Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for Wii U is the latest game in the Sonic franchise from Sega. It was released simultaneously with Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for Nintendo 3DS. In the game, Sonic and his friends Tails, Knuckles, and Amy must battle robots and collect crystals in order to stop the evil Lyric. Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal are both prequels to the new “Sonic Boom” TV show, which premiered on Cartoon Network on November 8th.
Rise of Lyric fails in many respects and succeeds in almost none. I would not recommend this game to anyone, except perhaps the most die-hard of Sonic fans. Even they will have a very hard time enjoying themselves.
Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, and Amy are fighting with their arch-nemesis Dr. “Eggman” Robotnik when they stumble across a strange temple. The door to the temple is covered in paintings of Sonic and Tails, so they naturally decide to investigate. Once inside, the team accidentally releases the evil Lyric, a part-snake, part-robot scientist who has been imprisoned for a thousand years. Lyric hates organic life; he considers robots to be far superior. So he plans on using his army of robots to collect eight mystical crystals and then use them to wipe out all organic life on the planet. Sonic and his friends must rush to collect all of the crystals before Lyric can succeed. Nature vs. technology is a major theme here, as it has been for most of the Sonic games going all the way back to the original in 1991.
Ancient technology is my jam. I love giant robots and secret prophecies. Most of the settings in this game were really cool, in that respect. However, none of the history behind these artifacts was fleshed out in an interesting way. I didn’t get to interact with nearly as much of the scenery as I would have liked (especially frustrating was the ancient airplane, which was teased several times but then only piloted in cut scenes), and the technology I did interact with was exasperating and glitchy.
There is a brief time-travel subplot to explain how the Sonic and Tails paintings wound up on the doors of Lyric’s prison. However, it felt pointless and didn’t tie in with any of the rest of the game. A GLADoS-esque robot named MAIA showed promise as an interesting character, but then vanished after one short mission and never returned.
That said, the story was fine. The characters were fine. Occasionally, they were even pretty funny. The four main characters speak almost nonstop throughout the game, giving advice and offering congratulations on a job well done. This was only ever a problem when the dialogue came delayed, which happened pretty frequently. Amy would yell “We need to open that door!” several seconds after I had already unlocked it and walked through. “Look out!” was another frustrating call that meant nothing because by the time I heard it, the fight would be over.
If you’re in it for the story, you may as well watch just the TV show, which has better writing and better animation.
Rise of Lyric’s countless problems did not make themselves apparent right away. But almost as if the developers were hoping that their audience wouldn’t make it all the way to the end, the game’s issues became more and more pronounced the longer I played.
First, the good: Rise of Lyric is populated with several kinds of gameplay. There’s open-world exploration, speedy racetracks and zip lines, 2D obstacle courses, robot battles, and even an underwater adventure. What’s more, the player has the ability to switch among any of the four main characters at will. Each character has special abilities not shared by the others, and many of the mission areas have multiple paths that are traversable only as a specific character. This aspect of the game has a lot of really cool potential, especially for multiplayer gaming.
However, the only multiplayer mode is a series of short minigames accessible from the main menu. And they are as frustrating and glitchy as the central game.
Rise of Lyric’s story mode is laid out with an overworld design that is somewhat similar to games like The Legend of Zelda. For the first half of the game, the central area is a large excavation site. For the second half, it’s a town on an island. From these main locations you travel to smaller areas and look for each area’s crystal. Occasionally you run into non-playable characters who have optional side quests.
I spent most of Rise of Lyric wandering around, trying to figure out where to go next. By the time I did eventually get a map, it was poorly labeled and difficult to interact with. I would be given an objective like “Activate the crystal door in Coral Bay,” without any instructions as to where to find Coral Bay or how to activate a crystal door.
Another strange thing about these settings was the fact that they felt completely devoid of life. When I did find characters I could talk to, they often referred to other people who weren’t there. The mayor of the town spoke at length about his voters, but the huge town was empty. It was disorienting and a little spooky.
