Now, we’ve seen a number of big releases this year. Sonic Generations. The Sonic the Hedgehog CD remake. But there is one release that has been pretty much ignored here on the front page of Retro, aside from a small blurb about when it was announced. Before the two big releases, iPhone/iTouch/iPad users got an entirely different game to waste the time away. It might not have been the biggest, most in-depth game, and it’s true that it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Christmas. But you know what? I’m not going to let that stop me. I’m already running late on this, so we here at Retro are going to give you another review for your money’s worth.
Available exclusively in the iTunes store, the app itself is entitled Sonic 20th Anniversary, released to help advertise all of the 20th anniversary shenanigans happening with Sonic the Hedgehog. Most of the app is standard fare, with links to Sega’s blog and Twitter, and wallpaper that updates every once in a great while. Oh, and there’s also a demo to Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. But that’s not the important part. The main reason anyone downloaded this was to waste time watching “Doodle Sonic” run about.
Sonic the Sketchhog is based on the little doodles that pepper the manuals of the four Mega Drive games as they were released in Japan. More than likely drawn by Yasuhara, they were used to quickly convey gimmicks and other concept ideas for levels without spending an infinite amount of time drawing Sonic the Hedgehog. Because of how awesome Yasuhara Sonic looks, Sega decided to resurrect the art style, so that people who don’t even realize Sonic exists in Japan can still enjoy it.
The game itself is relatively simplistic. You have Sketchhog running forward at a continuous rate, unable to stop him no matter what you do. Tapping the screen makes him jump, tapping it again makes him double jump. You collect rings, you hit enemies, you jump over spikes and holes. To be honest, it’s not that much different than the many other “unable to stop” games that pepper the App store. It’s just a spin on a few I already have on my phone right now, such as Canabalt or Robot Unicorn Attack, only with imagery that tells me it’s a Sonic game. Unlike those two, however, Sonic never increases his speed. For a title that’s all about a speedy main character, I’m kinda surprised Sega showed that sort of restraint. We could have very well gotten an experience where, eventually, the Sketchhog is blowing past and just one jump will make him careen into nothingness, forcing you to start from square one.
The first time you begin the game, if you’re confused as to what you’re supposed to do, have no fear: the game will tell you. Very prominently displaying the word “Easy” on the top of the screen, you’re informed of the basic mechanics. You jump so that you can hit enemies. You collect rings to protect yourself in case you’re unable to jump in time. You can’t recollect the rings you lose when you get hit, but I don’t know how that would work if you’re constantly going forward. Either way, the goal is to survive. In case you forget that goal? Don’t worry, you’ll be reminded of how to play the game. Every single time you start. At least it’s not an unskippable tutorial, though it can get tiresome.
The first time I played it, I assumed that the other modes would be something unlockable, but I was proven wrong pretty quickly. As you go along, the difficulty changes, with the terrain you’re forced to go across becoming more and more difficult. You start with bridges, but then they begin to disappear, leaving gaps that you can slip through. You’re fine at first as long as you have rings, as they are lined with spikes on the bottom. But as it moves from hard to very hard, the spikes disappear, leaving the most terrifying thing of all: bottomless pits.
Sonic the Sketchhog does take a turn on the creepy side when you hit the final difficulty level, though. Marked “Death,” you get to see that foreboding word as the landscape changes. Rings become scarce, everything seems to be small floating platforms, and everything seems empty and barren, except for those rare times when you encounter a large group of Ganiganis or Batabatas. It is it as this stage when your hearts starts pounding while you’re trying to avoid certain death, knowing that if you use your double jump too soon, you won’t have it when you bounce off the head of an enemy and just miss the next ledge ahead…
I should point out that, while the art style is reminiscent of the Yasuhara drawings, it’s not an exact one-to-one of them. The doodles actually have slightly more detail to them in the original manual, and have been even more simplified for this game. It is a small annoyance that isn’t worth arguing about here, but would definitely be a point of contention if they ever wanted to use this style in a proper game, like a remake of the original Sonic 1 using the doodles. You know that would be awesome.
All in all, there really isn’t much to say about it. Yes, they used Sonic 4 music, but in its lullaby format, it’s not terrible. And since it’s free, there really isn’t no reason for you not to download it and randomly try it for yourself. Hey, there’s almost physics in it. You can bounce on an enemy, and then bounce on a higher enemy, and go higher! That’s pretty neat. Also, when the app was first announced, Sega did say it was for a limited time only, so you might want to download it soon if you ever want to experience it and haven’t yet.
…wonder what it would be like on the Retro engine…