Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
After a few years of "mixed or average" reception of Sonic titles during the late 2000s, Sega decided to hit the reset button by rebranding the franchise to its roots with new changes among the development team and voice cast. They gradually made a huge comeback by releasing their first episodic title Sonic the Hedgehog 4, which brought back elements from the Genesis days, Sonic Colors highlighted the core of Sonic gameplay by using aliens as power-ups on both the Nintendo Wii and DS, and celebrated Sonic's twentieth anniversary with Sonic Generations where player revisit familiar levels by playing as both Classic and Modern Sonic.
The only setback, so far, was that the Sonic Riders trilogy ended up on a low note by cashing on the Microsoft Kinect add-on that controls so unresponsive that makes the Nintendo Power Glove look better by comparison, the 3DS version of Sonic Generations was a missed opportunity executed as a rushed tie-in, and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 episodic adventure concluded on a disappointing and lackluster note, despite fixing some of the predecessor's issues.
Outside of that, Sonic Team has proven themselves to be ready for Sonic's future in gaming. Around that time, the seventh generation of game systems was over, and new consoles like the Playstation 4 and Xbox One were being developed. On Nintendo's side of the spectrum, they created two new systems. The first was the handheld Nintendo 3DS, which presents stereoscopic 3D effects. The second was the Wii's successor, the Wii U. While it has similar motion control functions as its predecessor, the Wii U features a GamePad with regular controls and a touchscreen that players used either as a supplement to the main display or in supported games to play the game directly on the GamePad, without using the television. Sega somewhat believed there was potential and a new golden opportunity for the system's capabilities. So, the company decided to make a partnership deal with Nintendo to make Sonic titles exclusively on either the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS.
Their first exclusive title was taking an experimental approach to a mainline Sonic title. Sonic Team knew they couldn't repeat their previous successful projects and wanted to try something new. It was time for Sonic to have a new adventure full of literal twists and turns along the way with Sonic Lost World.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. Please do not harass anyone associated with Sega mentioned in this article, and please respect their privacy, especially if anything mentioned here is something they do not wish to talk about.
Sonic Lost World (2013)
After discovering the Lost Hex, Sonic and Tails discover that Dr. Eggman has made an alliance with an evil creature group called the Deadly Six. Now, the two must stop them before they suck all the life energy from Sonic's world.
Development began after Sonic Colors was finished when a few core Sonic Team members experimented with new concepts on PC where one involved "twisted tube-type level[s]" inspired by the fairy tale Jack & the Beanstalk. Because the concept was new, early levels had to be remade over and over again. Producer Takashi Iizuka also hoped to "deliver a new experience" after reviewing the history of Sonic Generations.
Due to the success of previous Sonic games on Nintendo platforms, development ultimately focused on the 3DS with Dimps co-producing and the Wii U solely by Sonic Team. Like with Generations, working on the 3DS was harder because of its limited processing power. Conversely, Morio Kishimoto was the director for the Wii U version while Takao Hirabayashi took charge of the 3DS version.
Besides the gameplay, Sonic Lost World introduced a new creature race known as Zeti where Sonic gets to fight a gang of six called the Deadly Six. They consist of: the crazy Zazz, the voracious Zomom, the wise Master Zik, the flirtatious Zeena, the depressed Zor, and the sadistic leader Zavok.
When designing the Deadly Six, their appearances are based on oni, an ogre-like demon from Japanese folklore. Actually, they were early going to be called "Oni" as their race, but Sega of America opposed the idea. Each member's appearance was purposed to reflect a highlighted characteristic of their personality, which the developers hoped players could see "just by looking at them."
Although it was never confirmed by the development team, many have speculated that the Deadly Six were almost the closest interpretation of the seven deadly sins. Think about it: Zazz is envious, Zomom eats a lot, Master Zik shows a lot of pride in training his members, Zeena only cares about her physical beauty, Zor is as lazy as a sloth, and Zavok causes destruction without hesitation. Some would argue that Zeena would also be lustful for her constant flirting with Sonic on occasion, but that wouldn't count or go that far, since this is a family-friendly game after all.
With their direction, Sonic Team wanted to take a break from the boost gameplay and wanted to focus more on controlling Sonic's speed by streamlining the controls and creating a more traditional platforming experience. For instance, Sonic has two different speed styles: one where he can normally run like a jog and the other where he can run faster when holding the right shoulder trigger button. This is also, by far, first the 3D mainline Sonic game since Sonic Unleashed (PS2/Wii) where Sonic naturally uses his Spin Dash ability. His Homing Attack was changed so that he can either hit multiple enemies at once or charge it up for a stronger attack. Sometimes, Sonic would use a kick move to break down shielded enemies for a secondary attack or platforming shortcut. The newest addition to his gameplay is the parkour mechanic where Sonic can run or climb up against walls to make his movement more fluid instead of making complete stops from previous titles.
Another goal that Sonic Team was aiming for was to extend the game length and add more diverse levels.
Beginning with the level design, they were structured either as traditional side-scrolling 2D levels or spherical, rotating 3D levels that Sonic can choose to explore using his speed and parkour abilities. Ever since the game was announced, many fans have noticed the level design and themes were influenced by the canceled Sonic X-Treme, a Sega Saturn title where levels would rotate under a fixed center of gravity, including Sonic running on walls. But, a more mainstream comparison by a lot was that Sonic Lost World looked too similar to the Super Mario Galaxy games. As a matter of fact, others found that each level that Sonic goes through is as traditional as a Mario platformer: grassland, desert, tropical, winter, forest, sky, and lava. Some fans also believed that Zavok acts like a Bowser clone down to his final fight by turning into a giant chasing after the hero.
