With each new Sonic the Hedgehog game, fans hope Sega can recapture the series' classic magic. The Sonic Boom titles haven't done that so far, but Fire & Ice makes strides toward improving the standing of this spinoff series. This latest installment combines more seamless level design and a bigger emphasis on speed to help Sonic take steps toward redemption.
Just as with traditional 2D Sonic games, you control the blue hedgehog or one of his friends as they rush through stages, collecting rings and destroying robotic baddies. In Fire & Ice, Sonic harnesses the power of the two titular elements to progress; if blocks of water are the only thing between you and some spikes, switching to ice freezes the water to create a safe path while switching to fire melts away any ice blocking your path. It's a simple concept, but the game is at its best when the stages require you to react quickly to switching back and forth between the two elements.
The entire game has been streamlined to focus more on speed than previous Sonic Boom games. Each stage is lined with boosts to get you moving faster as the characters run through loops and corkscrews. I enjoyed seeing Sonic and company fly through levels, but I didn't feel like I was doing much as they zoomed across the long paths. Because of this, the stages can drag when Sonic and friends get locked too much in the autopilot sections, but most of those moments are broken up by platforming and swapping between the fire and ice elements.
Enemies and environmental obstacles are set up to push the pace of the stage rather than impede your progress. Your run through a level isn't brought to a screeching halt because you run into an enemy; they almost help you get through the stage faster as you bounce from baddie to baddie. On the other hand, this approach doesn't leave much room for difficulty, since the chance of enemies taking you out is low. Instead, the challenge lies in completing stages as swiftly as possible or exploring as much as you can.
You're able to swap between the playable characters on the fly, but the stage design rarely requires you to (beyond the initial levels) where you need Tails' laser to blast through barricades or Sticks' boomerang to hit out-of-reach switches. I enjoy being able to play as Sonic for the vast majority of the game, but the underuse of this swapping mechanic undermines the point of giving each character unique abilities in the first place. Regardless of any unique abilities you gain by unlocking a new character, the game almost always boils down to running through the levels with a few optional areas being blocked off by character-specific blockades, which feels shallow.
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