As you may have recently seen my boss mention, I was indeed quite the fan of Hardlight Studio’s efforts to convert SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog series into a top-notch Endless Runner. That game — which you might remember as Sonic Dash (our review) — did an excellent job of simultaneously merging a modern mobile-gaming style with classic Sonic game play, providing long-time fans with the speed-based action they all craved. Thus we’re here to find out if lightning really can strike twice by design, seeing as how Hardlight Studios just openly-launched their somewhat lengthily titled Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom (out now, free).
Now — before I begin the review proper — some of the more astute readers might have already taken particular notice of the game’s Sonic Boom subtitle, and — yes — this game is indeed based on the animated TV-series developed by OuiDo! Productions. Now while some of you may be ready to begin clawing at your walls in abject horror, since you still have fresh memories of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, I caution you to wait before fleeing. Although they are indeed both based on the same redesigned source material, the disastrous console flop — which afterwards got reamed by nearly every Let’s Player known to man — was developed by Big Red Button (whom is a different studio entirely).
Furthermore, I would like to additionally state that — once you get past the oddity that is jock-attitude weight-lifter Knuckles — the Sonic Boom TV series was actually very competently handled. Sure it might not have been the serious drama-filled affair that was the legendary Sonic Sat-AM — as fans have come to call it — but it’s still light years better than the other Sonic series of the time, and often well and truly downright hilarious. Therefore, the Sonic Boom reboot subject-matter is not itself inherently broken; although many missed discovering this betwixt the shock of Knuckles’ redesign, followed by the colossal failure that was Rise of Lyric (which was sadly somewhat unfortunate).
Either way — all matters of Sonic Dash 2’s use of the Sonic Boom universe now fully aside — it’s high-time I finally got down to discussing the game proper, and that means discussing the game play itself.
In Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom — much the same as any other Endless Runner, really — players are tasked with endlessly dodging a randomly generated series of obstacles, all while trying to nab up as many valuable-rings as possible. Whereas most other runners make it so that merely collecting a coin means that it’ll be yours forever — at least until you spend it — things work differently here, as keeping in-line with Sonic’s traditions. Although enemies and spiky stuff could potentially be fatal upon contact, they — unlike the game’s various other obstacles — can be survived should the player have any rings on hand (with the catch being that they’re all subsequently dropped in the process).
Those whom haven’t already played the first Sonic Dash might be wondering just exactly how you’re expected to ever save up enough rings to buy upgrades, seeing as how you’ll often be dropping them left and right (particularly when you’re still learning the ropes). That’s because — in a game play twist unique to the Sonic Dash series — there are places where you may optionally choose to bank all your rings currently on-hand, with the banked rings becoming yours no matter what you slam into next. The downside of this is that — immediately after banking rings — your on–hand total will become absolutely zero, the same as if you had just hit something, leaving you vulnerable to your next impact.
You’ll attempt to avoid these dangers using the same controls as the previous Sonic Dash, not mention nearly the same controls as virtually every 3D Endless Runner game ever produced. You may swipe left/right to switch lanes — of which there are three in total — swipe up to jump over gaps and low barriers, and swipe down the spin dash your way through ground-based enemies (as well as slam-down to more expediently end a leap). While this might thus far sound utterly unchanged from Hardlight’s previous Sonic Dash outing, I promise you that there’s more things different here than merely Sonic’s new scarf — Knuckles’ bulked-up body-type — or even the background scenery visuals.
The first of these you’ll probably notice is that Sonic Dash 2 no longer has segments featuring hard-stopping points, wherein you’d need to choose from one of three warp-springs — each with a TV representing which bonus you’d receive — in order to continue. This might leave you wondering how ring-banking works this time around, since you’d previously have to choose the correct TV in order to stockpile your hard-won rings (assuming there even was such an option offered amongst the available warp-springs). Here instead — rather than being forced into a decision — you’ll occasionally find off-ramps that you may freely opt to use, assuming you’re situated in the right lane, and each of these will always both change up your scenery alongside banking all of your rings.
There are — much like when Sonic Dash initially launched — only two environments so far available, with players alternating back and forth between Sonic Boom’s jungle and village areas (perhaps they’ll later add in a third locale, just like they did for Sonic Dash). Although you won’t necessarily witness it on your initial run-through, there’s another major feature of Sonic Dash 2 — beyond the ring-banking system — that exclusively occurs whenever you electively take an off-ramp. For you see, Hardlight has — by possibly taking a page from Sonic Heroes — allowed you to staff your team with up to three speed-demon critters this time around (which is usable after you first unlock any of Sonic’s friends).
Now whereas Sonic Dash contained a long-list of playable heroes — many of whom were added over time — playing through with any of them offered little in the way of meaningful differences, although they sometimes featured different running animations. This — however — is not true over in Sonic Dash 2, wherein each of the five heroes available have a game play perk exclusive solely to them (alongside also having a method of passively buffing your score, active even when they’re not currently the lead-runner). You may freely switch up whomever your team’s active runner is whenever you hit an off-ramp, allowing you to switch between perks like: Sonic’s magnetic-effect during dashes, Amy’s mighty ring-hammer, or even Knuckles’ enemy-killing shockwaves.
