What an unusual day we have arrived upon today. Now, Sonic the Hedgehog games aren’t a new thing for iOS gaming. The original Sonic the Hedgehog appeared on the classic iPod, so the Blue Blur got in the doors as fast as you would expect him to. The iPhone and iPad saw their own ports of some of the classic games, too. We’ve also seen a handful of original Sonic games for the platform, like Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Dash, Sonic Jump, and Sonic Runners. But Sonic Dream Team hits a bit differently. It’s not just an original Sonic game, but it’s an exclusive one. And it’s not some free-to-play nonsense, but rather a proper (albeit bite-sized in some ways) 3D Sonic the Hedgehog title. That, of course, lands us in a different kind of Russian Roulette. Is this a good outing for SEGA’s mascot, or has he tripped over his non-existent laces yet again?
Using questions to end an introductory paragraph is an old habit from my first gig back in the day. It doesn’t make much sense when you can see the score immediately. Well, you know already. If you want a decent 3D Sonic game on your iPhone or iPad, I’m happy to say that this delivers. It leans more into the Boost Sonic style rather than the Adventure style, but I’m sure most would have expected that anyway. There’s a time and a place for that eventual Adventure 3, but I don’t think it’s here and now. There’s a story here, some business about Eggman trying to pervert some mysterious power to use for his ambitions of world conquest, but nothing to get too excited about. You’ll get a lot of cut-scenes, but most of them are just basic stills with text boxes. Also, I can’t believe we have a whole Sonic game set in the world of dreams and NiGHTS isn’t anywhere about. Rude.
Anyhow, the broad structure is familiar. You’ve got four zones that are broken up into three acts, each of which is basically a level incorporating the same theme as the rest of the acts in that zone. In Sonic Dream Team, each of those acts is then broken down into a bunch of challenges, each of which will net you a Dream Orb. The first challenge in each act also has a number of collectibles and other things around for you to hunt for, which will in turn net you more Dream Orbs and other goodies. Dream Orbs are the key to opening up further acts and zones and progressing the story. And of course at the end of each zone, you’ll have a lovely little boss battle. Quick napkin math will tell you that we’ve got twelve acts in total, which seems like a fair amount but ends up feeling too few after you’ve blasted your way through.
Adding some replay value are the additional characters, split in the usual Sonic manner by their abilities. Sonic and Amy go fast, so fast they can zip along trails of rings in the sky. They’re also the default characters. Tails and Cream can fly, as they often do. Then we have Knuckles and Rouge, and they can climb up walls, as they often do. There are some paths that only particular characters can reach, and you might have some fun fully exploring each act to see what you can find. They’re not massive spaces, but there are some interesting things to see if you poke around enough. Some extra weekly Tails’ Challenges give you more reasons to return, though it starts to feel like wringing blood from a stone at a certain point with the small number of acts.
I actually like the level designs a lot. The spaces are clearly built to keep pushing you forward in fun ways, with little breather sections between the breakneck rails and tubes that let you slow down and explore a little. Each zone also offers up some distinct gameplay mechanics, and the difficulty from act to act ramps up nicely as the game gets you comfortable with those mechanics. There are some of the usual 3D Sonic issues, of course. Sometimes you just go flying off of sections to your (only slightly inconvenient) “death". Sometimes the path forward isn’t as clear as it could be. You don’t often need to adjust the camera, but on such occasions it can be a real pig.
This seems like as good a time as any to talk controls. If you have a controller, I recommend you use it. One of those nice Backbone controllers or a Kishi would be a lovely choice. If you do that, you’ll be playing it as you would expect, with movement on the left stick, camera control on the right, a button for jumping, and a button for dashing and boosting. Simple and easy to play. If you’re using touch controls, you’re given some virtual buttons and a virtual stick to mimic those actions. You can just drag the camera around, which is actually better than having on a stick, but trying to keep an eye on those buttons when you’re rolling around at the speed of sound can be bothersome. Still, I won’t say it plays badly with touch controls. It’s fine.
In terms of the presentation, it’s really well-done. The visuals are at a glance as good as the console 3D Sonic games, though the zones themselves are obviously a fair bit less ambitious in scope than most of them. The soundtrack is good, though I don’t think the best tunes in the franchise have much to fear from it. Ah, most of you will be playing with the mute switch on anyway. But if you do leave the sound on, I don’t think you’ll be displeased with what you hear. This game feels like a full-effort affair in virtually all regards, and that’s something I always like to see in a mobile game.
Really, the main way Sonic Dream Team drops the ball, apart from the frankly appalling lack of NiGHTS, is in just how breezy the game is. It only takes a few minutes to blow through one run of each act, and you can pretty much clean the plate on the whole affair in one evening. Nothing in the game is all that difficult, and I’d argue the bosses are almost laughably easy. It’s fine for a game to be short, of course. I like a lot of short games. But it feels like Sonic Dream Team is just starting to cook when it ends. There’s more to say here, I’m sure of it. Maybe the number of zones will be expanded in the promised future updates? It comes off like a warm-up for the real game, but the warm-up is all you get.
Sonic Dream Team gets a lot of things right, and I think anyone with an Apple Arcade subscription will have a really good time running through its various nooks and crannies. Even those who aren’t subscribed might want to pick up a month just to play through the game. The 3D Sonic pantheon definitely has far worse efforts than this. But that’s part of what makes it frustrating. It overcame a lot of the challenges 3D Sonic often struggles to get over, only to retire before the race is finished with a relatively short run-time. This could have been an amazing chapter in Sonic history, but instead it has to settle for being a good one.