A potentially good game, ruined by its need to be loud, alienating chaos.
(The above screenshot is from one of the game’s many loading screens. As you can see, Sonic Runners does not seem to know the difference between Knuckles and Charmy Bee.
I just felt like that needed pointing out before we get on with the main review.)
Format: Android, iOS (reviewed on iPad Air 2)
Released: June 25, 2015
Free-to-play, I didn’t buy any microtransactions. Why would I?
Sonic Runners is an assault on the senses. The moment you start the game, you’re bombarded with announcements, events, update notes, patch downloads, and special offers. Advertisements play between levels, and it’s all wrapped up in an interface laden with flashing colors, high pitched noises, and loud, repetitive music.
“Make ten of your friends play to unlock Amy! Rate and review us on iTunes! Here’s what’s happening in the Android version of the game, even though you’re playing on an iPad! It’s Sonic’s birthday for crying out loud! Kill us! Kill yourself! Kill everybody!”
As I write this review, I’m still trying to come down from effectively having a game grab my hair and yell in my face while cramming clawed fingers into my mouth and ears. I’m sure I’ve played games as obnoxious as this one before, but as Sega continues capitalism’s exploration of boundaries and taste in the mobile gaming space, I sure as hell can’t remember any comparable experiences right now.
A free-to-play endless runner, Sonic Runners is all about tapping the screen to make an auto-sprinting hedgehog jump. Like Canabalt, it’s a sidescrolling platformer with an intuitive control method, though it’s a surprisingly well designed experience. In terms of basic gameplay, Runners is one of the better… runners… available on the market. Fast-paced, littered with enemies and traps that require quick reflexes, it’s a challenging game with cleverly designed, often intricate levels.
In many ways, an impressive job has been done of converting classic Sonic gameplay to a runner format. There are familiar items such as invincibility and magnets, Eggman appears for the occasional boss showdown, and stages resemble classic platform levels. If you could just pick this up and play it, like the aforementioned Canabalt or the delightful One Epic Knight, this would be a really fun time.
Unfortunately, getting to the actual game is a challenge in and of itself. While Runners manages to hold back on a lot of truly intrusive freemium mechanics, it nonetheless desperately attempts to push microtransactions on the player and gatecrash in less subtle ways. There are three currencies, and Sega sure as hell wants you to spend real-world cash to obtain the only one that’s actually worth anything.
(This isn’t me running ads on the site, by the way. The above is just another screenshot I took of the game.)
Regular rings are given freely and exist as the obligatory fake currency, the funds players acquire through progression that falsify a sense of investment in the experience. Red rings are the premium funds, and while they may be earned in-game at a slow rate, they’re offered for sale in transactions that range from $0.99 for 12 to $39.99 for 485. While that seems like a lot, Sonic Runners can burn through them fast. Finally, lives are also a form of currency. You get three of them to begin with, and if you lose them all, you’ll need to spend red rings and acquire more.
In fairness, lives are replenished after facing off against Dr. Eggman in boss runs, and so far I’ve found I have to try very hard to lose them all before that happens. Still, lives are a currency. That’s a thing that’s happened in videogames. I often believe videogame publishers wish all lives were something they could spend like money. Real lives. Our lives, is what I’m saying here.
If you die in a run, you get a chance to revive by spending red rings or watching an advert. Isn’t it lovely when a game has the audacity to use both the freemium and ad-supported model? Anyway, if you let Unity promote some other F2P crap to you for thirty seconds, you’ll get to revive and continue your game. This is in addition to the pop-up commercials that sometimes appear between stages.
There are roulette wheels as well, because gambling is a fun thing for children to enjoy. You’re allowed a free spin on a daily wheel that’s full of garbage nobody cares about, and you can use 50 red rings to spin the premium one, where all the useful stuff is. Here, you can unlock Chao that follow Sonic through a level and confer passive bonuses such as score multipliers and item longevity boosts.
Look, I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I’m not sure I understand everything Sonic Runners does. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? Games don’t get much simpler than a regular ol’ endless runner. There’s a ton of them available, and they all consist of making things jump while they dash across the screen. Yet somehow, this minimalistic and well-worn idea is convoluted and complicated with so many screens, menus, vague unlockables and endless announcements that my brain just can’t process it. It doesn’t want to process it.
I know there are lots of characters to unlock, I know I keep getting “Special Eggs,” but I don’t care about any of it, and I don’t understand any of it, because the game’s a loud mess of information and I don’t like it.
I don’t like it, okay? Stop it, Sonic Runners, stop doing everything you’re doing. Well, except that part where you allow yourself to be a game, buried under mountains of distasteful gibberish.
Also, the loading times are crap.