If there’s one thing people always think of whenever the topic is SEGA, then it certainly has to be the publisher/developer’s world famous blue speed demon: Sonic the Hedgehog. The quilled heroic blur – who ushered his owners into massive success over in the US – has certainly seen his share of ups and downs, although things have been generally going favorably as of late. It was during this upward swing of things that SEGA decided to do something that no one would ever have realistically expected of them, and completely overhauled their ancient 2009 iOS port of the original Sonic the Hedgehog (out now, $2.99). What’s more, they released it as an absolutely free upgrade to anyone who previously bought the earlier version (when they just as easily could have marketed it as an all new release).
By the way – for those of the you who don’t already know – at some unspecified point in the future there lived an evil genius, Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, whom is conquering everything with his army of mechanized animals. However – even during dark times such as these – there is still one willing to stand up against the nefarious madman and his maniacal schemes, and that is of course our eponymous blue hero. Whether or not Sonic defeats the malice-filled mechanic – and his everchanging Eggomatic chariot – thus freeing wildlife everywhere from a fate of cyberization, is something only your skills can decide.
Now normally I would wait until the end of a review to discuss a game’s appearance, but – in regards to Sonic the Hedgehog’s recent overhaul – this is a case where the new visual presentation is one of the main features to discuss. The game has been reworked so that it runs at a full 60 frames per second – compared to 30 on the SEGA Genesis – and is also now capable of displaying in full widescreen on any iDevice that supports it, even the iPhone 5 won’t have to deal with any black bars this go around. Furthermore, the entire game’s soundtrack has been subtly remastered – while still staying true to the original – such that it now sounds far richer and clearer than could ever have been possible with the SEGA Genesis’s infamously lackluster audio abilities.
Anyways, Sonic the Hedgehog’s control scheme kept things so simple – with only a D-Pad and a single action button – that it seems more akin to an early eighties arcade game than a smash platforming hit from the nineties. I must admit that I immediately retched when I first saw the app’s implementation of its D-Pad, as virtual analog joysticks have what – one might say – is the worst track record ever in touch based control schemes. However – fear not – for it will also function like a virtual D-Pad if you touch the far edges of the control input, a setup that immediately works rather responsively for a demanding platformer experience such as this. You can even control the actual size of the D-Pad and Action Button in the game’s configuration menu – an absolutely vital feature for those playing on much larger iPads – as well as make the onscreen controls invisible entirely, which is nice if you happen to be outputting the video to a TV.
Utilizing these controls you will run though a wide variety of landscapes, collecting rings – blazing through loop-de-loops – and buzz sawing your way through any robots that obstruct the path forward. A feature less commonly seen in platform jumping games like this is that there are multiple branching paths between the player and the end objective, and – while all roads do lead to Rome – certain ways will usually be safer than others. This definitely helps to lend a greater amount of replay value to Sonic the Hedgehog than is normally seen from games of this type, as players can easily have very different experiences each time they run through most of the levels.
Lately there seems to be this notion going around that games in the Sonic series are supposed to be entirely about non-strop full-tilt running, and something wrong is being done if they ever force players to do otherwise. I honestly don’t know where this idea rightly started, as all of the early Sonic games – beginning with the very first one – were chock full of situations where moving quickly was an automatic deathtrap. Thankfully – as I mentioned earlier – the touch screen controls of this port have been executed with exceedingly topnotch precision, otherwise a game with this sort of level design would become a product of nothing but pure frustration.
Adding something that was never present in the game’s original SEGA Genesis release, this new edition includes the ability for players to optionally run through Sonic the Hedgehog as either Tails or Knuckles. While Sonic’s flying fox pal can be unlocked by merely managing to finish the game a single time, fewer will manage to see Knuckles as meeting him requires completing the adventure with all six Chaos Emeralds in tow. Since Tails and Knuckles both possess abilities that would permit players to utterly break the intended flow of the original release, the developers have went well beyond the call of duty by including additional hidden areas – as well as alternative paths – in these otherwise normally unreachable places.
At this point it will probably become obvious to most of you reading that this release of Sonic the Hedgehog is a re-creation of the original game, rather than a hyper accurate emulation. While the biggest offender from this release to many purists – the ability to perform the Spin Dash first introduced by Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – can easily be turned off from within the game’s settings menu, there will be a number of other tiny differences that are basically here to stay. However, let’s be honest, if you were going to upset that the game now moves more smoothly – or the fact that you now have a half second of invincibility after hitting a spike – you were never going to be pleased with anything but playing the game on an original SEGA Genesis to begin with.
Anyways, I would like to now close this review by touching upon the only complaint – of sorts – that I feel I must bring up against this amazingly stellar iOS port of Sonic the Hedgehog. This would be the fact that – at the end of the day – this game is still a port of the first Sonic title ever released, and thus is a bit more meh when compared to later hits such as Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Still, for those of you who are pining for some touch screen Sonic the Hedgehog to take with you on the go, you will almost certainly never find a better product made available than this.
By the way, SEGA has already confirmed that the very talented group of people who produced this amazing port are currently underway with what I assume will be a similarly awesome update to the previous iOS release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
iFanzine Verdict: Old platforming classics that relied on fast paced precision reactions have had a somewhat rocky history in receiving ports to the iOS’s touch screen controlled environment, but this version 2.0 release of Sonic the Hedgehog has managed to have profoundly responsive controls despite the grim precedent. Not being content to stop there, the developers have also tightened up the game’s performance in a variety of areas while furthermore adding new material that allows one to experience the title in entirely different ways. While some of these changes might manage to irk hardcore purists, there simply isn’t ever going to be a better touch screen rendition of the original Sonic title than this (even if it’s still not the best of the old school Sonic classics).