Thankfully, Takashi Iizuka was fully aware of the comparisons and in an interview with Nintendo Life, he said:
Basically, because we have these geometries with their own gravity you hop to, you can kinda see the comparison there, but if you play the game on the show floor I think you’ll see the biggest difference is that it still feels and moves like a Sonic game.
— Takashi Iizuka, producer of Sonic Lost World
While conceptually similar, it is more executed as a Sonic game where the emphasis is on speed and bringing back elements from the Genesis era. These included the Badniks, now given 3D designs, and mostly at the end of each stage, Sonic would free animals inside a giant capsule, like in the old days. There are even smaller capsules hidden in certain levels and collecting enough animals would allow players access to the next stage. Additionally, bonus stages have returned as circus tents where Sonic or Tails would have to pop balloons under a time limit to collect additional animals.
Once in a while, the level design and gameplay style would switch things up a bit. A few examples are one level where Sonic would run non-stop based on his Mach Speed sections from Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), another where Sonic completely grind-rails while avoiding instant-kill obstacles, and one where he is inside as a giant snowball in a dangerous route full of bottomless pits. Iizuka described the game as "like going into the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, an action game where you can experience many strange and fun experiences."
Besides collecting animals, Sonic would also collect all seven Chaos Emeralds and become Super Sonic as a bonus feature during regular gameplay, minus the super-speed stages or while on clouds. In the Wii U version, Sonic would find all the Red Star Rings hidden in every stage in every Zone and earn a Chaos Emerald as a reward. In the 3DS version, Sonic would reach a Special Stage by requiring fifty rings at the end and entering a Giant Ring inspired by the Genesis era. Loosely based on the Special Stages from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic must collect spheres within a time limit in a space-like void setting. The only difference is that the player must rely on the 3DS's gyroscope controls rather than traditional controls.
Though they have no story purpose, the Wisp power-ups from Colors make a return with a mix of old and new ones. Due to the Wii U having "two monitors to use", Sonic Team decided to the touch screen and gyroscope to incorporate the Wisps and regular power-ups, along with including both cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes. When comparing their usage between versions, the Wisps are more "essential" to the level design in the 3DS while they are an "additional tool" in the Wii U.
Carrying over from Colors, both versions have their own Wisps. Starting with the Wii U version, there is the Crimson Wisp which turns Sonic into an eagle to glide over distances. The Magenta Wisp helps move Sonic bounce around and collect musical notes as a musical note. For those that bought the Bonus Edition or DLC, there is the extra Black Wisp where Sonic acts as a bomb to explode at enemies. In the 3DS version, the only exclusive Wisp is the Ivory Wisp which acts similarly to the Cyan Wisp, except it makes Sonic zap into nearby coils and move quickly like a lightning bolt.
Fairly enough, both versions share two specific Wisps. The Indigo Wisp transforms Sonic into an asteroid that would destroy nearby objects and enemies to increase his power. The Gray Wisp also appears in both versions but has different purposes. With the power to let Sonic create destructive powers like an earthquake, it acts as a regular power-up in the 3DS version while it is only used against multiplayer races in the Wii U version.
If you noticed the "Deadly Six Bonus Edition" box cover photo, then it indicates that the Wii U version of Sonic Lost World had included DLC. The first was based on another Sonic Team franchise Nights into Dreams, where it is presented some sequences where Sonic must jump through energy rings and save Nightopians while going through a boss rush mode with the Deadly Six with the NiGHTS boss characters also featured. NiGHTS and Wizeman, of course, also made cameo appearances throughout the zone.
Yes, there have been occasions throughout history where both franchises have crossed paths with each other. But, that is icing on the cake, where, by far, is the only Sonic game officially crossover with other Nintendo properties, outside of the Mario & Sonic and Super Smash Bros. series. One DLC is based on Yoshi's Island which is structured as a 2.5D side-scroller inspired by the N64 game, Yoshi's Story. There, Sonic has to collect Yoshi Eggs while fighting off Mario enemies, like Shy Guys and Piranha Plants, to reach the end. The second is themed after The Legend of Zelda which combines elements of open-world exploration and puzzle solving with high-speed Sonic gameplay. It starts off with Sonic exploring Hyrule Field, collecting Rupees, and opening treasure chests to earn hearts as health ala Link. Speaking of whom, Link and his Loftwing from Skyward Sword make cameos. Sonic would then enter a dungeon cave, avoid Gorons, and find the Triforce at the end.
In addition to having the Havok engine for physics, the Hedgehog Engine for the transitional camera system and lighting, and Marza Animation Planet for the CGI intro cutscene, the art direction was simplified to make objects stand out more against the background while the framerate consistently runs at sixty frames per second.
Continuing the Studiopolis alumni in the English dub, Zavok was voiced by Travis Willingham, Liam O'Brien as Zazz, Patrick Seitz as Zomom, Krik Thornton as Master Zik, Stephanie Sheh as Zeena, and Sam Riegel as Zor. On the Japanese side of the spectrum, Joji Nakata voices Zavok, Yutaka Aoyama as Zazz, Chafūrin from the Sonic OVA as Zomom, Makoto Terada, known for voicing Sigma in the Mega Man X series, portrays Master Zik, Soulcalibur actress Yumi Tōma as Zeena, and Yuki Tai as Zor. Fun fact: Tai provided the Japanese dub voice for Dipper in the Disney series Gravity Falls.
