Giftamania 2016 (Updated)

Update: Added Dead Rising 4 and LEGO Dimensions expansion packs.

With apologies to Maffew, as well as everyone else for not getting this up a little sooner as I’d have liked.

Following is a quick list of titles and things good for grabbing as gifts for the gamer in your life this holiday season. Mind, these come as my own personal recommendations, and don’t account for everything, including some “obvious” picks (such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Final Fantasy XV, and Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon). Everything here has been released in some form or fashion since Christmas 2015.

Xbox One

killerinstinctdefeditionXbox One S – Your mileage may vary on this one; if you or the intended recipient don’t own an Xbox One already, then this is the way to go. If you/they are planning on getting a 4K TV in the next year, however, then you might want to wait for Microsoft’s Project Scorpio — or at least more details about it — to emerge.

Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition Originally introduced in 2013, the revival of Killer Instinct has finally reached completion after three “seasons” of releases. While I only reviewed the first season, much more content has been made available since then, including new guest stars from Halo, Gears of War, and Battletoads! What’s more, you can now get everything in one complete package at retail with the Definitive Edition, which also includes a soundtrack CD and code for a gold Gargos skin. Now that’s what I call an Ultra Combo! (Also available on Windows 10 via Play Anywhere with Xbox One)

Forza Horizon 3 This open-world driving game is great for relaxing, but also provides plenty of excitement as you partake in various races, challenges, and even hunts for classic vehicles. Sync up your own custom soundtrack (or use one of the stations in the game) and hit the road — as well as the plains, beaches, and anywhere else you can think to drive! (Also available on Windows 10 via Play Anywhere with Xbox One)

oriblindforestdefeditionboxOri and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition (Review Pending) – Alongside Killer Instinct, this was one of the games which made me want an Xbox One in the first place, and I haven’t been disappointed. This Metroidvania-styled platformer has a beautifully eerie presence a surprising degree of emotion as well. I was saving this to say in my already long-overdue review, but to me, Ori feels like the perfect mascot for the Xbox One, and deserves to be adopted as one. Plus, for the price, how can you afford not to try it? (Also available for Windows via Steam)

ReCore (Review Pending) – From some of the creative minds who brought you Mega Man and Metroid Prime comes this mysterious tale from another world. As Joule Adams, you’re tasked with exploring the planet of Far Eden and finding out what happened to those who were supposed to colonize it for mankind’s survival. But while you seem to be the only human around, you’re not alone — a group of Corebots use the special abilities granted by their customizable frames (such as the “dog,” Mack) to assist you throughout this third-person adventure that feels in some ways like a mix of Mega Man Legends and Metroid Prime, coupled with its own unique elements as well. (Also available on Windows 10 via Play Anywhere with Xbox One)

Quantum Break (Review Pending) – Yeah, I know — I’m juggling a lot of balls in the air here (and yes, it’s driving me nuts). This is an extremely story-oriented third-person shooter with some interesting characters and some content that’s set up like an actual television serial interspersed with the game’s chapters. If you’re cool with a game you watch as or more often than you play, then this one’s definitely worth a look. (Also available on Windows 10)

Xbox Design Lab – The Xbox One Wireless Controller is one of my favorite controllers to come around in some time, with a comfortable feel and a Dpad that’s not only finally worth a damn, but pretty dang good in its own right! So what could make it better? How about your own choice of color scheme, and maybe a laser-engraved message as well? This holiday season, you can give a custom Xbox Design Lab controller as a gift by purchasing a code which the recipient can then redeem to make the controller of their dreams (and 14-day shipping is free!).

Dead Rising 4 – This late arrival to stores and this list alike is a must-own this holiday season for its Yuletide setting alone, but for fans of beat ’em up-styled gameplay, the latest adventure of Frank West really hits home.

Wii U

papermariocolorsplashboxPaper Mario: Color Splash After Paper Mario: Sticker Star, I thought that the magic of the series I loved might never return. Imagine my surprise when Nintendo took such great strides towards a return to form just one installment later! While still not quite on the level of the masterpiece that is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, this lite-RPG adventure is a great choice for all ages.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Nintendo’s next console, the Switch, isn’t destined to join us until March of next year, and the Zelda title designed to bridge it and the Wii U, Breath of the Wild, may take even longer still. In the meantime, they’ve updated the game which bridged the GameCube and the Wii with improved visuals and other features, including amiibo support! Get the game with the Wolf Link w/Midna amiibo, and you can begin prepping it to join you in the next Zelda adventure, whenever it may come!

