Sonic Runners: The Retro Review

Sonic Runners

Originally, I was just going to throw up a clip of The Critics’ Jay Sherman just saying his trademark line of “It stinks!” but that would be simply broadside-ing with an elephant gun what at its core is a good game wrapped up in layers of garbage, like one of those Babushka figurines.

So, let’s talk Sonic Runners. Even though Sonic Dash is still very much a thing and is celebrating 100 million downloads by shoe-horning in a brand it has no business even associating with in Angry Birds, Sonic Team decided it wanted to take a stab at this crazy bizarre world known as mobile freemium development.

Enter Runners. Simple enough premise: Sonic and friends run to the right and collect gems and rings through an obstacle gauntlet of spikes, enemies, dash rings, pits, loops–you name it. At the end of each segment, Sonic encounters Eggman hauling a stash of goodies and is tasked with smacking that old greedy capitalist of all his money for your own purposes. Then the level speeds up and repeats with a more difficult layout. Rinse and repeat two more times to max speed until you eventually die.

Throughout this, you’re treated to very simple stories of Team Sonic helping out Animal friends, lost Chao, and even scared groups of Wisps in their battle to stop Dr. Eggman from whatever anti-environmental/furry critter plot he’s hatching for that chapter. It may sound like I’m complaining or ready to just eviscerate the game, but this isn’t the case.


I really like all of this. The game here is elegant in its simplicity and it’s pretty amusing, especially in little short bursts during the work commute, while waiting for someone, or if you just have nothing better to do and want to kill a little time. The gameplay is sound and the story goes back to simple roots seen in the Genesis titles (Eggman’s doing something bad with the environment, go kick his ass.)

Really, at its core, Sonic Runners is actually an example on how to properly adapt a classic franchise into the mobile space. It certainly worked out for Rayman: Jungle Run, except Ubisoft decided to charge $2.99 for that game. I even like the simple design of the characters and art style. This is basically what SEGA and Sonic Team should have been aiming for when making Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. This is basically *it.*

But in true Sonic Team fashion, you know that the team in charge of the team that made this game has to find a way to absolutely spoil the soup; And they do so in spectacular fashion.

It’s clear that Sonic Runners is a game made to be a mobile “freemium” title developed and operated by a publisher that have never made such a game before. The game is loaded to the brim with almost every pay gimmick imaginable: pay for red rings, limited lives, THREE separate roulette wheels for unlockables using an in-game currency that doesn’t come in ample supply but you can totally spend real money to earn gobs of. As I write this, the game has a Classic Sonic playable character players are able to unlock, but only on the six percent chance that the roulette wheel (worth 50 red rings or 10 boss kills to spin once) lands on it.


The game is also poorly optimized, something which players who have been catching on through the .apk leaks have said is newer. I played the game on both my Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 2013 with all non-essential background processes turned off and there were many times the framerate would chug which resulted in the game not reading an input tap and sending me to my death. The game would then say, “Hey, you got no more retries. Either buy more or go away.”

Considering the game only grants you three rechargeable lives and each life takes 30 minutes to recharge, this makes participating in events or even progression through the game a bit of a chore, especially in later stages where you need lots of points to progress the mini-stories. Each level attempt is worth one “retry”, so you only get three shots at a level unless you purchase more (fortunately, with rings.)

The game, like any other free-to-play title, is also chock full of advertisements. These video ads can be viewed for a free life, which isn’t unreasonable all things considered. It only gets jarring when they pop up in between levels, or when you quit the game and they throw up an ad. Some of these run for 10 seconds, others can be skipped after five seconds. I ran into some that run for a full 30-45 and did not offer the opportunity to skip or close the ad. These are rare, but the fact they’re allowed through is awful. Having them go up between levels is also a strange choice. It’s like playing Sonic Adventure and having an ad show up for Hydro Thunder after clearing Emerald Coast.

But the biggest complaint I have on the game is easily required online. Why developers force this as an attempt to prevent cheating is beyond me, as it just extremely limits when the game can be played. I’m not blessed with a great data plan, and playing during the commute is basically impossible without risking overage charges or losing signal if I’m taking the subway. Others will come sympathize with this too, and there may be people with slow or wonky internet connections for whatever reason. While this solution may work for the tightly packed metropolitan areas in Japan, it’s pointless through out the rest of the world.


It also does not help that the game dangles Amy Rose as a playable character over your head like holding a strip of bacon over a dog, but only if you spam your Facebook friends with invites to play the game and then 10 of those sign up. Why even resort to this kind of tactic unless you’re that deathly afraid your game will fail, especially when it’s associated to one of the few platformer brands to survive the ’90s and still have some sort of recognition?

New players, now that the launch is officially global, are also forced to compete against players that have been playing the game for months and have much better gear. This isn’t a huge complaint, but it’s more that there have already been several events to unlock other playable characters or earn more in-game items. It’s likely they will return later in the year, but new players are left out in the cold. These characters come with their own bonuses that make them more ideal to play if you want to get higher scores (required to increase your ranking for better prizes.)

The game would be INSTANTLY improved just by removing forced online and removing the life limit. As it stands now, Runners is a good core game buried under so much garbage that it chokes the experience.  You’re almost better off spending the $2.99 for Rayman Jungle Run and its sequel since it does what Runners here tries to do without any of the stupid overhead. You can even play it without being connected to the Internet! What a concept!

I don’t know why I’m so disappointed with the game. It could just be frustration of the usual Sonic Team mantra of “one step forward, three steps back” that makes being a fan of the series really frustrating, especially considering this is the “big” Sonic game of the year. If you can get through the layers of garbage Sonic Team piled on the game, you may find yourself hanging around, but it becomes an exercise of patience as, unlike Sonic Dash, spending real money does not make the advertisements go away.

