Sonic Boom is something many people know. No, not the catchy opening song from Sonic CD, the OTHER Sonic Boom. Anyway, Sonic Boom launched in 2014 across many different sectors of Media. Ranging from a popular light-hearted TV show with some solid humor too one of the most infamous games in Sonic’s history; Sonic Boom represents a lot for Sonic.
Today I will be talking about the different pillars of this sector of the Sonic series and I hope you enjoy this piece. Originally, I was just going to publish a review for Shattered Crystal for the 3DS & a review of Season One for the cartoon. Both will still happen but I figured this article would be a nice refresher to people unaware of the history surrounding this sector of Sonic.
Origins of the Boom
Sonic is known for rolling around for 25 years of gaming but he was quite the star. Having roles in a number of television shows across the early 90’s and early 2000’s, the Blue Blur made a name for himself on TV. He used some crazy comedy with his performance in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and tried to be a bit more serious in Sonic the Hedgehog (SATam). Sonic also tried being a musical star with kids through Sonic Underground and invited his friends to visit our world in Sonic X.
But after Sonic X, the Blue Blur stopped being a TV star and focused on gaming. SEGA of America saw this and wanted Sonic back on the silver screen. With the blessing of SEGA of Japan & Sonic Team, SEGA of America was green-lit access to produce it’s own version of Sonic.
This project would not only be inside the realm of Television though; it was going to be SEGA of America’s Sonic. Sonic Boom was built upon four pillars; a Comic Book produced by Archie Comics (famous for their historically and current run of the Sonic Comic, a TV show produced by OuiDo! Productions, toys based on this interpretation of Sonic……and video games.
In a strange move, SEGA of America wanted to produce it’s own Sonic titles outside of localizing the ones SEGA of Japan & Sonic Team released.
The Big Red Button
Big Red Button was formed sometime in 2009, founded by Bob Rafei and Daniel Arey. Bob Rafei was a former artist at Naughty Dog, working with the studio for decades and having a hand at making iconic characters like Jak, Crash Bandicoot and Daxter. The man even worked hard on the art and production of Uncharted: Drakes Fortune before officially leaving Naughty Dog.
They tried hard to pitch projects to publishers and they got some success in this regard.
One concept, a third-person action game titled Ten Minute Man, caught the eye of the now defunct Jerry Bruckheimer Games — the titular film director’s game studio, founded in 2007 in partnership with MTV Games. Big Red Button would have developed the title, which was renamed Project Phoenix after Jerry Bruckheimer Games got involved, providing funding and overseeing the game, with Viacom acting as the publisher.
For Big Red Button, a victim of circumstance, it was back to looking for a project. THQ approached the team to work on Deep Six, an underwater shooter taking place on a flooded Earth after humans lost a war with water-based aliens, with promises that the game would be a big property for the publisher. Rafei says that THQ gave Big Red Button funding to quickly prototype an idea for the game, saying that “E3 is going to be all about this game.”
They were able to pitch concepts to major publishers and got some work for the studio, but both Ten Minute Man and Deep Six never got released or finished. However, they did get a project off the ground; SEGA of America were impressed with the concepts and work presented to them. This started a relationship between SEGA of America & BigRedButton, leading to the concept of Sonic Boom to be born.
This title would bring the studio back to familiar grounding; it was a 3D Platformer. Sonic is famous for being a platforming star and BigRedButton went wild with concepts for the project. Having four players on the screen at once, being able to swap between them in real time for exploration, big hubs and levels to explore, a naturalistic presentation style of the games world that matched titles like Jak & Daxter and Crash Bandicoot; the game held much promise.
Visually, it impressed SEGA and many others when the game was early in development with no console planed.
The game was going to be developed for ‘next-generation’ platforms and had a release date set for Fall 2014….but some speed bumps came in the way. In 2013, SEGA made a deal with Nintendo for three exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog titles. They were confirmed to be Sonic Lost World & Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games 2014. But that is two games, when three were part of the deal. With SEGA of Japan prototyping for the Xbox One and PS4 with Sonic Team, they told SEGA of America that BigRedButton’s Sonic project was supposed to release on the Wii U only.
This took the team by complete surprise and they had to re-work a large amount of the game to play on the Wii U platform….and development for the team was rough.