Nintendo 3DS

kirbyplanetrobobotboxKirby: Planet Robobot Simply put, this is a must-have for any Nintendo 3DS owner. To say anything more would simply diminish it; if you or someone you know hasn’t played it, then rectify that immediately (or at least come the holidays).

Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack This spiritual successor to games such as Mega Man Zero really brings the thunder — or the lightning, at least! And with the recent release of Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 in the Nintendo eShop, you can now get both chapters together on a single game card at retail!

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam It’s a crossover no one knew they wanted — or was even possible! Establishing the Paper Mario series as a separate entity (well, even more so), Nintendo’s two long-running Mario role playing game series collide as denizens of the Paper world are released into the regular Mario world, and chaos ensues! This one is definitely a “cut” above!

Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice While the original Sonic Boom games did little to endear the world to this iteration of the franchise, Fire & Ice is a much better second go. With humorous writing and voice acting that’s in keeping with the Sonic Boom cartoon and the addition of Amy Rose to the playable character roster, Fire & Ice doesn’t excel, but it is comfort gaming at its finest.

Project X Zone 2 Let’s get crazy! This turn-based strategy game brings together characters from several of SEGA, Capcom, Bandai Namco, and Nintendo’s top titles for a fan service smorgasbord! Even if you don’t know all the characters involved (and the odds are pretty good that you won’t know everyone), don’t worry — you’ll probably find yourself wanting to check out some new games by the end of it. Heck, I never had any interest in SEGA’s Yakuza before, but now I can’t wait for Yakuza 0 to arrive on PlayStation 4 early next year!

PlayStation 4

dragonquestbuildersboxPlayStation 4 Pro – Speaking of PlayStation 4, if you’re interested in 4K gaming or virtual reality with PlayStation VR, then this is the model to look into. Just know that while it can stream 4K video, it won’t play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.

Dragon Quest Builders Part of Minecraft‘s strength is its go anywhere, do anything you want freedom. However, if you’re interested in a game which captures the building and resource mechanics while providing you with a bit more of a purpose, then this alternate timeline sequel to the original Dragon Quest ought to be right up your alley.

Ratchet & Clank This latest release in the long-running PlayStation-exclusive franchise combines what made the original game great with a bit of added flair from the motion picture release, turns it on its head, sprinkles in some elements from other installments, and provides an experience great for longtime fans of the series and newcomers alike. And given that the film (which is based on the original game, with this being based on that) didn’t quite set hearts aflutter while the game was a number-one bestseller, it’s probably safe to say that if you have to choose between the two, going with the game is probably the best choice.

Multiplatform

deusexmankindboxartDeus Ex: Mankind Divided (Review Pending) – The Canadian Video Game Awards 2016 winner for Best Console Game, Best Game Design, Best Narrative, Best Performance, and oh yeah, Game of the Year. As Adam Jensen, you’re a cybernetically-enhanced human (though you didn’t ask for this) who is putting his myriad tools to good use as you make the decisions you think will best see you through to victory. Lethal or non-lethal weapons? Employ stealth, or go in guns blazing? These choices and many more are yours.

Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Celebration (Review Pending) – For as iconic a figure as Lara Croft has been for the industry over the years, this installment follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by being decidedly not for children — or the faint of heart. It’s definitely an intense game that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and some parts can be pretty gruesome as well. That said, the original version came to Xbox One last year, but 20 Year Celebration throws in all the extra content that has been released since then, including some additional skins (such as a Retro Lara for a nostalgic kick), a co-op mode, and an Extreme Difficulty mode. On PlayStation 4, it’s also one of the first games to take advantage of the HDR features and 4K resolution provided by the Pro version, as well as a chapter playable in PlayStation VR.

WWE 2K17 The latest installment in 2K Games’ long-running sports entertainment adaptation is opting for a little more of a sim flavor this year. Create your own Superstars and events, alter others, and have the full run of Raw, Smackdown, and the rest of the shows WWE brings to a worldwide audience every week.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan On the half-shell, they’re the heroes four; in this day and age, who could ask for more? This IDW Comics-styled game is all about teamwork, whether you’re working with friends or strangers in online multiplayer, or managing all four green teens yourself.

skylandersimaginatorsboxSkylanders Imaginators Continuing the ever-growing theme of player-created content, this year’s Skylanders title allows you to create your very own Skylander called an Imaginator. They come in all different types, and become more powerful when one of the new Senseis shows them their moves. Plus, if you get the PlayStation 4 version (though it should come to the others next year), you can also get Skylanders of Spyro’s old pal, Crash Bandicoot and his rival Dr. Neo Cortex.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Chewie… we’re home.” These words from Han Solo reflect the feeling of this LEGO title as the series gets back to its roots, but with some new tricks as well. And it just feels so right.

