a giant golem-like robot that drops sticky blobs of tar into the arena; if you get stuck in the tar, you’ll have to mash B to free yourself before the boss attacks with its claw-like tentacles. When these fly across the arena, hop up and use the Homing Attack as Sonic to deal damage and then, as Tails, you’ll have to use the air vents on each side of the arena to hover between the floating bubbles and avoid dropping into the damaging tar that floods to floor until the golem collapses and opens itself up for another Homing Attack. You can also use Tails’ laser blaster to clear out the tar bubbles, which is handy to know was the hazards, speed, and aggression of the bosses attacks increase as the fight progresses, making this a bit more frustrating than the first boss simply because of the limited nature of Tails’ hover.

Disposing of the spider’s mines can be quite tricky, but the final boss is the easiest of the game’s bosses.

Next, Sonic and Knuckles team up against a huge spider cobbled together from nearby junk; the spider likes to try and ram into you in its first phase, though you can take advantage of the nearby temporary platforms to avoid it and hit it with a Homing Attack (but watch out for the lingering acid residue it leaves in its wake). After the first portion of its health bar has been drained (this is the only boss in the game with three health bars, oddly enough), it’ll spit web balls at you that you must hit back at it with a well-timed Homing Attack. Finally, you’re forced to burrow into the ground with Knuckles; the spider releases a number of mines into the dirt that will explode if you don’t burrow around them in a circle with the right element equipped to send them back at the boss, which I found to be one of the more frustrating parts of this boss as it can be a bit difficult to make a circle in the restrictive area you’re trapped in. Finally, after enduring the hardest race, Worm Tunnel, Sea Fox, and hovercraft stages in the game, you’ll have a final showdown with D-Fekt on the volcanic island of Ragna Rock. This time, Sonic teams up with Sticks and must either dodge the falling boulders or use Sticks’ boomerang (in conjunction with your elemental abilities) to destroy them as they rain from the sky while also jumping over the flaming shockwaves they leave as they land. When the two-headed dragon’s tail appears onscreen, quickly hit it with a Homing Attack with the right element equipped to deal damage and, before you know it, this disappointing final boss will be done and you’ll be victorious.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like its predecessor, Fire & Ice is sadly missing many of the power-ups you might expect from a Sonic title and actually has even less on offer to help you out than Shattered Crystal as you can only find shield capsules in stages rather than ones containing additional Rings. On the flip side, though, the game is also much easier in a lot of ways since the stages may have increased but they’re also much shorter and, again, there’s little to no danger of dying and even less emphasis on collecting Rings as you don’t need to do this to earn collectibles this time around. Similar to the last game, though, each stage features a number of collectibles for you to find either by finishing the stage, completing Challenge Rooms, or exploring using the character’s unique abilities.

Trade your Ragnium for upgrades and Bots or collect hammers to equip reskins for Amy’s signature mallet.

Once you have collected enough Trading Cards, you can bring them to Knuckles at Tails’ Workshop on the overworld to complete a variation of the first game’s jigsaw mini games and unlock additional courses for your Bot Racers. You can also find junk in each stage that you must deliver to Sticks’ Burrow, similar to the crystal shards from the first game, in order to unlock a special Bot Racer. Every time you complete a stage, defeat enemies, or fulfil certain objectives, you’ll earn a piece of Ragnium; with enough of these, you can purchase additional Bot Racers and the same upgrades from the last game (an instant shield at your first checkpoint, a Ring attractor, and the ability to destroy enemies with the spring function) however these came at a much higher cost than in the last game. Finally, you’ll also be able to find hammers in each stage; collect enough of these and you’ll unlock different hammer skins for Amy that serve no function as far as I can tell other than looking different.

Additional Features:
Sadly, there’s far less on offer in Fire & Ice for 100% completion than in Shattered Crystal; you don’t need to collect every piece of Ragnium to finish the game, it doesn’t take much to find all the junk, hammers, and Trading Cards, and the rewards for finding these collectibles are minimal, at best. While you can still visit Sonic’s Shack to view cutscenes, listen to music, and read a bonus comic, the toy shop is gone so you can’t even view character models any more and you don’t even unlock a lame party like in the last game. Instead, the bulk of the game’s additional features are focused entirely around Bot Racing; you can purchase new Bot Racers on Thunder Island and use the 3DS’ wireless connectivity to race against other players across a variety of courses but I don’t know anyone else who has a copy of the game so this was completely wasted on me and I never got to experience it.

The Summary:
If you’ve played Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal then there’s not much new on offer in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice; the game looks and plays pretty much exactly the same just with a fire and ice mechanic tacked on with very little explanation and to add a slight wrinkle to the formula from the last game. Fire & Ice is both easier but artificially longer than Shattered Crystal thanks to the stages being better spread across the overworld, meaning it’s much easier to play in short bursts, and the story is much funnier and feels more authentic thanks to the inclusion of Dr. Eggman. However, while the team-based mechanic is better emphasised in the inclusion of actual boss battles, I found myself switching characters far less than in the first game; Knuckles, especially, is massively underutilised in the game and it’s perfectly viable to just stick with Sonic and still succeed without much issue. Separating the different gameplay mechanics like the Sea Fox into their own stages helps to make things a bit more manageable and provide a bit of variety to the gameplay and not locking progression behind arbitrary tokens make the game less of a chore to play, to be sure. However, much of the replayability is similarly arbitrary as Amy’s hammers are largely cosmetic and there’s far less reward for your efforts after finishing the game and collecting everything unless you’re able to connect to another player. It’s definitely better than the first game thanks to your abilities not being tied to a damaging meter and the improvements to the story and progression but it’s still a far cry from a classic Sonic title. I appreciate all the little improvements and additions but, in the end, it fails to really be any better or worse than its predecessor even with the improved cutscenes and more action-orientated gameplay.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice? Do you think the game was an improvement over its predecessor or were you just as unimpressed with its offerings? Were you happy to see Amy Rose added to the playable roster and which of the characters was your favourite to play as? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would like to see more Sonic Boom content from SEGA or do you think it’s best to move on from that experiment? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice, good or bad, leave a comment below and check back in next Saturday for more Sonic content.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (Nintendo 3DS)


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.