The soundtrack was mostly composed by Tomoya Ohtani while the orchestration and cutscene music was handled by Takahito Eguchi. Unlike the previous 3D Sonic titles, this is, by far, the only game without any vocal themes. Naofumi Hataya also solely provided music for Desert Ruins Zone 3 with some tracks co-arranged done by Jun Senoue, Takeshi Watanabe, and Yutaka Minobe.
Reception & Legacy
When Sonic ventured into the Lost Hex on October 18 in Europe, six days later in Japan, and five more days later in North America, this new experience turned out to be...well, definitely not as good as Colors and Generations but not as bad as his past mistakes. The critics adored the game's presentation with its colorful and "imaginative" visuals, stable framerate, and orchestrated tracks being "arguably the best" in the series.
However, when it came to the controls, that's where things start to become polarizing. On one side of the argument, some found the switching between speeds "jarring", the homing attack locking on "too late" or "awkward", "imprecise" jumping, and the new parkour mechanic "problematic" or "frustrating" whether it is wall-running/jumping or performing tricks. On the other side, others defended the control scheme stating that changing it offers an easy, learning curve for newcomers and "modernizes environmental traversal with a distant safety net." Plus, when comparing versions, Sonic and the parkour mechanic control a lot better on the 3DS version, though the homing attack was more "capricious."
Many were also divided on the alternative gameplay styles. For the Wii U version, some reviewers had a fun time, while others didn't. The Wisps were amusing yet "out-of-place" in terms of problematic motion controls. The balloon minigames were described as "mind-numbing" and the co-op racing "useless" with framerate issues. On the 3DS version, the Wisps were more integral to the level design, but the Special Stages were "borderline unplayable." Speaking of level design, the Wii U version's 3D stages offered "creative exercises in platform experimentation" though other levels were stuck in "design gridlock." The 2D sections were "inoffensive" yet "clunky" and "tiresome." The 3DS version's levels were slightly better praised as "intuitive" with alternate paths, but would later become tedious with "confusing" and "head-scratching" puzzles and labyrinth design.
Critics and fans were not fond of the Deadly Six during their debut either. Opinions on these villains ranged from "fun, stereotypical personalities" to "boring", "generic", "forgettable", and "weirdly anticlimactic." Regardless of their negative reception, half of the Deadly Six have made further appearances in certain titles. The most prominent member is the leader Zavok who would return as a boss in Sonic Forces and as a playable character in the recent Mario & Sonic Olympic Games titles, Team Sonic Racing, and the mobile app Sonic Forces: Speed Battle. Zazz also frequently made playable appearances in the Mario & Sonic and app games, while Zeena had her playable debut in Sonic Forces: Speed Battle.
Commercially, Sonic Lost World performed weaker than its predecessors. Although it was ranked number eleven in the U.K.'s all-format chart during its opening week and number 4 on the Nintendo 3DS chart, the game sold a worldwide total of 710,000 copies, as of March 31, 2014.
Today, fans are still divisive and debating on the overall quality of Sonic Lost World. There are those that understand what Sonic Team was going for and got the hang of the control scheme through patience and practice. Others are infuriated by this newfound direction and demand that the series' should bring back the boost gameplay in future installments. The latter foreshadows the phrase "be careful what you wish for." But, it was overall agreed to be a step backward when comparing what Sonic Team achieved previously. Nonetheless, Sonic Lost World was proven to be an example of experimentation within the series. Sonic Team simply wanted to try something new that wouldn't be repetitive. They came up with a method that would make players feel more comfortable controlling Sonic's speed rather than mindlessly boosting through stages lickety-split. Especially with the Wii U's capabilities, there was definitely potential when incorporating these abilities and wanting to be as "Nintendo-like" as possible while maintaining the core of high-speed platforming.
On a side note, this is the latest Sonic game that Dimps had worked on, and haven't gotten involved in another Sonic project since. To this day, Dimps has been busy developing Dragon Ball games and side projects.
In the end, depending on which version you play, it was a matter of personal preference. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, yet it was an ambitious attempt of sending Sonic in a new direction.
Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U/3DS (2014)
Meanwhile, Sega and Nintendo would continue their exclusive partnership on a couple more games, which coincidentally have been released within the 2014 fall season. But before so, 2013 ended with the fourth installment of the Mario & Sonic series with Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U.
Historically speaking, it was the first to have an online multiplayer mode and to be published by Nintendo instead of Sega. Yet, it was, by far, the last winter Olympic-themed game in the series, where both franchises later got banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics due to "suspicion regarding their almost supernatural abilities."
When the game was released mostly worldwide in November and a month later in Japan, critics called it one of the weakest entries due to a lack of innovation and its controls. Though the visuals, multiplayer, and online play were commended.
On the bright side, there was one anticipated installment that helped shed light on Sonic's relevancy. In 2013, Mashiro Sakurai announced that the fourth installment of Super Smash Bros. was in development for both the Wii U and the 3DS. The latter was historically also the first handheld Smash Bros. title.
