What Rises Must Fall
Depending on who you ask, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric might as well be the end of the franchise as we know it. Despite its status as a standalone experience separate from the main series, fans have cried havoc at the game’s radical new direction and denounced it well ahead of its release. Press materials and developer interviews have reassured and worried fans in equal measure, so it’s been tough to get a read on just how good the final product will be. As usual, the best way to solve this problem is to play the game for yourself, so I did so on the show floor yesterday; at the end of the demo, my quick and dirty reaction was a resounding shrug of indifference.
Yes, it’s true. Rise of Lyric is a pretty big departure for the series as of late, and it’s easy to see why. This game replaces the relentless speed and action of recent games with slower, more methodical exploration and combat. You’re tasked with roaming around levels, beating up on enemies, and navigating through environmental hazards as all sorts of action unfolds around you. There are nooks and crannies to investigate, elaborate bosses to fight, and dangerous hallways to sprint through. CryEngine 3 does a fairly good job of bringing the game’s quirky art style to life; though the game doesn’t look stunning, it’s certainly not ugly.
The controls take some getting used to. Sonic’s movement felt a bit stiff at first, so movement wasn’t always as agreeable as I would like. It’s tough to explain. I primarily used the new Enerbeam to solve simple environmental puzzles and throw smaller enemies at larger enemies, and it does all of this well enough. Combat feels decent but unspectacular, with simple attacks and combos functional enough to dispatch enemies easily but too simplistic to be really exciting. In-game dialogue ranges from mildly amusing to cringe-worthy, although the voice acting remains pretty solid.
That said, there are a few more glaring problems. The camera can cause the occasional headache; it doesn’t always focus on what you want it to, so you’ll need to wrestle with the manual control to get it positioned properly. Level designs often task you with chaining homing attacks together on objects that need to be seen, so getting the camera in place is of paramount importance. It can be frustrating, but it’s not as big an issue as it’s been in the past. Bosses also weren’t particularly challenging or exciting; one fight simply consisted of me grabbing enemies with my Enerbeam and throwing them at the big, hulking mech in front of me. The final game may have bosses that are more varied and fun, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with those that I saw today.
Much like other recent Sonic games, there are also on-rails speed sections. The two that I played weren’t ridiculously fast, but they controlled well and looked fairly cool. Quick-stepping looks a little silly but works well, so I was able to blow through these sections without issue. For me, these more “traditional” segments were when the game really hit its stride, and it’s actually where I had the most fun.
If I had to sum up my experience with Rise of Lyric in one word, it would probably be “inoffensive.” There’s nothing particularly bad about it; the graphics are fairly good, the gameplay is relatively polished, and it was free of any serious bugs. That said, nothing about the experience struck me as particularly exciting or innovative. It felt like a thoroughly average game: not great, not bad, but somewhere in the middle.
…actually, you know what it really felt like? It felt like a TV show tie-in game that’s aimed at a younger audience. Granted, it’s several rungs above most of that sort of shovelware, but I got that vibe from it anyway. It’s less AAA blockbuster epic and more experimental pet project. The game is far from the disaster many expected it to be, but it’s nothing amazing, either. Temper your expectations accordingly.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric launches on the Wii U in November.