Hey, didn’t you guys already review this game? Why yes we did, and we’ve been talking about if we should take another look at it since with every update it seems to change. Well, following the worldwide release, we feel that Runners has changed enough that our previous review really doesn’t apply or match up with the experience you’ll get with this game.
So here is my review on Sonic Runners, based on the worldwide release build. This will focus more on the changes between the original review and the technical performance of the game since the plot is the same and the premise of the game is the same. That said however, a lot has changed… sadly a lot has changed for the worst.
So I’m not sure how some will react with my next line but here goes… On a technical level, this is probably one of the worst Sonic game made. Yes, I am including Sonic 06 and Sonic Boom in that, it is awful, it really is. The worldwide release is plagued with issues ranging from freezing, stuttering, lag, game breaking/ruining bugs, as well as overheating issues which can potentially put the device you’re using at risk.
… You were expecting me to praise this game given how I loved the initial release? Well on a gameplay level, it’s a really fun and charming game… Which Sega have ruined by adding in the very worst of free to play features and a near broken DRM/always online requirement which by the way is doing nothing to prevent cheaters,
For full disclosure, I have used a range of different Android devices to try and play the game. Primarily I have used a Samsung Galaxy S5, however I have also tested a Nexus 7 and a Sony Xperia Z3, all of which suffer from the same and in some cases more serious problems. All of these devices could previously run Sonic Runners during the soft launch period with virtually no problems.
So lets start with the basics, though odds are you already know this. Sonic Runners is a side scrolling endless runner in which you start off as Sonic before unlocking Tails and Knuckles.
The premise of every stage is to run as far as you can and collect as many rings and gems as possible in order to get a huge score which progresses you further along the map before you reach the end of the episode/level.
Before I should go any further, I should mention that Sonic Runners uses multiple forms of currency. There are normal gold rings which are in plentiful supply. Then there are red rings which are much rarer. We’ll cover both of these later.
At the end of each stage you are given a small reward: normally gold rings or red rings, though sometimes you get an item. The rings you can use to level up characters which improve their stats. Stats are for things like score bonus increases or item effect durations increase. You’ll find you’ll need to level up characters if you want higher scores and find it easier to progress in later stages.
However, the worldwide release differs from the initial release with the inclusion of an experience bar. This bar will fill based on how many rings you pick up in the game, which means you can save on spending those rings if you regularly use a character. By level 20 however, you’ll find it’s not worth waiting and will just spend those rings on your power level. Which again, do you do this from rings collected, or once more, there is that micro-transaction system hint hint wink wink.
Whilst the level cap is 100, the gains from level 50 onwards are so poor there is absolutely no point in waiting to level up, so spend those rings.
What else can you spend rings on? Nothing. Just levelling up characters. I will talk about red rings near the end of the review. Needless to say, I am not happy.
Levels are split into three types: Speed, Flight and Power. Each is designed to be played by a specific character type, though you’ll quickly find that you’ll only ever want to play as either speed or flight since Power characters are so useless compared to the other two. They’re only useful for their own stages, whereas the other types are great on every stage, with flight characters taking the top of the character tier list.
As you progress through the game, you start very simple stories involving Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and various other characters. Normally it’s “Eggman is doing a thing! Lets go stop him.” “Help! This character is missing, lets go find them!” Whilst the climax does build up into something more dramatic, this type of story is rare and a one off.
Some may find it nice that we’ve gone back to a simple story in which it’s just “Sonic goes after Eggman because Eggman did something bad.” though others may find these stories far too basic to enjoy. Personally I began to skip some of the stories since they were so repetitive and dull.
The stage layout is the same as the soft launch version. No changes. It’s a decent layout combining challenge, flow and multiple paths, however I’m not sure that in some places the higher path is the most rewarding. In some stages, the lower path is clearly more viable in terms of score.
It should be really enjoyable, and in the pre worldwide version it is. It’s a great example as to how you can adapt a classic Sonic game for a modern mobile market place, slap a small price tag on it and you have a great experience for the daily commute or for killing a spare half hour.
It’s fun and addictive. If the game had a price tag of say £2.99, I would buy this in a heartbeat. It’s a really nice charming game which is bloody good.
So what’s the problem?