GameCorner

Released: 11 November 2014
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
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.

The Plot:
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!

Gameplay:
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 can use their unique abilities to traverse stages and reach new areas and secrets.

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.

The map is a bit limited and areas are often locked out until you collect enough Sonic Badges.

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.

Gameplay is spiced up a bit by some submarine, auto-run, and racing sections.

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’s a mixture of the usual clichés but they can be quite colourful and make decent use of the 3D effects.

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.

Sadly, the game relies too much on speech bubbles to tell its story rather than CG cutscenes.

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.

Lyric, the only boss in the game, is a joke and easily beaten with the bare minimum of skill.

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.

Explore to find Blueprints, which can be assembled to earn upgrades and make the game even easier.

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).

Additional Features:
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.

Read a comic, collect some toys, and watch the characters dance. All honestly really rubbish bonus features.

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.

The Summary:
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.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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.

Screen Time [Sonic Month]: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: The Quest for the Chaos Emeralds


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. The Blue Blur turned thirty this year and, to celebrate, I’ve been dedicating every Friday to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


Air Date: 26 October 1993 to 29 October 1993
UK Distributor: Channel 4
Original Network: ABC
Stars: Jaleel White, Christopher Stephen Welch, Long John Baldry, Phil Hayes, Garry Chalk, and Jim Byrnes

The Plot:
Doctor Robotnik (Baldry) has forced Professor Caninestein (Chalk) to build him a time machine so that he can acquire four magical Chaos Emeralds that would grant their bearer the powers of Invisibility, Invincibility, Immortality, and Life in a bid to become an all-powerful Demi-God. After escaping, Caninestein supplies Sonic (White) with the means to follow Robotnik across time and space to thwart his diabolical plot.

The Background:
Sonic the Hedgehog blasted onto the videogame scene with his debut, self-titled release in 1991. Thanks to being bundled with the Mega Drive and SEGA’s aggressive marketing campaign, Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991) was a huge success but Sonic’s popularity exploded after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992). Suddenly, Sonic was everywhere: comic books, t-shirts, in the Macy’s Day Parade and, soon enough, on television in the form of not one but two concurrent cartoons.

Eggman was transformed from a rotund maniac into the pompous and narcissistic Robotnik.

After seeing the success that DiC Entertainment had with producing cartoons that were effectively little more than half-hour advertisements for Nintendo’s videogames, characters, and franchises, SEGA of America contacted DiC to begin developing an animated series for their own super-sonic mascot. Artist Milton Knight set about redesigning Doctor Eggman (widely known at the time as Doctor Ivo Robotnik) into “Animation’s Sexiest Fat Man!” and Long John Baldry was cast in the role, transforming the character into an egotistical, narcissistic blowhard. To help sell their pitch to ABC, DiC also roped in Jaleel White for the title role but ABC deemed their original pitch (which emphasised slapstick comedy) unsuitable for a Saturday morning slot.

Adventures and SatAM couldn’t have looked or felt more tonally different if they tried.

Undeterred, producer Robby London made the decision to develop an entirely separate Sonic cartoon for the prime Saturday morning slot and continue developing what would come to be known as Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog for syndication instead. The result was two vastly different Sonic cartoons, each with a differing tone and animation style and far removed from their source material; Adventures was comprised of sixty-five episodes of over-the-top, memeworthy, slapstick humour while Sonic the Hedgehog (generally referred to as “SatAM”) was a far darker take on the franchise. Though both cartoons awkwardly collided when Archie Comics began publishing Sonic comic books, the majority of Adventures’ influence was eventually stripped away in favour of those from SatAM and Adventures is generally regarded less favourably than its darker counterpart with the notable exception of the four-part “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” story arc.

The Review:
While “Black Bot the Pirate” (Butterworth, 1993) forms the first in a four-part saga and is thus a rare example of continuous, sequential storytelling in what was generally a more fast-paced, comedic cartoon, it still contains many of the same elements that made up what can be loosely described as Adventures’ “charm”: an abundance of sight gags, slapstick, cheesy lines, and jokes.

Scratch and Grounder are the butt of many jokes and sight gags thanks to their blundering nature.

Having grown up with the series, I have a certain affection for some of these elements and Robotnik’s long-suffering, clumsy lackeys Scratch (Hayes) and Grounder (Chalk), who make for some of the most annoying and yet amusing characters in the series. Constantly getting into scrapes and bumbling even the simplest of plans, there’s a pretty funny gag right at the start of the episode where Scratch accidentally activates Robotnik’s time machine (which looks more than a little like H.G. Wells’ famous contraption and which Scratch mistakes for a vacuum cleaner) and returns as a roast chicken. It makes no sense but then that’s pretty much par for the course of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Robotnik’s plot is unusually devious but he’s no less immune to falling for the most obvious of tricks.

Robotnik, easily the most charismatic and appealing part of the cartoon, is unusually focused and determined in this first episode (and the entire saga); having learned of four Chaos Emeralds scattered throughout time and space, he wishes to acquire their individual and collective powers to become “Supreme High Robotnik”, a lofty goal that is far beyond his usual plots to destroy or take over towns, cities, or even the planet. Of course, Robotnik is as much his own worst enemy as Sonic is a hindrance to him; blinded by his egotism and quick temper, he’s quick to throw tantrums, is easily fooled, and makes massively glaring errors in judgement that often lead as much to his downfall as Sonic’s involvement.

Black Bot is a surprisingly competent minion for the most part.