Where these central settings were light on people, they were incredibly heavy on rings. There were rings everywhere, rings in wells and rings on roofs and rings in sneaky obstacle courses. It was fun to collect them—until I realized that my ring meter had maxed out at 100, and there were literally thousands of rings to collect. In addition to getting you bonus points, Sonic rings are traditionally supposed to work like a life meter: when you’re attacked, you lose rings. However, death means almost nothing in this game, because as soon as you run out of rings, you just reappear exactly as you were, now with 20 rings instead of none. You do have to give up a few robot pieces, but those are pretty useless anyway. You use them to buy upgrades, but the upgrades had no impact on my game experience.
There were a few times when running out of rings forced me to watch the same cut scenes over and over, which was incredibly frustrating (not to mention inconsistent). But at these rare times when I really needed more rings, rings were hard to come by.
Aside from a couple of interesting boss battles, the fights were frequent and tedious. There were only a few kinds of bad guys to battle, and winning involved almost no strategy. Even switching between the various characters to try out their personalized weapons did not make fights much more interesting. There was no indication of when I was doing damage to a bad guy, so I would just keep whacking away and hope that something was happening. Plus, at least one boss battle had a glitch so bad that I was forced to watch the same cut scene about eight times, since before I could even begin to run or fight, he would kill me and send me back in time. I was trapped.
These glitches pervaded the game. They were everywhere. Sometimes they were silly, other times they made me feel nauseated, or as if I was trapped behind a car going 15 miles per hour in a 40 zone.
Sonic’s defining characteristic is his super speed, and there’s a reason I haven’t mentioned it thus far. The fastness of the game is delegated to a few racetrack-style roads and electric zip lines, which constitute about a quarter of your gameplay. But running on these roads and flying along these zip lines was not the fun time that I wanted it to be. This was one part of the game that had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, little of that potential was ever realized. As I ran, the game loaded poorly, creating jerky camera movements and making it very difficult to control Sonic. I didn’t feel like a smooth speed demon; I felt like a train careening out of control. Dodging obstacles at high speed is fun when your avatar reacts to your lightest touch. Sonic does not. There were a few scenes when I was allowed to run across water, and these times were easily the most satisfying in the whole game. However, there was often nothing to do once I got running. So the novelty wore off fast.
But I still haven’t mentioned the worst glitch of them all. While wandering around, lost and confused, I decided to go back and visit an area of the game I’d already completed to see if there were any clues as to my next move. I figured that even if there weren’t, there would definitely be some treasure chests I hadn’t opened. I could just go explore for a while and then pop back to the main area.
But when I arrived, the game had somehow forgotten that I had ever been there. I was forced to replay the entire hour-long mission. Replay the cut scenes. Replay the boss battle. All of it. I could not go back the way I had come. I was livid.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is rated E10+ for cartoon violence. This violence is pretty mild. Almost every battle is fought against a single robot or a group of robots. Robots will sometimes shoot lasers or other futuristic weapons at Sonic and his pals. The game has no blood, gore, swearing, or sexual content.
There are some positive aspects of Rise of Lyric. For instance, the backdrop of the game has an interesting visual design, and I appreciate that the four main characters are very supportive of one another.
Overall, however, Rise of Lyric feels unfinished. It’s glitchy, it’s confusing, and it lacks cohesion in a major way. But even if the developers had another three months to fix the nauseating camera swivels and characters who walk through walls, I’m not convinced that the finished game would be any good. There are too many fundamental issues. The game didn’t make me care about what I was doing. I didn’t feel any motivation to level up, or any satisfaction with a completed mission. What I felt was extreme frustration, almost nonstop from beginning to end.
[Edit: Turns out there is a multiplayer mode for the main campaign, but there were no references to it anywhere on the box or in the game’s menus. I tried turning on a second controller while I was playing, just in case, but nothing happened and so assumed the gameplay mode didn’t exist.]