Sonic Runners Review – Run Into The Ground

A potentially good game, ruined by its need to be loud, alienating chaos.

01

(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.)

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
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!”

02

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.

03

(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.

It’s satire.

04

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.

05

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.

4.5/10
Sub-par

shotgun Squirty
Guest
shotgun Squirty

You know Sonic is doing good when a game comes out without anyone noticing.

Enuo
Guest
Enuo

Bit Trip Runner 2 is still my runner of choice.

BAH!
Guest
BAH!

I got that for the Wii U via a Humble Bundle. It is surprisingly good.

Nessus
Guest
Nessus

There’s whole classes of F2P monetization mechanics that are based on gambling mechanics. To the point where they’ve actually gotten challenged by anti-gambling laws in some areas. It would not surprise me in the slightest if conditioning kids to embrace or accept gambling early was a deliberate part of the publisher’s strategy.

That sort of “market building” is hardly unheard of.

Benson
Guest
Benson

Yeah, I remember when I played pokemon Red and got HOOKED on cocaine, no wait I mean slot machines…..

Nessus
Guest
Nessus

Can’t tell if that’s sarcastic, or just regular humor.

09philj
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09philj

If Jim were a bigger masochist he could create a chain of reviews by reviewing the first freemium mobile game to be advertised in the last freemium mobile game he reviewed. It would be like Chinese water torture in game form.

Terriosaurus Hex
Guest
Terriosaurus Hex

They are merciless gods for sure. Thinking of all those sacrifices I performed…for nothing! Their mockery knows no bounds.
Although, now that I think about it, they might’ve been for an entirely different god probably. What do you sacrifice to the gods of grammer? Thesauruses? Your tongue? Your firstborn? I have no clue whatsoever.

thejokeriswild
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thejokeriswild

Um, it’s *grammar, not grammer

Terriosaurus Hex
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Terriosaurus Hex

I already corrected myself poorly, near the bottom of this thread 😉

ogrumprocule
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ogrumprocule

Anyway, if you let Unity promote some other F2P crap to you for thirty seconds, you’ll get to revive and continue your game.

Dude, knock it off with the Unity hate already! We get it, alright?
j/k, but in all honesty that seemed like some odd sort of Freudian slip.

ogrumprocule
Guest
ogrumprocule

aand, I got ninja’d. Never mind, then. (Unity supplies ads now? Or is it an unrelated, but confusingly similarly-named ad network?)

Billy
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Billy

Unity has an official ad service that you can integrate into your Unity games.

The web page for it is kind of disgusting, with lines like “Maximize revenue with ads that your users love” and insanity like “Video ads drive the highest quality new users.”

The FAQ for the service lists Sonic Dash as one of the examples of ad integration done right. (Dash being a different f2p Sonic game than this one.)

ogrumprocule
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ogrumprocule

Well, consider me educated. Thanks!

MetalPlateMage
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MetalPlateMage

“Anyway, if you let Unity promote some other F2P crap to you for thirty seconds, you’ll get to revive and continue your game”

Is “Unity” a typo? You might have meant the game or Sega…

Mark Davenport
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Mark Davenport

The one time I might be glad it’s not on Windows Phone or Store.

Dragonzeanse
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Dragonzeanse

At least it’s better than Sonic Boom.

Lintire
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Lintire

“Lives are a currency”

I’m sure one could compare freemium phone titles to arcade cabinets like that.

Incredibly distasteful arcade cabinets that blear ads constantly, use dirty tricks to try and get you hooked and sure as well won’t shut up and let you play the game. I remember having hope for the mobile market.

09philj
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09philj

At least arcades had actually good games behind their paywall…

Benson
Guest
Benson

I think Freemium games have more in common with a slot machine than it does with an old arcade cabinete.

AyeHaley
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AyeHaley
The last Sonic endless runner and Sonic jump game had the same problems with so many currencies and menus it hurt my brain. Stuff like that is why I only play well-received indie games like Monument Valley or Ridiculous Fishing on my iPad. Also, the more games I download on my iPad the less I actually want to play on that thing, I’d rather just grab my 3DS or play on one of my consoles. I would play more mobile games if they had premium versions instead of just “free-to-play” and ‘pay-to-win’. But it seems they are becoming uncommon or… Read more »
Terriosaurus Hex
Guest
Terriosaurus Hex

Why are Jim’s sonic reviews the best? Please review more of them, the shitter, the better!

Ot: This reeks of a fading company’s last dying breath, so sad. Not really, I dont care for sega anymore. But honestly, a runner game is the perfect fit for sonic….it really is a pity that this attempt was done by that do not care much for anything that isn’t money.

Terriosaurus Hex
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Terriosaurus Hex

Attempt was done people….

Sorry, a runaway word occurred.

Terriosaurus Hex
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Terriosaurus Hex

Attempt was done by people…Fcks sake!

AyeHaley
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AyeHaley

Today the grammar gods are out to get you 😛 My sympathies.
RIP Terriosaurus Hex (also, RIP SEGA)

Valtiel
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Valtiel

Jim Sterling reviewing bottom of the barrel cash-grab mobile games. Seems appropriate.

09philj
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09philj

Being a cash grab mobile game is no excuse for not being good.

