When Sonic fans asked for an endless runner featuring SEGA’s speedy blue dude with a ‘tude, this probably isn’t what they had in mind. While Sonic Dash has its merits, it ultimately falls short of expectations.
Endless runners are all the rage on mobile platforms, and for good reason. Their procedurally generated environments and simple gameplay structure are perfect for bite-sized gaming on the go. Sonic is known for running, so putting him in an endless runner seems like a natural move. Unfortunately, Sonic Dash fails to truly capitalize on the potential of Sonic’s unique abilities.
Seasoned iOS gamers will immediately recognize some similarities between Sonic Dash and Temple Run. Sonic moves forward automatically along a narrow stretch of land, occasionally rolling under bridges or jumping over gaps. But Sonic Dash sets itself apart in a number of ways. Most notably, it doesn’t use the tilt sensor at all, making it playable on the bus. Instead, players move Sonic between three separate lanes by swiping to the left or right. While preferable to tilt controls, the swiping method is slow and clunky. It is literally impossible to move from either edge to the other as quickly as some occasions demand, which resulted in a number of unfair deaths. This problem could have easily been solved if players could simply tap the lane they wanted Sonic to be in and he would go there.
Sonic Dash features two environments. One is modeled after the venerated Green Hill Zone while the other is inexplicably designed to look like Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes. Both look great and pop with color as Sonic whizzes through them. While it gets a bit repetitive to run through the same environments over and over, in the short term Sonic Dash is one of the best looking games on iOS.
Of course, there are rings to collect, and they chime as sweetly as ever when they are absorbed into Sonic’s body. But that sweet chime belies their underhanded nature. Like many endless runners, Sonic Dash has an in-game store where accumulated rings can be traded in for upgrades that improve Sonic’s ability to boost and collect more rings. Completing missions, such as “Collect two power-ups in a single run” or “Use three headstarts” reward players with red coins, a variant currency that unlocks characters (Tails, Knuckles and Amy are all unlockable) or can be spent on Revive Tokens, which allow Sonic to continue after running into a wall or falling into a pit. Naturally, both types of rings can be purchased with real money. Some players may even be compelled to spend their hard-earned money on these in-app purchases thanks to the ludicrous amount of rings it takes to unlock everything. Sonic Dash encourages players to check out the store after every run under the guise of “tips,” which more or less boil down to “buy upgrades to win!” $2 is a reasonable price point for Sonic Dash, but not when the game constantly forces microtransactions down the player’s throat.
Swiping down on the screen makes Sonic curl up into a ball, allowing him to roll through holes and destroy enemies. Ball form only lasts a second or so before Sonic returns to his normal on-foot mode, which can be frustrating when an enemy appears immediately after rolling under a bridge. If the spin duration were determined by how long players held their finger on the screen after swiping down, this wouldn’t be a problem.
Running into an enemy will only kill Sonic if he has no rings, and if he does have some, they are lost. That’s how it’s always been in Sonic. Yet running into walls kills Sonic regardless of how many rings he has, which is incongruous and cruel. Fortunately, swiping up to jump works like a charm. The downside is that sometimes walls are thrown at you just past the apex of a hill or at the end of a twisting loop-the-loop where the camera can’t see them. If that weren’t unfair enough, I encountered several instances where spikes were hidden directly behind a wall, completely unavoidable. In these ways, Sonic Dash calls to mind the worst aspects of Sonic’s 3D platformers, a feat that should have been impossible in a game where Sonic moves along a scripted path with a set camera.
Overall, Sonic Dash stands as yet another example of how SEGA has continued to exploit and diminish the greatness of the original Sonic games. It likely would have been more well-received had it opted for a side-scrolling perspective with intentionally-designed stages ala Rayman Jungle Run. Instead, this game is a more expensive and less-fun version of Temple Run, which is why I must urge you to not bother downloading it.