Speed, agility, and precision were the keys to making the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise one of gaming’s earliest touchstones, but somewhere along the line Sega lost sight of what makes the series work. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric has a laundry list of problems, and not just problems inherent to the modern Sonic franchise, but failings of basic design.
Rise of Lyric is crafted as a prequel to the brand new Sonic Boom cartoon, and it attempts to serve as an introduction to the Sonic universe for a brand new generation of fans. Sarcastic spiky blue hedgehog Sonic is joined by his pals–bullheaded Knuckles, geeky Tails, and spunky Amy–on a mission to stop the technocratic lizard Lyric from wiping out all organic life on their planet as the villainous but inept Dr. Eggman complicates everyone’s plans. Unfortunately, though, the story never manages to get off the ground.
Players control Sonic and his three friends through a mix of combat, exploration, platforming, and speed-running. Each playable character has a suite of unique abilities. Sonic is the fastest and can use his speed dash to fly over ramps or bounce off levitating speed balls. Tails can hover in the air and use an array of gadgets to reach inaccessible areas. Knuckles is the strongest and can also cling to red crystalline surfaces to traverse the environment. And Amy can triple jump and engage in light acrobatics on pink balance beams.
Unfortunately, while Rise of Lyric tries to be several types of games at once, it fails to be competent at any one of them. Combat is a repetitive affair of hitting the Y button over and over again until everyone is dead. You can occasionally take the time to dodge attacks, but with the exception of boss fights, that’s rarely necessary. Collectible rings are your health, and if you lose all of them, you’ll pass out, but that’s meaningless because you respawn exactly where you were in whatever battle you were waging, with the enemies’ health exactly where you left it. The only punishment for death is losing gear, a currency used to upgrade your characters, but you’ll have so much gear that it’s less than a slap on the wrist.
While the battles are far from interesting, they do occasionally become difficult for all the wrong reasons. Rise of Lyric has not so much of a difficulty curve as a difficulty seismograph that bounces wildly around. You fight the same handful of enemy types for the entire game, but they occasionally come in such numbers or in particularly unbalanced groupings that it’s a tiresome slog to wear them all down. I got to the point where rather than fighting enemies, I would simply toss them over cliffs if there was one nearby because it made things go much faster. Many enemies are punch sponges and live long past the point where beating them down is fun.
And while combat may be uninspired, it’s the closest the game ever comes to reaching competence. Through a combination of unwieldy controls, a broken camera system, and a total lack of responsiveness, the platforming and exploration elements of Rise of Lyric are totally unworkable. Sonic and his buddies control like they’ve just gotten back from a serious Friday night binge at the local watering hole, swerving back and forth like tipsy sailors. The simple act of consistently walking in a straight line becomes an impossibility. The precision platforming segments are relatively basic matters of timing, but I fell to my death more times than I can count simply due to sloppy and unresponsive controls.
The sluggish mechanics even manage to break the one area that is Sonic’s bread and butter: the high velocity speed runs. On several occasions, you’re dropped on a pre-determined track and sent running at top speed. You dodge and jump over obstacles and collect rings and crowns, and at no point do you feel like you’re in total control of your character. The frame rate chugs to unacceptable levels and you simply can’t move with the precision you need to consistently land on the tiny spaces the game leaves for you to survive unscathed.
The environments of the game have a promising start, with a trip to a dilapidated magitek factory. But before long, they devolve into the typical platforming-adventure clichés. Even the areas with a hint of unique spirit feel tired by the end because of re-used environmental assets and the use of the same three types of puzzles throughout the game. I hope you’re a fan of stepping on conveniently lit blocks over and over again, because you’ll be seeing seeing that puzzle a lot.
Sonic’s world is more bug-ridden than the tunnel from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Sound effects fail to load at the proper cue about a third of the time. Characters occasionally enter cutscenes floating in the air. I clipped through a number of environments. One time, I died and respawned in an area where the game failed to unlock a door I had already opened and I had to reload my game (and redo an entire lengthy level). The game also completely crashed my Wii U, forcing a hard restart of my system and, once again, the repetition of a good 30 minutes of the game.
The only area where the game ever shines is in its sense of scale. Players are dropped into massive levels, and the game conveys scale through camera perspectives that capture faraway, unexplored environments. I often realized that I hadn’t fully explored some environments after spotting new trails from afar. The only time this scale becomes a problem is in the mandatory beach level, because it is quite large and lacks adequate visual cues to guide you on your way. The only other notable success is the use of Fullmetal Alchemist’s Travis Willingham, who makes a great and strangely self-aware Knuckles.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is a failure at some basic levels of gaming. While it’s understandable that a franchise may want to move beyond the simple elegance of its origins, a muddled web of poorly connected and even more poorly executed systems is not the answer. The Sonic name deserves better than this, and so do consumers.