He began losing sleep a year out from the game’s release, he says. Despite the team getting a better idea of what it wanted Rise of Lyric to be late into development, Big Red Button had to get the game out. According to Rafei, it was the developer’s “mission” to ship the game on time.
Around this time, as staffing contracts ran out they weren’t renewed when the game entered alpha. Rafei says that at the time, the developer was too busy trying to ship the game to plan another project, so Big Red Button let go 50 people, bringing the team down to a core group of around 16 or 17.
“A lot of good decisions are made with great intentions,” Rafei says. “And at some point, you’re going to have to make some tough choices.”
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was officially announced early 2014 for the Wii U using the following trailer.
This was not running on the Wii U, but on developmental PC’s. But visuals was not the games only issue; design issues like the repetitive combat mechanics, performance issues and the game not ‘feeling’ like a traditional Sonic game soured a number of gamers on the title.
But the game did a few things that should be noted. One being a collection of breathtaking concept art. Bob Rafei and many people on the team were artists, and came up with many different takes on Sonic and his world.
Some of the character designs took Sonic Team by surprise when the game was in development but the final ones were not only made by BigRedButton but also the basis for Sonic and his friends look in all Sonic Boom media.
The ambition of the game is also worth noting, as the core gameplay is a exploration-focused 3D platformer. Not many of these are around this generation, so seeing Sonic tackle this style of platformer is a refreshing change from his high-speed 3D platforming. But this heavily contrasts with the core design mentality behind Sonic. ‘Sonic is anti-Nintendo’, that statement applies here. The gameplay in Sonic Boom? You see in games like Mario 64 or Banjo (in terms of the core platforming). But that is not Sonic. Sonic is fast and he does move fast here…..but in limited three-lane auto-run sections that have very poor control thanks to an unstable frame rate.
One thing that this game does right is the character interactions and the animations. Sonic and friends feel quite natural here, with everyone’s voice fitting the characters and the squash-and-stretch really invoking memories of Jak & Daxter and Crash Bandicoot for me.
But we cannot ignore the sour reception Rise of Lyric received when it released; it was critically panned and ranks lower on Metacritic than the infamous Sonic 06 and Shadow the Hedgehog. Despite this titles bright points, many issues that faced BigRedButton during development alongside key design issues prevented the title from reaching its full potential.
After the release of Rise of Lyric, BigRedButton become a smaller studio and is currently pitching prototypes for future projects.
“We went into survival mode [after Rise of Lyric],” he says. “And we found a lot of great opportunities and a lot of great partners that needed help on their projects.”
Dipping its toes into virtual reality, Big Red Button assisted on development of Wevr’s John Wick VR Experience, allowing users to explore the Continental Hotel from the 2014 film.
They will still be around and have a future. But what about the Sonic brand and Boom?
Sanzaru Games enters the Picture
BigRedButton wasn’t the only studio making Sonic Boom games, so was Sanzaru Games. This studio is known for their work on the Sly Cooper series, making a remastered collection of the first three games by Sucker Punch on the PS3 (later Vita) and producing an original Sly game with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the PS3 & Vita.
They also had work on other projects like The God of War Collection on Vita in Early 2014. But the studio was signed on by SEGA of America to produce a Sonic title for the Nintendo 3DS. Work on Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal began production, with Sanzaru working closely with the TV staff making the cartoon.
In an interview with SegaBits, Sanzaru games talked about the collaboration between them and Big Red Button. Sanzaru claim that they have virtually no collaboration with ROL, that most of their work was done with OuiDo (creators of the TV Show).
There’s two huge connections right off the bat.
- Sticks is fully established, uses her weapon a lot.
- Locations from the show appear in the game.
- The cartoon’s action sequences incorporate speed into the combat instead of show sluggish combat.
Sanzaru Games set out to make a traditional Sonic title, focusing on speed far more than Rise of Lyric does all the while having exploration being a key pillar to the gameplay. From my own experience with the game, it feels like a blend of Tails’ Adventure and Sonic Rush. The former from its focus on exploration-heavy platforming and the later for the high speed some sections of the game provides.
What makes Shattered Crystal such an interesting beast is that despite being different from the mainline series of Sonic games, it’s heart is far closer to the ‘spirit’ of Sonic compared to Rise of Lyric. Sonic moves fast of course, but the tone is constant across the game, the visuals are bright and colorful (it looks like a Sonic game) and the sound is from a famous composer known for his work on Sonic.