Mega Man Legacy Collection Released as a digital download for Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 late last year, this collection of the Blue Bomber’s six Nintendo Entertainment System adventures (and all the gobs of additional related content included) not only arrived on the Nintendo 3DS earlier this year, but at retail for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as well. Plus, if you go for the physical Nintendo 3DS version, you can also add an exclusive gold Mega Man amiibo figure to your collection!

Mighty No. 9 This spiritual successor to Mega Man comes with a pretty severe caveat, as the game has been very divisive: If you or someone you know wants a challenge, then this one may deliver. That said, it’s best to look around and see if you can find a good bargain on it to keep your bets safe. Think of this one as “stocking stuffer” material, or consider trying the free demo first. Oh, and be careful about getting the Wii U version — that one apparently suffered from some pretty nasty hardware crashing issues, and I’m not sure if they ever got all those fixed.

LEGO Dimensions Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack – The toys alone are cool enough, but getting to use them in a game which does a pretty good job of marrying the LEGO and Sonic styles of gameplay is even better.

LEGO Dimensions Gremlins Team Pack – Based on one of my favorite holiday movies, exploring the town of Kingston Falls during the snowy holiday season makes this a perfect holiday gift for anyone who owns (or will soon own) LEGO Dimensions.

Other

supermarioadventuresSuper Mario Run Though this game is available now, you won’t be able to buy it in stores. However, as it commands a $13.99 price tag, an iTunes gift card or two for the intended recipient may not be the worst idea. Just remember that it launches as an iOS exclusive, while the Android version comes sometime later.

Super Mario Adventures This recently republished collection of the comic which originally ran in Nintendo Power magazine 25 years ago is, for many, one of the definitive pieces of Mario fiction (outside of the games, that is). A loose adaptation of Super Mario World, this also includes an additional chapter which loosely adapts Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins and gives us the origin of Wario. Sadly, the 14th and final installment was not included; thankfully, it was a standalone story, so the rest of the book holds up quite well on its own otherwise.

NES Classic Edition and NES Controllers – Good luck finding either of these! Even if you’re not interested in this plug ‘n play collection of 30 classic games for yourself, you’re almost guaranteed to know someone who is, so if you see one in the wild — grab it! And if you happen to come across the even rarer controller, a replica of the original NES input device, consider that it also works with some games (pretty much anything a sideways Wii Remote would) on the Wii and Wii U!

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

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This week, it looks like we have a small-but-solid sampling of new releases, and a few good deals, too!

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for Wii U – Available on December 5th, Captain Toad breaks out on his own in an adventure that follows and expands upon “The Adventures of Captain Toad” mini-games from Super Mario 3D World. My review is forthcoming shortly, but in the meantime, you can check out a trailer for the game here.

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Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric – Demo Version for Wii U – Opinions on this game since its release have been mixed, at best. Personally, I enjoyed the demo I played, but I’m currently unable to say whether this is the same one or not. Either way, now you have a chance to make the call for yourself before making the commitment. You can also view a trailer here.

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Fire Emblem for Wii U – As a series, Fire Emblem dates back a couple of decades in Japan, but in the west? Its first release was quite a bit more recent. You can now play the first title to be released in North America, training your armies and planning strategies to best your foes on the battlefield in this 2003 Game Boy Advance title. For a trailer, click here.

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Lode Runner for Wii U – As the de-Bombermanned Bomberman, lay through 50 levels of gold collecting, or create your own in this 1984 NES classic.

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Ultimate NES Remix for Nintendo 3DS – When NES Remix and NES Remix appeared on the Wii U, one thought was heard loud and clear: “Why isn’t this on the Nintendo 3DS?” But now the best of both are here in one package, and you can view a trailer for it here.

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Christmas Wonderland 4 for Nintendo 3DS – Holiday-themed mini-games abound in this puzzle collection.

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Disney Violetta: Rhythm and Music for Nintendo 3DS – Apparently someone named “Violetta” is Disney’s newest music sensation (this lack of knowledge is what happens when Family shows more reruns of Phineas and Ferb than new episodes), and now she has her own game on the Nintendo 3DS. Tap to the rhythm of her songs, unlock more with high scores, and test your Violetta knowledge in quiz mode.

Nintendo eShop Sales

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99Seconds for Wii U – Until 8:59am PT on December 26th, this title is reduced from $2.49 to $1.49, more than 40 percent off.