Long John Baldry really puts his all into portraying Robotnik as a loquacious and comically exaggerated character; in this episode, he is also joined by his pirate counterpart Black Beard (Byrnes), whom Robotnik transforms into a robot dubbed Black Bot. Unlike Scratcher and Grounder, Black Bot is a relatively competent minion as it forces Sonic and Tails off the ship; while Sonic is perfectly capable of swimming and his no fear of water in this cartoon, this does leave him and Tails at the mercy of a gigantic robotic whale.

Jaleel White’s performance pretty much defined Sonic’s characterisation for an entire generation.

While this causes a momentary issue for Sonic, who is unable to cut through the whale’s metallic shell, literally nothing is beyond the ability of Adventures-Sonic; he always has a solution for any situation whether by using his incredible speed, a series of elaborate disguises, or literally pulling a solution out of thin air. Jaleel White pretty much defined Sonic’s characterisation for generations of kids and, while I have a lot of respect for his work, as always it’s Sonic’s constant need to spout quips and one-liners that makes his character as aggravating as he is entertaining.

There’s no situation Adventures-Sonic can’t find a way to escape out of.

No matter the situation or how bad the odds look, Sonic always finds a way to succeed and make fools of Robotnik and his robots; even when Robotnik has a time machine on hand to get the drop on him, Sonic is able to trick Robotnik into trapping him in the treasure chest with the Chaos Emerald and using its powers to best his foes. Even when Robotnik manages to steal back the Chaos Emerald and strand Sonic and Tails in the past, Sonic simply uses some dodgy time-manipulation to get them out of the jam.

Tails spends most of the episode being used as a hostage and in need of rescue.

Speaking of Tails, as is tradition for most Adventures’ episodes, there’s not really a lot for him to do here except say cringe-worthy stuff, act as a hostage, or provide minimal support for Sonic. He’s the very definition of the kid sidekick, existing mainly for Sonic to have someone to talk and brag to (though, ironically, Sonic is more than capable of simply breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly).

“Black Bot the Pirate” is a pretty standard episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog; as is often the case, there’s some enjoyment and humour to be found between the show’s more aggravating clichés and the influence of films such as the Back to the Future trilogy (Zemeckis, 1985 to 1990) and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989) is obvious, making for a quick shorthand to explain the show’s concepts of time travel. The second episode, “Hedgehog of the “Hound” Table” (Butterworth, 1993), begins with Doctor Robotnik, Scratch, and Grounder crash-landing in another time and place and with a recap of Robotnik’s plot to obtain four Chaos Emeralds and become and all-powerful “Supreme High Robotnik”. This is unusual for the series as, generally, episodes were not sequential or consecutive; characters and storylines did reappear and were revisited at times but, as a rule, every episode was a self-contained bit of wacky fun so seeing the cartoon actually attempt a concurrent storyline is a nice breath of fresh air.

This time, simply holding the Chaos Emerald isn’t enough to use its power.

Robotnik quickly finds the laboratory of Merlynx the Magician (Unknown) and, in his quest for the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility, obtains Merlynx’s magic wand and, in short order, the Chaos Emerald. However, unlike with the last Chaos Emerald, simply holding the gem isn’t enough to grant the wearer invincibility; instead, one must also become King of the Hound Table because…well, the episode needs to happen, I guess.

Princess Gwendolyn and King Arfur plead for Sonic’s help defending their castle.

Back in the present day, Sonic and Tails are still trying to relax on the beach when their good time is again interrupted by Professor Caninestein, who once again supplies Sonic with his time-travelling Atomic Relativity Boots. Immediately arriving at King Arfur’s (ibid) castle, Sonic and Tails meet the king’s daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (ibid), who plead for Sonic’s help in fending off the “Evil Bloated Knight” (spoilers: it’s Robotnik in a suit of armour).

Robotnik and his Badniks best the King’s Knights but are powerless against Sonic’s tricks.

Motivated by the egotism he feels at being declared the “Holy Hedgehog”, Sonic, of course, agrees to help as Robotnik’s technology is surprisingly effective at dispatching the Knights of the Hound Table with minimal effort. I say “surprising” as, generally, Robotnik’s credibility is…sketchy at best especially because of the bungling and incompetent nature of his goons. This is emphasised in a short action scene wherein Sonic (with minimal assistance from Tails) humiliates the three in true Adventures slapstick fashion by tying up Robotnik’s moustache, painting a target on a wall, and tricking Grounder into taking out his own team mates.

Though momentarily distressed at his lack of speed, Sonic is still able to best Scratch and Grounder.

Robotnik then coerces Merlynx into using his magic to turn Sonic’s feet into solid rock, which robs him of his speed and allows Robotnik to steal Arfur’s crown; this is, apparently, enough to render Robotnik invincible, transforming him into a muscle-bound version of himself and locking Sonic and Tails in the castle dungeon. Being robbed of his speed makes Sonic uncharacteristically despondent…for a time. It’s not the first time he’s fallen into despair at the loss of his abilities in this, or other, cartoons and is an interesting wrinkle in his otherwise flawless character but we only see the briefest of glimpses into this aspect of his personality as he immediately perseveres to appeal to Merlynx to undo his spell.

Though useful, Tails still fails to make an impact even after harnessing the Chaos Emerald’s power.

Even when Sonic is robbed of his speed, he is more than a match for Scratch and Grounder; you’d think this would be the perfect opportunity for Tails to actually help Sonic but he doesn’t even carry him to Merlynx’s house or help take out the Badniks when they block their path. After they separate Robotnik from the Chaos Emerald, Tails actually lays claim to it and briefly transforms into his own hulking form…but does nothing with that power beyond childish posturing. Still, at least he isn’t constantly used as a hostage this time around.

Even after becoming invincible, Robotnik is as foolish and bungling as ever.