It is not a big surprise that when Shattered Crystal released alongside Rise of Lyric, it got the better reception (not by much sadly). People were torn on the game as while it was much closer to the traditional Sonic experience, the game forced the exploration with backtracking that artificially extended the games length when it could have just focused on offering a fast, fun Sonic adventure.
I played Shattered Crystal and personally, I thought it was a solid game. Not the best Sonic game ever made but much better than the reception the final product got I feel. Many of Shattered Crystal’s issues were noted by both SEGA and Sanzaru Games, with that being a major focus during the development of Fire & Ice.
This title was announced Early 2015 and many were confused by the games announcement…..but the cartoon was successful, giving the Boom brand a reasoning to be used again. Fire & Ice promised to fix the mistakes of past games and after a lengthy developmental period, the title released recently as of this writing.
It has a solid Metacritic rating and many avid gamers in the Sonic Community enjoyed their time with the title. Sanzaru Games will be remembered just like Travelers Tales; a western studio doing solid work with the Sonic IP.
Sonic Boom – The TV Show & Comic
The Sonic Boom Cartoon is the very first project that started in the history of Sonic Boom. Produced by OuiDo! Productions who is known for high quality Television CGI animation, was picked by SEGA to produce the TV Show. Writers on the project held a lot of promise with many of the staff coming from quality shows like The Simpsons.
Sonic Boom was green-lit for a single season’s worth of episodes (52 short 14-minute episodes) and production was going a long nicely. With the announcement of the Boom games, the first glimpse at the TV show was also shared with the public.
It showed Sonic fighting Eggman with Tails’ coming in to help out. I was honestly impressed when watching this trailer. Sonic is in-character from the games at this point (mirroring his Sonic Colors-persona) and Eggman was a treat to watch. Visually the GCI instantly impressed me. I was thinking ‘This looks like the games’ as I kept watching. Of course, corners were cut as this is a TV production and not a high-budget game but it looked very nice and had the speed I expect from Sonic.
We got more information about Boom as time went on and the show finally released Fall 2014. Out of all the Boom projects, the Show got the least amount of critical panning. Many enjoyed the lighthearted humor this show offered and the writing in later episodes was quite sharp.
Sonic Boom despite being placed in a weak time-slot (6AM EST) when it originally aired, got a lot of views and it was a top-rated show for Cartoon Network in North America. This alongside toy sales and continued high views pushed for another season to get commissioned. The first season closed out with two episodes focusing on Metal Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog. Both were funny episodes and made good use of each respective character.
Season Two got a new trailer after the Sonic 25th Anniversary party and it shows potential for the show to get even better.
The release of Sanzaru Game’s Fire & Ice also showed concept art for what we might see in Season Two as well, so we can get an idea about the future of Sonic Boom. But lets not forget, Sonic Boom also got a limited run series by Archie Comics!
This comic focuses on meta humor and just being all-around funny with Sonic & friends. Some of the writing here is some of the best in the Sonic comics and it shows a respect for the games while honoring the silly side of the TV show.
It also shows how the new designs can offer very expressive faces and exaggerated motion, giving them a different character to a degree from mainline Sonic games. While the comic series ended after low sales, they continue in little mini-stories inside the mainline Sonic issues so it will continue to go on. Plus the Boom character Sticks had a big role in the World’s Unite Arch of the Sonic Comic & Mega Man Comic series too, showing the importance of the Boom brand to Archie. Overall, the Comics and TV show are high quality productions that exceeded fan expectation.
The future looks quite bright for Sonic in general but Boom continues to be a surprise for me. I came into the TV show and games with mixed expectations but I was surprised. The TV Show is honestly one of my favorite Sonic cartoon’s next to SATam and the 3DS games are fun adventures. Sonic Boom can be a successful side-series to Sonic that complements the mainline games and with the path SEGA set forth with Fire & Ice and Season Two of the TV Show, I can see a good future for the Boom Brand.
Polygon, Sonic Stadium: What Happened Parts 1 & 2, Sonic Retro, The Real Sonic Fan, Nintendo World Report, SplitPlaythru‘s Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Playthrough, Sonic Boom Funny Moments Video, Hero of Legend’s Sonic Boom Fire & Ice Review for Sonic Stadium, VizardJeffHog’s Review of Fire & Ice on Gamnesia, SonicPage, Blazzer Sora, Metacritic