Thanks to SEGA for the review code
Title: Sega Ages Sonic The Hedgehog 2
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 02/20/2020
In this sequel to the original Genesis classic, you take control of Sonic and his new friend Tails, as they set out to destroy Eggman’s ultimate war machine, the Death Egg! Now with the first rerelease of “Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2” in a decade!
The usual Sega AGES benefits are back, with all those visual borders and filters that we’ve come to expect. It’s been quite a while since the last full-fledged Genesis port though, since the original Sonic and Thunder Force IV in late 2018. (not counting the bonus port of Ichidant R included with that AGES release)
Sadly, there’s really nothing new to this release UI wise, since the arcade backgrounds are only for arcade titles, and thus there’s no TV display option or anything like that. You still have a cool border based on the Japanese boxart though, which is nice.
Continuing trends aside, Sonic 2 still looks as crisp as it always has been. It’s a fairly pretty looking sequel to the original game, with brighter colors, prettier worlds, and way, way better music than the original game. While Sonic 1 still has a great presentation as well, it feels a bit more “muted” than Sonic 2 here, which helps the sequel stand out sharply.
The Knuckles version of the game even changes a few minor things as well, such as the color of the zone titles and some minor aspects to make them a bit more polished, while also adding in some unique art for the ending.
The only real gripes I have with this game’s presentation comes from how hideous the Special Stages look, and the weird squished nature of the local multiplayer versus mode, which is still not fixed in this version of the game. The weird lines some other versions have in this mode are totally gone however, so at least the pixels still look crisp, despite the slight squish.
Sonic 2 is your standard Sonic game, though this was the title that set said standard into place to begin with. Introducing the iconic Spin Dash technique and Tails to the mix, Sonic 2 has the player go through each of the several zones in the game, defeating a boss at the end of each two act zone. (though the final one consists of three act, before going into three standalone levels)
This means that as you expect, you’ll be jumping, collecting rings to protect yourself and navigating around whatever gimmick the world throws at you, whether it’s the underwater portions of Aquatic Ruin Zone, the slow, clunky waves in Oil Ocean Zone, or the rail carts in Hill Top Zone, so at its core, there really isn’t much else to mention, since everything you’ve seen in most newer sonic titles came from this game in some way, shape or form.
Yes, even the special stages, which are a halfpipe requiring that you collect a certain amount of rings before you can get a chaos emerald. These are absurdly difficult and not at all fun, and are a massive downgrade from the Special Stages in Sonic 1, and would also be outdone in quality by the Special Stages in Sonic CD. Still, if you can clear seven of these, you will gain all the Chaos Emeralds and unlock Super Sonic, an invincible character that is immune to anything except for death pits, and he’s a ton of fun to mess around with. Knuckles can also gain a similar super form, though playing as Tails via the option menu leads to nothing happening if he ends up getting them all.
So with the basics out of the way, time to discuss the unique features this AGES Port brings to the table. First off are the carryovers from the 3D Classics version of the game, which include Ring Keep Mode, an odd mode that gives you 10 rings at the start of each stage and makes it so that getting hit only reduces half your rings instead of all of them, (sorta like some of the later Sonic Game Gear titles) and Super Sonic mode, a mode that just lets you become Super Sonic from the start of the game and gives you the 50 rings to do it whenever a stage starts, though you have to beat the game in order to play this.
However, the Knuckles version of the game, which is new to this Sega AGES port and was not in the 3D Classics version, also gives you the option to do both of these modes, and while I find the two modes to be little more than a novelty for Sonic, these really help out Knuckles and make his campaign infinitely more enjoyable.
You see, Knuckles jumps a lot shorter than Sonic or Tails, which doesn’t really mean to much since he can usually climb walls as his advantage. But the final boss of this game, the Death Egg Robot, is too tall for Knuckles to hit in the same spot as Sonic or Tails, so he has to wait for the robot to bend forward to attack it. Combine that with the fact that normally you have no rings on the final stage, and Ring Keep will be a godsend for playing as him, as it makes the final boss actually manageable and fair for him.
Of course, being able to unlock his Super form for the other bonus mode is just another fun way to blaze through the game, since Knuckles’ flight can be used to gain an insane amount of horizontal speed if used right, making him the most fun of the three to play as. With these two bonuses, SEGA has easily made this the definitive way to play Knuckles in Sonic 2, managing to outperform the mobile port in that aspect.
Last but not least are two more bonuses exclusive to this version of the game. The first comes from Sonic being able to use his drop dash from Mania, like in the AGES port of the first game, though it’s not nearly as useful of a move here as it was in that title. The second is a time attack mode, though unlike the one from AGES Sonic 1, you have to grab 100 rings before hitting the goal for it to count. It’s still only one stage and it’s a bit of a bummer that it isn’t for more levels, but it’s a cool online race mode nevertheless.
In conclusion, Sonic 2 is still as much of a fun game as it has ever been, though it’s still not without flaws. There are some agonizing difficulty spikes, such as the boss in Chemical Plant Act 2, (which took me until this very year to get past without cheating to skip over the stage!) the lengthy Metropolis Zone, and the maze-like nature of Wing Fortress, complete with way too many death pits. Thus, I still personally prefer the Master System’s take on Sonic 2 in general, due to the more interesting and fair level designs, but this AGES port of the 16 bit game isn’t a bad one to play, and it’s a fairly good representation of that version.
For starters, you’re still getting the definitive Knuckles in Sonic 2 experience, as Ring Keep really does help give his campaign the desperate rebalancing it needed. Not to mention you get a nifty drop dash for Sonic, the option to use stage select without a cheat code, and Super modes for both playable characters to chill your way through the game and take it easy. That being said, the mobile version of Sonic 2 still has some more advantages, such as more time attack options, Tails gaining some extra abilities, and the restoration of Hidden Palace Zone.
Yes, unfortunately the Sega Ages version of Sonic 2 doesn’t even try to bring back the Hidden Palace Zone, nor any elements of the cut content from the prototypes or in-game files that could have made this more fresh on the Sonic side of things. While this version is still the best way to go for Knuckles’ experience, playing as the classic Sonic and Tails in this version of the game still feels like a step back in quality from the mobile port, since there’s so much more that M2 could have added.
Not just the lack of any prototype stuff, but the Mega Play version of Sonic 2 is just totally absent, while it was a fantastic addition that made the AGES port of Sonic 1 the best possible version of the game, as it led to the inclusion of a great score attack mode. Apparently it’s been stated in an interview that M2 deliberately left it out due to it lacking the scoring features of Sonic 1’s port, which is more a fault on the original arcade release, but it would have still been a fun, rarely seen bonus to have nevertheless, so I hope if they end up continuing the AGES line with Sonic CD or Chaotix, they go for crazy bonuses like Mega Play and not play it safe like they did here. Heck, maybe just do an ages release of the 8-bit sonic titles on Game Gear and give them any sort of bonus feature. I know I’d fall in love with being able to drop dash in 8-bit Sonic 1!
Still, if you like the 16-bit Sonic 2, and especially if you like playing as Knuckles in Sonic 2, then this is still a must-own for platforming fans as it’s a very solid version of the game, and completely eliminates the input lag that plagues the version in Sega Genesis Classics. Definitely worth looking at regardless!
I give SEGA AGES: Sonic The Hedgehog 2 an 8 out of 10.