As someone who was completely engrossed in the console wars of the 16 bit era, I took great pride in boasting about all the things Sega did that Nintendon't. (Of course as soon as I discovered RPG's on the SNES I flip flopped, but I digress.) The original Sonic the Hedgehog was an amazing game, and the rest of the series on the Genesis was just as good, if not better as they introduced both Tails and Knuckles. Unfortunately, with the advent of 3D gaming came 3D Sonic, and since then Sonic games haven't really been the same. Sure, there have been some fantastic 2D Sonic games for handhelds (the Gameboy Advance ones were particularly good), but the flagship Sonic games have been bad for years. That is, until today.

Sonic 4 [$9.99] has likely been in development for quite some time now, but was only first announced in late 2009 as the cryptic "Project Needlemouse" which was later revealed to be a return to classic 2D Sonic gameplay. Since then, the Sega hype machine has been in full force releasing various mysterious updates to the Sonic 4 web site, teaser trailers, screenshots, and development delays. In other words, Sonic 4 has a lot to live up to.

Sonic 4 is being released in episodes, with today's release as the first installment. Episode 1 comes packed with four zones: Splash Hill Zone, Lost Labyrinth Zone, Casino Street Zone, and Mad Gear Zone. Each of these zones are flavored with themes from classic levels of Sonic's past, with Splash Hill and Casino Street by far being the most memorable. Each zone is host to three acts and a boss fight. After beating the zone's boss, you unlock Time Attack mode which switches the game in to what Sonic games are best at: Going as fast as possible. Also worth mentioning are the two levels that are exclusive to the iPhone, but until the other versions of the game come out it remains to be seen how much different these exclusive portions are.

Controls are surprisingly decent for a game series originally designed with a physical controller in mind. By default you use a virtual joystick of sorts and a single button which handles everything else. Alternatively, a tilt control mode is included, but I found touch controls to feel far more natural. Like previous Sonic games, you can spin dash, and Sonic 4 implements a new lock on system of sorts which targets enemies and obstacles you can jump on to. When the game targets something, tapping jump sends Sonic shooting that direction, allowing you to precisely bounce off multiple enemies with ease.

Since Sonic games are all about speed, performance is arguably just as important as gameplay. Because of this, I busted out my entire library of iOS devices to see just how good of a job Sega did at optimizing Sonic 4 for the iPhone. After syncing the device to everything from the original iPhone to the iPad and iPhone 4, I'm more than a little surprised by the results. Performance obviously suffers with older devices, but Sonic 4 is completely playable even on the original iPhone. Oddly enough, the 3rd generation iPod touch seems to boast the highest frame rate, followed by the iPad pixel doubled, then the iPhone 4.

The level design is classic Sonic, with tons of loops, corkscrews, rings, recognizable power ups, and bonus stages. While Sega seems to have succeeded in bringing back the classic Sonic feel, the content included in the first episode seems like a tease after so much waiting. Sonic 4 is a ton of fun, but it's over before you know it, and without online leaderboards of any kind, I'm not sure how much appeal there will be in replaying levels for higher scores or lower times.

While the performance is certainly good enough to be fun, it's nowhere near the solid 60 FPS I had hoped for-- even on newer devices and to make things worse, Retina Display support is nowhere to be found. The first episode of Sonic 4 will also be available on the Wii via WiiWare, the Xbox 360 via XBOX Live Arcade, and the PS3 via PSN in the next couple days. So, if you own any of those systems, you can consider waiting to see how those versions of the game are reviewed, especially considering the fact that Sonic 4 will be in 1080p on both the PS3 and 360. Otherwise, if you're looking for a very fun taste of what a Sonic game should be like on the iPhone, we recommend Sonic 4... Just be fully aware that it will likely leave you unsatisfied with an intense longing for the release of the next episode, and I'm not entirely sure if that's a good thing or not.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Rylin

    Have enough iDevices there Eli? ;)

  • Madcao

    can anyone tell me how the performance is on an itouch 2g compared to lets, a 3gs.

    is there lag? big graphic differences?

    • Dottio

      It works fine on 2nd Gen touches as far as I can tell. There's occasional slow-down, but it doesn't ruin the experience. I'd recommend the game, and considering what it is, and iphone game, it's a 5 star title for the device, IMO.

