It’s a good time to be a Sonic fan. The original Sonic the Hedgehog was first ported over to iOS in 2009 by SEGA. The game is an undeniable classic, but the port suffered from janky controls and a terrible framerate. Thankfully, an update released today–that we detailed back in March–fixes what ailed the classic platformer. This is no iterative update. This is a massive, from-the-ground-up rebuilding of the game.
The improvements come thanks to Christian Whitehead, a developer SEGA originally hired to port Sonic CD to iOS. He created a near-perfect touchscreen version of that game (just read our glowing review), so SEGA asked him to give the same treatment to the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Best of all, the re-vamped version of the game has been released as an update to the 2009 original, rather than as an entirely new app. That’s some fine fan service.
The results are just as fantastic as anyone could have hoped. The game still sports its classic 16-bit graphics, but now it runs with silky smoothness, with controls so tight you might not even miss the chunky Genesis controller. The controls (which have been reduced to a directional stick and a jump button) are customizable in terms of size and transparency. I moved and shrunk them when I played on an iPad, but you may not need to adjust anything.
They’ve even added several extras that go beyond the original game. Tails and Knuckles can now be unlocked as playable characters, and a time trial mode has been added. It all amounts to a terrific, definitive version of the game on iOS. It may have taken four years to deliver, but it was worth the wait.
This review was originally posted May 26, 2009. It was updated by Chris Reed May 16, 2013.
When most people think of Sonic the Hedgehog, one word comes immediately to mind: Speed. That’s why it’s so disappointing that Sonic’s iPhone debut is marred with frequent speed bumps. Framerate slowdowns consistently drag down the momentum of this fast-paced platformer. Sega should move quickly to fix this problem and a few others to fully optimize Sonic the Hedgehog for iPhone.
This brings back fond memories.
In this iPhone port of the very first Sonic game, you play as a brisk blue mammal who cuts a swath through seven multilayered stages to free his animal pals from a villain named Dr. Robotnik. When it first appeared on the Sega Genesis in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog was famous for displaying detailed environments at a breakneck rate without ever slowing down. While the environments still look great, this iPhone version suffers from persistent slowdown.
The framerate isn’t the only problem with this port. As an emulated version of the Genesis game, Sonic doesn’t control naturally on the iPhone. You only have one option for the controls’”a virtual D-pad and one jump button’”and we would have liked to see Sega experiment with some different control schemes for Sonic. For example, we’d love to try controlling Sonic by tilting the iPhone.
The virtual D-pad is far from perfect, and Sonic seems much more likely to fall off cliffs or into lava without the precision of a real controller. Sonic also slides around a bit when he moves, and you’ll have to compensate by being very careful with the touchy D-pad. Gamers who know the original Sonic controls by feel will have to be patient with the iPhone’s new touch controls.
The uneven framerate and imprecise touch controls are unwelcome additions that can make the game much tougher. It’s easy to die quickly, and like in the original, when you lose all of your lives you’ll go right back to the beginning of Stage 1-1. While this is a holdover from the original Sonic, it doesn’t belong in a current mobile game. You can’t even use the original game’s stage select code to skip ahead.
Party like it’s 1991!
Because of the framerate and controls, you’ll probably have to replay the first few levels over and over again, attempting each time to make a little more progress. Players should at least have the option to restart from the beginning of the last world when they lose all their lives. Just because the original Sonic was meant to be played in one long stretch doesn’t mean it works well for the iPhone.
Sad to say for Sonic fans, but this iPhone port feels hastily thrown together. Sonic games deserve the royal treatment on iPhone, and that means a consistently fast framerate, natural-feeling controls and more options to ease the difficulty of playing on a portable system. Sonic the Hedgehog’s classic graphics and music will bring you back to the front lines of the 16-bit console war, but this iPhone version doesn’t play as well as it should. We can’t recommend paying $5.99 until Sega perfects this port.