As many characters from previous games were returning, a Nintendo Direct unveiled that Sonic would be returning to the roster. While his moveset remained intact, Roger Craig Smith reprises his role of the Blue Blur, though his dialogue is recycled recordings from recent Sonic titles. Luckily, Kirk Thornton has returned as Shadow and resumes his role as an Assist Trophy. For stage representation, Green Hill Zone from Brawl returns exclusively on the 3DS version while the Wii U version presents Windy Hill Zone from Sonic Lost World. More Sonic content, such as music and trophies of many Sonic characters, was also added.
Comparing his playstyle from Brawl, Sonic has significantly improved where his tier is as high as number seven out of the total fifty-five characters. His new dash speed combined with his special moves helps him attack in motion. Sonic's attacks also have increased knockback and have much better KO potential. However, his KO-ing options would result in higher lag due to his speed and his nerfed recovery could lead to gimping. Even so, Sonic's stats outweighed his flaws, and received larger matchups among players when competing in high-level tournaments.
While technically not part of the exclusive partnership, Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS has been shown to fix any of the issues that Sonic had previously. The content was more abundant with representation and Sonic's moveset received a large number of buffs with few nerfs, thus climbing out of the middle tier and reaching the higher rank among the roster. Comparing the other games that year, Sonic had the best treatment and remains a third-party favorite in Smash Bros. history.
Turning back the clock to October 2013, Sega launched a teaser image for an upcoming Sonic television series that would launch next year. In that image, there were silhouettes of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy that looked a little...different than usual. Many fans were confused and worried about that first impression. Months later, it was clarified that Sega was expanding Sonic into an alternative continuity with new designs, a new story, and new characters. But, the new television show was just the tip of the iceberg. Sega also announced that two new games were also in development and would be the precursor to the show. The catch: Sonic Team, for the most part, was not involved this time. It was time for Sonic to be handled by two different North American game developers for both the Wii U and 3DS. This was the beginning of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for the 3DS.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (2014)
In Rise of Lyric, Sonic and his friends accidentally awaken an ancient creature named Lyric and must gather the Chaos Crystals before he threatens to extinct all organic life. In Shattered Crystal, Amy gets captured by Lyric while researching ancient manuscripts. Now, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and their new ally Sticks the Badger must save Amy while occasionally butting heads with Shadow.
As mentioned before, when the Sonic Boom franchise, no relation to the Sonic CD theme song, was first teased, many fans were skeptical and concerned about this new approach. Later, Sega's American senior marketing director Marchello Churchill confirmed that this new take would "not replace Modern Sonic, but will take the franchise to the next level." To be more clear: Sega wanted to create a separate Sonic series that would appeal more exclusively to Western audiences rather than originate in Japan. Yes, there have been Westernized Sonic media beforehand, but they were closer to the original games and managed to stand out as their own continuities.
While the television series was being developed by OuiDo! Productions (now known as Technicolor Animation Productions), the prequel games were separately produced by two Western game developers. Rise of Lyric was made by Big Red Button Entertainment and Shattered Crystal was developed by Sanzaru Games, while both were supervised by Sonic Team and Takashi Iizuka. Big Red Button was a Los Angeles-based game studio consisting of former Naughty Dog, Heavy Iron, Luxo Flux, and High Impact Games employees while Sanzaru Games is a San Franciso-based game studio known for making Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, as well as porting the previous Sly Cooper games onto the PS3 and PS Vita.
Whenever the Sonic Boom franchise is mentioned, the character designs are usually the first to pop into people's minds to give it a visual identity. During development, the major characters were given different appearances while maintaining a sense of familiarity.
For Sonic, the artists experimented with various accessories till they decided to give him a neck handkerchief along with the nickname "Scarf Sonic." The reason was to pay homage to the classic adventure theme while emphasizing Sonic's "get-up and get-go" personality and love for adventure. It was also inspired by Nathan Drake's scarf from Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Additionally, his forearms were blue and had more spikes to differentiate him from the main Sonic.
Tails and Amy look the same with subtle differences. Tails wore aviator goggles and had a tool belt to visually represent his character as the "gadget guy" of the group. Compared to her game counterpart, Amy aimed to be more "capable" by adjusting her attire to fit the adventurous setting and her athletic skills as an "agile and graceful" character while making her a smart and independent female lead.
The two characters that received the most radical changes were Knuckles and Dr. Eggman. Knuckles was made larger and more muscular to highlight his strength as "the strong guy" of the team. A major consequence, besides excluding his gliding ability for story reasons, is that they made him more brawn over his brain. In other words, Knuckles was depicted as the strong but stupid character archetype. Yes, in the main series, Knuckles was occasionally naive, but he always maintained his dignity and honor. Here, he acts more like an unintentional parody of his game counterpart. The second character was Dr. Eggman. Since his design was based on a simple shape that would easily help others draw, they decided to make his egg-shaped torso upside-down and gave him formal military-style clothing to emphasize his vanity as a villain character.
Differences aside, the main four characters all wear sports tape, influenced by fighters and American football players, to give them a sense of practical and grounded heroism.
When going through candidates for other characters from the main series, Shadow the Hedgehog and Metal Sonic were the only recurring characters that appeared in the franchise. Unlike Shadow, who got slight alternations to his design, Metal Sonic is the only character that remained completely identical to his game counterpart.
Of course, being its own series, Sonic Boom would fill the void with new characters to expand the world that these familiar characters would inhabit.