  • http://twitter.com/pobregizmo Pobre Gizmo

    Lack of retina support just makes me sad these days. A game has to be either really really good or really really cheap (or both) for me to spring on something that looks sub-par compared to everything else on the iPhone 4. It's just depressing to go from the hi-res springboard to lower-res applications.

    • Adams Immersive

      I agree, retina should be standard (and maybe it will be—this game has been in the works for a while). But non-retina games still take advantage of the new display: colors are clean and smooth without the screen-door effect. So despite the jaggies/pixels, I still prefer to game on a retina device, even when the res is 480x320.

    • Anonymous

      You're so right. It's exactly this kind of crime against humanity that makes me want to end it all.

  • surge

    I dont understand why people are complaining about retina display support, the game looks great on my 4g ipod touch... Obviously it could look better, but that doesn't change the fact that it is still a great looking game.

    I do agree with the people complaining about sonic not feeling as fast as he did in previous games... his acceleration in this game is horrible, and it makes the whole game feel sluggish compared to sonic 1, 2, and 3.

  • Lavey

    Wait a second, in iPhone 4 the perfomance is WORST than iPad and iPod Touch 3rd Gen?!?!!?! WHAT?!! =S

    • ltcommander.data

      How is this surprising? The iPad seems to have a higher clock A4 than the iPhone 4 so would run faster pixel doubled. The iPod Touch 3rd gen doesn't need to worry about pixel doubling as in the iPad and iPhone 4 and doesn't have as many background services chewing up CPU time. On the whole the 3rd gen Touch should be the fastest iDevice given fast hardware with comparitively low resolution and a lighter OS.

      • Lavey

        I think the real problem is that it has been specifically designed for each platform separately (3 versions, ipad, iphone 4 and older devices).

  • Robotron2084

    Retina is not a huge deal to me, even though I have a 4th gen Touch.

    But 60fps _is_ a big deal to me in a fast 2D platform game. Surely the 4th gen hardware can yield such frame rates? Rushed programming perhaps?

  • Darth_infamous

    Man, $9.99 for a single episode...

    • daizyujin

      After playing it for a while I am starting to feel the same way. I have only dropped that kind of cash on one other game, Street Fighter IV, but Capcom has been great about dishing out the free updates to that game so it is a much easier pill to swallow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Corey-Watford/100000938231196 Corey Watford

    I defiantly gonna get this game...when the demo comes out...on PS3

  • Ipadboy00

    There is retina display if your jailbroken and you download retinasizer :)

  • tsharpfilm

    I have a 4th generation iPod touch with fancy-schmancy retina display, and I'm going to buy this game right now! A fun game is a fun game, whether the pixels are visible or not.

    • tsharpfilm

      Who ever designed Casino Street Zone Act 3 should be punched in the face...

      • Dottio123

        I second that statement.

  • daizyujin

    Has anybody playing on a 3rd Gen Touch noticed semi-frequent stuttering when using the homing attack? It is starting to get a bit annoying.

    • Writer@Large

      I'm playing it on the 3rd gen, and I don't notice it.

  • Zman

    So when new episodes come out it will be an update to this game right? Or will we have to pay for episode 2, 3, and so on?

    • Guest

      I would be surprised if they weren't paid

  • Smint

    is this a worldwide released game? Cause I can't seem to find it in the appstore.

    • Smint

      Still not available in Singapore yet...

  • iJoe

    I'm not against $9.99 games, however, given the platform. A simple $4.99 or even a $0.99 special would've drove sales through the roof. The only advantage of getting Sonic for iphone is having it a few days earlier than everybody else. The biggest disadvantage would be the lower end graphics compared to ps3/xbox. I would pay top dollar for this, but if there's complaints about the game now, and knowing sega doesn't update their titles often. I may skip until a price drop comes around.

  • Splendidham

    Its still not available in Japan :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/blayke.larue Blayke Christian LaRue

    I love Sonic 4.

  • MySonic

    I miss old 2d platformers, were they had like 60 levels in one game (mostly on the snes) and each level took 5+ min. Other than that, I really enjoyed this game.

