It can be hard to produce a companion app for a high-profile console game. If you get it wrong, it can largely be seen as a cynical micro-transaction-heavy cash grab, or at the very least, a poor afterthought. Which is why it’s good news that SEGA Networks’ Hardlight Studio was tasked with building a new mobile experience to coincide with the launch of Sonic Forces.
Reviewer: Svend ‘Dreadknux’ Joscelyne
Sonic Forces: Speed Battle builds upon the same basic concept as Hardlight’s previous, hyper-popular endless runner, Sonic Dash. This release comes with a twist, however – this is an online multiplayer game, where four players race to reach the end of a course goal first. Matches take place on a small number of studio-designed tracks, on a random rotation, and these stages will be familiar to those who have played the Sonic Forces console game; Metropolis, Green Hill and Sunset Heights are just some of the environments in which you’ll compete.
Outside of the presentation, gameplay is almost identical to Sonic Dash – swipe left and right to change lanes, swipe up to jump and clear low obstacles, and swipe down to spin under bridges and other traps. Enemies are dotted throughout the course, as well as bottomless pits, grind rails and other nuisances – and that’s not including the three real-life opponents you’ll be racing against, who will be chucking all kinds of attacks your way. You’ll need to keep on your toes to stay ahead of the pack.
During a race, rings can be collected to increase your base speed, while item boxes contain a number of boosters, shields and traps that can be used to stop others in their tracks. There are some cool nods and winks to the Sonic Forces console game as well, such as the badnik types you encounter, as well as the suggestion that arch-villain Infinite is somewhat involved in the proceedings (at the beginning of every race, your opponents appear to ‘teleport’ into the stage, in a similar way that Infinite creates projections in the console game).
There’s a lot of progression involved in Sonic Forces: Speed Battle, but the game gives you plenty of opportunities to level up. Completing a race will win you a treasure chest which – like most digital loot crate systems these days – can contain a random selection of boosters and special items. You will almost always get rings (which are used to level up characters), along with red star rings (which can help speed up time-locked activities such as opening special treasure chests) and sometimes you can win character points, which can go towards unlocking (or upgrading) a specific Sonic hero.
Coming first in a race will also net you a special treasure chest, which cannot be opened immediately and are time-locked. These contain higher-value items, and you can set up to four of these chests aside to wait it out while you continue racing. But, because you only have four waiting slots to hold these chests in, you won’t be able to obtain any more if you decide to carry on playing. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from playing continuously, but there’s little incentive to do so if you’re all about collecting characters.
At first, only Sonic is playable, but several races later you quickly unlock some alternative characters. A variety of faces that feature in Sonic Forces are available to play, from Tails and Knuckles to Shadow, Omega and Vector and even Metal Sonic, Zavok and Chaos. Characters are ranked in terms of rarity and have various statistics that affect their Speed, Acceleration and Strength, along with their own unique trio of items that they have access to whenever they grab item boxes mid-race.
To make things a little more interesting, a ‘Star Runner’ is randomly selected at certain intervals during the day which, when used in races, net you double the character/experience points gained from loot chests (and if you want to subject yourself to a 30-second advert each time, you can double the XP a second time, potentially jacking your winnings up by 4X).
Every character has a unique upgrade path, but enough experience points must be earned for that specific hero before you can level them up. When you have enough XP, you spend some gold rings to push your favourite character to the next level. Levelling up characters will enhance their abilities and stats on the race track, and also earns you Player XP (which take the form of blue spiky icons) which builds your game profile and adds enhancements on a global level, such as higher boosts when collecting rings and higher resistance to attacks.
This is one area where it has Sonic Dash beat. The reward ratio in Sonic Forces: Speed Battle is a lot more satisfying and generous compared to the endless runner that preceded it. It’s probably engineered in such a way as to keep players coming back, due to the action being broken up into minute-long races – but the hooks don’t feel exploitative and the micro-transaction metagame is well-balanced. You’ll definitely want to keep playing to unlock the characters, at the very least, and I never felt pressured to buy in to any of the Red Star Ring, Gold Ring or Treasure Chest options that require real-world money to obtain.
But, while this game feels familiar to play, it’s ultimately a different proposition to Sonic Dash, and really the longevity of your engagement with Sonic Forces: Speed Battle will hinge on whether you enjoy short, sharp bursts of play over the more charming, accessible simplicity of Dash. Both have their place, and the unique selling point of Speed Battle’s online multiplayer will give players a specific reason to load the app from time to time.
Sonic Forces: Speed Battle is a fun and engaging game to flick around with on your phone while on the go. Its multiplayer aspect is both interesting and technically robust – connecting to other players was a seamless affair, and live gameplay held up incredibly well in testing, with little to no network dropouts. It might not replace Sonic Dash in the long run, but as an auto-runner that will ultimately compete for attention, it has a decent unique selling point that will often reward your curiosity. Keep it on your phone for a casual race every now and then.
Sonic Forces: Speed Battle is available now on iOS, and coming soon for Android users. This review was formed after playing an advance copy of the iOS app provided by SEGA Europe, as well as experiencing several days of play post-live launch.