A major addition to the cast is an energetic and free-spirited badger named Sticks. According to Sega's chief content creator Hiroyuki Miyazaki, Sticks was created to form the core ensemble cast and has a quirky personality to the team dynamic, which applies "an endless amount of humor and surprise" to the Sonic Team. Comic and television writer Bill Freiberger added that Sticks' creation also helps deliver his point of view and belief system. For instance, Sticks would say something absurd, only to be proven correct in the end. In other words, her cynicism counters the heroism of her friends, making her more like an anti-hero.
Through her earlier designs, she intended to have white sports tape for her hair locks and one eyelash. But, they were later changed to auburn string and had two eyelashes. These changes were meant to help finalize her primal appearance. When looking at her design, many fans have mistaken her for Marine the Raccoon from Sonic Rush Adventure.
Another stand-out component about Sticks is her voice actress. While most of the current actors from the main series reprised their roles, Sticks was voiced by voice actress Nika Futterman. For those who don't know, Nika Futterman has provided many voices in several animated series and video games. She was Lola from CatDog, Adam Lyon from My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Chum Chum from FanBoy & Chum Chum, and Asajj Ventress from the 2008 Star Wars: Clone Wars movie/series. However, you may remember best as the voice of Luna Loud from Nickelodeon's hit animated franchise, The Loud House. When the franchise got a Japanese dub, voice actress Aoi Yuki, known for voicing Froppy from My Hero Academia, supplied Sticks' voice.
As for the dark side of the coin, they wanted to create a villain character that is supposed to be an extreme, visual embodiment of everything the Sonic franchise has come to stand for its nature versus technology motif. Through Big Red Button Entertainment's concept art, the villain Lyric went through many creature designs, including an owl and a mechanized owl. Ultimately, the studio decided to make Lyric a snake after getting inspiration from the snake in the Biblical Garden of Eden story where it represents dark sides and evil things.
Lyric's voice was supplied by Patrick Seitz in English while Jūrōta Kosugi, known for voicing Asuma in the Naruto franchise, voiced him in Japanese.
When going deep into Rise of Lyric's development history, it began around October 2011 as "Project Apollo" which focused on LAN party online multiplayer gameplay and racing. The story was initially about Sonic and a young Dr. Eggman who went from close friends to enemies after the latter began messing with a time-travel project. Eggman was also planned to be a playable character. In fact, it was going to be called "Sonic Origins." Imagine that. However, that storyline got scrapped due to Sega wanting to reveal Sonic's origins themselves. The only aspect of the original concept that made it to the final product was the Ancients, which were considered "important" for having a big role, and Lyric himself as the remaining Ancient. Literally and figuratively.
Big Red Button Entertainment was selectively hired because of their developers' past experience working with action-adventure genre games.
Surprisingly enough, the lead-level implementer for the project was Chris Senn, who you may remember as the co-lead designer and art director that nearly died working on the canceled Sonic X-Treme. Small world.
The developers went for a Jak and Daxter-style Sonic game which mostly involved exploration and a bit of speed. In the following year, Sega asked the staff to make a demo full of potential gameplay mechanics under the working title "Sonic Synergy." The project was also planned to be a four-player co-op adventure, set to be released as a digital Steam title, along with a PlayStation Store and Xbox Live port if sold well.
After Sega presented the demo to Nintendo, it was greenlighted as a Nintendo-exclusive game instead where both companies shifted to focus on the Wii U hardware. They also decided to change the title to "Sonic Boom" since Sega wanted to make a global brand and felt that "Synergy" didn't work this way. But, becoming a Wii U port wasn't the only change for the project. Once the television series was pitched, Sega and Sonic Team had total control of the series...eight months before the game's scheduled release date and demanded a bunch of changes.
Since the Wii U was incapable of programming a four-player co-op, it was reduced to a two-player co-op. The system's hardware limitations also removed and altered many gameplay mechanics and gimmicks. There was going to be a level hub area involving four-player water skiing. But, the developers had to use parts from other levels to fill out the lack of mechanics. Speaking of water, a swimming mechanic for the main characters was removed, so the characters would die upon touching the water like in the classic games. Granted, there was an exclusive Hydro-Dash technique where Sonic would solely dash across the water without his friends' aid, but still, there was a mission with all four characters riding a boat across the water anyway. Other removed elements included Chao, a Ring banking system, gamepad-controlled gimmicks, and a bi-plane side-mission similar to the Tornado sub-missions.
Actually, when going back to the character designs and story, it becomes more clear that Sega also ordered some changes in order to stay consistent with the upcoming television series. The main characters' early designs were too radical and far removed from their mainline designs. Thus, the reason why a few of the characters look too similar to their game counterparts. Several NPCs were also altered after violating Sonic Team's guidelines. While the concept of the Ancients remained intact, the developers were forced to make a richer world that was absent from the original concept, filler cutscenes, levels, and questionable characterization choices (i.e. Knuckles' stereotypical personality) to connect the show as much as possible. You can guess where this is going.
When the project was greenlit, Sega asked Big Red Button to make a 3DS port of Sonic Boom. Instead, Sanzaru Games took charge of the port. While Rise of Lyric focused on exploration stages and speedy platforming akin to recent Sonic titles, Sanzaru Games sticks closer to the franchise's classic roots with 2.5D side-scrolling stages that highlighted platforming and puzzle-solving.
Conceptually speaking, both games share similar but different gameplay styles. As frequently mentioned, you can play and switch between four characters with different abilities. The fourth playable character is where things get distinctive. Amy is playable in Rise of Lyric for her acrobatics and for using her hammer to swing on poles. For Shattered Crystal, Amy takes a back seat as the kidnapped friend and Sticks the Badger takes her place. Sticks can throw her boomerang that can be controlled mid-flight. Unlike Rise of Lyric, where all characters are playable from the start, you begin as Sonic in Shattered Crystal but will unlock everyone else as you progress.
