If there is one classic game character perfectly suited to the endless runner genre it is Sonic, a fact that Sega is trying to capitalize on with Sonic Runners.
This 2D side-scrolling runner blends the original Genesis games, with a striking comic look and endless one-tap action, all of which it does well. Unfortunately, it then sabotages this with too many breaks in the action and ways to limit your fun.
Classic Sonic, reinvented
Sonic Runners offers no surprises. Starting as the titular blue hedgehog, you dash through the world, collecting rings and freeing furry animals from their robotic prisons. On occasion you bump into the evil Dr. Eggman, who drops rings when attacked before, inevitably, escaping.
With the traditional 2D Sonic look, you feel at home from the very first Green Hill styled zone, filled with it signature bright colors. Though thick outlines have been added to all of the characters to give a more cartoon feel, everything is unmistakably Sonic.
It may not be that varied or original, but the Sonic gameplay works so well in this format it doesn’t matter. The spiky hero’s speed keeps the action nice and twitchy, while the constant stream of collectibles mean that there is always something to be gathering. This is made all the easier by a triple jump that shoots Sonic up the game’s various layers of platforms, opening more paths through the relatively straightforward levels.
Slowing Sonic down
To help with all of this, Sonic Runners offers a variety of power-ups and additional characters to unlock – fine in theory, but also where the free-to-play hooks start to appear. Actually this starts of quite innocuously. The powers are actually gifted at a good rate, and not having them doesn’t dramatically alter play.
Powers included Buddies who fly alongside you offering you buffs, Colors and other Equippable Items that can be used during each level, and Boosts which effect the dynamics of your current run. You get a free try with each of these, and while after that you must earn or purchase them, usually you can manage without. And don’t worry Tails and Knuckles fans, they can be unlocked to play as alongside Sonic.
Eventually the really negative side of the payments start to appear. Once the game has your dopamine responses nice and stimulated with its “gifts” and “level-ups”, you suddenly run out of lives and must buy more or wait for a countdown timer to continue. More problems arise in other parts of the pacing too, with screens of rewards, bonuses, scores, and adverts forced upon you before you can get back to the fun of the game.
Good while you are playing
Sonic Runners is a fun, colorful, and well-designed endless runner that shoots itself in the foot with poor pacing. A simple instant replay option would have gone a long way to improving this - but by adding a verbose story, and too many screens of brightly colored rewards, the quality of the gameplay is rapidly diluted.