The good thing about Sega no longer making their own hardware is that Sonic The Hedgehog, that spiky blue icon of 90s pop-culture, is free to try new things on new platforms - unlike his jealously guarded peer Mario. The bad thing about Sega no longer making their hardware is that Sonic The Hedgehog can turn up in anything, anywhere, regardless of how tawdry or cynical. Updated on 10/04/13.
Sonic Dash makes a lot of sense conceptually, and even seems to pay off in first impressions. Sonic's a character about speed, so in a sense he's a natural fit for the Temple Run & Canabalt style endless runner games which currently flood the App Store. He can sprint through familiar environments at high speed, dodging familiar enemies and picking up familiar bonus items, but all from an over-the-shoulder perspective rather than the usual side-on camera.
It's a neat way of looking at the tried and tested from a new angle, and one which accentuates the sense of speed. The swiping and tapping necessary to stop him colliding with spiny robot crabs or hitting an electric boulder at 90MPH is reassuringly involved, everything happening with enough velocity and flash that Dash doesn't come off like the Sonic For Dummies it could have been.
Essentially, it's a decent translation of Sonic from his platforming roots to the fad of the hour, and it looks console-quality in terms of its graphics too. The trouble is that it also slavishly adheres to the other fad of the hour, in-app payments. The debate as to whether these microtransactions add to or subtract from gaming experiences is one as endless as the courses Sonic races across, but even within that strange domain there are dos and don'ts.
The trouble here is that Sonic's barely put a red and white bootie on the ground before the game's prompting you to spend extra money on the rings and stars needed to buy boosts and upgrades. The game doesn't get a chance to breath, to demonstrate how it works and why you'd want these things, because the business model loudly steals focus straight away. Sure, it's a pretty direct borrowing of what Temple Run 2 does, though in this instance you've also paid for the game up front.
Update: At launch, Sonic Dash cost 69p on the App Store but is now free.
Perhaps more importantly, as Sonic is more traditionally associated with challenges of player skill and reflex, having something that's so overtly about paying to shortcut your way to success does grate. What's the point in striving to beat your own best time if you can pay £1.50 to give yourself a huge leg-up?
Worse appropriations of Sonic exist, as anyone who kept their school sandwiches in a fragile plastic lunchbox with his face on or struggled through the horrible spin-off games of the late 90s and early 2000s knows full well. It's just that Sonic Dash seems so clearly an attempt to make a lot of money rather than make a great game. The real tragedy is that at least a decent game does offer glimpses of itself through all the shouting about upgrades and rings - left alone, as a pure challenge of skill against the vicious environment and ticking clock, and in its attractively psychedelic, 90s-evocative environments, this would have totally nailed the essence of Sonic even within this changed genre. As the industry races to adapt to a rapidly-shifting market, unfortunately we've got our beloved hedgehog chasing the smell of money rather than triumph.