Sonic Jump, Sonic’s first mobile-only game, hits the App Store

Sonic Jump is a new mobile game from Sega. It’s available now for $1.99 on iOS devices, with an Android version set to follow in November.

Sonic Jump is the first Sonic the Hedgehog game that has been specifically designed for mobile devices rather than being a port of a console title. It is also a Doodle Jump clone, which may not seem like the most timely decision — Doodle Jump originally came out in 2009 — but is at least a good fit with Sonic’s 2D platform game roots, and a style of play well-adapted to modern smartphones to boot. Technically Sonic Jump predates Doodle Jump, too — the original T-Mobile Sidekick-exclusive version of the game first came out in 2006, but this new version expands on that considerably.

In Sonic Jump, players work their way through a series of zones based on locales from previous Sonic games. Each zone is split into 11 “acts” and concludes with a boss fight against series villain Dr. Eggman/Robotnik. Players attain a letter-grade rating for each level according to how quickly they complete it, and are also tasked with collecting three awkwardly-situated “star rings” in each act. Completing each act is a simple matter of reaching the top without falling off the bottom of the screen or coming into contact with an enemy while not carrying any of Sonic’s iconic rings. If Sonic is carrying rings when he collides with an enemy, he will drop them.

Controlling Sonic is a simple matter of tilting the device left or right to move him from side to side — he jumps automatically. It’s also possible to tap the screen while he is in mid-air to make him “double jump,” and the screen wraps around, meaning that if Sonic moves off the left side of the screen, he reappears on the right. The controls are mostly responsive — the tilt controls are certainly considerably better than the dreadful implementation seen in Sega’s other recent release Zaxxon Escape, though the tapping for double-jumping sometimes does not appear to register if done too soon after Sonic leaves the ground.

Besides the linear level-based progression, the game also incorporates a “mission” system similar to that seen in Halfbrick’s Jetpack Joyride and Activision’s Skylanders Cloud Patrol. Three objectives are active at any one time, and successfully completing one adds Sonic icons to the player’s stash. Once the player has attained a certain number of icons, they level up and receive an award of rings. New items also become available to purchase from the in-game store using said rings. These items vary from powerups to new playable characters. Rings are earned at a healthy rate from simply playing the game, but may also be acquired via in-app purchase.

Sonic Jump is a good game, though one that doesn’t really start to show its unique features that distinguish it from other Doodle Jump clones until after the first zone has been completed. This is a curious decision on Sega’s part, as it’s entirely possible that many players will simply dismiss it as being too similar to Doodle Jump well before that time, when in fact some of the platforming obstacles seen in laters levels give the game a very distinctive twist. Like Sonic’s early console adventures, much of the level design demonstrates an excellent understanding of gamer psychology, regularly luring players into the same traps over and over again not by being “cheap,” but by taking advantage of the natural instincts of platform game fans. Given the very conventional nature of the first few levels, though, it’s reasonable to question how many players will actually get far enough to appreciate this.

Despite this, though, Sonic Jump provides a good, mobile-friendly experience for those willing to stick with it — it’s well-presented, offers a considerable challenge and a ton of replay value. It will monetize well among impatient players, though those who do not wish to pay any more than the price of admission are also well catered to. Sega’s mobile output has been somewhat variable recently, ranging from the visually-impressive but mediocre Zaxxon Escape to the excellent port of Dreamcast classic Crazy Taxi, but Sonic Jump definitely falls more towards the “good” end of the spectrum.

Sonic Jump is currently ranked at No. 4 in Top Paid Apps, No. 2 in Top Paid iPad Apps, No. 3 in Top Paid Games and No. 2 in Top Paid iPad Games. It’s also currently enjoying a feature spot on the App Store as a “New and Noteworthy” title, which probably at least in part accounts for its strong showing in the charts.