I can remember when a new Sonic the Hedgehog game was the biggest story around. I remember live-action adverts, Sonic 2s-day, the disbelief at those first magazine photos of the Sonic & Knuckles cart. "Among Mario's clones," Shigeru Miyamoto told Edge magazine in the late 1990s, "Sonic is a good one." Originality was never the hedgehog's strong point. Even so, copying Temple Run seems a long way to fall from Super Mario.
Viewed from a more optimistic angle, at least the endless running genre's a good match - indeed, Sega's investors may well wonder why it's taken so long. And I mention the moneymen because, while there's good stuff to talk about with Sonic Dash, the entire game is framed and ultimately spoiled by in-app purchases. Sonic Dash costs £1.49 upfront and uses rings and red stars as currencies - the former picked up and banked in-game, the latter awarded rarely and used to unlock new characters and buy continues. The standard ring-doubling booster will set you back £2.49 - pretty cheeky, I thought - but even with this you'll acquire upgrades at a snail's pace, and without additional purchases or some pretty dedicated play it won't unlock more than one character, if that. So: £4 for an endless runner, and a few more quid each if you fancy playing as Knuckles or Tails.
This probably wouldn't annoy me so much if Sonic Dash didn't have a habit of telling you to buy £19.99 packs of rings and stars after a game over. It asks directly for more money multiple times during every session in a manner so brazen and intrusive, it feels shoddy. Sonic is first and foremost a children's character, one that specifically appeals to young boys; I know this, so Sega knows it a hundred times over, and yet it has decided to release a product that demands cash from players again and again for things like power-ups. Honestly, when did three lives get replaced with purchasable revive tokens? Just because you can do something, as the saying goes, doesn't mean you should.
I have a lot of sympathy for developer Hardlight, because the (not so) micro-payments are down to Sega, and outside of these the studio has crafted a speedy and fun take on the genre; not quite Pitfall, but better than Temple Run. The randomly-generated zones are filled with classic obstacles and enemies zooming towards you at an ever faster rate, and are showed off by some fantastic camerawork as Sonic zooms through long, twisting paths and loops. Rings are everywhere, which protect Sonic from a single enemy hit but not a collision, and can be 'banked' between zones to gradually level up the hog.
Perhaps more important than anything visual, however, are the sound effects - the tinkling of rings and sproingy springs that instantly put you back in the Green Hill Zone at the age of 10. When you get hit, the rings still burst out of Sonic with that unmistakeably calamitous jangling - a sound that still captures, better than any other, the sheer annoyance of running into a giant enemy crab.
There is a good game here, and enough nostalgia to mask - for a while at least - the obnoxious shilling. Sega seems to find it hard enough to make a decent Sonic game these days, and then it goes and publishes something like Sonic Dash - which with a little more polish could be great, but is instead rushed and spoiled by greed. I'm sure it will make an awful lot of money. And it also makes you think about how some characters change with the times, while others become also-rans.