Along with its 3DS counterpart, Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric represents the final phase in a three-part exclusivity arrangement between Sega and Nintendo in regard to Sonic the Hedgehog-branded titles. What began with the mediocre late-2013 double dose of Sonic Lost World and Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games concludes with what is perhaps the worst of the lot. Before even getting into Rise of Lyric’s gameplay, the obvious aesthetic alterations to Sonic and his band of boisterous woodland cohorts—Miles “Tails” Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, and Amy Rose—are downright offensive. Why does each character have their various appendages wrapped up, Scooby-Doo! mummy-style, with athletic tape? What the hell happened to Knuckles’s hands and torso? Why is Sonic sporting such a gaudy red scarf?
These are questions without discernible answers. Even Sonic’s longtime nemesis, Doctor Eggman, who’s apparently been hitting the weights during leisure hours, has shed his signature oval-shaped body, looking very much like a mustachioed Gru from Despicable Me. More concerning, however, is that the undercooked Rise of Lyric does away with just about everything that makes a great Sonic game (a bona-fide rarity these days), favoring tedious, uninspired combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving over exhilarating bursts of speed coupled with well-designed platforming passages.
Rise of Lyric’s half-baked storyline is a very good indicator of the game’s lackluster quality. Sonic’s latest adventure opens with his crew skirmishing with Eggman when, suddenly, Metal Sonic materializes, chasing them into some garden-variety ancient temple in the middle of a forest. Once sealed inside, the lead foursome accidentally awakens the titular villain, an oversized serpent equipped with bulky robotic armor, dead set on destroying all organic life and replacing it with cold steel and spiritless automatons. Of course, in typical Sonic fashion, accomplishing this goal requires the use of several Chaos Crystals. Hence, it’s up to Sonic and gang to acquire said special gemstones before their cyborg-snake adversary does.
Developer Big Red Button is a relative unknown outfit in the industry, but its head honcho is none other than Bob Rafei (previously of Naughty Dog), who contributed to the Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Uncharted franchises. Sega likely had high hopes of recapturing the magic, in essence, of those respected properties, but Rise of Lyric fails to come within sniping distance of Naughty Dog’s past successes. Battle sections are monotonous, ungraceful button-bashing affairs that awkwardly incorporate a grappling hook-like beam weapon that can fling opponents around into generic obstacles. Speedy routes are painfully short, wedged between character-specific segments that leave minimal room for intuition (Knuckles climbs walls, Tails hovers, Amy triple-jumps, etc.)
In a year that the Wii U gifted us with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Mario Kart 8, and Bayonetta 2, games that displayed what the system could do graphically, Rise of Lyric’s graphics are simply unacceptable in 2014. Environments are filled with drab colors, unpolished surface textures, and NPC character models that appear largely unfinished. To boot, players have to deal with a number of glitches that could potentially break their game, as if Rise of Lyric could be broken any more than it already is.
With little to no replay value in its core campaign, a forgettable multiplayer mode, and a script burdened with facepalm-inducing wisecracks that wouldn’t elicit a laugh from the most giddy of grade-schoolers, it’s a huge surprise that Rise of Lyric’s saving grace is its above-average soundtrack. Composer Richard Jacques, a Sonic score veteran, delivers a slew of catchy melodies that could potentially aid in holding the attention of gamers who might have otherwise checked out by the umpteenth round of repetitive clear-every-enemy-to-advance action.
It’s an extraordinarily bad sign when the television show based off a video game is better than the source material itself, but that’s the case here. Even for the most hardcore fans of the famous blue blur, avoiding Rise of Lyric and instead tuning into Cartoon Network on Saturday mornings is the best way to achieve an easily digestible Sonic Boom fix.