The main gameplay mechanic carried over from the "Synergy" demo was the "Enerbeam." It is used as a whip-like weapon that allows its users to perform various tasks, such as hanging from speeding rails, removing enemy shields, and solving puzzles. In Rise of Lyric, the Enerbeam is additionally used to rack up combo-based attacks, like lassoing and throwing enemies aside, while being essential tools for boss battles. There are also various weapons that players would find to spice up the "beat 'em up" style combat. Shattered Crystal simplified the Enerbeam to help players swing across gaps and remove shields to attack enemies with ease.
Collectibles and upgrades can be found and unlocked for extra content, depending on which game you play. Rise of Lyric has artifacts known as "Crowns" hidden within levels and hub areas. If the player finds enough, they can be exchanged for team-based upgrades, including extra rings from high combo hits and an explosive effect on enemy groups after performing tag-team action. Blueprints are scattered across levels in Shattered Crystal. Collecting six pieces of each blueprint would not just unlock secret levels, but assembling them in Tails' workshop would reward permanent upgrades for the characters. Tokens can also be earned by completing certain level objectives or via StreetPass. Trading tokens would help players purchase a series of figurine toys.
Back when Sega instructed the developers to make the game demo, they wanted to create an organic and natural-looking world using handmade textures for a cartoonish look using the CryEngine 3 game engine. But, when it was decided to be a Wii U exclusive title, Big Red Button found the results to be weak due to the system not running CryEngine properly. With their time-crunch schedule, the graphics and assets had to be downgraded to rework the engine into the hardware. Although the cinematic cutscenes were decent with the character animation using the principles of squash-and-stretch, the in-game graphics ended up with lower character polygon models, bland textures, and a huge number of glitches that didn't have time to fix during finalization. Sound familiar? In Shattered Crystal, while Sanzaru Games built their own game engine with mediocre character models and text-based dialogue, the cinematic and fully voiced cutscenes were actually animated by Pure Imagination Studios, known for collaborating with several Lego media projects.
Another veteran Sonic programmer that got involved in composing the soundtrack was Richard Jacques, who wrote music for Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic R for the Sega Saturn, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, and both console and handheld versions of Sonic Generations.
On the subject of audio, most of the current English and Japanese actors have reprised their roles as their respective characters, yet with slightly better direction. A notable example was Cindy Robinson as Amy Rose who now sounded less like Minnie Mouse than she did previously. However, not everyone returned to play their characters for unknown and tragic reasons. Although there was never a confirmed reason, Kate Higgins did not reprise her role as Tails. Some say Kate auditioned for Tails in the Sonic Boom show but felt she wouldn't get the part, or due to scheduling conflicts. In her place to this day, Tails is currently voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey, who also provided Charmy Bee's voice. In spite of being replaced, Kate would continue voicing Wave in Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and later return as Tails for Sonic Colors Ultimate. Sadly, this was the final performance of Chikao Otsuka, who voiced Dr. Eggman in Japanese since Sonic Adventure. On January 15, 2015, Otsuka died from ischemic heart disease at the age of 85. Ever since he was succeeded by actor Kotaro Nakamura as his replacement while some of his recordings were archived for Eggman Nega in subsequent Mario & Sonic games.
Reception & Legacy
It has been a long and heated production battle between Sega and their newfound collaborators. But, once the world gets to experience the new exciting adventures of Sonic Boom on November 11 in North America, ten days later in Europe, and a month later in Japan under the title "Sonic Toon"...let's just say this commercial is the "nice" version when compared to the actual critical reception.
Unlike past games, Sega didn't provide reviewers with advance copies of either game and would only begin reviewing once they were set for release. Once the embargo was lifted, this new adventure ended up as an absolute disaster. Starting with Rise of Lyric, the critics despised the cliched story, repetitive level design, bland graphics, uninspired combat system, choppy framerate, boring puzzle-solving, and countless bugs and glitches. It was also reported during focus testing that former Sega American producer Stephen Frost believed the playtesters were "tired of" Sonic going "too fast", so they cut down Sonic's speed tremendously. That was clearly a mistake since speed has been the key element of Sonic games from the start. The only minor positive aspects were the soundtrack and the voice acting (though special criticism was reserved for the constant banter between the main characters). As for Shattered Crystal, it was technically better than its Wii U counterpart, but not by much. While the simplistic and linear gameplay could deliver decent platforming closer to the core series, it suffered from a poorly written and "unfunny" plot and slow-paced and tedious-level design.
Because of the overwhelmingly negative reception, Rise of Lyric was not only considered one of the worst Sonic games of all time, but also one of the worst video games of all time, similar to what Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) achieved. As a matter of fact, fans went as far as finding the game to be more worst than Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). It is true that both of these games were ambitious projects that were hastily rushed under corporate demand with no remorse. But, to Sonic '06's credit, regardless of your opinion on it, it at least showed a lot of gameplay potential and had some memorable aspects (i.e. the soundtrack). Even some criticized characters, like Silver and Mephiles, became fan favorites. Not to mention being unofficially remade with improved gameplay that led to a more positive reception. Granted, Sega would release a patch that would fix some of Rise of Lyric's glitches, including the infamous "Knuckles climb" that would break the game length in half, but the damage was already done.