    • http://www.mooedia.co.uk Tom - mooedia

      Couldn't agree more. Spot on comment. The old 2D platformer's went on for ever!

  • Fokion

    Νο 60 fps on latest devices? Damn, looks like mobile phones are never going to be proper games machines. On the other hand, 60 fps gaming is not very prevalent in dedicated handhelds, either (but it's there in many games).

  • Anonymous

    I'll wait till episode 2 comes out and this drops to .99. You know it'll happen.

  • http://twitter.com/niezam niezam sandakan

    Wow, pretty nice picture for the iDevice collection. Awesome stuff, should try sync the latest iPod Nano too :P

  • scarl

    For this price should this be an universal app, but its nor in HD for Ipad.
    Hopefullys there comes an separate IPad version.

  • Foof

    • Laggy on iPhone 4 which means this game is unbearable on pretty much all other devices...check
    • The above even without Retina graphics...check
    • $9.99 for Episode 1 which means you'll be dumping at least 30+ dollars for 3+ laggy, pixelated episodes if you never buy them on sale...check

    Yup, smells like a disaster to me.

    • Anonymous

      Uncheck the first one. It performs better on the 3rd gen than it does iPhone 4.

      • Lavey

        I dont understand this, this is simply incomprehensible, can someone give a logical explanation?

      • HSX

        I'll explain

        The iPod Touch 3rd Gen does not have the Retina display, which means CPU usage for rendering each pixel is cut compared to the iPhone 4 which has around double the amount of ppi as the iPod Touch 3rd Gen. That is also why the iPad runs it faster than the iPhone. The iPad has a larger clock for its processor, but is still rendering the images in double the amount it is normally. The CPU is therefore still used up, but there's more to supply it with thanks to the amount of MHz. The iPod Touch 3rd Gen is therefore the best choice for the use of this game.

        Hope you get it now :)

      • Anonymous

        Plus, given how long this has been in development, it was probably built on the older 3gs/3g touch architecture, since I doubt Sega had access to the iPhone4 when coding it. If it started development a year or 2 ago, this makes perfect sense. The iPod Touch 4 was just announced a few months ago, prob didn't want to waste time re-coding for iPad. I'm sure by Ep2 or before it will be optimized.

    • Exalejo

      oh and really, i guess it also looks and/or plays better in ipod tuch 2g, for me, its no problem, no lag, or any other problems overall

  • http://twitter.com/Inaba_kun Phil Baxter

    The poor frame rate is the deal breaker for me. Sonic needs to be 60fps. I'll pick this one up on the 360 instead.

    • Noah

      As long as you "pick it up", they don't care what platform you purchase the game on! :)

      • Exalejo

        i bet they do, i think its higher price on real consoles

  • Anonymous

    I really want to get this, but the price tag is definitely off-putting. I have points to spend on the Wii so I guess I'll be getting it there.

  • PixelFun4Ever

    Technical side : retina display support is not as easy, the retina display's resolution is 4x times BIGGER than the 3G or 3GS 480*320. But the CPU and the graphic system is NOT 4x times faster !!! Simple it's hardware is not ready for a 60fps 2d game experience on this high res. It's designed to see webpages without pixels IMO, not for lightspeed 2d games. Lot"s of alpha bitmaps kill the hardware, that's all. Maybe the 5th or 6th gen will solve this problem.

    • Kane2007uk

      You are wrong in so many ways, but my main point to add is with Retinasizer for me it runs just as smooth as without it enabled, on an iPhone 4 too, so full retina support won't slow it down a jot.

      • PixelFun4Ever

        Im wrong on so many ways ? Which ways ? Im a lontime developer, still fighting such a performance problems with the retina displayed devices. And you ?

      • Ozskip

        4x resolution does not automatically imply a requirement of 4x CPU & / or GPU.

      • HawkEyeTS

        People have been making games run fast at 960x640 for a decade now, and the iPhone 4's hardware is by far faster than most of the computers available at the time the resolution was first put into use. What it comes down to are the compromises the developer (in this case Sega) decided to make in order to improve one part of the game over another. If they decided say 30fps with better layering and particle effects was worth releasing the game over 60fps with graphics toned down, then they'll need to live with the decision they made. Maybe it will have an effect on sales, but probably not... I'd imagine the $10 price tag will be what kills heavy early adoption. Personally I'll be waiting to try a demo of it in action to see if the concerns currently voiced are a deal breaker for me.

