Review - Sonic Dash
If it’s true that the bigger they are the harder they fall, then Sonic the Hedgehog must have been massive. Only after seeing Let’s Plays of Sonic ’06 and regrettably trying to play Sonic and the Secret Rings have I truly begun to grasp the demise of the once-beloved character. While Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations may have been received well, our favorite blue blur is still far from coming back into most gamers’ good graces. When Sonic Dash was announced for mobile, however, I was optimistic. The iOS ports of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic CD are both wonderful, and the auto-runner genre seemed to be a perfect match for the character. Unfortunately, that potential was not lived up to.
The production quality of Sonic Dash is certainly a mixed bag. Some things are great, like the authentic sounds of Sonic collecting rings and spinning, the incredibly colorful and lively environments he sprints through. There are also some splendid moments visually where the camera pulls out as you speed through a loop. On the downside, the music is so forgettable I honestly can’t describe it despite playing the game a few moments ago. There is also lack of environment variety. Only two areas exist, a grassy hill region and a metal one, but the differences between the two are purely cosmetic as there is no change in obstacles or enemies. What’s worse is that hopping between the two means you don’t “bank” your coins. Risking all the cash you’ve earned up to that point really discourages players from going to the other location, so most people will stick with the one, which becomes boring. And finally, a lot of objects, and even the simple curve of the path, will occasionally hide incoming obstacles which then leads to a lot of cheap deaths. It gets frustrating very quickly.
Simplicity is what draws the masses to auto-runners, and at least Sonic Dash got that element right. As Sonic runs forward, you can swipe left and right to move between three lanes, swipe up to jump, and swipe down to spin, which can be used to both defeat enemies and duck beneath obstacles. This solid foundation for gameplay is perhaps Sonic Dash’s biggest strength. At the very least, it’s perfectly functional, which is more than I can say for a lot of other Sonic games. There are occasionally control problems, where a swipe wouldn’t respond or I would jump when I gestured to spin, but it isn’t common enough to detract at all. What does detract is its, to be frank, inferior gameplay. I try to review games as objectively as possible, but it’s incredibly hard to overlook the fact that Sonic Dash is merely emulating more successful games of its genre, almost all of which are better. I was hoping that a character like Sonic would bring new gameplay styles or ideas to freshen up the formula, but instead we get the opposite. Sega took no chances, relying solely on its mascot to sell their ho-hum experience.
The biggest problem with Sonic Dash by far is the fact that it is simply not well designed. I touched on this earlier when I talked about objects being unfairly blocked from view, but there is a deeper, more fundamental flaw at work in this game. Despite the fact that it gives you a randomized path each time, eventually a large cluster of obstacles come up out of nowhere, some of which I am thoroughly convinced are impossible to get through. Even if they aren’t, the fact remains that Sonic Dash is terribly inconsistent. These areas of highly concentrated obstacles are severe difficulty spikes, requiring a lot of skill and luck to survive. This simply isn’t how to make an auto-runner. The difficulty of an auto-runner should steadily increase as the player gets a higher and higher score so they feel like they’ve actually earned it when they beat their previous best. When I get a higher score in Sonic Dash, I just feel like I was lucky to avoid the inevitable for longer that time. It honestly robs the game of any and all satisfaction.
If you’ve played an auto-runner since the original Temple Run, you have probably already seen Sonic Dash’s upgrade system; only again, it is done worse here. You can only upgrade four things, the uninspired magnet and head-start power-ups, along with two ways to improve your dash ability. You can also buy Tails, Knuckles, and Amy to play as, but they are very expensive. You can earn more by completing by-the-books challenges (which are not clearly explained, so much so that I didn't know they existed until after initially posting my review), or using in-app purchases. As is common, the replayablity of Sonic Dash falls on the addicting nature of its gameplay. However, due to its uneven design, I highly doubt anyone will consider it such. At least GameCenter offers the standard achievements and leaderboards, though that’s hardly enough reason to keep people coming back..
In the end, all of these poor design choices add up to a below-average, yet fairly enjoyable game. However, it occurred to me after playing for a while that Sonic Dash isn’t just designed badly, it’s designed to get even more money from you. When I looked at the game’s faults, it all added up. Cheap deaths make the player feel like it wasn’t their fault they lost, so maybe if they spend the cash to try again they’ll succeed. People want more variety in environments, so they end up losing their coins. In order to afford the power-ups then, they’ll have to use in-app purchasing. These facts, along with a few others, make Sonic Dash almost insulting. It feels like at every turn the game is fighting you, trying to make you lose so you’ll pay money to succeed. These are tactics that I barely permit in a free-to-play game, but it is simply not ok to be in a paid app. If you really want an auto-runner, save your money and get Temple Run 2 instead. As for Sonic Dash staying on my phone? It’s gotta go. FAST.
|Sean Capdeville is the official mobile game reviewer of ScrewAttack.com. An aspiring filmmaker, his favorite games include Skyrim, Link's Awakening DX, and NOVA 3. In his spare time, he likes to reference Casablanca.|