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Sonic Boom preview

The blue blur is back in an eye-popping 3D TV spin-off

While the gameplay shown so far doesn't look exactly like any one Sonic game, it conjures up memories of two of the strongest titles from the 'hog's recent past: Sonic Adventure for its diverse ground-burrowing, monkey swinging, tail-propelling, multi-character gameplay and Sonic Heroes for the fact that several characters are on-screen at the same time and must be used together to progress. Quite how you'll switch between them remains to be seen, but the three-character mechanic of Sonic Heroes was one of that game's greatest strengths, resulting in impressive and devastating displays of spiny attacks at a moment's notice. It's probably no coincidence that both those games appeared on GameCube; this is a Nintendo fan's Sonic title and no mistake.

The new game should also fix some of the missteps that multi-character Sonic games have made in the past. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle suffered from trying to make each character the star of its own smaller game, with gameplay quality veering from sublime - Sonic's sprinty bits - to eye-gougingly terrible - we're looking at you Tails' vehicular combat levels (or at least we would if it wasn't for the aforementioned eye-gouging). In Boom, characters bring unique powers to the same world. Sonic is the athletic all-rounder, Knuckles is strong, Tails gets his gadgets and Amy, well... she's really good at hammers. Not all special abilities are born equal.

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If Boom sounds like every mascot-driven action-platformer ever made, it boasts a magic ingredient in the form of Big Red Button. CEO and visual director, Bob Rafai, tells us the studio acquired talent from Naughty Dog, High Impact Games and Heavy Iron Studios, all of which have worked heavily with third-person character action. Rafai himself hails from Naughty Dog, whic h, with Jak & Daxter, Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted under its belt, is arguably the finest purveyor of cartoon mascots outside Nintendo. After years of seeing the 3D platformer dragged through the mud by movie tie-in abuse, it's great to see a sincere effort to do it right.

More than that, it's an effort to show us what Wii U can do, thanks in no small part to its use of CryEngine 3 for its physics and visuals. With Sonic Team's Hedgehog Engine created for the blue blighter (it powered last year's Lost World), why the sudden shift? As Sega of America producer, Stephen Frost, explains, "You associate CryEngine with lush, tropical, beachy things. These are also things with which Sonic is associated, so they work together."

The results speak for themselves. The trailer shows off some stunning visuals, coupling Sonic's instantly familiar, sunflower-studded lawns with a denser, more lush foliage. We've seen neon-lit interiors of factory complexes, sun-kissed beaches, stretches of chequered racetrack (complete with stomach-lurching loops) and bays of glittering water, sprinted across in an impossible feat of supersonic speed straight out of The Incredibles. How free we are to explore this world is yet to be fully shown, though it already looks far more open than the linear platforming gauntlets of Mario's recent efforts.

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Interestingly, it's not the standard version of CryEngine 3 used here, but one that has been enhanced by the team. According to Rafei, the technology's usual spec can't traditionally do split-screen gaming, yet Sonic Boom will feature a twin split-screen display, one on the TV screen and the other on the GamePad. "We worked in close contact with [CryEngine creator] Crytek in Germany," explains Rafei, "and the team there is pretty excited about that as well. In the end, it was simply the right choice for the project."

While the exact use for the split is yet to be shown, we do know it will enable local, two-man co-op throughout the game (not unlike recent LEGO titles). Additionally, the team has confirmed there will be some optional four-player modes accessible from special hub areas. Either way, you'll never be alone, even in single-player. The idea is not just to build that sense of teamwork within the group, but also to get gamers and their families playing together, which is something the Wii U absolutely stands for.

Another feature that's yet to be explained completely revolves around the rays of energy - EnerBeams - that the characters are wielding. One screenshot shows Sonic and Amy apparently working together to tug at some scenery, while the trailer shows the beams being used to traverse rails of energy in the sky, like neon ziplines. There are rumours that these might even tie two characters together, revisiting the tether mechanic of the cancelled Sonic Crackers and Knuckles' Chaotix on 32X. Looking closely at the trailer, there doesn't appear to be evidence of this, but if ever there is a way of ensuring two characters don't stray too far from each other in co-op, it's tying them together with a piece of electric string.

There's one last exciting piece of news in terms of who's making the Wii U game. Big Red Button currently employs a man called Chris Senn as its lead level designer, who was heavily involved in making Sonic X-Treme, the cancelled 3D Saturn game that pre-empted so many of Super Mario Galaxy's ideas. This, then, is Senn's chance to show the world exactly what he didn't get the chance to show it last time round. The stage is set for something very special.

