Before the 3D graphics, the influx of polygons, and the abundance of sequels that people quickly lost track of, Sonic was a well-respected hedgehog. He was a household name, and not in the way that Tony Hawk popularized himself and the sport of skateboarding by starring in a video game, but in a way that turned millions of kids into lifelong Sega fans. These were the people who rushed to get a Saturn, even though it didn’t launch with a new Sonic game. They were also the people who made the Dreamcast an initial success on September 9, 1999.
Which is why, after all these years, Sonic can spin, jump and dash his way onto new platforms. His most recent target is the iPhone, Apple’s will-do-anything device that just so happens to be a decent 16-bit gaming machine. Though you’ll have to wait until fall to play Sonic’s long-awaited return to 2D glory, iPhone and iPod Touch users can still enjoy the franchise right now via the original Sonic the Hedgehog.
Priced at $3.99 until June 30, 2010, Sonic the Hedgehog is the same lovable, ultra-speedy platformer you remember from the early ‘90s. The graphics, look and feel of the game are spot-on, but don’t be surprised if your eyes pick up on something strange. Though I can’t be certain, it appears that the frame rate moves a little differently from the original Genesis release. Could this be an issue with the way the iPhone handles 2D graphics and side-scrolling animations? Possibly. Whatever the case, any seasoned gamer will detect a difference.
Luckily, the difference isn’t so great that you’ll be inclined to stop playing – quite the contrary. Sonic the Hedgehog is still a very fast and exciting game. The levels are rich and diverse; if the introductory spikes and pitfalls feel a bit more challenging than today’s weak platformers, just wait until you get to the later stages. Even the second level, which takes you inside an elegant, booby trap-filled structure that could have been built a thousand years ago, is quite ferocious.
But the levels may not be as painful as the elements within them. Retractable spikes are just the beginning. You may find that lava is more forgiving to Sonic than it is to other platform heroes, but the loss of rings – Sonic’s only life force – can be pretty devastating. Without at least one ring in Sonic’s stash, he’ll need a force field to protect himself from the many dangers he’ll encounter.
Since the iPhone is without any buttons (except for the “home” button, which can’t be used to play games), Sega had to create a touch screen control system for Sonic the Hedgehog. The results are very similar to what other developers have been doing with Apple’s phone; they place a transparent D-pad on the left, and one giant, transparent button the right. The button is just about perfect – it may not feel as good as the three-button Genesis controller (which, despite not having enough buttons, was an excellent gamepad), but it works flawlessly. You can tap the touch screen to no end and Sonic will jump every time.
The D-pad is where things get tricky. Since you are merely pressing your finger up against a hard surface, and not actually pressing a button, it isn’t as easy to shift in close quarters. This presents a new, unnecessary (and unwelcome) challenge in the area of platform-hopping. Though Sonic is, and always has been, a game about speed, that never stopped the developers from including platforms that must be crossed with care. In this version, you might end up feeling like a minion from Despicable Me – your heart is in the right place, but that doesn’t mean you won’t slip and fall a few dozen times.
If you’re a purist, this could be a deal-breaker for Sonic’s first iPhone outing. Otherwise, this is a solid port of a cherished classic.