You might also think that being rendered invincible pretty much means Robotnik has claimed victory but of course not; not only does Robotnik not kill Sonic and Tails when he has the chance, he quickly falls into boredom with his kingship, and foolishly agrees to answer Sonic’s challenge for a jousting match. Although the Chaos Emerald renders him unbeatable, he wears the damn thing on his head, under his helmet, for some reason so he loses his powers when he is knocked off his horse by a cactus plant Sonic randomly plants on the battlefield. In the end, it is Robotnik’s own bumbling nature that causes his downfall as he is easily goaded into falling for Sonic’s tricks and winds up being packed off to a Roman coliseum.

“Hedgehog of the “Hound” Table” is marginally better than the first episode; for one thing, there’s a bit more action and a few more interesting characters in this episode compared to the last one. There’s not a lot to Merlynx, Princess Gwendolyn, and King Arfur beyond being one-dimensional characters in exactly the roles you’d expect (wacky reclusive magician, stuttering, worrisome princess, and wholesome, honourable king, respectively) but they help to make the episode a bit more lively compared to the more barren and lifeless setting of the last episode. However, of all of the episodes that make up the “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” saga, the third episode, “Robotnik’s Pyramid Scheme” (Butterworth, 1993), is the only one I actually watched as a kid. Somehow, I missed the previous two episodes, and the final part of the saga, despite religiously watching and/or taping each episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog every Sunday morning. Still, here in the United Kingdom, the airing of Sonic cartoons was a little in flux; I remember watching Adventures one week and then waking up the next week to find it had inexplicably changed in tone and narrative and was suddenly the far darker SatAM with no explanation as far as I could see.

The third episode’s opening both sets up important plot points and recaps the overall plot of the saga.

Again, sequential narratives weren’t really a thing in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog so it’s surprisingly unique to find this episode picking up almost immediately where “Hedgehog of the “Hound” Table” left off with Robotnik, Scratch, and Grounder running for their lives in an ancient coliseum. After a brief encounter with his equally rotten ancestor, Julius Robotnikus, Robotnik helpfully brings any new viewers up to speed before heading to Ancient Mobigypt. This opening serves a few purposes; obviously, first and foremost, it’s to continue the story but it also places a bit more emphasis on the characters meeting their ancestors, something that is of particular importance to this episode’s plot.

In trying to stop himself from being erased, Sonic accidentally undoes his own birth!

This is further emphasised back at the beach, where Professor Caninestein reveals that Sonic’s bloodline is being systematically erased from history due to Robotnik’s actions in the past. Rather than being provided with his time travelling Atomic Relativity Boots, Sonic is gifted the Time Warp Boogie Board to travel back in time and keep himself from being erased. Unfortunately, while Sonic and Tails manage to rescue Sonic’s ancestor, Masonic (White), from Robotnik, they inadvertently interrupt the meeting between Masonic and his fated future wife, Penelope (Cathy Weseluck), which causes Sonic to be erased from history.

Tails basically screws himself out of having a bigger role in the episode.

Yeah, it’s basically the plot of Back to the Future (Zemeckis, 1985); however, thanks to the convenient fact that Tails not only remains in the past but also still remembers someone who never existed, being erased from existence is only a minor inconvenience for Sonic as Tails simply forces Masonic and Penelope to meet, instantly returning Sonic to life. Rather than actually removing the infallible Sonic from the plot and having Tails team up with Masonic in an effort to undo their actions, what should be a major plot point is almost immediately undone and, once again, Tails is rendered to a mere sidekick.

Apparently, it’s easier to use time-bending shenanigans than to break some flimsy chains?

Similarly, when the Pharaoh of Mobigypt (Chalk) refuses to give up the location of the Chaos Emerald, Robotnik declares himself Pharaoh and forces Sonic, Tails, and Masonic to spend the next twenty or thirty years building pyramids. Oddly, it’s actually easier for Sonic to repeat the same time-bending trick he pulled in “Black Bot the Pirate” and carve a hieroglyphic message for Professor Caininestein to conjure up a saw to cut through their piddling little chains that it is for him to simply buzz saw through them but I guess that wouldn’t be anywhere near as impressive as having Sonic “Mary Stu” his way out of another hopeless situation.

Scratch and Grounder are pummelled by the pyramid’s many traps and hazards.

Still, they’re unable to keep Robotnik from discovering that the Chaos Emerald is hidden deep within the booby-trapped pyramid of Robotnikhotep (Baldry); this is where Scratch and Grounder are at their best as they first squabble over which of them is smart and fast enough to decipher the clues that lead Robotnik to the pyramid and then constantly run afoul of the pyramid’s many traps to keep Robotnik safe from harm. There’s even a surprising nod to the videogames in the pyramid’s final puzzle, which requires a number of Golden Rings to be collected; it’s always nice when the cartoons actually include some of the more obscure gameplay elements of the source material.

In a morbid twist, Robotnikhotep would rather die than endlessly fight with his version of Sonic.

However, they all wind up in the burial chamber and encounter Robotnikhotep, who is functionally immortal thanks to the Chaos Emerald he wears; after a mummified hedgehog (White) awakens and defeats Robotnikhotep, Robotnik takes the Chaos Emerald from his ancestor and gains immortality. In a surprisingly poignant exchange, Robotnikhotep expresses gratitude for being relieved of not only the curse of immortality but the constant interference of Sonic’s mummified counterpart.

Robotnik’s immortality is quickly bested by Sonic’s own emerald powers.

In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog universe, “immortality” is realised not only as everlasting life but also, apparently, immunity to harm as, once Robotnik has the gem, Sonic’s attacks simply bounce off of him. Although, again, Robotnik has claimed near-unstoppable power, Sonic is easily able to defeat him by being gifted an emerald of his own (whether it’s a Chaos Emerald or not is not made clear but, judging by its blue colouration, it doesn’t appear to be one of the legendary gems) that grants him a “blue energy shield” and the means to take the immortal Robotnik down and secure his future.