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  1. wizardgamer94 Tuesday 15th Apr 2014 at 14:30

    The first sonic game that I'm genuinely looking forward to in years :D

  2. uPadWatcher Tuesday 15th Apr 2014 at 22:53

    Even for a title powered by CryEngine 3, Sonic Boom hits a homer on the Wii U!

  3. Pyron12 Wednesday 16th Apr 2014 at 08:02

    I really hope this doesn't end up like Sonic Lost World.
    Knowing IGN though... yeah. On a more positive note I really want this game.

  4. Miguel Sanchez Wednesday 16th Apr 2014 at 21:29

    What have you done to your body, Knuckles. What have you done.

  5. Quantum Raven Thursday 24th Apr 2014 at 10:52

    Strangely, these days even he is referring to himself as "Dr Eggman", which destroys the last sliver of hope of him ever regaining his old name. Sigh. "Robotnik" sounded way cooler.


    STOP WHINGING ABOUT THE NAME CHANGE OF DR. ROBOTNIK TO DR. EGGMAN ONM!!!

    This blatant whinging is really winding me up and it needs to STOP IMMEDIATLY AND FOREVER! Whinging about the name change of Dr. Robotnik to Dr. Eggman is as pointless as whinging about the name change of Princess Toadstool to Princess Peach, whinging about the name change of Opal Fruits to Starburst, whinging about the name change of Marathon Bars to Snickers and whinging about the name change of Strike It Lucky to Strike It Rich because THEY ARE ALL THE SAME THING!!!

    And to be honest ONM Dr. Robotnik is an awful/camp name that was unacceptable even in the 90s and for the record and like the "Princess Peach" situation he was never officially called Dr. Robotnik at all.

  6. brace90 Sunday 8th Jun 2014 at 19:40

    "Forget Rouge the Bat, Knack the Weasel and Cream the Rabbit (depressingly, every one of those is a real Sonic character), the roll call here is pure old-school Sonic."

    Uh...Nack IS an oldschool Sonic character. He primarily appeared in Sonic spinoff titles for the Game Gear in the 90s. I mean, does this guy look like a modern Sonic character to you? He hasn't had a non-cameo appearance in the games for years!

    http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20090802065830/sonic/images/thumb/a/af/Knack_4.png/185px-Knack_4.png

    I mean, if you had went with Shadow the Hedgehog, the point you were trying to make would be obvious, but by dropping the misspelled name of a lesser known Sonic character thinking that he wasn't around in the 90s, you make yourself out to be a poseur. Is it even humanly possible for games writers who don't like the Sonic franchise to write a Sonic article without the same old "oldschool Sonic fan" cliches? I mean, it's like running down a checklist.

    [x] Mock new design changes made. Sonic has long legs? Holy crud, you'll be telling me his eyes are green next. Knuckles, a strong character, has a design that actually reflects that aspect of his character as opposed to still being, as some people call him, "Red Sonic"? It's as if someone actually put some thought into it! Therefore, steroid and work out jokes.
    [x] Mock any new character introduced from Sonic Adventure onward. On a related note, I'm sure that specifically singling out two female characters for simply existing, one of which is a sultry looking woman often criticized for the way she dresses and the other being a sweet little girl often criticized for being...a sweet little girl, isn't indicative of any personal bias whatsoever.
    [x] Bring up Werehog as if a blue hedgehog with super speed changing into some werewolf thing is somehow more nonsensical than a blue hedgehog with super speed having crazy adventures with his friend trying to stop an evil egg shaped scientist from taking over the world
    [x] Imply that some human princess having a one sided crush on Sonic and planting a revival kiss on him for a few seconds is the worst possible thing. Because that game being a broken, buggy mess that shouldn't have been sent to retailers ain't all that important compared to being a big baby over fictional cooties. Bonus points if you mix up who did the kissing.
    [x] Claim there's a chance that human-hedgehog romantic angle, werehog, or some other undesirable angle might show up again even in articles for games where pretty much everything else that's more plausible is up in the air at that point. The way you guys go on about WEREHOGS and HUMAN-ANTHROPOMORPHIC TALKING GOOFY ANIMAL ROMANCE years after the fact makes me think you all have some kinda complex you need to see somebody about.
    [x] Complain about the whole Robotnik/Eggman thing as if it's still somehow actually an issue to most people
    [x] Attempt to cultivate an air of an condescending "oldschool Sonic fan" awkwardly shoving their elbow into the reader's side going "Haw, these new Sonic games, amirite? So stupid! Why do they even bother?"

    I mean, if you're trying to clickbait, I guess mission accomplished, but this dance has been going on FOREVER. Make some inflammatory Sonic article, Sonic fans get angry and fire off some shots in response to the shots you fire, everyone ends up varying extents of annoyed over a game series that's mainly aimed at 6-12 year olds, nobody wins. There has to be another way to do this.

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