I thought I was getting a Sonic themed “endless runner” when I first downloaded the Android version of Sonic Dash from the Play Store. If that would have been all that was included in the package, then I would not have been so offended by this game.
When played as just an endless runner, Sonic Dash really is not all that bad. Sonic runs along a track and you just need to avoid obstacles along the track by swiping up, down, left or right to make Sonic jump, dodge or spin. Like other popular endless runners, the player can collect rings along the track which will lead towards the progression of the game through the purchases of upgrades or consumable power ups.
Occasionally, after crossing a checkpoint Sonic Dash will start a boss encounter with another Sonic the Hedgehog character. These battles are very similar to the endless phase, offering no additional challenge to the player. The boss character simply throws obstacles onto the track that are far enough away that ample time to dodge them is provided.
Graphically the game is actually quite impressive. It reminds me visually of Sonic Adventure. This is achieved by the game being significantly narrower in scope. Instead of levels having complex and detailed backgrounds, they are simpler, scaled down, and repetitive in pattern. Much of the background is not viewable with the camera fixed behind Sonic running down a narrow track.
The frame rate on my Samsung Galaxy S4 was quite good. I have not tried to run the game on other Android phones to see if the low to mid-range devices are able to run the game with the same results. However, none of that really matters since you should not download this game anyways.
You might be curious as to why I feel so strongly opposed to downloading Sonic Dash, despite my positive feedback thus far. This is due to how aggressively the game is being monetized. The “Free to Play” business model is a relatively new trend in gaming. Games will attempt to draw the largest audience possible with an attractive price tag of $0 and to make money they will take advantage of micro-transactions or in game advertisements.
Sonic Dash does both, attempting to “double dip” and extract as much money from the players as possible; doing so in a really sleazy and offensive way. I believe that if a game is really good then the revenue earned through non-intrusive advertisements should be sufficient, while still allowing free access to the full game experience, such as the Android version of Angry Birds.
The alternative to advertisements is micro-transactions, which is when games sell little enhancements to the game that can be modifiers or cosmetic like League of Legends or DOTA2. A game can even get by with just selling hats like Team Fortress 2, as long as core features are not locked behind a paywall, or the balance and experience are not damaged by these sales.
Sonic Dash uses two forms of in game currency: classic gold rings (familiar to the Sonic franchise) and red rings. Gold rings are collected through game play and can be spent on single use power ups that will be used the next time you play, as well as permanent upgrades to your character. The gold rings are placed on the track and are collected by running over them, as in any other Sonic game. You also have the options of liking the game on Facebook, following the game on Twitter, looking at featured advertisements, or spending anywhere from $0.99 to $49.99 to acquire more gold rings.
Red rings are spent on multiple use power ups, more powerful versions of the single use power ups, and additional playable characters such as Knuckles or Tails. Red rings can also be collected through game play, although not to the volume or frequency of the gold rings. From what I can tell there is no immediately obvious way to turn gold rings into red rings. The majority of the upgrades that you can purchase with the red rings are consumable purchases. Like with gold rings, you can open your wallet and use your credit card to pay for additional rings, if you really feel like you need to unlock Rouge the Bat right away.
Many free to play games have consumable items for sale that can be purchased with real money. Games such as League of Legends charge money for experienced boosters along with additional costumes for the champions that you play as and Jetpack Joyride charges money for extra coins. I do not have a real gripe with games charging for consumable items, and I really do not have a problem with the micro-transaction set up in Sonic Dash. In the game, all but one item can be earned through gameplay. Even League of Legends cannot make that claim. It is what is done to the players that attempt to enjoy the game without putting in any money whatsoever that irritates me.
For a free to play game to work properly, the game must still be fun to play, even if you are not putting in any money. The intrusiveness of the advertisements used in this game significantly lowers the amount of fun the player can have. Once every 24 hours Sonic Dash will force the player to watch a full screen 30 second video advertisement. The player will be forced to watch five of these full screen ads spaced out over a 24 hour period. Sure the videos allow you to skip them after 10 seconds, but I have found that the skip button very rarely works.
The videos are spaced out between play sessions; the player will not be forced to watch all five advertisements back to back. The player will be able to make a run and try to set a high score, and then, when they are eventually defeated or make a mistake, the video will play before they can try again. The first time this happened to me it was quite a jarring experience. At the score screen Sonic Dash displayed a “tip” that I could watch a featured video to earn more rings. I pressed the skip button to try to play again, but the video started playing anyways. This happened to me for the next several runs. When it eventually stopped I assumed, correctly, that the same thing would happen to me the next day.
I do not see the need to make these ads full screen videos. A non invasive static advertisement like the kind used in Angry Birds would be perfectly acceptable. They could probably be displayed constantly or while the player is navigating through the menus or in load screens. Forcing the player to watch these ads breaks the flow of the game which only serves to frustrate the player. Going to the in app store shows that any purchase above $3.99 will turn off the advertisements, presumably permanently. However, I will not be spending any of my money on this game. Once this review was completed I promptly removed the game from my phone.
I am not normally offended by free to play games; however, Sonic Dash really rubs me the wrong way. The choice to include these invasive video advertisements actively prevents players from enjoying the game. This is a critical factor that is now forcing me to recommend that players steer clear of what would have been an otherwise enjoyable game.