The main difference between these infamous games was how they performed commercially. While Sonic '06 sold strongly upon its release, both Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal ended up selling a combined total of 620,000 copies, as of March 31, 2015. These results ended up as a commercial failure and one of the lowest-selling games in the franchise's history. Did I forget to mention that the poor sales of Rise of Lyric also lead to Big Red Button Entertainment shutting down afterward?
Sonic Boom (2014-2017)
Now, you're probably wondering: What about the Sonic Boom television series that Sega tried desperately hard to promote during both games' development? Well, in an ironic impact similar to Sonic '06, everyone was shocked yet effective in how the show turned out.
The series centered around Sonic and his friends defending their village on Seaside Island against Dr. Eggman in the most action-packed yet comedic manner possible. Despite being a "continuation" after the games, the show acts as a self-contained Saturday morning cartoon with a mix of action and comedy. Yes, the main characters from the existing games make appearances, but specific characters like Lyric are nowhere seen nor mentioned. In terms of other familiar Sonic characters, Shadow and Metal Sonic made fewer appearances in the series, especially with the former due to company mandates of handling a "serious character" in a comedic-driven series. Surprisingly, Orbot and Cubot also made appearances as Eggman's typical comic-relief henchmen where their designs and personalities remain identical to the main series. The only recurring Sonic character that exclusively appears in the show was Vector the Crocodile, where he maintains his detective status, but was given an arm tattoo and a leather jacket to differentiate himself from his game counterpart. Of course, the show had its own library of original recurring characters to the Sonic Boom universe, like Dave the secretly evil fast-food intern and late-night talk show host Comedy Chimp.
In addition to having the voice actors reprise their roles as their respective characters, certains episodes have been written by either veteran animated show, comic, or special guest writers. These writers include Dave Polsky, Adam Beechen, Douglas Tuber & Tim Maile, and Reid Harrison. Did you know Dan Malino, a.k.a. Tina Bletcher from Bob's Burgers, once wrote an episode for the show? They also brought on board Napoleon Dynamite producer Chris "Doc" Wyatt, Cindy Robinson, The Simpsons writer Bill Freiberger, and Sonic comic writer Ian Flynn as writers.
When the series premiered on Cartoon Network on November 8, it turned out to be a solid hit. Critics, audiences, and fans found it the "best Sonic show in years" with its self-aware comedy, decent computer animation, charismatic voice acting, and a healthy dose of action and fun that remained faithful to the franchise. It was the highest-rated Sonic show in history with its first season mostly earning over 1 million viewers per episode. Because of its success, Cartoon Network and Sega decided to renew the show for a second season, but would only air it on Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang.
The second season retained the elements of what people commended, except they hired the aforementioned writers and guest characters, along with a narrative involving an alternative dimension in selective episodes. However, unlike the first season, the ratings weren't as strong as before, making less than a million viewers. Because of that, it was decided there were no plans for a third season as Sonic Boom ended its run with a total of 104 episodes. In terms of accolades, the show received a couple of nominations from the Universal Film Festival, the TV France International Export Awards, and even a Teen Choice Award, with its only win from the Chico Independent Film Festival under the "Best Animation" category. Over time, the show was available to watch on Hulu and Netflix to eventually on home media with DVD and Blu-Ray releases.
With the television show being a success, Sega believed that making another Sonic Boom game would help restore some dignity to their franchise. Since Big Red Button Entertainment was no longer invalid, Sega would put its trust in Sanzaru Games on another 3DS entry. This was the moment when they listened to feedback and had time for a second chance with Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (2016)
When Dr. Eggman builds a new robot capable of obtaining a rare element to power up his robot army, Sonic and his friends must use their newfound fire-ice-switching abilities to stop him.
Development for a third entry began on June 2015 when Sega producer Omar Woodley stated that both Sega and Sanzaru Games have been carefully listening to the poor yet slightly better critical reception of Shattered Crystal. They soon realized that, despite the game being targeted at younger children, they noticed that longtime Sonic fans had a difficult time completing the drawn-out, exploration-based levels. Knowing that the show was earning more positively and understanding how people enjoyed the enhanced ports of the Genesis titles, there were a lot of improvements to be made.
One noticeable improvement is the presentation. While Pure Imagination Studios returned for the cinematic cutscenes, the game engine was given an extra polish with the character models being more expressive and animated, and the dialogue is fully voiced as the cutscenes.
Compared to how Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal claimed to be "prequels" to the television show yet barely connect with one another, the writing in Fire & Ice remains closer to the show, thanks to its lighthearted tone and cognizant humor. Unexpectedly, Bill Freigerger confirmed that the game's story takes place during season two where the episode "Return to Beyond the Valley of the Cubots" ties into the game's events with the new robot character D-Fekt making an appearance. Coincidentally, the game's writers Ken Pontac & Warren Graff, who have been in charge of the English localization since Sonic Colors, also wrote the same episode.
Like before, Fire & Ice is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer where you switch between characters while exploring and reaching the goal at the end of each stage. You would gradually unlock the other characters as you progress, including Amy, making the only game in the series where you play as all five main characters. Most of the characters' abilities and gameplay mechanics have also returned but with some additional tweaks. With Amy, she could use her hammer to create shockwaves and would lower pillars blocking pathways. Knuckles and Sticks have also gained new powers where they would respectively burrow or Boomerang in circles to cause explosions that would destroy everything within the area.