This nicely brings me to another point where Sonic Dash 2 departs from its predecessor, as Sonic acquiring a free ring-grabbing magnetic effect isn’t the only part different about speed-dashing here. In the original the dash-gauge was filled by gathering up lots of rings, and — when activated — would allow you to temporarily charge forward with absolute impunity (and buyable upgrades would make it both fill faster and last longer). Although using it could certainly save your bacon in a pinch, this would — seeing as how you earned double-points whenever you gauge was full — sadly harm your over-all score in the process (which — as a result — ultimately discouraged the act of dashing entirely).
I know of more than one person whom took great displeasure with this Risk-Vs-Reward based feature, seeing as how — given that this was supposed to be Sonic the Hedgehog — they argued that cutting loose the throttle should be encouraged. Clearly Hardlight Studios must have heard such complaints, seeing as how — this time around — there’s absolutely no rewards present for holding onto a fully-filled speed-booster gauge. However — so as to ensure your gauge isn’t being filled up every five seconds — the boost meter is now loaded after snatching up the requisite amount of blue-orbs, rather than being powered by those shiny golden rings.
Another difference available this time around is what you’re using these rings to upgrade, since you no longer have options to directly improve things such as gauge fill-rate or dash-boost run-time (at least not in the same omnipresent manner as Sonic Dash offered). You may now use rings to either improve the score-multiplying passive a specific hero adds to your team (which always stack), or you may boost the various colorful sprites that you’ll slowly acquire. These sprites — which are clearly a reference to Sonic Colors — will each modify a different aspect of Sonic Dash 2’s game play (an effect that magnifies as they are powered-up), and you may additionally equip any three of these that you desire.
Speaking of purchasing upgrades with rings, the special Red Rings — which are effectively the special IAP-currency of the Sonic Dash series — are also back as well (although I might argue they’re far easier to earn freely here than in the original). Unlocking characters beyond Sonic — whom you start with — will require the use of these rings (although they’ll make sure you have enough to buy Amy right after the tutorial), and — also similar to before — they may also be used to skip any special-challenges. Although buyable one-use boost items no longer exist in Sonic Dash 2, these rings are additionally used to open extra equipable sprite slots — buy more room for storing unused-sprites (which have a use I’ll discuss shortly) — and to handle specific ‘upgrade-hurdles’.
Whereas most level-ups are conducted purely via spending rings, these upgrade-hurdles occur during every fifth level (and while these upgrades are the same as any other for the sprites, they represent a massive power increase for the characters’ individual passives). For the heroes these will require you to spend Red Rings, although I would like to point out that — despite this — I’ve already unlocked Knuckles, both of the extra equipable sprite slots, and even upgraded my three owned heroes past their first hurdle since the launch. Your sprites — on the other hand — won’t take these Red Rings, and will instead need to be fed other sprites from your inventory in order for them to make it past their personal hurdle levels (that said, you actually begin with a fair bit of inventory-space to start with).
Although these Red Rings may still be earned from completing optional missions, as well as occasionally found laying about the track, the last big game play departure form Sonic Dash would be the nature of these missions themselves. First of all, whereas the original Sonic Dash had a limited supply of missions available — which would award Red Rings after every third mission completed — Sonic Dash 2’s mission are available unlimitedly. While this does mean that there is no end to the free Red Rings that may be bulk earned within Sonic Dash 2, I should point out that the rewards for completing a mission here will be a lot more randomized as well (and I haven’t even yet touched Ticket-Missions).
A completed mission will both reward some exp — which slowly increases your over all account level (raising your score-multiplier in the process) — as well as awarding you an absolutely random prize. These may include giant caches of rings, sprites with various game play altering properties, free limited-time Boom Boosters (which give you a slew of various useful perks), or even valuable Red Rings. What can potentially be found after a specific mission is completed will depend on the quality of the box being offered, and this quality will slowly increase as you eventually improve your over-all account level.
Thankfully the nature of these missions is that of a far saner ilk than the ones found within the original Sonic Dash; with players being shown challenges of legitimate skill, rather than counter-productive demands of pure-suicide. As a result — although the option to buy your way past these still exists — that will be far less needed here than it used to be, with all of requested missions being far more plausible. I should note — however — that in order to complete these missions that you’ll have to be playing in Sonic Dash 2’s generic mode, as their progress won’t be affected when you’re engaged within a Ticket-Mission.
These Ticket-Missions are limited-time challenges that can only be played if the player has any tickets on hand, with each and every attempt costing a single ticket to begin. Players can normally hold up to four tickets — or six, if they have a Boom Booster — with one additional free ticket earned every ten minutes, or whenever a commercial is electively watched. Thankfully your progress on these missions — of which there will always be three available at any given moment — is always recorded in a cumulative manner, such that additional play-sessions will bring you ever closer to your target goal.