    • http://twitter.com/Inaba_kun Phil Baxter

      Dodonpachi runs 60fps on an iPhone 4 and that throws around a ridiculous amount of 2D content, although of course, not at retina display resolutions.

      There are however plenty of 3D games which run at 60fps (most of the recent Gameloft titles for example) on an iPhone 4 at full retina resolution, as of course does id Software's RAGE.

      There's simply no excuse for Sonic 4 to run at such a low frame rate and not even support the full iPhone 4 screen resolution. It fails on both fronts, and is therefore not worth the download.

      • Exalejo

        free, it does

  • Cunha

    Sonic 4 is PERFECT! I love de zones and the music!

  • Alexjebailey

    Too bad I just paid 10 bucks for the game on my iPhone 4 and it keeps crashing, tried the usual, Reboot, Delete, Download from itunes store, sync to iphone. reboot then launch and still crashes.

  • Nat_K

    $9.99. This.

    I paid this for GTA:CW and it was much much deeper of a game.

    I'll wait for the inevitable sale.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZSH34UP6R2TTHTDQ2UQIUCHGNU andrzej raczynski

    could never stand the sonic games, just seemed way too hyper to enjoy anything.

  • amusiccale

    10 dollars for just a section of a game, with SEGA's track record for updates... hard to see myself going for this one.

  • AlanB

    $10, not universal, no retina support and there's 3 more "episodes" to come? $2.50 per zone? Wow, you gotta really love the Hedgehog to buy this one!

  • Fatflatfly

    Sonic is in game center section on AppStore. Can some tell me if this is actually supported or is it an attempt to try and sell more.

  • Anonymous

    Sega's marketing department took a serious nose dive in the past 5 years. Too many games recently which content was taken out then resold at a later time. Why Sega chose to not include Retina Display when the console versions are not out, who knows?

    Sega, take it easy, no need to rush a game out. Like others mentioned, it should have a introductory special price. Please don't charge $10 for each additional episode and expect it to sell well when you have people already complaining about the first episode.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I'm pretty sure the people in their marketing department aren't the ones deciding the technical specifications and price points of their games.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I'm pretty sure the people in their marketing department aren't the ones deciding the technical specifications and price points of their games.

      • Anonymous

        Well then, whom ever is responsible needs to follow the iPhone game trends closely. Meaning, I'm happy for a Sonic game but I'm not desperately waiting for Sega to release it ASAP. Quality games take time to make and you would think Sega learned their lesson countless times from the 32X, Saturn, Dreamcast, etc. Just listen to what your users want. It works well for the developers who do and refine their games (Angry Birds, Pocket Gods, etc.)

    • E_Domina

      This game was quite the opposite of rushed. Sonic 4 has had months and months of development. In fact, it might have taken a lot longer to add retina display support. Do you think Sega can really just quickly do things? Just be paitient and surely there will be an update

    • E_Domina

      This game was quite the opposite of rushed. Sonic 4 has had months and months of development. In fact, it might have taken a lot longer to add retina display support. Do you think Sega can really just quickly do things? Just be paitient and surely there will be an update

    • Jared Nelson

      I wouldn't typically call a game that was supposed to release in June and ended up coming out in October "rushed".

      • HawkEyeTS

        That sounds like either absurdly bad project management or the marketing machine at work, ensuring that all versions of the game come out in a particular window of time. Assuming the latter, it could mean a few things. One, the XBox/PS3 versions (I'm assuming it's on both, I know it has a console release upcoming) were finished first and this iPhone version is a late port with a couple extra levels thrown on to highlight the motion features. Two, the iPhone version was, on the whole, finished way back and has been waiting on the console versions to be ready before marketing would let them release it. This would explain the initial lack of retina display support if the game was designed for the 3GS' feature set. The third possibility would be a highly delayed parallel development, which brings us back to poor project management, which seems to happen all too often in the games industry these days. At some point, the budget dries up and you have to try and sell the game that's there. As the consumer, there isn't much more I can do than to say "meh" to all of this, and hope the game is worth my money should I choose to buy it.