One of the criticisms that Shattered Crystal received was that the side-scrolling, exploration levels took too long to complete. So, the stages were designed to be 40% shorter including a more linear path where it was not only influenced by the Genesis games but also helped suited veteran players that prefer the sense of speed. As a 3DS game, the levels were given the emphasis of depth where players could jump planes between the foreground and background. Additionally, each level contains a hidden section called a Challenge Room where players must complete an obstacle course and earn a Collectible at the end. Think of it like a hidden area in a Mario side-scroller.
Of course, the main attraction of the game is the titular fire and ice powers that Sonic and his friends possess and switch simultaneously. When on fire, they could melt frozen blocks and open pathways. Conversely, they can freeze water blocks to create platforms. Sometimes, the main and side levels pull up challenges that require their timing and reflexes on these abilities while maintaining their speed.
A variety of collectibles have been used for different methods. Besides rings, players would find Raginum from defeated enemies or completing certain objectives in levels. These fragments then can be used as currency for character upgrades (i.e. drawing rings or sprinting through enemies) or racing robots known as Bot Racers. Trading Card pieces can also be found where they can be assembled at Tails' workshop to unlock extra racing tracks, Hammer Parts that can cosmetically change Amy's hammer, and Dragon Rings which players would earn an reward from collecting all ten under a time limit
While there was some racing involved in the previous game, Bot Racing is an essential mini-game added to this entry. In its single-player campaign mode, Eggman would kidnap Sonic from specific maps on the world map screen. He will then take Sonic to a stadium where he must beat Eggman's EggBot Racers by completing three laps around a series of race tracks. Each track contains elements and obstacles that would rely on fire and ice powers.
In two-player mode, players would use one of the unlocked Bot Racers to compete against another. Though they share the same moveset, they have different stats that would affect their gameplay.
Reception & Legacy
Initially, the game was scheduled to be released in late Fall 2015 but was delayed to have more development time and coincide with the franchise's twentieth-fifth anniversary. In addition, Sega released a special edition of the game, including a DVD containing three episodes from the show.
When Sonic and his friends blazed and chilled on over to stores on September 27 in North America, three days later in Europe, and one month later in Japan, it delivered what it was promised: a huge improvement over the previous two entries. Yet, it was still an average game, at best. Reviewers enjoyed the refocus on speed-based platforming and well-constructed level design, but criticized the too-easy difficulty, the by-the-numbers story, the forgettable soundtrack, and the generic art direction. Overall, it was, on a technical level, the best game in the Sonic Boom franchise, with children most likely having a decent time and longtime fans considering it a harmless distraction.
Unfortunately, sales for the third entry did not live up to what both companies expected. It was as much of a commercial flop as its predecessors by selling a worldwide total of 25,000 copies.
Besides the games and the television series, they tried to expand the franchise with a series of children's books under the French publishing company Hachette, its characters were featured in the Sonic Dash app game, and a comic adaptation series written by Ian Flynn and Bill Freiberger.
Despite getting a mixed reception from critics and being part of an alternate universe, Sticks the Badger would occasionally appear as a playable character in peripheral Sonic games, like Sonic Runners and Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
What began as an ambitious standalone project from one outsider developer concluded as a confusing and mismanaged franchise. Rise of Lyric had a lot of promise of a different interpretation by well-experienced game programmers in the action-adventure genre and Shattered Crystal was simply created under demand for a handheld port. However, constant creative clashes between Sega and mostly Big Red Button Entertainment caused a lot of production issues on a new video game console that didn't render properly and trying to be connected to an upcoming television series. Nobody won in the end as both games resulted in both critical and commercial failures, along with crushing Big Red Button Entertainment's future. Of the two developers, Sanzaru Games was the closest to showing potential and understanding the fundamentals of Sonic. They understood the backlash from Shattered Crystal and took extra time to make a third entry by removing its flaws and adding polish. Yes, that game flopped as well but showed there was an effort to make the "best" of the trilogy. If there was anything uplifting about the franchise was its television show. It managed to entertain families and fans with its self-aware comedy and fun action for two seasons, thanks to the talented writers and actors. In fact, fans would pretend that Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal never existed and prefer the show instead.
Not only the Sonic Boom franchise was ending, but so was the Wii U itself. Reportedly, the Wii U had its share of commercially successful games like New Super Mario Bros. U, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, and Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U. But, keep in mind: I said the "games." Because of its weak launch titles, poor marketing, and limited third-party support, the Wii U hardware sold a disappointing total of 13.56 million units. In layman's terms, Sega and Nintendo's exclusive partnership for the Wii U did not go as well as planned, which was also a shame for the franchise. With the exception of Super Smash Bros. and the Sonic Boom show, the following games were merely mixed bags of experiments that didn't reach the high levels of quality like Colors and Generations achieved. If there was anything to learn from this article, always focus on the quality more than the quantity of one console.
As Sonic's twentieth-fifth anniversary soon launched in 2016, the year started out as dormant. The Sonic Boom show was still airing, and Sonic made a surprise appearance in the Lego Dimensions video game. Fans were starting to worry about the Blue Blur's future after the disappointing series of games they received. That is, until a live summer fan event where Sega announced two upcoming projects showing that there is still hope for Sonic. One is a new 3D mainline Sonic title under the name "Project Sonic 2017" and the other is a return to familiar and pixelated territory for Sonic fans...by Sonic fans. It was a hype-inducing moment in Sonic history. The results afterward...may vary depending on which game you talk about.