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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.

News by Nadia Oxford, .

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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  • Avatar for CK20XX #1 CK20XX 2 years ago
    I think the mobile Sonic ports may be the exception to the rule since they only use one button. Anything more than that in a mobile action/platform game and you tend to run into problems.

    I hope Sonic 2 Mobile eventually comes to Steam anyway though. It's rock solid, whereas the enhanced remake of Sonic CD reminded me of how awkward that game is. You're supposed to explore, but the levels aren't well designed for exploration because it's too easy to get lost and there are plenty of no-return points you can accidentally pass. It can be easy to run out of time while trying to track down your objectives in each level too and you can't even use time travel to buy yourself more time for finishing levels. It's a good thing Tails is playable since he suffers not as unfairly from the stage design.
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  • Avatar for Thad #2 Thad 2 years ago
    @CK20XX The biggest problem with Sonic CD's design is that it's structured so heavily around having the same level in Past, Present, and Future versions, but you're only incentivized to play the Past version.

    That and a lot of Sonic 1-style cheap deaths, of the sort that the later games tamped down on a little (or at least saved for later in the game).
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  • Avatar for Jericho-GM #3 Jericho-GM 2 years ago
    Never had a problem with virtual buttons. It just takes some getting used to. Sure, it may not be 100% accurate but I have never given up on a game because of it. I even finished the mentioned Megaman X iOS port and am currently playing what I hope is the last stage of Megaman Zero through a GBA emulator. Of course, actual buttons are better but the convenience of having just one device on your pocket when you go outside is more important than pixel perfect controls.
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  • Avatar for Punk1984 #4 Punk1984 2 years ago
    I play both Sonic 2 and Sonic CD on my Galaxy Avant during coffee breaks. It isn't the ideal way to experience either title but it is damn good.
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #5 CipherStone 2 years ago
    True story: Sonic CD is the reason I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I used to work in a phone store and our demo Note 3 had a Sonic CD demo on it. It looked so vibrant and crisp it on the huge screen, it was the thing that got me to upgrade to that phone from my iPhone 4.

    Sonic CD is still my favourite mobile game. The fact that it only users 1 button makes it work really well with touch controls in a way other console platformers don't.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #6 Pacario 2 years ago
    @CipherStone Alas, and now you'll have to switch back to Apple to play Sonic on your big-screen TV. Of course, I guess there's no reason you can't own a Samsung phone and still grab an Apple TV! Best of both worlds, I guess.
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  • Avatar for dorothykaren11 #7 dorothykaren11 2 years ago
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    Thanks for sharing. I hope it will be helpful for too many people that are searching for this topic....................
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  • Avatar for swamped #8 swamped 2 years ago
    Interesting to read about the fan involvement in these projects, I had no idea.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #9 donkeyintheforest 2 years ago
    Cool! I might have to pick these up. So cool with enthusiast involvement!
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