Like many people, we’ve managed to download Sonic Runners early, and while we’re holding off reviewing it until there’s an official release, we’re still playing it in the meantime, so we’ll fill you in on our thoughts as we go.
When Sonic Runners, Sega’s push to simplify Sonic into a runner game for smartphones, was announced as a free-to-play game, a lot of players were worried that the title would suffer as a result, hampering gameplay and inundating them with advertisements. As it turns out, those fears were completely founded.
There’s a lot to like about the way Sonic Runners hones the core concepts of the series down into something focused, but to get to any of that gameplay, you’ll be bombarded with myriad pop-ups to tap through first — while launching the game, tapping between screens, before and after levels, even during gameplay. Some of these are tutorials, but most of them are advertisements to get you to invite friends through Facebook for rewards or buy new items.
Just take a look at what we were immediately be hit with when we launched the game today.
Okay, so Sega is giving out Red Star Rings during the first week of the game’s launch, which seems like it could be as early as March 4, but that could also simply just be for the territories it has already launched in. Red Star Rings let you keep going in a level after you’ve died if you’re willing to spend five, and given that they’re relatively rare — without purchasing them with real money, of course — that’s actually a useful pop-up and real incentive to launch the game once a day. Good information. “OK.”
Now we’ve hit an advertisement trying to incentivize us to buy Red Star Rings with real money. No thanks, we just want to play the game. “OK.”
Another advertisement for Red Star Rings, but this time with the added bonus of a new playable character, Amy. But the cost is linking Sonic Runners to our Facebook account and spamming 10 of our friends, so again, no thanks. Just want to play the game. “OK.”
This time it’s an advertisement to simply play the game, do well, and move up in the online rankings. Well, we’d love to play the game, but these pop-ups refuse to let us. “OK.”
To further hammer in the ranking system, the game tells us that we’ve moved up. Great news, but we just want to play the game now. “X.”
Oh right, we forgot; this roulette wheel comes up on your first login of the day to get you a chance to win fabulous prizes or “maybe even a top place in the rankings!” And we all know how important those rankings are. Let’s get this over with. “OK.”
All right, here’s the roulette wheel. If you land on one of the spaces with rings, you’ll get that number of rings and use up a spin; if you land on the “BIG” spaces, the board will offer better prizes and give you an additional spin. You can see in the bottom-right that we’ve got three spins to use up before we’re allowed to play Sonic Runners proper. Fine, let’s get some rings or whatever. “FREE SPIN.”
We won some rings or whatever.
With roulette out of the way, now we’ve hit a pop-up informing us of the daily challenge, which tasks us with collecting 400 rings and reminds us that this is yet another pop-up we’ll have to deal with every day. “NEXT.”
Luckily, that was it, the last pop-up before the game finally allowed us to access the main menu and finally play the game we came here to play — nine pop-up ads and a roulette wheel minigame later. That’s unacceptable and off-putting enough to make a person just close out of the game entirely. Mobile games work best when they let you into and out of the game quickly, since chances are good that you’re only playing that game to entertain yourself for a few minutes while you wait for something else; if that mobile game then makes you wait, too, it’s instantly devaluing itself.
Sonic Runners is a free-to-play game, so it has to be able to advertise reasons to spend money, but a stream of pop-up ads on every launch of the game and between levels is not an effective way to achieve that goal. It’s annoying at best and a fantastic reason to simply uninstall the game from your phone at worst.
As for whether or not Sonic Runners is worth playing once you’ve made it past the pop-ups, though, we’ll have more on that in subsequent coverage.