If you grew up in the ’90s — or you’re kid at heart — you remember Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s iconic character. The speedy, spiky-haired creature went on adventures that hypnotized and captivated all ages. Basically, he’s Pong for Millennials; Pac-Man for Facebook’s graduating class.
Sonic and Mario had several parallels. Mario battled Bowser, Sonic sparred with Dr. “Eggman” Robotnik. Mario collected coins, Sonic gathers gold rings. Sure, Mario’s number one, but Sonic’s bleepy-bloopy soundtrack and fast-paced bonus rounds have their charm too. The hedgehog’s friendly, anime-inspired look and headlong bravura velocity are more thrilling than Mario.
Sonic went down in the annals of ’90s history as one of the most popular games in an era of 16-bit consoles. And even if your mom chucked your Sega Genesis in the trash along with your Third Eye Blind cassettes, you can still recapture the thrill through the glorious power of smartphones.
What’s the App?
You can download a few hedgehog games, like the original, Sonic Dash and Sonic the Hedgehog 4. I found the original to be the most fun, because it reminded me of the classic Sega console experience. Even though it’s the most expensive of the franchise — the other two are free — it’s worth the $3. The 2D graphics are old-fashioned, but that’s part of its charm. Sonic is a Lisa Frank notebook in motion, with a loopy and manic energy. The levels look familiar — “Green Hill Zone,” anyone? — and the controls are easier to use, since it looks like your old joystick at the bottom of the screen.
Everything is exactly like you remember — spinning, candy-filled bonus rounds where you collect extra rings, killer bees that shoot bullets and an almost-electro pop soundtrack — it’s a faithful recreation of a timeless classic. The loud, frantic music of the first level made me nervous, since I haven’t played it in years. But it came back immediately. As you run and spin through the stages, you’ll experience a disoriented, yet thrilling, sense of motion and space, even on a smartphone. It brings back memories of why I loved this game as a kid. I never cared about the size of my iPhone, but as I played it, I wished it was larger. The fast-moving graphics is better suited for a larger screen, so if you have an iPad, take advantage of it. Sega has yet to release a high-definition version, though, so it’s just blown up.
I evaded leaping piranhas, random spiky interludes and cyborg bees in my pursuit of coins. And as I grabbed those precious boxes that make you invincible, I could taste the Capri Sun juice box and hear my Aunt Debbie telling us to go outside and play. No way, Aunt Debbie. I have so more levels to beat. I’ve never beaten the game — not then and not now — not because it’s particularly hard, but because I’m terrible at video games. But if I remember my cousin Josh’s strategy correctly, you’ll want to hoard as many rings as you can to face Dr. Robotnik. The only problem: my phone occasionally lagged, so the super-fast Sonic may not run as fast as you’d like. I died a few times because of that — or at least, that’s what I tell myself.
Sonic Dash, meanwhile, is the most recent hit for the App Store. I’m conflicted about it because, really, it shouldn’t be a part of the Sonic canon. It’s a Temple Run rip-off. It’s neither inventive nor nostalgic, though I suppose it’s nice that Sonic still collects gold rings. If you’ve never played Temple Run, the rules are: don’t get hit by stuff and don’t stop running. There’s no pause option like in the original game — so Sonic dies if you stop moving. I admit that Temple Run is a very distracting game, but it’s just not Sonic. I refuse to acknowledge its existence, and you should avoid it too. If you want a throwback experience, you’ll be disappointed.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2, for iOS and Android, is a more traditional title, and I have to say, it comes with great graphics. But it’s challenging. The gameplay isn’t tough, figuring out the tricky controls is the problem. While the touch screen joystick of Sonic Dash mimicked the original game, these buttons are counterintuitive. For example, the key to move forward and backward is the same circle. I couldn’t master it. At pivotal moments, I’d often run in the wrong direction. The concept is nice, but the controls make me never want to play it again.
If you can deal with the persnickety controls, the gameplay doesn’t vary from the original. It features the same fast-paced animation. This time though, Sonic’s sidekick, Tails, comes along — but you can’t play him in single player mode. Tails follows Sonic everywhere, and can be a little distracting, but it reminds me of Luigi in some of the Mario titles. Tails is an adorable fox, so it’s hard to complain about him.
You’ll Want It If…
If you like to revisit games you played in the past, or simply have a thing for 16-bit consoles, the Sonic titles are fun throwbacks. The quests have proper storylines, so it’s a bit more engrossing than, say, Angry Birds. The ’90s are trendy again: velvet, clogs and Nirvana are back in style, and a new generation is discovering “Boy Meets World” and “My So-Called Life.” So kick off those Doc Martens and relive your youth. I’m pretty sure my Aunt Debbie would be down for a round.
It’s Not My Thing — What Else Ya Got?
If you like the idea of fuzzy animals, but you want a weirder, more modern and intense game, check out Battle Bears, available for iOS and Android. Choose from one of three rugged, heavily armed bears and fight against various space monsters. Where Sonic is kid-friendly, Battle Bears is violent and intense. But if Battle Bears isn’t odd enough, check out Cats Away. Control benevolent aliens and save adorable kittens by sucking them into a vacuum before a supernova destroys their planet. Okay, it’s only marginally weirder than one lonesome space hedgehog’s quest to fight an evil super-villain.
If you’re holding out for Mario hit the smartphone, don’t hold your breath — at least not while Nintendo still makes the 3DS. But in the meantime, you can count on good ‘ole Sonic. You won’t regret it. ♦