So, until SEGA and Sonic Team can get their head straight, limit down the amount of “freemium” gimmicks, optimize the game so it doesn’t chug, and focus on the strong gameplay they have, I can’t give it anymore than a resounding Jay Sherman…


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  • Reply

    Thanks for your review. The game to me is even less enjoyabe than Sonic Boom(!), at least in Boom you aren’t forced online, and have to wait 5 minutes before each game.

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    I would gladly pay $2.99 or even $4.99 for an experience more in-line with Rayman. Maybe we’ll eventually get a premium version that cuts through the crap? Though just knowing Classic Sonic is there, it’ll be hard to stay away from, anyway.

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    It a freemium duh?? Why do you expect they will granted you all for free? Besides these advertisements were just included when it was worldwide but in Japan is wasn’t. And online granted you decent amount of red star and golden rings at very least. Some customers wanted to be spoiled so much huh? No wonder.

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      This post is an insultt. You didn’t even bother to bait the hooks properly. That or Sega must be paying you a handy $2.98 by the hour to make dumb defenses like this.

      It’s hilarious that you insinuate that all freemium games aren’t supposed to make everything free, or even that Gene even wanted the game to provide him all of the content at no extra cost. Is that why he compared the game unfavorably to Sonic Dash -another freemium mobile Sonic game- and argued it should have an option to pay for the permanent removal of non-optional ads?

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        You can also unlock other characters by saving up in-game currency if you didn’t feel like relying on the roulette when they showed up in Dash. I’m saying give players other options, not this weird pseudo-gambling fixation Japan has a hard on for.

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          Agreed. I’d gladly pay real money for Classic Sonic. $5 for sure, $10 even is a maybe. But the fact that it’s real money in addition to a gamble is just awful. I mean it’s literally gambling with real money. It’s even a roulette wheel.

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    “It’s clear that Sonic Runners is a game made to be a mobile “freemium” title developed and operated by a publisher that have never made such a game before.”

    Actually, this is far from Sega’s first freemium title! The Kingdom Conquest series has been going strong since 2010! There’s also Chain Chronicle, which is arguably one of the most fun and original mobile JRPGs out there at the moment. It’s even getting its own anime! Exciting stuff.

    There’s also the Japanese-exclusive Gendou Senki: Griffon, Ciel Ark, and Ange Vierge; just to name a few. SEGA’s got already got pretty hefty history of successful free to play mobile titles out at this point (Kingdom Conquest was their most profitable IP from 2011-2012), so Sonic Team’s the inexperienced party at play here.

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      I’d question why SEGA allowed them to go forward as they did then, but at this point I imagine they just let Sonic Team do whatever since it’ll sell.

      Great post, though!

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    But you didn’t go so far as to create a new scale that shows which diseases you’d rather have than play this game.

    • Reply

      Too many to list. Bubonic Plague makes the short list.

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    I kinda forgot about Sonic Runners while it was still in soft launch. Did they actually change the regeneration limit of lives from five to three? Then that is kind of a blow for a freemium title. A shame because the soft launch version of the game was decent (albeit it still had some major problems covered in the review above.)

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    Great review of sonic runners, points out some flaws that should be fixed. I’ve been playing since the soft launch was announced on this same website. It seems like the soft launch version was used to gain momentum. There was at least 5 rechargeable lives, about 15 min for each one, 3 roulette spins and beating the boss Dr. Robotnik (I hate the name “Eggman” and the mini Death Eggs in the story line) would yield 6000 rings and 10 red star rings. Never saw an ad in any soft version. There was always the get this and that by inviting friends but only at the beginning of the new week. The ranking system was wonky and the daily challenges which are supposed to be from 1 to 7 was wonky as well. I would start a game, beat my first daily challenge for the day and find myself winning the 10 red rings for day 7, play again and i would win a different day, like 2 or 5. There was less lag issues then and i believe that there should be more stage settings than the current 3 (really, how many similar caves are there on this adventure) and some actual chaos emerald special stages. But now it seems that since the game was such a success everywhere they have a right to bump up prices and bump down prizes (they must still not like Americans or believe that we’re made of money). The new version bumps roulette spins to 1, lives to 3 and boss earnings to 5 red star rings. I also believe that there should be a back up method to saving your progress on your phone locally until you recieve a cell/wifi signal (I would know, got my best highest score in the game today and i had gone from 4G LTE to no signal at all on my journey from suburbia to woods and farm country). Lost my progress after the game locked up from warning me that i had no signal and trying to find a signal. I also hate that you lose your unused wisps/power ups if you fail during gameplay. I like the new ad system which gives you 1 free continue for watching an ad, better than hitting an ad during gameplay. It’s a good start for a mobile game made ONLY by Sonic Team but it also doesn’t account for the Genesis Era kids who are now working adults. Only 1 week to beat a special stage and gain prizes is not easy for the actual hardcore fans (My break is only 30 mins long!). Maybe this will lead to more mobile sonic titles with less clutter, like a full non-freemium sonic the hedgehog game. I’ll pay $4.99 for that, just don’t use the Sonic 4 engine… please.

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    Couldn’t agree more with this review. I wrote nearly the exact same thing in my little comment on the Android store last night. Neat little game with simple, enjoyable mobile Sonic play… buried beneath so much freemium BS constantly shoved in your face that you’re just over it in no time. And worst of all, the online requirement. My connection messes up and I have to force close on loading screens.

    Good little game ruined by being turned into a cash register, and some real stupidity with the online requirement.

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