“Robotnik’s Pyramid Scheme” is probably the best of the “Chaos Emerald” saga so far thanks to the influences and unashamed homages to Back to the Future; unfortunately, it squanders the potential of a largely Sonic-less plot by undoing his erasure within about two minutes of it occurring. This could have been a good chance to have Tails take a more proactive role and still involve a Sonic-like character in Masonic, having Sonic return to life in far more dramatic fashion for the action-packed conclusion but, instead, it’s just another excuse to show how flawless Sonic is. The final episode, “Prehistoric Sonic” (Butterworth, 1993) begins exactly where the last episode left off, with Robotnik, Scratch, and Grounder escaping back into the timestream to hunt down the final Chaos Emerald. However, Professor Caninestein once again supplies Sonic with a new time machine (a time-travelling skateboard, naturally) so that Sonic and Tails can put a stop to Robotnik’s plot once and for all. Robotnik and his Badniks arrive in prehistoric times, soon followed by Sonic and Tails, with the characters quickly encountering the prehistoric Mobians who are guard the volcano where the Chaos Emerald lies waiting.

Magma demands a sacrifice and, luckily, Robotnik has two disposable goons on hand…

Robotnik conjures up a gigantic robotic dinosaur to take care of Sonic and Tails; Sonic is, of course, immediately able to tame the Badnik and turn it against Robotnik’s underlings, however, and when Robotnik attempts to obtain the Chaos Emerald he is stopped by the volcano’s monstrous guardian, Magma the Volcano God. Like Stonekeeper (Ross Marquand), the lava creature demands a sacrifice before anyone can claim the Chaos Emerald, so Robotnik willingly and casually tosses Scratch and Grounder to certain doom in order to get his hands on it.

Robotnik has the power of life in his hands and uses it to its…fullest..? extent…

Now imbued with the power of life, Robotnik conjures lava minions of his own to finally capture Sonic and Tails; actually learning from his past mistakes, he even ties Tails’ tails together so there’s no chance of them surviving a plummet into the volcano. But, of course, Sonic is easily able to escape his fate and get them to safety, so Robotnik reunites with his Badniks and flees, victorious, back into the timestream.

Robotnik gets the other Chaos Emeralds so easily, it’s a wonder he struggled so much the first time…

Sonic and Tails immediately give chase, heading back to Ancient Mobigypt, but are too late to stop Robotnik from stealing the Chaos Emerald of Immortality from Robotnikhotep. Next, they head back to medieval times and arrive right as Robotnik claims the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility with minimal effort. Now immune to all of Sonic’s attacks, there’s nothing stopping Robotnik from digging up the final Chaos Emerald, the Chaos Emerald of Invisibility, and finally claiming all four as his own as Robotnik brings a treasure chest to life to cover his escape.

Robotnik finally becomes a God and immediately sets his sights disappointingly low…

Returning to the present day, Robotnik makes a suitably dramatic show of placing all four Chaos Emeralds around his neck (…even though he had already three of them around his neck) and transforming into “Supreme High Robotnik, Master of the Universe”, a gargantuan, God-like version of himself who immediately begins destroying a nearby town in a demonstration of his power.

Sonic and Tails escape the Big Bang with pitiful ease and recruit their past selves for help.

With his limitless powers, Robotnik easily throws Sonic and Tails to the beginning of the universe (of course represented by a gigantic stick of dynamite). However, after managing to escape (with trademark ease), they concoct a plan to defeat Supreme High Robotnik: using their time machine, they travel back through time and recruit a small army of their past selves for help.

Even when he’s a God, Robotnik is toppled with ease as, for some reason, he still feels pain…

After the five Tailses render Robotnik visible, the five Sonics are…somehow…able to damage and hurt Robotnik enough to bring him crashing to the ground with a pathetic amount of ease. Toppled, Sonic easily retrieves the Chaos Emeralds, stripping Robotnik of his God-like abilities, and ending his desires for the gems, and veritable omnipotence, once and for all.

Access to all of time and space and Sonic and Tails only recruit five of their past selves…

Honestly, this is quite a disappointing end to the saga as, even with the combined powers of the Chaos Emeralds, Robotnik is defeated way too easily. There was potential here for a veritable army of Sonics to attack Robotnik but, instead, the episode limits itself to just five. Sonic could also have used the Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic but the cartoons never seemed able to actually adapt this element into their stories so, instead, the Sonics simply attack Robotnik until he falls to the ground.

Sonic needs help escaping a treasure chest but can outrun the Big bang without breaking a sweat…

There’s never a question that Sonic could fail in facing Robotnik’s ultimate form. Even when he’s thrown to the beginning of time it’s little more than a minor inconvenience; being trapped inside of an anthropomorphised treasure chest is more of an obstacle for him as he actually needs Tails’s help to escape because, again, he never thinks to just spin his way free. Other than that, and dropping flour on Supreme High Robotnik, Tails is next to useless in this episode and is simply along for the ride to screech out the obvious or words of panic or encouragement.

The Summary:
It’s rare that Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog actually uses gameplay mechanics from the videogames; although the series contained more references and nods to its source material than SatAM, these were still few and far between thanks to the cartoon’s focus on slapstick humour and largely original, self-contained episodes. As a result, the concept of the Chaos Emeralds is massively different compared to how they are portrayed in the videogames but it makes for a unique spin on the mechanic to have their powers more explicitly defined and associated with different abilities.

We get a glimpse of the threat an all-powerful Robotnik could pose.

In a small example of how low the standards were for the cartoon, though, there are a few instances where the characters say “invisible” or “invisibility” instead of “invincible” and “invincibility”. Still, seeing Robotnik obtain the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility and actually attain its power was a nice, if brief, distraction; had he acquired this power and Merlynx’s wand (which the episode establishes that Robotnik, and anyone for that matter, can easily wield), he arguably could have laid claim to complete victory but, of course, that was never going to happen as Sonic had to emerge victorious by the episode’s end. Nevertheless, actually getting a glimpse of the potential of “Supreme High Robotnik” helps to understand the stakes involved and why it’s so important to keep all of the gems out of his hands.