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Walt Disney Birthday Sale: To celebrate the birthday of Walt Disney, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two for Wii U, Disney Planes on Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, and “other fun games” will be discounted until 8:59am PT on December 8th.

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Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan for Nintendo 3DS – From 9am PT on December 8th until 8:59am PT on December 22nd, this title is reduced from $29.99 to $14.99, 50 percent off.

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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers for Nintendo 3DS – From 9am PT on December 8th until 8:59am PT on December 22nd, this title is reduced from $29.99 to $14.99, 50 percent off.

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AeternoBlade for Nintendo 3DS – From 9am PT on December 5th until 8:59am PT on December 19th, this title is reduced from $14.99 to $7.99, more than 40 percent off.

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AiRace Xeno for Nintendo 3DS – Until 8:59am PT on December 25th, this title is reduced from $2.49 to $1.69, 40 percent off.

For more information, screens, and videos for each of this week’s releases, click on the corresponding links above.

The second of the two Sonic Boom demos I would try at Nintendo of Canada’s holiday preview media event was Rise of Lyric for the Wii U. Unlike the Nintendo 3DS game, which dropped you right onto a map screen, there were three separate scenarios available to try, each representing a different aspect of the game.

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The first segment I took on was an action scenario set in some sort of underwater waste disposal facility filled with robots, and later, large pools of liquid that probably don’t play nicely with fur and flesh. Unlike Shattered Crystal, the action here was less of a classic Sonic (or even Modern Sonic) style, and felt closer to a brawler of sorts– at least, where combat was concerned. Like the Nintendo 3DS game, using the Dpad allowed for changing characters between Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and instead of newcomer Sticks the Badger, Sonic mainstay Amy Rose, each with their own style of combat.

Or, at least, it would have if the stage had allowed for it. Instead, only Sonic and Amy were available, likely per the story.

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Much like the Nintendo 3DS version, the EnerBeam got a fair amount of play here. Unlike that game, though, there was no swinging high jinks going on here; aside from using it to grab and disarm enemies, it mainly served to be used to trigger switches and things to allow for progression.

After obtaining a crystal, things took on a more traditional 3D Sonic feel as the duo booked it down a corridor with a monstrous robot hot on their trail. Movement was simply using the L and R shoulder buttons to move left and right, respectively. No cornering required; the characters handled everything else. It took me two tries to get through, as a jumping attack it didn’t use the second time squashed me flat.

Following some more puzzle-platforming with springboards, switches, and homing attack from one enemy to the next, I reached an area where I had to face the same robot who had given chase before in a boss battle of sorts. Defeating it would require grabbing other robots that appeared by using the EnerBeam and then, as with Bowser in Super Mario 64, swinging them around before launching them at the creature. Upon its defeat was where my time with this part of the demo ended.

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The two other portions of the demo took on different aspects from the initial part: A different boss battle and a different running segment.

I took on the running segment first, and all told, it was fun but brief. This time, all four characters were involved as they would spring through an outdoor valley area. It didn’t overstay its welcome, and if the first area was any indication, there are plenty more of these spread throughout the game, similar to how such segments were incorporated into previous titles.

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The last one I took on was a fun boss battle against Dr. Eggman, and much like before, defeating him involved using the EnerBeam to grab, swing, and throw things into his giant mech. Instead of robotic foes, however (who were also present), Eggman launched volleys of defective missiles which failed to explode on impact. Grabbing these with the EnerBeam were what was required to win the day here.

On the one hand, it feels like there may be a bit of a slightly-repetitive theme involved in swinging and throwing things at bosses with the EnerBeam, if the two I faced were any indication. On the other, it was still a bit different; after several missiles made contact, all four members of the team would use their EnerBeams to pull the giant mech down onto its face, at which point the lead character (in this case, Knuckles, who seemed to pack a nice punch) would have the opportunity to wail away on it before Eggman got his bearings and regrouped. Three times of doing this, and the boss was down for keeps.

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Between the two versions of Sonic Boom, I think the Sonic fan in me has to give just a slight nod to the Nintendo 3DS version, as it just overall feels closer to a Sonic game, even despite having to relearn how to approach it, as mentioned before.

But even with that said, I still had fun playing the Wii U version. It’s received a bit of scorn since E3, but I honestly had fun with it. It’s an interesting new approach for Sonic, and while it may arguably not be as distinct among its 3D platforming peers as games such as Sonic Generation, it still felt solid and manages to work in its own way. Even if one has a harder time appreciating it as a Sonic game than as a Sonic Boom game with its own merits, I think this semi-reboot of the franchise is worth a further look and I’m glad I got a chance to play it.