      • Jared Nelson

        From what I've heard, which is in no way confirmed, is that the iPhone version is the one that pushed back the release of all versions until now. If you remember seeing Sega showing off the iPhone Sonic at E3, it was incredibly choppy and ran like crap. I would imagine they've been taking all this extra time to optimize it for all iPhones, especially the iPhone 4 which it ran the worst on. Adding retina graphics would only delay the game even further, and possibly cause it to run like crap again, so I see why it didn't launch with this feature. I still think it looks really great on the retina display, but maybe down the line they'll add true support for it. I believe the exclusive stages were planned all along and weren't a direct result of the delay or anything.

        But I love this game. People scoff that it's not as good as the first three Sonics, but how could it be? Those are classics and the team responsible for them has long since disbanded. This new Sonic is a huge step in the right direction compared to practically every Sonic game that's come out in the last 15 years, and I think bodes well for the franchise looking to the future. And it's just damn fun. Incredibly short, yes, but fun while it lasts.

      • Jared Nelson

        From what I've heard, which is in no way confirmed, is that the iPhone version is the one that pushed back the release of all versions until now. If you remember seeing Sega showing off the iPhone Sonic at E3, it was incredibly choppy and ran like crap. I would imagine they've been taking all this extra time to optimize it for all iPhones, especially the iPhone 4 which it ran the worst on. Adding retina graphics would only delay the game even further, and possibly cause it to run like crap again, so I see why it didn't launch with this feature. I still think it looks really great on the retina display, but maybe down the line they'll add true support for it. I believe the exclusive stages were planned all along and weren't a direct result of the delay or anything.

        But I love this game. People scoff that it's not as good as the first three Sonics, but how could it be? Those are classics and the team responsible for them has long since disbanded. This new Sonic is a huge step in the right direction compared to practically every Sonic game that's come out in the last 15 years, and I think bodes well for the franchise looking to the future. And it's just damn fun. Incredibly short, yes, but fun while it lasts.

      • Foof

        So, umm, you're happy to have paid 10 bucks for an incredibly short 1st episode, that runs like crap @ 320x480 graphics, and you're going to shell out 10 more bucks for more short episodes?

        Ok. *snicker*

      • Jared Nelson

        Yes, I'm perfectly happy, thank you for asking. And I'll be perfectly happy buying the XBLA version for $15 next week. Because, you see, I'm an adult with a job and it isn't a problem for me to buy things that I want to buy.

        *snicker*

        Also, the game looks just fine on the iPhone 4 and runs great. The fact that it's over too soon is just a testament to how much fun the game is. With a score attack mode and a number of bonus levels, plus two different endings, there's plenty of reason to play through it multiple times. I am indeed a happy customer thank you for your concern.

  • E_Domina

    hopefully the controls are good. games like this should use the mirror's edge controls with the swipes

  • E_Domina

    hopefully the controls are good. games like this should use the mirror's edge controls with the swipes

  • Windstorm in Bubbleland

    $9.99 for an update of a megadrive game from 1992.. and no retina support? Yea riiiiight. Good one Sega.

  • Windstorm in Bubbleland

    $9.99 for an update of a megadrive game from 1992.. and no retina support? Yea riiiiight. Good one Sega.

  • BruteOutlawz

    Top game, runs smooth on ipod touch 2g, random slowdown on certain levels but nothing that ruins the game. :) im enjoying it

  • HSX

    The game is pretty awesome. I have some complaints but I'll give them to SEGA and hope they make use of Apple's app-updating system. :P

  • Smint

    I still can't find this in the appstore. Looks like I have to use a paypal account on the US itunes store.

    • Satonmax

      go to featured apps

      • Smint

        Still don't see it. Guess it isn't released in Asia AppStore? Not fair

  • Anonymous

    What I want to know is, does this have chaos?? Man I loved those little 3d guys on Dreamcast/vmu...

  • Sonic

    This is bad. Been waiting for a couple of days for this pile of shit to appear on the asia appstore.

    Still waiting. Guess I'd get the ps3 one when it comes out.