Whenever Robotnik obtains ultimate power it is undone within moments.

Something I do enjoy about these episodes compared to many episodes of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is how many elements it includes from the videogames; obviously, we have the inclusion of a Chaos Emerald but the traps, obstacles, and danger of the pyramid remind me quite a bit of the hazards encountered in Sonic the Hedgehog (in particular the Marble and Labyrinth Zones). Having the Badniks be forced to collect Golden Rings to enter the burial chamber was also a nice touch and we get the briefest glimpse of the threat “Supreme High Robotnik” could pose if he obtained all four Chaos Emeralds thanks to seeing him actually wielding the power of the Chaos Emerald of Immortality…even if he is, again, defeated with comparative ease.

Robotnik constantly squanders his God-like powers, remaining nothing more than a bumbling idiot.

In the end, the “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” saga had so much potential in seeing Robotnik’s dreams of Godhood realised in full form but, instead, the final episode wastes too much of its runtime back in the past and on the acquisition of the Chaos Emerald of Life. For a man of such vaulted intelligence and imagination, Robotnik is surprisingly rubbish at using the powers of the Chaos Emeralds, or his assumed omnipotence, to their full extent, simply conjuring up a few ineffectual goons and growing to gargantuan size. He obtains the Chaos Emerald of Invisibility but remains visible 95% of the time; he has the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility and Immortality but is able to feel pain and be brought to his knees despite being immune to Sonic’s attacks in previous episodes (and even earlier in this episode!), and he has the Chaos Emerald of Life but doesn’t just strip and Sonic and Tails of their lives. Obviously, a lot of these things would render the episode unwatchable but I still think we could have gotten a much better, more interesting saga if Robotnik had dominated Mobius as Supreme High Robotnik and Sonic and Tails had been forced to go to a little more effort to end his threat.

Sonic the Comic did the God/Super-Robotnik story arc far better.

As a four-part saga, the “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” is pretty good when watched sequentially as a kind of mini movie or television special. Had the saga been presented in this manner, it might have benefited from this format and been able to balance its pacing and structure a little better. Instead, each episode is still largely self-contained and concerned more with being just another fun entry in a largely slapstick cartoon series and, as a result, too much of the runtime is spent lingering and on padding rather than seeing Robotnik being all-powerful and actually dominating his nemesis for a change. Unfortunately though, similar plots have been done far better in Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002) and, while the saga is a cut above the usual madcap nature of the cartoon and has some interesting ideas, it ultimately wastes a lot of the potential of the multi-part format and its plot.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the four-part “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” and the eventual realisation of “Supreme High Robotnik”? Would you have liked to see more episodes taking a similar multi-part format or revolving around gameplay elements like the Chaos Emeralds or did you prefer the cartoon’s wackier, slapstick tone? Where you surprised to see the Chaos Emeralds playing such a pivotal role in the series or were you, perhaps, annoyed and confused as to why they were depicted so differently? Which character from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog did you like, or hate, the most and what did you think about the cartoon’s tone and aesthetic? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to share your memories of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog in the comments below.

Talking Movies [Sonic Month]: Sonic the Hedgehog (1999)


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. This year, the Blue Blur turns thirty and what better way to celebrate than by dedicating every Friday of this month to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


Released: 1 November 1999
Originally Released: 26 January 1996 and 22 March 1996
Director: Kazuho Ikegami
Distributor: ADV Films
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Martin Burke, Lainie Frasier, Bill Wise, Edwin Neal, and Sascha Biesi

The Plot:
Doctor Ivo Robotnik (Neal) takes Princess Sara (Biesi) hostage and forces Sonic the Hedgehog (Burke) and Miles “Tails” Prower (Frasier) to journey to Robotropolis to keep Planet Freedom from being destroyed and, in the process, have them battle his ultimate creation: Hyper Metal Sonic (Gary Lipkowitz).

The Background:
After Sonic achieved worldwide success and became the hottest pop culture icon of the nineties following the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic was practically everywhere as SEGA capitalised on their mascot’s success with comic books, story books, toys, spin-off videogames, and, of course, animated ventures. Outside of Japan, DiC Entertainment produced two widely different Sonic cartoons that ran simultaneously and would come to inform the long-running Archie Comics series.

Japan got much different Sonic cartoons to the rest of the world, one very much a traditional anime.

Just as Japan and the rest of the world saw different Sonic promotional materials and lore, so too did each country have incredibly different animated ventures for SEGA’s mascot as, in 1996, Perriot studio produced a two part original video animation (OVA), “Welcome to Eggmanland” and “Sonic vs. Metal Sonic!”, that featured a traditional anime aesthetic that was closely modelled on the anime sequences from Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sonic Team, 1993) and much closer to the source material thanks to the involvement of Sonic Team (specifically Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima). As audiences outside of Japan were enduring easily the worst Sonic cartoon ever created, Sonic Underground (1999), and to coincide (somewhat) with the North American release of the Dreamcast, ADV Films combined the two-part OVA into one feature length feature, subjected it to a questionable dubbing process, and released it straight to video. Still, the feature length animation holds largely favourable reviews among Sonic fans for its closer adherence to the source material despite being just as removed from it as Sonic’s American cartoons.

The Review:
Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is this absolutely mental anime adaptation of the videogames that has a slick, detailed aesthetic that not only evokes the artwork of the videogames but also aligns almost perfectly with the anime sequences from Sonic CD. Because of this, though this world is as strange and unique as the various iterations of Mobius, the OVA feels like an authentic tie-in to the source material rather than a distilled, heavily altered commercial product like the cartoons.