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U will be released on November 11th, 2014.

At Nintendo of Canada’s recent holiday preview media event, I had the opportunity to see a lot of familiar games on display– some released recently, such as Bayonetta 2, and others coming soon, including Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, both of which I’ve played before and hope to be reviewing fairly soon as well. There were also two games I there I had only seen anything of online– Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for Nintendo 3DS and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for Wii U, both due soon from SEGA.

Of the two, I dove into Shattered Crystal first. This was the one that seemed to have generated the more positive buzz, and besides, the demo unit was open.

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I only had the chance to play two levels, though there seemed to be several more available on the map screen for the demo. Going all the way to the starting point, I found myself in a Sonic-esque foot race against newcomer Sticks the Badger as none other than Sonic himself. If you’ve played the Sonic Rivals games or even the 2-player race modes found in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or 3, then you know the type, though this of course used its own mechanics instead.

Despite trying to get used to how this game felt, I managed to place first. Sticks nonetheless kept pace with me much of the time, not getting too far ahead nor allowing me to leave her behind, either. It was during this race that something became rather apparent about playing Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal.

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Despite the sense of familiarity and use of classic elements, such as loop de loops, this was not the Sonic I knew. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either, but attempting to play this like a classic Sonic title was clearly going to get me killed… or at least cost me a lot of rings, which serve as the life meter here in a more traditional way. Once I managed to stop myself from jumping into enemies while expecting Sonic to spin, things began to fall into place and I started getting the hang of it.

In that way, it was about forgetting what I knew about Sonic on the whole and starting fresh– which seems to be very much what Sonic Boom as a whole is designed to do with the franchise. There’s something almost zen about clearing your mind and opening it to new possibilities here.

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Sonic isn’t completely devoid of his signature moves, however, and he’s even picked up some new ones. In this case, you need to specifically use his Homing Attack in mid-air to take out baddies through jumping. Sonic also has his Spin Dash, along with a new move, a sort of air-dash which allows him to burst forward in one of the four cardinal directions and break through specific obstacles to reach new areas.

Also of note is that much like in Sonic Lost World, there is a run button used here as well. Sonic moved swiftly on his own, but much as in Mario titles, this was good for picking up the pace when necessary while still allowing more precision platforming. Unlike that game, though, I didn’t notice any parkour-style moves to help the Blue Blur get around, though there are several speed pads around which offer a bit of a boost as well.

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In addition to Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and the aforementioned newcomer Sticks the Badger are all on hand as well. They each seem to share the core set of moves/abilities, and you can switch between them by pressing their corresponding direction on the Dpad to use their own special abilities to better get around. Tails throws bombs that stick to enemies before exploding (to sometimes-amusing results, if you can get it to land on their faces) and can fly with his twin tails, but only when aided by a wind current; Knuckles punches and headbutts his way through enemies, and can dig much like the Drill Wisp from previous titles, though presumably without the time limit; and Sticks has her boomerang, which can be guided with the Circle Pad to bob and weave its way down dangerous corridors to hit enemies and switches. It’s actually rather fun and easy to use.

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But perhaps my favorite addition to the characters’ arsenal is the EnerBeam. The EnerBeam has gotten a fair bit of screen time and has been a major talking point since Sonic Boom was first revealed, and for good reason. In addition to pulling enemies’ shields away from them, leaving them vulnerable to attack, there are also spots which allow you to pull back with the touchscreen and launch the character you’re using to a new part of the stage.

What makes it my favorite, however, are the swing points which you’ll find situated throughout stages. I’ve been a fan of a good swing mechanic since Bionic Commando on the NES, and Shattered Crystal features one of the best I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve used some bad ones). The control, the sense of momentum, the ability to quickly swing from one point to the next with little hesitation and Homing Attack enemies on the way– it just feels good, even exhilarating– and basically serves to combine two of my favorite franchises in a most pleasing way.

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The only thing missing from my time with the demo was the sense of a “Sonic Metroidvania” I’ve heard people use to describe the game, but then, I only got to play two stages. The latter of the two was certainly substantial, however, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some secrets I missed as I made my way through the level which beg for a return to play again.

Overall, Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal has left a good impression on me, feeling like a good progression for the series, and I hope to get to play it more.

That just leaves the question: How does the Wii U counterpart, Rise of Lyric, stack up? Come back tomorrow for our look at other side of the Sonic Boom coin.

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for the Nintendo 3DS will be released on November 11th, 2014.