While the Sonic Boom cartoon fared well a week ago, a lot of skepticism still surrounded its game counterparts. Rest assured, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is nowhere near as bad as the internet buzz would have you believe (given that the overwhelming majority of these comment critics have yet to even play it), and while it’s definitely nowhere near a must-buy, there are a few audiences that just might love it.Rise of Lyric is centered around the story of, well, the rise of Lyric. He’s a snake-cyborg who wants to wipe out all organic organisms on the planet, and it’s up to newly-scarfed Sonic and his band of sports tape-tangled friends to collect magic crystals that hold the power to stop him. So, basically, if you swap out Lyric with Eggman and crystals with chaos emeralds, we have a typical Sonic plot. Eggman himself does have an actual role in the story, but it’s similar to that of his in Unleashed — short and back-seated. Even shorter roles are had by Metal Sonic and Shadow, who appear extremely briefly as both functional plot devices and as assumed fan service.
Gameplay-wise, Rise of Lyric is a very mixed bag. Sonic and co. are as slow as can be for the majority of playtime, which is centered around puzzle-platforming and battling robots. The puzzle-platforming hearkens back to classics of the genre such as Jak and Daxter, which was fittingly made by the same developers so it’s no wonder they share such similarities. And that slower, more methodical blend of scaffold-hopping with switch-activating and gate-moving is a classic type of gameplay that we haven’t really seen a lot of since the PS2 days, which means it’ll be fun for younger gamers and fans wanting a nostalgia tickle from days of platforming past. Another great aspect of the platforming is that there’s always two or more paths, as you are generally given a choice between one of two characters at all times. Each character has their own way of getting from point A to B, whether it be via Sonic’s spin-dash pads, Amy’s tightrope running, Knuckles’ rock climbing or Tails’ hovering. Good variety for co-op players, especially.
Combat is, well, a less refined version of the werehog stages from Sonic Unleashed (if that makes this an instant no-go for you, that’s understandable). Combat is clunky button mashing fare with a few poorly implemented combo mechanics thrown in. The game features a weird energy beam that can grapple enemies, but this is only used to hurl enemies at generic obstacles rather than as a fun tool to enhance the combat. Worse, the combat makes up the majority of the action, being about two-fifths of the game (the other two fifth being platforming and the last fifth being “speed” sections, to be discussed momentarily). It’s not horrible, but it’s definitely not satisfying and I think the developers would’ve actually been better off had they just copy-pasted the werehog’s physics and combat mechanics into these sections.
The speed sections are the briefest chunk of gameplay, and considering how shallow they are that might be for the better. If you’ve played Sonic Dash, that’s essentially what these sections are; a console version of “slide left, slide right, jump, repeat”. Now, there are a few cool things, like Sonic’s really cool run-on-water segments and the fun energy-beam roller coaster chunks, but the majority of the speed sections are either completely automated or just underwhelming in execution.
Fair warning in regards to the gameplay: it can be extremely frustrating at times, as games that borrow heavily from old-school styles tend to be. Even if you think you can manage some moments of absurdly difficult clunky combat and platforming, there are a few segments that you couldn’t possibly be prepared for, such as fleeting moments when you’re put in a special situation like piloting a rotating donut boat. I’ll be the first to say that these missions are both unnecessary and so stressful that they can sour your opinion of the game as a whole (meaning that if you have younger kids playing, expect to help them out with these extremely short bits).
Now, the technical aspects of Rise of Lyric need addressing. The game is not visually impressive whatsoever, and there are framerate issues from time to time (and at the weirdest times too, like in really slow segments of the game rather than during frantic moments). But, with that said, it’s not a bad looking game, and far from the eyesore some would make it out to be. The textures might be a little under-cooked and the character gloss effects are downright unsettling at times (makes Sonic look like he’s made of glass), but it’s a colorful game with some scenic locales that will appeal to its target demographic, kids. The only visual effect that is truly pathetic is Sonic’s water-treading wake texture, which is the most poorly done water animation on the Wii U. As far as bugs and glitches go, I’ve encountered a few minor ones, such as an enemy spawning outside of its proper area and a camera with fixed angles that screw over the player.
In terms of length, the story mode is hefty by itself, which is good as that’s all you’re really getting with Rise of Lyric. There is a weak party-mode included in the game, but it’s so underdeveloped that you wouldn’t miss a thing if you skipped it all together. The story mode has little to no replay value, however, so if you choose to skip party mode and have gone through the story once, you’ve essentially done it all.
One last thing I’d like to note before I give the final verdict is that the writing is fantastic. Sonic games have been pretty poor in terms of story-telling as of late, but Rise of Lyric features some of the funniest Saturday morning cartoon dialogue that’s so stupidly chuckle inducing that you’d assume it was pulled right from the actual Saturday morning cartoon, Sonic Boom! And the voice acting itself is surprisingly strong as well. Mike Pollock kills it as Eggman, as does Roger Craig Smith as Sonic. The newbie that impressed me, however, was Travis Willingham as Knuckles, who gave the big bruiser a surprisingly fitting dude-bro personality. Of course, the writing is not without its flaws. Some dialogue is painful (at one point Amy might say “nice kill Sonic” when he blows up a robot. A.) robots can not be killed as they are not alive, and B.) “kill”? Like, it’s one thing for Lyric to say that as a villain but Amy??) and Tails has an obnoxiously overly-nerdy persona in the Boom universe, it seems.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is a game that I can recommend to three types of people. I can recommend it to fans of classic platformers such as Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank and even Sly Cooper, to some degree. And of course I can recommend it to children below the age of 12, especially if they have a friend to play through it cooperatively with. But the surprising recommendation I have is for the literal handful of people who liked Sonic ’06. This is almost like a version of ’06 where everything was improved technically speaking, but the core gameplay experience was the same, such as multiple characters to play as and an emphasis on quirky platforming and combat.
For those of you who aren’t fans of the blue blur, this game definitely won’t change your mind. For those with reserved expectations and a taste for traditional 3D platforming, Rise of Lyric might be up your alley… after a small price drop.