Though short-tempered and lazy, Sonic revels in action and adventure.

What really makes the Sonic OVA stand out from other animated adaptations, apart from the anime aesthetic, is its portrayal of Sonic; rather than a wise-cracking show off, OVA-Sonic is a snarky, short-tempered teenager and actually showcases the “attitude” that Sonic was advertised as having. He just wants to sunbathe in peace and quiet and yells at Tails for interrupting his relaxation and has absolutely no interest in helping Robotnik even though the safety of the entire planet is, apparently at stake. Despite his lackadaisical attitude, though, Sonic is quick to race into action when he sees Tails is in real danger and begrudgingly agrees to solve Robotnik’s problem despite never shaking the belief that something fishy is going on. Sonic is not just cocky but also extremely arrogant, surprisingly lazy, quick to anger, and uncouth, something his current incarnations often seem to forget or ignore. While still heroic, Sonic prefers to wait until the very last second, or needs considerable persuasion, to act; Sonic desires challenge and, without it, is mainly lethargic. This is best depicted in his intense and escalating battle with Metal Sonic wherein Sonic’s stupor gives way to a passionate desire to defend his pride and identity.

Tails is at his most capable here, berating Sonic’s inaction and directly influencing the plot.

Tails, also, is far more capable and competent than his other animated counterparts; a genius with machines and computers, it’s heavily implied that he retrofitted all the junk and discarded technology to build his laboratory and aircraft hanger and he’s easily able to reprogram Robotnik’s navigational device to alter Hyper Metal Sonic’s programming and repair the Tornado after it crashes. Crucially, though clearly an enthusiastic and naïve little kid, Tails is Sonic’s conscience and the voice of reason; when Sonic refuses to help, Tails berates him and helps coerce him into action and, while he does need a bit of rescuing, he’s also quite capable of doing far more than just whining or being a mere hostage or a liability.

Sara is a pain in the ass but at least she has more personality than the President.

Tails’s usually annoying characteristics are, instead, supplanted into Sara; a grating, annoying character, Sara is selfish and aggravating, throwing tantrums over the littlest things and revelling in her ability to manipulate the hearts and minds of men with her allure. Interestingly, though, the annoying aspects of her character give her a little more personality than the average damsel in distress since she doesn’t just sit there like a lemon or cringe in fear; she shouts, screams, lashes out, and whines the entire time instead which, yes, means you end up questioning why anyone would want to rescue her annoying ass but an irritating personality is a personality nonetheless, at least, which is more than can be said about her father, the President (Neal), who is a largely ineffectual and useless character.

Knuckles is a far less gullible or bumbling character than he’s now characterised as.

Unlike the majority of Sonic’s American cartoons, the OVA immediately gets extra points from me for actually including my favourite Sonic character: Knuckles the Echidna (Wise). Of course, of all the characters, Knuckles is perhaps the most fundamentally changed by the adaptation process; rather than an echidna, he’s said to be a mole (one, somehow, capable of flying) who is more interested in treasure and bounty hunting than guarding Angel Island and the Master Emerald. In fact, neither of these two elements are ever mentioned, characterising Knuckles as this wandering nomad who is, nevertheless, “Sonic’s best friend”; Knuckles, far from the gullible and foolish character he has become in recent years, is a capable, confident, and knowledgeable source of exposition and gets some fun comedic moments like when he chastises Tails for landing on Sara’s boobs or when his beloved and bad-ass cowboy hat catches fire!

Though a buffon at times, Robotnik is still a charasmatic, deceptive, and competent villain.

For those only familiar with Sonic’s American cartoons, perhaps the most striking character in the OVA is Dr. Robotnik; rather than some bumbling fool or a semi-cybernetic, tyrannical dictator, Robotnik is far closer to his videogame counterpart and, when I think of the Robotnik from Sonic’s 2D videogames, this is the one I think of. A charismatic, deceptive, and a ruthless individual, Robotnik is easily able to intimidate the President by kidnapping his daughter, manipulate Sonic and Tails into doing his bidding, and ultimately capture Sonic’s “life data” to complete Hyper Metal Sonic. There’s a lot of backstory hinted at with this world, primarily through Robotnik, who explains how Planet Freedom works and hints towards previous encounters with Sonic and Tails, and Robotnik actually has a lot of depth to his personality as he seems to genuinely be besotted with Sara while also wishing to destroy Sonic and take over the Land of the Sky.

Metal Robotnik is an obvious ruse but gives Sonic and Tails a serious run for their money.

Robotnik, of course, isn’t the only antagonist in the OVA; at first, we’re led to believe that the primary antagonist is the mysterious “Metal Robotnik”, a massive demonic anime mech that is, clearly, being piloted or at least controlled by Robotnik. The deception, however, completely fools everyone despite the fact that Metal Robotnik sounds exactly like Robotnik! The mech suit gives Robotnik a vast array of combat options that briefly give him the upper hand but the destruction of Metal Robotnik isn’t even a set back for Robotnik; it’s all simply part of his master plan, which is surprisingly competent and threatening.

Sonic insists on battling Metal Sonic alone, seeing the robot as a degrading imposter.

Hyper Metal Sonic, obviously, ends up becoming the main antagonist but it doesn’t actually properly appear until after our heroes get past Metal Robotnik, enter Robotropolis, and shut down the Robot Generator; it’s glimpsed in the opening, pre-title sequence, however, and looms over the narrative like an ominous cloud so that, once it does appear, it’s in suitably dramatic and threatening fashion. Hyper Metal Sonic is a cold, calculating, silent antagonist and Sonic sees its mere existence as both an insult and a threat to his position, categorically refusing to have his friends help him and choosing to battle his robotic counterpart alone in increasingly violent confrontations.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Though there is a general, prevailing idea that Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is much closer to the source material than its other animated counterparts, that isn’t exactly true; the world we are presented with in the film is just as different from that seen in the games as Mobius is in the cartoons and comics, perhaps even more so since this is a strange world that resembles a shattered, post-apocalyptic version of our world more than the wacky, fantasy worlds seen in the videogames. However, the spirit of the videogames is evoked far closer thanks to the OVA’s anime aesthetic and locations closely resembling those seen in the games (Never Lake, for example, appears to be briefly seen onscreen at one point and Sonic races through traps and obstacles very similar to those from the games, including the first and most accurate onscreen portrayal of springs, spikes, and Badniks).

