Sonic the Hedgehog's Mobile Outings Prove Stellar Action Games are Possible on Mobile Platforms

Sonic the Hedgehog's Mobile Outings Prove Stellar Action Games are Possible on Mobile Platforms

Sonic the Hedgehog's mobile games are coming to Apple TV, and it's a good time to reflect on how a little effort goes a long way on phones and tablets.

The iOS version of Sonic the Hedgehog is now playable on Apple TV. The iOS versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic CD are heading to Apple's set-top box on March 24 and March 31, respectively. That means you'll be able to play the mobile versions of the classic Sonic the Hedgehog games on your television, and with a MFi controller if you've got one.

Of course, all the games are free if you've already downloaded them for an Apple device. Toot-toot Sonic warrior!

Needless to say, classic Sonic the Hedgehog ports and emulations are plentiful. Mere exposure to the retro gaming scene may in fact inflict you with stage 0 hedgehog poisoning (see your doctor if your skin turns a lovely shade of cobalt and you suddenly have an aversion to clothing except for red running shoes). So what's the big deal about yet another round of Sonic the Hedgehog games on yet another mobile-based platform?

Just the fact the mobile versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic CD are arguably the best versions of Sega's classic platformers. The only versions that come close are M2's 3D Sonic the Hedgehog and 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Nintendo 3DS.

Even if you're not a Sonic fan, the mobile Sonic the Hedgehog adaptations are excellent examples of how action games can work very well with smaller screens and virtual d-pads, just as long as the programmers in charge of making / porting the games understand mobile's limitations and work with them.

The Sonic games currently on the mobile marketplace aren't simple ports of their Genesis and Sega CD forefathers. While straight dumps of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came to iOS in 2009, they were slapdash, unpleasant jobs that motivated some dedicated fans to do better. Much better.

In 2011, Christian "Taxman" Whitehead engineered and released an enhanced remake of Sonic CD for iOS (as well as Android, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network). The game was rebuilt from the ground-up using an updated version of the "Retro Engine" (an engine Whitehead used for a fangame called Retro Sonic Nexus).

Sonic CD for mobile features widescreen support -- a vital addition when playing the game on a small-screen device -- as well as the option for a Sonic the Hedgehog 2-style spindash move. You can unlock Tails once you finish the game, and you can switch between the game's Japanese and (highly-altered) English soundtracks.

Sega helped publish Whitehead's remakes, same as it helped publish Whitehead's mobile remakes of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The retooled Sega Genesis classics were released in 2013, with additional aid provided by another Sonic fandom long-timer, "Stealth."

Again, these adaptations contain bonuses galore, including widescreen support, tips, cheats, and extra features. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 even adds a rebuilt version of Hidden Palace Zone, a scrapped level that has previously only existed in beta versions of the Genesis game.

In a particularly sporting gesture, Sega let fans download Whitehead and Stealth's Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for free if they already dropped money on the older, crummier mobile ports. Unfortunately, Sega's cooperation with a new Sonic the Hedgehog 3 adaptation hasn't been forthcoming. There's some speculation a sticking point might be the game's soundtrack, chunks of which is attributed to Michael Jackson. Whatever the reason, a certain crimson echidna hasn't yet had a chance to poke his big snout around mobile's retro Sonic scene.

Some mobile ports of classic action games rightfully receive a lot of bad press. Mega Man X, one of the greatest action titles of all time, was transformed into a dumpster fire when it hit the App Store. Never mind the on-screen touch-based controls (and no, they're not good). The re-drawn sprites are a joke, and the very idea of buying weapons and armor upgrades via in-app purchases is enough to induce gagging if you're a long-time Mega Man fan.

Oh, and the game won't even work anymore if your device has been upgraded to iOS 8 or above. Capcom can fix this, but it won't bother: The game will almost assuredly just break again when the next major iOS update is released. It's no wonder gamers and developers alike are cynical about mobile games.

That's why high-quality adaptations like the mobile Sonic trio are so important. They demonstrate solid action games can be done on mobile -- especially when fans and publishers break down the barriers between buyer and seller to put their heads together. Cultivating good games on new platforms is a job for many hands.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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