One thing that was made abundantly clear in my short playthrough of Sonic Boom at E3 was the change in developers and in their focus. Big Red Button have the reins on this Western reboot of the flagging Japanese mascot, as the game accompanies a new TV show and a whole heap of new merchandise. It’s good that Sega recognise a new approach is needed for the franchise, although Big Red wouldn’t say how long they’d been contracted for or working on the title, only mentioning in response that they were founded in 2009.
Most of the gameplay I saw for the Wii U title was slower than you’d expect, with a focus on action adventure rather than speed. Switching between Sonic, Knuckles, Tails and Amy, you explore desert environments and ancient ruins searching for Crystal rings. In some levels, all four characters will be available, in others only a couple will be. Each have access to special abilities, for instance Amy was used more than once to balance on beams and perform acrobatics, while Sonic always has access to his spin dash. Room puzzles include finding the right switch to flip, or using the energy whip to pull objects into place. Secret areas are abundant with collectibles to collect and crates to break. Occasionally, short Crash Bandicoot-style runs into the screen occur as Sonic is chased by an enemy.
Enemies are often encountered in small arenas where you’ll have to punch and kick your way out of danger – Sonic’s homing attack is out, as is simply jumping on enemies to defeat them, although Sonic can ground pound to inflict some damage. Mostly, combat plays out like any other platformer action title, although every character’s energy whip makes things a little unique, as you have to latch onto some enemies and bring them in to defeat them before they reach super powered armor lying around the level.
For fans of going fast, there are ‘running’ levels which follow the more traditional gameplay style from games like Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations. Sonic and his friends (following behind him or alongside him in a somewhat distracting Sonic Heroes style) race down long highways, as the game more or less plays itself as you make minor adjustments in Sonic’s heading or jump at the appropriate moments.
Sonic Boom represents a shift to a new style that recalls a lot of other present-day platformers. For better or worse, Sega’s Sonic games always had a certain style to them, and while this game adds new personality to its characters and the world they inhabit, the gameplay feels a little more generic. How the game as a whole feels will be the true test, as it’s released later this year.