Pretty much everything underpinning that which turns Runners into a near unplayable mess which is designed to rob the player of their time and money, turning runners into a gambling machine.
The game has very poor optimisation. It’s so poor in fact that after only 5 minutes it starts to stutter, lag and in some cases completely freezes. How bad is it? Well remember how I said I tested this game on three different devices? Here is how Runners used to perform.
- Galaxy S5: Flawless, phone was slightly warm, but otherwise flawless.
- Sony Xperia Z3: Near Flawless, phone got hotter than the S5, but otherwise fine, however battery drained quicker than the S5.
- Nexus 7 (2013): Wasn’t tested, but is compatible with the game.
Here is how those devices performed with the worldwide release.
- Galaxy S5: Initially, the game runs fine… but after 5 min of play time the phone gets very hot, gameplay begins to stutter, lag, some occasional freezing in areas with lots of objects. Game eventually becomes near unplayable.
- Xperia Z3: Same as the S5, however after 5 min the temperature of the phone increases by 16-20°C (value taken from built in battery monitoring app) the game will then completely crash. Battery life is drained by 20% after only 5 min.
- Nexus 7 (2013): This was a fresh install so we only played the tutorial. We couldn’t accurately test the lag effects with lots of objects on the screen… But after 5 minutes of play, the device became too hot to comfortably hold and we had to turn it off to cool the device down. We were afraid it would cause lasting damage to the device and the owner then requested we immediately delete Runners and never install it on again.
You want to know something even more head scratching? These were running in streamlined mode, which is designed to take pressure of the processor and make the game perform better…. however our soft launch versions did not have streamlined mode turned on! Yet it’s performing this badly with streamlined mode on!?
Sega… What the hell happened!? How do two of the most advanced phones on the market go from playing the game flawlessly to struggling and in one case failing after 5 min of gameplay time?
The Nexus 7 can probably be explained by the fact it’s older hardware and Runners does demand a lot. But still, the heat generated was worrying to the owner of the device so if you have a Nexus 7 2013, avoid runners like the Black Death.
This is just bad optimisation, pure and simple. There is no way a game like Runners should be causing this many problems on these devices. Whilst I personally haven’t been able to test an iOS build, I’ve been told it’s a lot better, which suggests to me the Android version is a port which got little development or tooling. I would say that this claim is further supported by the fact that the Android version on launch crashed during start up due to a major problem the always online DRM, questioning how this got past the Q&A if the game had been optimised for this platform.
So technically, the game is bad. It’s really bad. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s there with Sonic 06 and Rise of Lyric, because for as buggy as those games are, at least they allow you to play for more than 5 min and do not melt your system.
Other noticeable bugs: Buddies no longer pick up animals, the asteroid wisp will sometimes spiral to the top of the screen out of control, totally ruining a run.
Then there is this odd thing…
Yes it’s funny, but you add this will the other technical problems and you really do question if any optimisation or QA took place.
Aside from it’s technical performance, are there any other problems. Yes… dear lord yes.
Lets get onto the Red Rings. Red Rings are the second form of currency that this game uses, they are much harder to come by and when you get some, it’s in very limited stock. Red Rings are used to by normal rings or extra lives, but their primary use is to use on the roulette wheel and gain buddies.
What are buddies? They’re small characters that accompany you in stages which add a bunch of effects ranging from score boosters to ring recovery and other positive effects. The vast majority of them are pointless, but some of the rarer ones are highly valuable and the key to doing well on the leader boards.
The catch is that the only way to get them is from either a special event, or from spending 50 red rings on the roulette wheel, at which point you are granted a random buddy. If you get the same buddy, it levels up before capping at level 5. The problem now is that following the worldwide release, Sega has drastically slashed the number of red star rings you can get.
How bad is it? Well under the soft launch version, completing all parts of the final scenario rewarded you with 90 red rings. 10 for each episode, 50 for the final boss. To complete the final scenario, you need a total score of 50 million, so 50 million = 90 red rings.
But in the worldwide launch, you only get 5 per episode and only 10 for the final boss! So now you only get 30 for completing the 5 hardest levels in the game. A total point requirement of 50 million, so 50 million = 30 red rings!
