Possibly the definitive version of the game.
More than just a mere update, SEGA’s new release of Sonic the Hedgehog rebuilds the Genesis classic from the ground up to not only run on iPhone, but feel optimized for it as well. Fortunately for those who already purchased the original version, upgrading to this version comes at no extra cost.
The previous version was pretty much a straight port of the Genesis game, and even felt like a downgrade. But the team of Christian Whitehead and Stealth has made this one feel like an all new release, with improved graphics and sound, a time attack mode, achievements, and numerous other features and options, such as whether to allow Sonic’s spin dash move (which wasn’t introduced until Sonic 2, but was often featured as an option in later versions).
Among these is the ability to alter the size of the virtual D-pad and button, which can help considerably if the small, standard-sized versions previously available made things too difficult. Even so, working without the tactile sensation of a physical controller can make playing the game tricky at times: particularly when you need to make smaller or more delicate movements, such as ducking for a spin dash, moving through the Marble Zone, or fighting the boss of the Starlight Zone. We can get around Sonic 1 with little difficulty, but the iPhone brings back the sense of first-time challenge we haven’t experienced in two decades.
Also new and particularly noteworthy are the inclusions of Tails and Knuckles (plus Sonic with Tails) into the game. Unfortunately, they’re only available as unlockables, so those hoping to leap into an all-new experience from the get-go are out of luck. In addition, all three heroes are able to achieve their Super forms if you can find a way to acquire all seven Chaos Emeralds (but no Hyper forms from Sonic & Knuckles).
The downside of their inclusion is that the game really wasn’t designed with these two characters in mind, and attempting to take advantage of their unique abilities can sometimes put you at a bit of a disadvantage (sometimes it seems like using them just throws you right into Death’s way, but that could just be due to the original game’s design). Furthermore, Sonic & Knuckles, and even Sonic 2 to a degree, were all able to put each character’s abilities to good use, but that’s not quite the case here.
There are occasional nooks and crannies that Tails and Knuckles can reach more easily, if not exclusively, but most instances of going off the beaten path lead to little or nothing of consequence. Those that do feature some new routes which only they can access (such as in Act 3 of the Marble Zone) are a thrill to explore, but are unfortunately few and far in between (that we have found, anyway). Sonic CD’s inclusion of Tails even allowed him to run along the top of some walls which stretched to the sky, but trying to overcome these here more often leads to disappointment and a feeling of wasted time than any sort of satisfaction.
There are a few oddities and glitches to be found as well. One we immediately noticed is that during your first encounter with Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, you cannot hit him as he comes on-screen: a time-honored tradition of cheap shots players have only been too happy to exploit over the years. Others involved Tails, as sometimes he seems to move extremely quickly with little buildup of momentum; yet when getting the super speed shoes, sometimes it would be difficult to get him moving quickly.
Incidentally, when entering his first Special Stage, the level’s rotation seemed to be about twice as fast (give or take) as Sonic’s, making it much more challenging. We’re not sure whether his is supposed to be more difficult, or if something else was at work. Then there was an instance of going Super Sonic, which broke the music completely (save for the 1UP jingle). Sound effects still worked, but we had to restart the game in order to get the tunes again, no matter how many points we passed where it should change.
At the same time, it’s tough to place too much fault on these elements, as they are essentially extras. The core experience is about Sonic himself, with no friends or Super forms to worry about. In this regard, the game definitely sparkles, and even features a full widescreen display. Whereas some developers would just put borders on it or include invisible walls to mark the boundaries of the original, this one does it better. Though some single-screen boss fights do allow you a bit of extra room to move around without altering Eggman’s patterns, others keep things as they originally were, including some new (or just previously off-camera) graphic elements which reinforce the idea that you’re pinned into a trap.
This version of Sonic the Hedgehog is more or less the ideal version of the release. Though it could probably use a little tweaking for some of the issues mentioned above, we would really love to see it released on consoles, where the controls would no doubt allow this to shine even more brightly. As it is, the game is still a great iOS release and worth checking out for fans of the franchise, and unquestionably worth updating if you already own the original iOS release.