The world is both familiar and yet unique, borrowing from and then influencing Sonic‘s videogames.

One thing I love about this OVA is not just how well it captures the spirit of the source material but also came to influence later videogames and Sonic canon; it’s fitting that this was released outside of Japan around the time of the Dreamcast since there are many visual and aesthetic similarities between the OVA and Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998): Tails’s workshop, the airstrip that rises out of the ground, the visual of the “relics” of the Land of Darkness (clearly the remnants of New York City) sinking into the ocean are all clearly evoked in Sonic Adventure. Honestly, it’s a shame that more episodes of the OVA weren’t produced and that it hasn’t had a greater impact on larger Sonic canon; ideally, I’d love to see a 2D Sonic videogame utilise an artistic style or anime sequences such as the ones on display here for the cutscenes, if nothing else.

Animation is slick and fluid and the level of detail on offer is astounding at times.

Visually resembling Sonic CD’s impressive anime sequences, and loosely adapting its plot, unlike its American counterparts, the OVA featured a fairly simplistic story, but one given greater depth by its diagetic world. While some exposition exists regarding Planet Freedom and its two opposing “dimensions”, it is clearly not Earth, Mobius, or the Japanese videogame world either, despite some aesthetic resemblances to each. Instead, Planet Freedom is a post-apocalyptic alternate Earth where some calamity has caused the planet’s surface to break away and reduced the lower surface to ruins. As a result, the OVA’s visuals and scenery are amazingly detailed and even somewhat resemble the Zones of the source material. This, coupled with the OVA’s musical composition, evokes Sonic’s spirit in a way that its counterparts failed to do; by appropriating numerous anime tropes and conventions, the OVA’s characters act exactly as you expect and engage in frequent, intense, fast-paced action.

Amusingly, some risqué moments slipped past the OVA’s censors…

Of course, the OVA isn’t perfect; ask most people for their thoughts on it and the first thing they’ll mention is the pretty atrocious voice acting. Tails has a strange, nasally quality; Sonic’s voice is wildly inconsistent, croaking one minute and being strained the next, and Old Man Owl (Charles C. Campbell) is almost unintelligible. Knuckles, however, sounds pretty good and I love Dr. Robotnik’s boisterous, elaborate slightly German accent. Overall, I don’t really mind the voice work; it’s not like the ones in the American cartoons were always great and it actually adds to the OVA’s cheesy, goofy charm. Indeed, the OVA’s flaws come from the poor quality of some of the voice acting rather than the quality of the animation yet, interestingly, though it has the high-quality whitewash of respected Japanese anime to bolster its critical reception, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie remains almost as separate from its source material as any of the American animations, though ironically is able to better convey the essence of said source material better than any Sonic animation produced throughout the nineties. Furthermore, the OVA is made more entertaining by the fact that a few questionable moments made it past the censors: Sonic gives Metal Robotnik the finger, Sara is seen breastfeeding in a brief imaginary sequence and kicks the crap out of Metal Sonic when she thinks its looking up her dress, and Sonic lands on his crotch on Robotnik’s craft, which is all very wacky and amusing.

Metal ultimately comes to reflect not just Sonic’s speed and skill but his heroic heart as well.

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie excels in the quality of its animation; characters move with blinding super speed like in Dragonball Z (1989 to 1996) but are also slick and smoothly animated. Nowhere is the animation and art style represented better than in the depiction of Sonic’s battle against Hyper Metal Sonic and the design of Metal Sonic (and, also, Metal Robotnik). Their battles are a test of their skill, speed, and endurance as Sonic is somewhat on the backfoot given that Metal doesn’t tire or feel pain but Metal, far from a simple unemotional machine, begins to grow frustrated with Sonic’s persistence and will and evolves to mirror Sonic’s personality and body language as much as his speed. Thanks to Tails’s influence, Metal eventually chooses to sacrifice itself to save Sara and the President, refusing to be save from destruction since “There. Is. Only. One. Sonic”.

The Summary:
Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is, still, perhaps the greatest Sonic animation ever created even though it still takes numerous, strange liberties with the source material, reflecting neither the Japanese or American versions of Sonic’s story or the story as told in the games themselves. Instead, the OVA is its own thing entirely, implying a continuity and a larger backstory that we, sadly, never get to explore as we only got to see these two episodes edited into one feature-length animation. Nostalgia and the general obscurity and rarity of the OVA obviously all helps to add to its appeal but Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is still well worth your time, especially if you’re a Sonic fan or a fan of anime in general since there’s plenty on offer here for both. Between the slick animation, catchy soundtrack, and action-packed narrative, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie presents perhaps the most appealing and cohesive bridge between Sonic’s many competing narratives and I’d love to see the concept and aesthetic revisited in more detail at some point. However, since that’s extremely unlikely given how wildly different the Sonic franchise is these days, at least we still have this hidden gem to fall back on.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Have you ever seen Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie? If so, what did you think to it? Were you able to look past the dodgy voice acting or was it simply too much to handle, despite the OVA’s impressive animation? Did you like the unique world of the OVA or do you feel it was too separate from the videogames and generally accepted narrative of the time? Would you like to see a return to this style of characterisation and animation for Sonic or would you prefer something a little different; if so, what? How are you planning on celebrating Sonic’s thirtieth anniversary this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the OVA, and Sonic in general, so feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to pop back every Friday of this month for more Sonic content!