It sometimes seems that SEGA hasn’t ever really known what exactly they should be doing with Sonic the Hedgehog ever since Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast, leading to legendary embarrassments such as were-hog transformations. Now while there have been recent success stories such as Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations that have managed to get the blue blur back on a more respectable track, there are still quite a few people that are understandably more than a little leery whenever SEGA announces a new title for their mascot. It is on that note that I am pleased to announce that SEGA’s recent Sonic Dash (out now, $1.99) for the iOS platform is a worthy addition to the panoply of titles starring the turbo charged hedgehog.
Games like Temple Run – as well as the recent iOS rendition of Pitfall! (our review) – have presented a gameplay formula that practically seems like a custom fit for the speedy hedgehog, with their emphasis on avoiding objects during an all out forward charge. The people over at SEGA must have definitely noticed the potential of this themselves, as Sonic Dash plays up the obstacle dodging – treasure grabbing – formula presented by the aforementioned titles to a T. While SEGA has also copied the penchant those titles have for letting you buy items/upgrades with the treasure you collect, I would argue that the prices in Sonic Dash are – for the most part – usually nicer (more on this later).
The game uses a fairly standard/intuitive array of controls for the genre: with players swiping up to jump, down to attack, and left/right to switch which of the three lanes Sonic currently occupies. Using these commands Sonic will blaze through stages – collecting every last ring he can – all while doing his best to avoid meeting a grisly demise, with the rings being the currency that players use to buy most items and upgrades available. Bumping into enemies and spikes strips – much the same as with his console titles – will cause Sonic to hemorrhage all the rings currently in his inventory, where as frontal collisions with the scenery – as well as falling – will lead to an immediate death regardless of your rings on hand.
Every now and then you will reach the end of the current segment you have been running through, at which point you’ll have to select one of three trampoline exit gates that will catapult the blue blur to the next section. Most of the gates will have a TV with a ring icon, and running through these will cause all of your rings currently on hand to be banked so that you won’t accidentally lose them before you run ends. The other gates will give you a chance to basically perform a finger-swiping Quick Time Event to make Sonic pose triumphantly as he sails through the air; victory will net you large quantities of bonus rings, but will do nothing to secure the safety of your supply currently on hand.
While always taking the banking exits may make it easier for players to rack up large supplies of rings, Sonic only has a chance of going to an entirely different kind of zone whenever he doesn’t deposit his loot. So far the only other kind of zone I have seen is one taking place on top of some kind of highway, but my current sessions aren’t lasting very long either (and SEGA has furthermore said they’ll be adding more content via free future updates). Anyways, it’s nice to see Risk Vs. Reward mechanics being incorporated into Sonic Dash that challenge players to decide which aspect of the game it is that they’re focusing on with each run (something that was missing in Pitfall!).
Speaking of Risk Vs Reward mechanics, there is a super speed dash gauge that slowly fills up as Sonic gathers rings and once it’s full can be unleashed to make the blue blur charge forward so quickly that he pulverizes all obstacles in his path for a short time. As useful as temporary immunity may seem, not using the gauge when it fills up will cause the value of all points that the player earns to be double the norm until they finally do hit the turbo-boost. The player can also spend collected rings to purchase permanent upgrades that both increase how quickly the boost-gauge fills up, as well as how long the accelerated running lasts after being activated.
One particularly nice thing about the price of most of the commodities in the game’s ring store is that, in great contrast to most of Sonic Dash’s contemporaries, the money needed to buy a single use item can usually be earned in a single play session with cash to spare. This way a player won’t feel as if they have to buy extra rings with IAP currency just to use crutch items, a stark contrast to games like Pitfall! where it could easily take multiple runs to have enough silver bricks to buy a single one use item. On the other hand – though – the player needs special red star rings to buy continues and alternate characters to play as, and the opportunities to earn these are limited enough that any gamer hoping to play as anyone other than Sonic more or less will have to put down more cash.
While the inability to play as other characters – unless the operator decides to front more cash – is easily ignored, there is a particular issue that plagues Sonic Dash on lower end devices that is a lot more aggravating. Players trying to run the game on an iPod Touch 4th Generation – for example – will find that Sonic Dash lags horrendously at the start of a stage, but after about half a minute – assuming the lag doesn’t kill the player – the game begins running perfectly. It seems that what is messing Sonic Dash up is the game’s attempt to contact GameCenter at the beginning of each run to determine each of your friends’ high scores, which won’t happen if you disable the game’s ability to access GameCenter. While a work around for this situation does exist, SEGA should really do something about this as there are a variety of ways this dilemma could easily be fixed without forcing the player to disable features on their iDevice (such as having the software fully finish its data run before beginning the gameplay, rather than during it).
Anyways – with everything else now finally out of the way – I will now close with a brief discussion of how Sonic Dash appears visually, which is to say that it features eye-pleasing 3D graphics that are very bright and colorful. Even though the game is played from a behind the back view, which Sonic purists really hate to see come up in modern games starring the blue hedgehog, it still manages to do a great job of invoking everything you love about the series. As you play through Sonic Dash you will be treated to Sonic running through loops and corkscrews, spin dashing through enemies, jumping over gaps, bouncing off enemies mid leap to go further, and the game will look really good during all of it.
iFanzine Verdict: Sonic Dash is an excellent use of the Sonic the Hedgehog character that should make both fans of the blue blur – as well as people who like games such a Temple Run and Pitfall! – very happy with its excellent production values, as well as its Risk Vs. Reward gameplay mechanics that add more depth than making it just a simple matter of avoiding obstacles. The game also manages to keep the price of in game upgrades and one-use items far more fair than many of its contemporaries do, although anyone hoping to play as a character other than Sonic is more or less going to have to pony us some extra crash. The only real downside is that people running on lower end models will actually have to disable GameCenter in order to get the software to start up smoothly, but – with any luck – SEGA might address this issue in a future update.