What about other red ring methods? You can randomly find one in a stage, Eggman may drop one if you’re lucky, and if you spam your friends Facebook accounts you can get 10 if they sign up to Runners and use your referral… oh wait hang on… that feature is currently broken.
You are therefore forced to use real world money to buy red rings. And how have Sega welcomed new users to this? By ripping them off.
Prior to the worldwide launch, the highest red ring price was £24.99 for 700 red rings. In the new worldwide version it’s £30 for 481, yet they still have the gall to claim that this is a sale price! But wait? What’s that bonus +1019 red ring amount, that apparently gets removed if you are actually silly enough to buy rings from the store? They call it a ‘first time buyers bonus.’ After you make your first purchase, it returns to 481.
For new players who have just picked up the game, sorry to say this but you are totally screwed. You won’t ever be able to touch those who have been playing this game for months. Their buddies are too well levelled up and they have the special limited edition characters which boost score. Don’t even try, it’s over.
…Unless you spend several hundred pounds in red rings. Then you ‘might’ have a chance, but you won’t. You won’t because you won’t have the limited edition characters who have better bonuses, so why even bother?
And now we get to a major problem with Sonic Runners in terms of it’s design and ethical issues.
The game has now forced you to use the micro-transaction system. The only thing worth spending that on is the roulette wheel, which is no different than playing real roulette in a casino. You pay money, then take a chance at the wheel to get a reward.
Sonic Runners essentially becomes a miniature gambling machine, you are enticed to put real money in, then spend that money in the form of red rings, you gamble those rings for prizes, this is gambling, there is no other way to describe it. Then we get into the very murky waters of the fact that the game is aimed at children. This is a miniature gambling game aimed at kids. Surely this should have a higher ESRB rating than it currently does given that it has gambling in it?
Before you say ‘well it’s not really gambling’ explain how? It’s no different from any other form of gambling. In fact it’s just a virtual form of casino chips, if you spend money on this game, then use those rings on the wheel, you are gambling, think about that for a moment. Some of you will be ok with it, but I know a few won’t be.
Were red rings common in the original? No, you still had to work to earn them, but you could get them for playing and doing well if you were dedicated and were generally good at the game. Now, they’re virtually non existent. So few are available that you’ll be crying out for special events or bite the bullet and spend real money to gamble with.
Your chances to get rings are further restricted due to the life/revive change. Whilst this change came during the soft launch, it was done so close to the worldwide launch it’s worth mentioning; you are now only given 3 lives. 1 life will recharge every 30 min. After which you’re told to buy more or wait until they recharge.
Even more pathetic an insult, Sega have been releasing new characters. The only way to get them is by using the roulette wheel. There’s a mere 6% chance at getting said characters. The catch is that their bonuses are much better than the default characters, so if you want to compete, gotta get these characters.
Even Amy is dangled in front of your face like some kind of bait. Spam your Facebook friends who might have no interest in the game, hope they’ll use your referral and you might get Amy… except Facebook links are currently broken so this is impossible.
You want more examples of how the free to play nature ruins what is a decent game? Adverts… everywhere, even for completing a stage, you now get an advert, say goodbye to your mobile data limits as these are video files, the majority of which are 30 seconds long. So far I’ve not seen one which relates to Sonic or Sega, and some have nothing to do with gaming.
This brings me onto another change. When you die in a stage, you can continue if you watch a video advert (there is a limited number per day). This sounds like a great idea… but like most other parts of the game, there are problems. Sometimes the adverts don’t play, sometimes the adverts crash or freeze your game, forcing you to quit, taking with it your life and doesn’t compensate you in any way, and sometimes the adverts are for things not available in your region. I got one advert for medication which isn’t available in the UK!
The always online requirement is still here, and once again it’s proved how pointless it is, players are already cheating and have been cheating for months, asking the question, why the hell is this even a thing? The game would be so much better if this wasn’t even here, it’s just pointless and restrictive to how and where you can play.
So I’ve complained for a while, might as well offer some solutions to these problems.
- Scrap the online only requirement, it doesn’t do anything and isn’t preventing cheating.
- Optimise the game. For the love of god optimise the game for Android.
- Return the red ring rewards for completing the final episode to the soft launch levels.