These missions ultimately come in three different varieties (with one of each always being present): short-lived missions, which should likely be finished in a single ticket; longer-missions, which will likely take many tickets to finish; and high-score challenges. While the first two variants will award their prizes after the relevant checkpoints are reached (with the longer missions offering far more rewards than the shorter ones), the high-score challenges will assign prizes — based on your standing — when the contest ends. Although it might seem as though these competitions would deliberately favor those whom have the most money (what with upgrades and player-levels both offering score multipliers), yet I actually finished second in a challenge without any IAPs whatsoever.
In short: these Ticket-Missions go a long way towards giving Sonic Dash 2 far more structure than the first, which devolved quickly into little more than high-score chasing once you’d upgraded everything — unlocked everyone — and finished all of the missions.
Although I would say that everything mentioned has thus far been a net again over the original Sonic Dash, it’s finally time I talked about some of the matters I’m somewhat nonplussed about. In contrast to the many returning improved-concepts are various features that sadly aren’t around this time at all, such as classic-style loop and corkscrews — classical-style scenery — or even boss fights with the maniacal Doctor Eggman himself. While I understand that the classical-feel was ditched in favor of a Sonic Boom inspired aesthetic — completed with rails to grind, and Enerbeams to hang from (which I actually do appreciate) — the absolute lack of boss battle segments are particularly disheartening.
Although the Strike-A-Pose mini-game is also missing from Sonic Dash 2’s scenery transitions, some might — considering what would happen whenever you played as Amy Rose — actually consider this particular omitted-aspect to be a rather welcome change.
There’s also the fact that the original featured a far larger cast of selectable characters, such as: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Shadow, Blaze, Silver, Rouge, Cream, Andronic, Espio, as well as various Angry Birds (although some of these were platform exclusive). Now while you might rightly declare that Sonic Dash initially only had four characters available — with the rest added over time — I wonder how exactly Sonic Dash 2 plans to rectify this, seeing as how most Sonic characters haven’t yet had Sonic Boom redesigns. So while Shadow the Hedgehog is probably slated as an upcoming addition, this overall issue is unlikely to be fixed unless Sonic Boom’s upcoming second season — or perhaps even the new Fire and Ice game — give more of the cadre a French-directed makeover.
While the app’s presently lax content-volumes — when compared to the original — leave me somewhat saddened, it would be Sonic Dash 2’s curiously-quantum ability to run stably upon an iPod Touch 5 that has often left me downright infuriated and confused. Clearly Hardlight Studios must have hired the venerable Schrodinger himself to optimize this game as sometimes I’ll have beautifully acceptable performance, and other times — even if I just reset everything — I’ll have horrifying frame-rate issues straight off the bat. They should particularly work on optimizing the game’s video-ad function, as currently attempting to watch an ad — which can yield free tickets, and/or a free-revive each game session — is basically tantamount to playing Russian Roulette with the app’s stability.
Although Sonic Dash 2 is certainly far more stable on the iPod Touch 5 than the original Sonic Dash ever was on the iPod Touch 4, I just don’t see why performance such as this should necessarily be forgiven and/or tolerated. While the game is certainly nice looking, I wouldn’t say that Sonic Dash 2’s visuals were at any point profoundly better than either Castle of Illusion (our review) or Forgotten Memories (our review). One thing that both of those games definitely had in common, despite being far-better looking than Sonic Dash 2, is that they were both impeccably more stable when played on an iPod Touch 5.
The good news is that Hardlight’s track record would suggest that it’s highly likely they will get these various matters all patched up, but I still wish they had done so before they openly launched Sonic Dash 2 upon the entire world. That said — all things considered — it’s probably only fair that I mention a certain theory some have put forth, wherein these issues are actually being caused by the currently broken Game Center found in iOS 9. While I must admit that their theory is certainly plausible, discussing the current Game Center “White Screen” errors — or the way that it’s been deleteriously interacting with various games right now — would be well beyond the proper scope of this review.
Sonic Dash 2 — while initially seeming quite similar to its predecessor — is vastly improved in nearly everyway possible, leading to a dramatically more enjoyable over-all game play experience. Particularly of note is the new endless mission system – complete with better challenges — that helps keep Sonic Dash 2 feeling fresh for far longer than its predecessor, which grew stale once the missions ran dry. Although the game may currently have less over-all content than Sonic Dash 1 — including fewer playable characters, and absolutely no Boss Battles available whatsoever — it is otherwise presumed that this will be slowly rectified over time. Unfortunately — however — users on either an iPod Touch 5, or the iPhone 4S, will probably experience some rather strange — and even inexplicably sporadic — poor frame-rate performance issues right now (alongside crashing if you watch any ads).