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Iconic character returns in freemium racer
Size: 198 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
Many iconic characters of yore have found a new home on the modern App Store – some with more success than others.
But Sonic has always had a pretty decent reputation on the iPhone. Many of the old classics from Sega’s early 90s console heyday have successfully translated where so so many ports have failed. But it doesn’t mean Sega has chosen that success over the often-dreaded freemium approach. Sonic Forces is the developer’s latest adventure in striking the balance between gameplay, in-app purchases, and ads. Sadly, it’s mostly failed on that front.
But first let’s look at the fun bit – the gameplay. Sonic Forces is essentially an on-rails racer. You join three other characters – all real human players that you’re automatically connected to via a server – and you compete for grand prizes. (The live connection, of course, does mean that you need data or Wi-Fi to play.) You can move your character side to side over the four lanes, avoiding obstacles as you go, while trying your best to collect the iconic rings (to go faster) and powerups (to slow others down). Each character has its own set of powerups, which means there’s plenty of fun to be had across the franchise’s cast of characters – including Tails, Knuckles and more.
This element is hugely fun. Once you get a proper handle on the simple controls, the matching of players by ability and level is impressively well done. Sure, you’ll have a couple of bad races, but you’ll have some proper stormers too.
So, where does it fall down? Well, we found it incredibly difficult to unlock characters. After each race, you’re awarded a chest of prizes. This usually includes a number of points towards a new character. Get 90 of these points, and they’re unlocked. But across 15 or so characters, and the time it takes to actually get into the race, you can spend hours and still not unlock any. Most of our time here was stuck with Sonic, as adorable as he is.
Sure, there are ways to do it faster – such as watching a video to double rewards, but when you’ve just finished watching a 30-second video ad between each race, it’s not cool of Sega to expect us to watch another just to get a leg up.
Elsewhere, there are various other add-ons and bonuses you can buy via IAP. Interestingly, buying just ones of these IAPs (the cheapest being $1.99) will remove the interstitial ads forever – in our view, that’s worth doing and should be considered the price of entry to the main game.
But even then, Sonic Forces’ freemium elements remain frustrating. For winning a race you get a ‘victory chest’. This is your reward for winning, and you can have four at any one time. Why would you need more than one at a time? Because Sega makes you wait three hours to open them. But that’s not all, you can only have one in this process at a time, and the timer doesn’t automatically start. It’s clearly meant to encourage repeat visits to the app but quite frankly, it’s infuriating.
From a gameplay perspective, Sonic Forces is great fun, but the amount of time you actually spend racing is minimal. It’s glitchy as heck, too. After a while, the game simply stopped offering us the chests that contained points towards new characters. It also decided during a couple of races to simply not award us a powerup when we picked one up. These issues will likely be fixed with updates, but coupled with the heavy-handed freemium approach it left us disappointed.
For a company like Sega, a better balance, or at least a more stable game should be the least to expect. If you’re happy to live with these annoyances and mostly play as Sonic, give it a shot and you’ll have a blast zipping through these iconic courses. If you have higher expectations, maybe give this one a miss.
- All the fun you'd expect
- Multiplayer approach is balanced
- Unlockable levels keeps it fresh
- Glitchy as all heck
- Unlocking players is too time-consuming
- Heavy-handed freemium system