- Stop putting characters on the roulette wheel and give us a store to buy them from for a limited period of time.
Overall, Sonic Runners was once a really great little game. It was really fun to play and I got lots of enjoyment from it. Then something happened called the Worldwide launch and Sonic runners was turned into a broken mess littered with adverts and the very worst of methods to try and extract money from you.
That’s not a browser advert, I just felt you all needed to see a Game of War advert, since Runners wants you to see them all the time, maybe it’s viral marketing for Eggman’s army having a cross over in Game of War?
Don’t do it, do not waste your time with this, there was a great game here, it’s gone now, it died with the worldwide release. Unless they fix the blatantly broken android version, radically overhaul the red ring system and cut down the adverts avoid this game.
– In terms of its technical performance, it’s easily one of the worst Sonic games of all time.
– Stuttering, lag, freezes after a short period of play.
– Always online.
– It’s a gambling machine aimed at children.
– Designed to take money from you, not reward your ability to play.
– Overheating of your device.
– Trying to explain to your partner why their expensive phone has melted/no longer performs well due to overheating.
*Review based on the Android version of the game, running on Galaxy S5, Nexus 7 (2013) & Sony Xperia Z3.*
Played on the iPhone 5C, using the latest version of iOS.
When I reviewed the initial build of the game, I had nothing but praise for it. In fact, I called it the best Sonic title we’ve seen since Sonic Generations. While I hold to what I said regarding that soft launch version… there’s no way I can continue to hold that opinion with this new worldwide release.
First, I want to go over the positives – the game is still simple and fun in terms of its gameplay. It inherits some of the classic design philosophies but modernised for a new platform and it’s fun to experience. Furthermore, the production values haven’t gone anywhere either. The music from Ohtani is still top notch (if not slightly repetitive by the game’s nature) and the visuals are still great.
Something I highlighted as a positive in my initial look was how it was fair with its freemium nature. This has, unfortunately, become quite the opposite. Runners’ worldwide build finally is using in game advertisements to a mixed approach. I don’t mind having the ability to use a free revive by viewing an ad, but I don’t appreciate them appearing when I try to see my results or return to the main menu.
Red Rings have also become a true premium currency with a questionable approach. The soft launch version not only was more generous in terms of how it rewarded players with them, but I also never felt pressured to spend them. This version has cut rewarded Red Rings in half for defeating most boss encounters in game and upped prices in the store – this, alongside the awful luck based system to earns new characters and buddies, only discourages me from playing the game or purchasing premium currency.
My other negatives still stand also. The game does lack variety (don’t expect to be playing Runners for long periods of time without becoming bored), the story is still abysmally uninteresting/poorly written, and some obstacles in the game feel very cheap. But aside from what I’ve mentioned above, there’s still one more gigantic negative the worldwide version has brought – which is performance issues.
Never during the game’s soft launch builds did I ever experience issues with how the game performed. It ran smoothly and meant that generally, players at fault would be punished fairly. The worldwide version has brought very noticeable stuttering and lag to the gameplay. And this wouldn’t be much of an issue… if it didn’t cause your runs to mess up completely. Lag will make your jump go a little too high, or for you to miss an enemy, or to hit that obstacle you had dodged a thousand times before suddenly smack you in the face. This issue affects the experience immensely.
A few other things I should mention about this worldwide version of the game, as it stands:
- A great fix the game made was showing players what level they would be facing before they entered regardless of the progress you made. This allows you to be much more prepared, and not feel cheated when you enter a level with Tails and fail immensely in a power based stage.
- Revive tokens have been completely nerfed. Not only have they been cut to three, the recovery time for them has been increased. This could be to encourage players to connect with their Facebook friends so they can send revive tokens to one another.
- A new experience system has been introduced. A great idea in concept and would encourage you to perform better in your runs – however the experience system feels limited and not generous on any level, even at just level 10. It makes you think it may just be another nudge to spend more rings, which in turn may make you want to use premium currency to attain…?
I’d quite frankly call the worldwide launch of Sonic Runners a bit of a failure – not only have they made a fun little mobile game a money hungry monster, they’ve introduced new problems to soft launch players that never existed before. This version of Runners is not the same experience anymore, and that truly saddens me.