Thomas
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Thomas

” Still, lives are a currency. That’s a thing that’s happened in videogames”

Yes that is a thing that has happened in videogames =D Specifically that’s basically where the whole idea of lives comes from. Everything old is new again, and like with arcade games we get to watch a whole new generation of money makers figure out how to ruins games in a way that makes you give up the most cash

Billy
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Billy

Yes, it does kind of define decades of arcade games.

Sylocat
Guest

They… they made an F2P Sonic game with microtransactions. I…

That’s it. I’m re-downloading Stencyl and making an actual Sonic game myself. Who’s with me?

Huaaaang
Guest
Huaaaang

…Freedom Planet?

Sylocat
Guest

Well, yeah, but I think the original Sonic deserves better than he’s been given too.

able_to_think
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able_to_think

Admittedly, a lot of Sonic fans are really fucking stupid and willing to put up with some outrageous bullshit. I guess Sega is trying to see how far it can push the outrageousness before the fans refuse to accept it. That seems like a really good way to kill your brand but if Sonic Boom didn’t do it, I doubt a mobile game will. I shouldn’t be too harsh on Sonic fans though. People in abusive relationships shouldn’t be expected to act rationally.

jetb1ackx
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jetb1ackx

“Also, the loading times are crap.”
Well it is a sega game and most of their load times are shit

Error 52
Guest
Error 52

Sonic Generations are pretty good.

Sonic 06 though might very well be the nadir.

All Davis Long
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All Davis Long

You’re a game now! You’re an ad now!

powerserg
Guest

I’ve been trying this one out and it’s a big mess. I found my self drifting off playing it. Not because the gameplay isn’t fun but because it wasn’t fun enough after spending twice the time it took to play a level watching loading screens and ads.

Error 52
Guest
Error 52

Yeah, it’s a shame. It’s a fairly enjoyable endless runner, and the F2P model can be put up with since running out of lives is incredibly hard. But the interface sucks and really overwhelms you with shit. Also, the fact that it’s always online sucks. That shit is why I stopped playing mobile games – I can’t even play them most of the time.

If they tidy all of the crap up, this would probably be a really good mobile game.

TheDylDozero
Guest
TheDylDozero

Come to think of it Jim, you should consider reviewing Game of War or whatever it’s called.

MrFrancisYorkMorgan86
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MrFrancisYorkMorgan86

I’m willing to bet that he has considered it and determined that writing about a mediocre experience with a huge ad campaign wouldn’t make for a very interesting read.

Panelhopper
Guest

So this is what Sega’s been doing with Sonic in between creating more Sonic Boom crap…Dear God, why?

Panelhopper
Guest

Also, I am the only person who wants a sonic generations 2?

Error 52
Guest
Error 52

I don’t know if I’d want another Generations exactly, but another game that played like it would be great.

breakYODAy
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breakYODAy

SEGA doesn’t give a fuck about what you want.

Bloody Murder
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Bloody Murder

Do Sonic Dash next.

BubbleButt
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BubbleButt

The actual game is really quite fun, but you literally have to jump through rings (ha ha cause it’s sanic) to get to it. There are kinks, and they need really do need ironing.

BubbleButt
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BubbleButt

whoopsies I typed “need” twice

Drake Warnock
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Drake Warnock

You also typed ‘sanic’ once.

Even Luck
Guest

*Hears the stampede of angry Sonic fans* JK, I don’t even think they’ll be able to defend this one.

DevaAshera
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DevaAshera

As a Sonic the Hedgehog fan, I’d defend it..but only if what Jim was saying wasn’t true..The gameplay is good, but the other stuff sucks..I don’t like trying to get anyone to play games for an arbitrary reward, regardless of how much I like Amy Rose, nor do I like the Freemium crap or ads…This stuff is why I really hate most mobile games, with, currently, the sole exception being the Ace Attorney HD Collection since that’s neither Freemium/Ad Supported nor Crappy in terms of Gameplay.
I wish Sonic would just stick to Handhelds and Consoles..

TheSimon15
Guest
TheSimon15

Final Fantasy: Record Keeper is actually really good, both in terms of its freemiun (There’s barely any of it and you can get stuff with effort and skill instead of real money) and there are no ads. And its gameplay is really fun and it’s also quite full of content. Kinda odd coming from Square Enix (especially after the atrocity that is All the Bravest).

szm
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szm
I am a sonic fan and let me say this… Please somebody, acquire sonic from sega, do now before they can completely grind him into oblivion like how EA eradicated the Ultima series. I feel like how the highlander fans must have felt after seeing highlander the source. I’m too beat down to even be angry any more, sonic is like an old friend who got into a bad crowd, you try to support them and hope they get back to the person you once knew but after one too many betrayals you just can’t bring yourself to deal with… Read more »
anime4evermanguyperson
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anime4evermanguyperson

Where have you been for the past 17 y ears?Sonic’s already run into the ground and at this point Sega’s just grinding the dead carcass of Sonic into the ground with their shoes for fun. Sega would never sell sonic to another companies though.. no matter how dead he’s been since he was killed when he jumped to 3D with Sonic Adventure on dreamcast. he’s their mascot.. their dead, bleeding mascot that’s even more over used and whored out then mario is for nintendo.

randomnamehere
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randomnamehere

I dont think you’ve actually been paying much attention if you think the past 17 years has just been shitty games for Sonic.
Granted, Sonic needs a hell of a lot more care put into his games than he gets but your comment makes it sound like he only gets bad games and nothing else.