Sonic Runners is the lastest of Sega’s mobile Sonic games, with their mascot character being quite well represented on Android and IOS and arguably more so that he is on consoles at the moment. Unlike the last few mobile games, which were all developed by Hardlight, Runners is actually from the core Sonic Team making it the default ‘main’ Sonic game being released this year. After a lengthy soft launch in Japan and Canada since February, it’s finally available worldwide.
Similar to Sonic Dash before it, Sonic Runners is an endless runner game though this time is presented in a 2D side scrolling manner, making it visually quite similar to the classic Mega Drive games.
The setup is pretty straightforward with you selecting a character and up to two ‘buddies’ (more on those in a minute) and then set off. Sonic runs from left to right at a fixed distance into the screen, with you controlling his jumps to aim him at rings, score crystals, power ups, enemies etc and try to stay alive as long as possible to rack up the highest score you can.
At fixed points on your run, Dr. Eggman will appear. During the running stages he only attacks with springs that slow you down and while you can’t defeat him here you can keep hitting him so that he drops extra rings, kind of like an evil moustachioed piñata.
After these encounters, the game will speed up a bit and you start running again before another fight and so on. After the third fight the game hits top speed, at which point there are no more rings to be found meaning any collisions with enemies or spikes without a power up result in instant death.
The playable characters are split into three classes; speed, flying and power. Sonic is the only character available at the start as you’d expect since his name’s in the title, with Tails and Knuckles both unlocking as you progress through the game, and are flying and power types respectively. Other characters are also available during special events or performing certain ingame tasks.
Sonic now is able to triple jump which can help navigate larger jumps or big groups of enemies, tails can fly and Knuckles has a spinning power attack that has him burst forward to destroy obstacles or enemies in his path. The power special move also allows you to destroy any special dark metal coloured enemies that are otherwise indestructible. Controlling all three couldn’t be simpler – just tap the screen once to jump and again while in the air to either jump again (and again) as Sonic or use the relevant special move.
Collected rings can be used to level up your characters, which gives them various boosts such as power ups lasting for longer.
The levels are I believe randomly generated using preset segments in different orders, and come in three varieties that designed to play better with each of the character classes. A Green Hill Zone looking area is intended for speed characters, with a cloudy sky area for the flying characters and finally what looks to be the inside of a volcano for power characters. You can use any type of character on any map however, and I tended to stick to speed partly because I just prefer Sonic but mostly due to the triple jump being to me the most useful of the abilities.
As well as the main runners, you can also collect a large number of helpers called buddies that will help you. Each will have a particular perk, such as doubling the rings you collect or allowing you an extra life or score multiplier and so on. As with the playable characters, these unlock in a number of ways.
Finally, there are also a number of special items and abilities that you can select before starting your run. The items are all available to be picked up in the levels, but you can take up to three with you to use whenever you wish. You can also activate a score multiplier or, most helpfully, a backup character that you can switch to if you die.
Traditional Sonic power ups like invincibility and a shield return, as well as a combo boost and several of the Colours Wisp powers; the cyan laser, yellow drill and (my favourite from Lost World) indigo asteroid which all give a score multiplier while active.
Unlike Dash, Sonic Runners also attempts to give a reason for all of the running you’ll be doing, with story sections that are unlocked through attaining a certain amount of score on each map, usually ending with a confrontation with Eggman before moving on to the next one. During these parts he actually fights back, launching missiles or spiked balls of death at you. As you progress into the game these fights get quite a bit harder too, as it takes more attacks to take Eggman down as well as his attacks getting faster.
When the worldwide version of the game launched it was just in time for the anniversary of the release date of the original Sonic the Hedgehog in Japan (the 24th though, which is rather an odd one to bother celebrating) with a number of retro themed items available to unlock such as Mega Drive console and cartridge styled buddies and Classic Sonic which I unfortunately missed out on. This week has just started another event, this time focusing on characters from Sonic and the Secret Rings of all things. I can’t say I’m quite as interested in adding Erazor Djinn to my collection as I would have been to have old style Sonic.
Playing each day gives you access to the free roulette wheel for items or rings, and you can also spend the red star rings that the game will give you fairly regularly (or that you can buy with actual money, since it’s a mobile game after all) to play the premium roulette which will give you characters or buddies.
There’s quite a heavy emphasis on the online leaderboard, with regular rank upgrades for players in the top portion of the leaderboard. While so far the scores I’ve seen are all within the realms of possibility so I’ve been progressing up the ranks nicely, I fear that it’s only a matter of time before people figure out how to post bogus scores to the leaderboards and block genuine players from raising their level.
It’s quite an attractive looking game, with a nice bold art style and colourful design and the music is quite good too. It’s sad then that the sound effects grate massively. I’ve heard the ring sound effect probably millions of times at this point so it hardly registers, but the noise of the score crystals being picked up is simply awful and happens almost constantly.
The menus and announcements before getting into the game are a little over the top, particularly when there’s a special event running. For example here’s everything that you have to get through before you’re even able to start playing at the moment:
It just seems to take forever to actually play the game sometimes, and the sheer level of menus on display here seems really out of place in a game that you’d think would be all about doing things quickly and indeed the previous mobile game, Sonic Jump Fever had gone for that idea – it didn’t even have a title screen and just put you straight at a leaderboard screen with a play button as soon as you open it.
There are also quite a few adverts as it’s a free to play game. You can watch a video for a free revive, which I don’t mind too much as it’s optional, but every other run or so you get stuck waiting for a 30 second video to play. The last couple of mobile Sonics have had a free revive or double rings or whatever item that you could buy from the Play Store to disable the adverts which I was always happy to buy to both support the game and the adverts but there’s nothing of the sort available here, you can just buy the ingame currency.
Irritatingly the Google Play Store tells me that it isn’t compatible with my Galaxy S5, but I don’t have any issues with installing it on my Asus tablet. Reading the Play Store reviews, the S5 isn’t the only very common phone that’s apparently not compatible – I wouldn’t mind as much if there was an actual reason for it, but the game runs perfectly on my phone and better in fact than it does on the ‘compatible’ device so I really have no idea what’s going on there.
When actually playing the game, Sonic Runners is a joy to behold. A bright and colourful distillation of most of the best aspects of the series into a simple and addictive game that I’ve sunk far, far too many hours into so far and it’s still a daily fix for me. The menu design though sadly will likely put a lot of people off as it simply takes way too long to actually get into the game to enjoy it.
Sonic Runners is now available worldwide on Android and IOS devices.