Sawbuck Gamer

Sonic Dash

Born To Run

In Sonic Dash, the world’s fastest hedgehog finally gets his own infinite-running game.

By Derrick Sanskrit • March 21, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

It’s not hard to understand why, for a short time in the 1990s, Sonic The Hedgehog was more popular than Mario. Sonic was an icon for the MTV generation: impatient and self-centered, yet noble and loyal to his friends. More than anything else, though, he was fast. The methodical planning of James Bond had fallen out of vogue in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s instant gratification, and Sonic helped kids get where they wanted right now. Angst-filled suburban kids who fancied themselves rebels held Sonic on a pedestal, and for a while, he lived up to the hype. As the ’90s went away, though, the world moved on, and Sonic struggled keep his footing.

The main complaint with Sonic’s games over the past decade has been that he just doesn’t feel fast anymore. That’s not a concern in Sonic Dash, a shallow but polished mobile game in which the blue rodent runs forever, or at least as long as your split-second reactions can keep him upright. Dodge barriers, spin through robots, collect rings, run loops—all the Sonic standards are present in a streamlined touch interface that takes just one thumb to play. It’s the kind of game where you make a quick run during a commercial break. Your score multiplier increases as you complete more missions, which facilitates the inevitable high-score arms race between friends. Sonic Dash is the first game in years to match the hedgehog’s once-beloved personality: It’s quick, brash, and rewards loyalty.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

19 Responses to “Born To Run”

  1. I didn’t have a chance to play much Sonic back in the day, but I dabbled a bit on the Virtual Console. What strikes me about them is that their emphasis on speed is somewhat overstated. My impulse is to dash through at maximum speed, and trust in my reflexes to stay alive. That doesn’t really work, especially in later levels.

    What’s often overlooked is how vertical the stage designs were, especially compared to Mario games. But at the same time, Sonic didn’t always make great use of that space. You could find rings and various temporary power-ups, but the ultimate goal of each stage is just to get to the end. You don’t need to collect keys or anything.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

       I agree.  People came to the original Sonic for the speed, but stayed for the innovative levels.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      To be honest, the original Sonic the Hedgehog has a pretty confused relationship with speed.  The first zone, Green Hill, really showcases the speed (the “blast processing” as the adverts called it), presumably because these would be the levels kids played on the in-store demo before their mom told them they were finished shopping and they were going home.  After that zone, it’s Marble Zone, which slows down the pace considerably as you wait for platforms to get across lava pools and push blocks around to activate switches.  Sonic still does his little impatient idle animation, even though speeding through it would likely result in his death.  It probably isn’t until Star Light Zone that the game would really let you speed through with impunity.

      • The Sonic Rush games on the DS were the best of both worlds, in my opinion. Sprawling levels with multiple disparate paths, heaps of verticality and inventive ways to fly between distant areas, and tons and tons of speed.

      • George_Liquor says:

        Water levels in Sonic games were the worst! Slowly slogging through them just seemed so antithetical to the spirit of the game.

      • Girard says:

        That tension always kind of grips me when I play a Sonic game (which isn’t very often). The character and the way he controls make me just want to hold the right arrow and jump when need be, blazing a blue streak across the game (almost something like Bit Trip Runner) – BUT the levels often work against that impulse, incorporating various platforming challenges that feel more at home in a Mario or MegaMan game, and that seem sort of flow-killing in the context of Sonic. I consequently feel like I can’t actually do what the game wants me to do (GO FAAAAAST!!!!), and feel kind of weirdly frustrated.

    • signsofrain says:

      If you want a great sensation of speed, Sonic Generations updated Chemical Plant zone will scratch your itch.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I think a lot of the problems with the Sonic series stem from the totally unpleasable fanbase, who have no idea what they want. This idea that modern Sonic games aren’t fast enough stems from the backlash against the sluggish feeling Sonic 4, but Sonic Colours and Sonic Unleashed from around the same era balanced speed and precision platforming pretty well (well, Unleashed isn’t a great game, but you know what I mean.) When Sonic 4: Episode 2 was gearing up for a release, and Sonic Generations alongside it, people dropped the whole “Sonic isn’t fast enough anymore” narrative for a “Sonic has always been about platforming!” line of complaint instead.

      Probably because they knew going into it that Sonic 4 wasn’t very good (and indeed felt gluey and imprecise), the marketing team began spinning this tale of how the series has always been about “earned momentum”, and how in Sonic 4 you would have to earn those moments of giddy speed just like you had to in the Genesis classics. It was a crock of marketing shit at the time, but they were basically accidentally correct. In the classic Sonics for Genesis, you weren’t going at a breakneck speed all the time, you spent a great deal of time carefully platforming or exploring, and that deliberate pacing made the games’ breakneck moments all the more exhilarating.

      Over the years the team has experimented with the ratio of platforming to exploration to speed, with results ranging from excellent to shamefully bad, so to suggest that Sonic “isn’t fast enough anymore” or “is about platforming, not speed” is kind of inaccurate. Games that have included a great deal of precision platforming or mucking about have managed to be pretty good (the Adventure series, Colours), and games that have come down in favour of pure speed have also been good (Generations, the Rush games), while games that have just been straight up badly designed have faced a critical drumming regardless of which part of the formula they’ve emphasized (the night sections of Unleashed, Sonic ’06, Sonic 4, the crummier Advance titles). It sounds thuddingly obvious, but it’s worth repeating: the good Sonic games are good because they’re well designed regardless of which element of the Sonic formula they focus on, and the bad Sonic games are bad because they’re bad games, not because they fail to meet the badly defined and constantly shifting whims of an unpleasable and unpleasant fanbase.

      Alright, my extended bout of Sonic Apologism is temporarily concluded.

      • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

         All I want is another Sonic Generations, but without the Bosses and the last three levels. Keep the ultra cheesy soundtrack, though, that’s great.

  2. Morgan Filbert says:

    Immediately starts humming “City Escape theme.”

    • ChicaneryTheYounger says:


    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      The Knuckle’s stages rap songs were better. Also, every sonic game is awful.

      • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

        Did you play Generations?

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          Nope. The last ones I played were the DS ones. I don’t know why I did, I never liked them to begin with really, even though I played a lot of them on the Genesis. 

      • caspiancomic says:

         Fyodor man, I love you, and you seem like a really decent guy, but if we ever meet in person I am now honour bound to kill you.

  3. ChicaneryTheYounger says:

    Gotta go fast!

  4. asdfmnbv says:

    I wasted an enormous amount of my childhood trying to figure out how to do that stupid Spinning Cylinder “puzzle” in the carnival world in Sonic 3. PRESSING UP DOES NOTHING RELEVANT EVER. FUCK YOU SONIC.

    At least Knuckles got to skip it in Sonic 3+Knuckles.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Ah yes, the “Teeth” stopped a lot of young players dead in their tracks back in the day, myself included. The first time I encountered that section I was six years old, and fell back on the usual childhood response to an uncompromising challenge: I asked my parents for help. My dad, who had only ever played one video game in his entire life and had no reason to be able to solve this puzzle, was actually exactly the man for the job for the reason you alluded to above. As an outsider, he had no reason to believe that pressing up would result in nothing important happening, while I had been implicitly trained by the series up to that point to never use that button. In retrospect, all he really did was press every button on the controller to see what would happen, which even at six years old I probably should have been able to manage. During the period leading up to the release of Generations there was some minor speculation that the Teeth were going to be the game’s final boss.

  5. Andy Tuttle says:

    I’ve got my hopes set on an Android version. Let’s make it happen Sega!