(Yawn.) Oh sorry, didn't see you there. I'm afraid I was just dozing off. You see, Sonic Boom has to be the most snooze-worthy game I've seen in weeks. It's almost criminally boring. (And at £9.99/14.99 rather criminally overpriced too! There are much more entertaining budget games around, for goodness sake.) But hold on! Let's rewind for a smattering of plot and stuff before we go any further.
What we've got here is a very traditional six-level shoot-'em-up based on a minor (extremely minor) Sega coin-op. It's a vertical scroller, with oodles of enemy planes, tanks and so on coming at you in waves and a giant end-of-level nasty on each stage. Yup, it's just like 1943, Scramble Spirits and a million others (just not as good).
So what's gone wrong? Well, to kick off, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get excited about straight shoot-'em-ups any more, even the good ones - there've simply been too many. You need something really special to get a decent review in YS these days - an R-Type say, or a Xenon. And then there's the old problem with vertical scrollers on the Speccy anyway - tiny monochrome planes plus complicated monochrome backgrounds equals total disaster. And Sonic Boom is just such a case in point. The unremarkable sprites may be reasonably clear most of the time, but the bullets certainly aren't! For ages I thought I must be flying into some extra-tall buildings or invisible walls when my plane kept blowing up for no reason, but no, Activision assured me otherwise. I just kept getting hit by all-but-invisible bullets, that's all. How frustrating.
As with many of these things, each level has a theme to it - on the first you have to fly over a city, then reach the sea and do battle with a giant aircraft carrier, on the second you cross some pipelines, then take on an oil rig and so on. Submarines, giant dams, even a sci-fi backdrop all crop up sooner or later, which makes it sound like there's a lot of variety. There isn't. This is uninspired Speccyvision we're talking about here, and everything looks practically the same.
Graphics aside, gameplay isn't, perhaps, too bad (in a very samey sort of way). The main point of interest, I guess, is the selection of bonus weapons you can build up (using icons collected from shooting down baddie 'waves'). These take the form of extra wings that attach to the sides of your plane - up to four are collectable, adding such goodies as backwards-firing shots and more powerful smart bombs, the best being a wall of death that crushes everything on-screen.
It's quite a hard game too (and not just because of the invisible bullets), though probably not quite as difficult as the coin-op version (which was blooming impossible apparently). As such, it might prove quite a challenge to the more determined shoot-'em-upper. Not for me though - I found it a real test of will to keep going past the big aircraft carrier (the first end-of-level nasty). I'd simply lost all interest by then, but persevere I did, just to make sure things didn't suddenly get better. And they didn't. (Honestly, the things I do for you readers.)
So what's it all mean, eh? Has Activision, one of the biggest software houses in the country, nay, the world, suddenly gone terminally crap? Well no, not really. It's just that theirs is the sort of deal-making that buys great big wodges of arcade licences at once, scooping up a few crappish ones that Sega (or whoever) couldn't really have sold otherwise along with the potential mega-hits. All we're doing here, folks, is indirectly paying the price for Power Drift.
And so to the conclusion. Um, what can I say? If you really like shoot-'em-ups then you may (just may) get some fun out of Sonic Boom. Otherwise, well, I played it on auto-pilot and they probably wrote it on auto-pilot, so purchase at your peril.
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