Sonic Dash (iOS) review

Sonic Dash is a new iOS game from Sega. It’s available now as a $1.99 download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases of the game’s two currencies.

It’s honestly surprising that Sega’s long-standing mascot character Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t has a mobile endless runner game to his name yet, since the very nature of past Sonic games lends itself ideally to this type of experience. Instead, we got the (admittedly pretty good) Sonic Jump and ports of past mainline titles in the series, but it has taken until now to see Sonic doing what he does best.

Sonic Dash is 3D-perspective endless runner in which players take on the role of Sonic (and later other characters from the franchise such as Tails and Amy) and attempt to survive for as long as possible on a randomly-generated course. Controls are almost entirely swipe-based — Sonic may move between one of three “lanes” by swiping left and right, jump by swiping up and roll under things by swiping down. Occasionally, situations are presented where Sonic must tap on a passing enemy to “lock on” and use them as a “stepping stone” to make a particularly large jump. The controls are adequate for the most part, but they are occasionally not as responsive as they could be. At times, obstacles come so thick and fast that it’s physically quite difficult to make the correct moves in time, not to mention the fact that occasionally swipes are mistaken for the wrong direction if they are performed at a slight angle. By far the worst offender is the “tap to lock on” move, however, which only seems to work some of the time, frequently leading to cheap and unavoidable deaths.

As players navigate their way through the perilous levels, they collect rings, which can be used between attempts to purchase upgrades. In keeping with past Sonic games, Sonic will drop all of his rings if he hits an enemy character, and will die if he hits an enemy while not carrying any rings. To prevent ring loss, occasionally the courses provide the opportunity for players to “bank” their collected rings, meaning that they cannot be lost even if Sonic hits an enemy or dies. “Red star rings” are also earned through completing specific mission objectives, and these may either be spent on unlocking pieces of content such as new characters, or on “revive tokens” to continue running after making a mistake. These red star rings are earned at such a glacial pace that it is all but impossible to earn enough to unlock the new characters without playing for a considerable period of time — or, of course, making an in-app purchase.

Sonic Dash is very pushy about getting players to make in-app purchases and/or spend their rings and red star rings. Between every attempt, they are presented with a “featured item,” some of which, like the “ring doubler” item that seems to have made its way into every game of this type recently, require in-app purchases to unlock. The game can, of course, be played without making any purchases whatsoever, but in order to attain high scores and be truly competitive, it is all but necessary to at least spend some rings on a few upgrades.

Social play comes via Game Center. While playing, players are told their nearest rival’s score at the side of the screen, and are told when they have beaten it. Upon completing an attempt, they are shown a leaderboard of how they compare to their friends, and may announce their score via Facebook, Twitter, email or SMS message. The post-game menu frequently misinterprets taps on the “play again” button for the “share” button, and occasionally simply refuses to respond whatsoever, particularly if the player is in an area with an inconsistent Internet connection.

Unfortunately, Sonic’s debut in a genre that seems tailor-made for him just isn’t a particularly good game. While the visuals are good quality, the choppy frame rate even on relatively powerful devices like the iPhone 4S mars the gameplay, the occasionally-unresponsive controls lead to infuriating unavoidable deaths, and the sweeping camera angles and rollercoaster courses make it very difficult to see upcoming obstacles. Not only that, but obstacles positioned at just the wrong distance apart means that it is sometimes completely unavoidable to hit a second obstacle immediately after successfully avoiding a first one. This frequently happens after jumping over something — on more than one occasion, there was either an enemy (which causes ring loss) or solid obstacle (which causes immediate failure) positioned in such a way that there was seemingly no option but to land on it after a jump. Couple these gameplay issues with how pushy the game is with its in-app purchases — something which players are often much less tolerant to in titles that have an up-front cost — and the issues with the interface, and the whole experience leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth. Consequently, it’s tough to recommend Sonic Dash in good conscience, which is disappointing — as previously noted, this should have been the Sonic mobile game; as it stands, however, it’s simply yet another IAP-heavy endless runner with relatively little to distinguish itself from its numerous rivals save for its recognizable main character.

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Endless runner is a genre made for Sonic the Hedgehog; unfortunately, Sonic Dash is just too rough round the edges and aggressively monetized to be truly worthy of recommendation.

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