Sonic Boom has an infamous history, with the original launch of Rise of Lyric completely overshadowing the release of Sanzaru Games Shattered Crystal for the Nintendo 3DS. Instead of a 3D platformer with brawling elements, Sanzaru decided to take the retro route and go back to the 2D Sonic titles of old.
With this design idea, they took the large levels from the Genesis Era Sonic’s but blended it with level design that wouldn’t be out of place in a Metroidvanna title. Focusing on exploration while also staying true to the 2D games Sonic is famous for.
Does Shattered Crystal succeed in providing a polished and fun Sonic experience? Or does it falter with clustered design ideas not being executed well?
The story opens with Amy exploring some ruins and encounters Lyric, with him demanding her to translate the text on them. She refuses and fights back but after being taken off guard, she gets captured. Sonic sees this happening via Amy’s communicator and through the power of team work thanks to his friends Tails, Knuckles and Sticks, they go on a quest to save Amy.
It sounds simple and it is, but what makes it work is how charming the writing can be at points. Shattered Crystal has the spirit of the TV show embedded within its writing and that is clearly shown. While some jokes don’t hit home, a good number of them do and match these new versions of Sonic & friends.
Knuckles being laughably dim witted and Stick’s being a bit of a nut cracked me up a few times. Shadow is also better utilized here compared to the Wii U title, as he has an active role in the story instead of just popping up for no explained reason.
Overall the plot here while not groundbreaking is enjoyable thanks to some charming writing. This is also helped by a very solid presentation, as the characters act out while the dialog pops up on screen (the game is not voice acted outside of Pre-Rendered Cut-Scenes).
Gameplay & Design
Shattered Crystal is structured in an simple way; you move along a map and once you land on a glowing circle you can enter a level, go in Sonic’s house or interact with a character. Your goal for the game is to collect all the Shattered Crystal shards (which look very similar to the Purple Crystals in Crash Bandicoot) while also getting enough emblems to unlock the next stage. That sounds simple, but it opens up one of the biggest issues of Shattered Crystal. We will get to that in a bit though.
Gameplay here is not unlike past Sonic titles, as Sonic and friends all control the same while running super fast. Levels are designed for character abilities not unlike Sonic 3 & Knuckles however, letting you switch between the four playable characters to use different moves. Sonic can use a two-way air dash to break special blue blocks while Sticks can control her boomerang by holding X while moving the Circle Pad. Every character has a special ability that opens up more of the level.
That alongside trademark Sonic elements like grind rails, loop-de-loops, and some well implemented new ideas like the Enerbeam creates some enjoyable Sonic levels to spring through. Having a nice chain of Enerbeam swings (where you press A to swing across platforms and pull off shields), homing attacks and careful jumps is a very nice feeling. But there are two major issues with these level types in the game.
One being that the characters do not spin jump, meaning they cannot kill foes when just simply jumping on them. That is not a issue most of the time, considering you have the homing attack and a special combat move (with the X button) for each character. The issue is that the homing attack has issues when close to foes on the ground, as the icon to use the move doesn’t pop up sometimes when you are very close to a foe. Meaning you can press the jump button twice but instead of the homing attack you just jump in the air again.
Characters have the X button attacks so this isn’t a big problem but one past 2D Sonic games never had. My other issue with the game is forced requirement for exploration. Like I mentioned before, you get Emblems for clearing levels….but you also get them from finding every Blueprint and Crystal Shard in every level. You need a total of 30 to beat the game, and the game has a max count of 34. You are more or less forced to 100% the game to see everything, and that is a problem. Fully exploring every level can take up to 20 minutes and it inflates a short game into a 4-5 hour romp. I didn’t have issue with this, as I like exploring levels but due to the way getting the rest of the playable character works, you have to replay past levels a few times just to progress. While I had no issue with this, I clearly see how this is a major design flaw. The sequel to this title Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice fixes this issue thankfully.
The game also has two other gameplay styles; the Tube Stages and the Rival Races. Tube Stages are the Sonic 2 half-pipe, where you can go left or right to collect rings and press Y to boost faster. But the Enerbeam plays a role here, as you can press it at specific points to swing left or right in the air. I loved these levels as they felt very responsive and had a great sense of speed. The after effect Sonic has when boosting and the great track that plays during these levels only help make these levels more enjoyable.
You also have the rival races, which seem to be a different take on the two-player races seen in Sonic Rivals but it is more like time trial races. Sonic is playable in these levels and you try to hit the goal before your rival racer (Sticks, Shadow and Metal Sonic in that order). These levels are designed well, pushing Sonic’s speed and offering some of the most enjoyable levels in the game. It uses the Adventure Level’s mechanics but with a focus on speed rather than exploration.
Overall the three pillars of gameplay here are strong as they offer a lot of great content but the design is what holds the game back a bit. If the homing attack was more responsive and the requirements for progression in the game was not as strict, the experience would be better as a whole.
Shattered Crystal is a short game, lasting 2-3 hours but with the focus on exploration, that time is inflated by an extra 2 or so hours. The game has five main islands and the amount of stage types vary per world. But overall, you have a lot to see and experience in Shattered Crystal.
One thing that will take a long time is getting all the 3D Figures, as you get coins from completing special challenges (time attacks & ring collection) in the main stages. You use these coins to get 3D figures of content found in the game and from the First Season of the TV Show. It is a nice bonus and pushes daily play sessions.
This looks and sounds like a Sonic game, but still has the general art direction the Boom series has. Each of the games levels has a lot of detail and the characters have some nice animations. What also helps is that the game looks more in-line visually with past Sonic titles, having locations known in the series like jungles, forests, lava worlds and more.
It gives a sense of familiarity if you played the 2D games of old but thanks to the Boom theme, it adds a fresh look to the entire experience. The voice samples of Sonic and Friends are high quality with audio compression not being minor at worst.
Music for this game is composed by Richard Jacques, who is famous for his history with Sonic and SEGA. His work here is solid thanks to a number of tracks were very catchy. Shadow Canyons has a western vibe with a bit of techno, Robot Facility 2 sounds something out of the Adventure era games and the Worm Tunnel track sounds fantastic (one of my personal favorite tracks in the game).
The presentation here is solid and most importantly, the game runs great on 3DS. No frame rate drops, glitches or control issues; it feels and plays very well. Sanzaru Games has a history of making great games look great on portable hardware with Sly 4 on PS Vita being a visually impressive game for example.
Story – 3.5 out of 5 / Gameplay & Design – 3.5 out of 5 / Lasting Appeal – 4 out of 5 / Presentation – 4 out of 5
You might be looking at my ratings for the different sections say ‘Of course RK is going to be kind to a Sonic game’ but I am being critical when I say this; Sonic Boom Shattered Crystal despite it’s issues on the design side of things regarding progression, is a very solid game. It controls well and feels like Sonic, the story is charming and the presentation is really solid. While not the best Sonic game ever made, it is a solid game that laid the foundation for strong work on 3DS Boom titles in the future.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS (Digital E-Shop Version) with a copy I purchased in May 2016. All music cited and used in this review is owned by the copyright & trademarking of SEGA of America, SEGA of Japan, SEGA of Europe, Sanzaru Games and Richard Jacques.