Sonic dashes onto Apple Arcade
Sonic Dash is not a new game, but it might be the best Sonic experience on mobile that's not a port of the classics. I was addicted to the original Sonic Dash back when it first released in 2013 (!!!). Back then the auto-runner genre was a relatively fresh way to play games on mobile. Riding off the success of Temple Run in 2011 (god I'm old), Sonic just makes sense as an auto-runner style game. I was using an iPhone 5 back then and while I may want to slow down the never ending flow of time now, we can safely say that Sonic doesn't slow down for anybody.
Well sometimes Sonic does come to a crashing halt. None of Sonic's mobile games have quite lived up to the height of Sonic Dash over the years. Not even Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom, Sonic Forces, Sonic Jump, Sonic Runners, Sonic Racing, or Sonic's Bomb Squad. And no, I did not make any of those games up. Of course, the actual Sonic Dash app looks pretty different now than it did in 2013. The regular game has ads and in-app purchases everywhere, making it very hard for me to even want to play. When a game has pop-up ads that disrupt gameplay, it's an instant turn off for me. Luckily that's where Apple Arcade comes to the rescue.
Sonic Dash + (emphasis on the plus) is Sonic Dash except with absolutely zero in-app purchases or ads. The removal of those ads/places to spend real money turns Sonic Dash + into a whole new game.
Welcome to the next level
I know I said earlier that auto-runners have been around for a long time, but a lot of them are still extremely popular. Subway Surfers is consistently in the top 10 on iOS despite releasing in 2012, and there are a lot of low effort auto-runners that cycle through the top 100 list. Even Sonic Dash (the regular version with ads and IAP) is in the top 25.
Most auto-runners, including Sonic Dash +, only require a few swipes or taps to play. While I know Temple Run and Subway Surfers are fun, nobody can deny that Sonic's gameplay style is extremely well suited for the auto-runner genre. Sonic and his friends run automatically, and your job is to navigate obstacles in your way. Swiping left/right will move you left and right, swiping up jumps, and swiping down allows you to roll in a ball. The gameplay is more or less that simple.
As you roll around at the speed of sound you'll collect rings, which can then be used to level up your characters. Sonic Dash + features the same base roster as the non-Apple Arcade version, although you'll now unlock all characters via gameplay instead of having the option to just buy some with real money. There's a "builder" section where you can upgrade the zones that you're dashing through, and upgrading each one will eventually unlock a character from that zone. Other characters must be purchased with the red rings that you'll occasionally find and there are also weekly events where you can unlock beloved Sonic favorites such as... Longclaw the mother owl? Knuckles specifically from the Sonic 2 movie? I hope Sonic Dash + eventually adds Pacman, which was apparently a limited time thing in the regular version.
You can compete in a weekly challenge where your total distance for the week is compared to others, although I didn't find much incentive to participate. Otherwise there are also mini challenges called "tasks" that award gems and XP which you then can use in the builder to upgrade each zone.
There are 8 stages to dash through from Green Hill Zone to Mushroom Hill Zone, but unlocking them is a real grind. You'll need to increase your overall player level, which is done via upgrading characters, upgrading zones, and completing tasks. As your player level increases you'll unlock new zones, but the later zones take exponentially more time to unlock. I enjoy grinding in games, but the problem here is that the gameplay of Sonic Dash + doesn't change with each zone - They all play identically. The only tangible difference between zones is the type of animal required to customize the zone in the builder mode.
You can see the nostalgia but you can't hear it
For those who grew up playing Sonic games, there is a lot of nostalgia on display here. Despite Sonic Dash being nearly a decade old, the graphics are clean and everything runs well. I did find it odd that some zones have their own theme song while others just use the same generic music that plays throughout all of Sonic Dash +'s menus. I could understand maybe the first zone re-using the menu music, but why is Green Hill Zone missing its iconic theme? Emerald City Zone has music that is reminiscent of Sonic R's "Livin' in the City", but it still somehow manages to sound much more generic. The Sonic series has tons of great music to pull from. Doesn't Sega own the rights to these songs? You'd think they'd be able to include much better songs for each zone.
Gotta conclude fast
Sonic Dash + is simply better on Apple Arcade. I revisited the original Sonic Dash to compare, and the amount of ads in that version is ridiculous. In the regular version you can watch an ad to revive yourself, there are ads for the Sonic movies, you can buy currency with real money, and you can buy versions of the characters wearing themed clothing (baseball, armor, etc.).
Sonic Dash + without the intrusive ads and in-app purchases feels like an entirely new game. It's not going to set the world on fire with its decade-old gameplay, but it's a great pick up and play game that you can play for 2 minutes or 2 hours.
Feels like a new game without the ads/in-app purchases
Gameplay is still great fun, and fits Sonic well
Generic soundtrack... Where is the Sonic music from previous games?!
Later zones require grinding to access and are essentially a pallet swap instead of offering anything new