The Sega Ages series can evoke some strange reactions when it comes to game selection. There can be little denial that the series is at its best when it’s bringing us fantastic ports of Sega classics that don’t usually get the attention they deserve; the likes of Virtua Racing and Fantasy Zone are clear highlights so far.
An odd consequence of this, though, is that some of Sega’s other gems – including some that are so well-loved that they regularly appear in fans’ all-time top 10 lists – are treated almost with resentment when they’re announced for Sega Ages. The reason is clear: many of these games have appeared on countless Sega compilations in the past, and fans want to see M2 applying its masterful emulation talents to more obscure titles. All of which makes the arrival of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 a little awkward, because this one’s been released more times than a serial burglar and as a result it’s probably fair to say that, despite being one of the greatest platformers ever, it probably didn’t need the Sega Ages treatment.
That’s not to say M2 hasn’t done a typically comprehensive job with it, of course. There’s a healthy selection of new modes and features available here, some of which were also in the Sega Ages version of the first Sonic. The most notable addition is the ability to play as Knuckles in Sonic 2, as was possible if you owned a copy of Sonic & Knuckles back in the day (the Sonic & Knuckles logo even appears on the main menu to make it clear that’s exactly what you’re getting).
Playing as Knuckles adds an interesting spin on the game, as his gliding and wall-climbing abilities allow you to navigate each stage in a way the developers hadn’t originally intended. Again, though, this won’t be anything new to fans of Sonic & Knuckles who already discovered this 26 years ago; that said, its presence is welcome nonetheless, and we’d probably have been asking where it was if it hadn’t been included. Also added to the game is the Drop Dash move, which made its debut in Sonic Mania and was subsequently added to the Sega Ages version of the first Sonic game. As before, it lets you instantly snap into a spin dash move when landing from a jump, and should be an entertaining addition for speedrunners (or those who hate when they lose momentum and don’t want to stop to do a spin dash).
Ring Keep mode is another feature that appeared in the previous Sega Ages Sonic port and has been carried over to this one. You start each stage with 10 rings, and when you take a hit you lose half of them (instead of all of them). This essentially acts like an 'easy' mode; even if you somehow manage not to collect any more rings, it still takes five hits to kill you as your ring count drops from 10 to 5, 2, 1 and 0. Other options are a little less revolutionary. The ability to switch between the Japanese and International (i.e. western) versions of the game may seem like a useful feature on paper, but the reality is that both were practically identical except for two things: the Japanese version ditched the ™ logo on the title screen, and it refers to Tails by his real name Miles instead. Incidentally, every time someone points out the pun in Tails’ name (Miles Prower), a bunch of new people finally notice it for the first time. Check the comments to this review: there’ll be at least one.
The Challenge mode, meanwhile, consists of two Time Trials – one for Sonic, one for Knuckles – in which you have to collect 100 rings in the game’s first stage then reach the goal as quickly as possible. It’s a fun enough diversion for a little while, but the fact that it focuses on a single level means it’s painfully limited and you’ll probably ignore it unless you’re the type who takes pleasure from inching yourself up online rankings.
In fact, one of the best new features in this version of Sonic 2 is something Sega has barely mentioned. M2 has taken the time to add HD rumble to the game, and it’s impressively effective. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the way it’s been implemented but when you collect a shield you can sort of feel it activating, and charging up a spin dash really feels like you’re revving something up. We never thought rumble would be the thing that got our attention most here, but there you go.
The above additions aside, the rest is pretty much what you’d expect from the umpteenth port of Sonic 2. M2’s emulation is seemingly as flawless as usual: we say ‘seemingly’ because we encountered a number of odd glitches throughout, but the original wasn’t exactly glitch-free anyway so it’s difficult to tell whether this was a case of accurate emulation or some new quirks unique to this port. Whether it’s worth dropping £5.99 / $7.99 on it, however, really depends on how much of a Sonic die-hard you are. There are plenty of other ways of playing Sonic 2, the most obvious for Switch owners being the perfectly passable version included in Sega Mega Drive Classics (which has the added bonus of having 50 other games accompanying it). It was also released on 3DS (with excellent autostereoscopic effects) and mobile – the latter of which isn’t merely a port but an authentic recreation of the game with the added bonus of a widescreen display and extra stages.
This is still Sonic 2. It’s still great. But it’s been great a bunch of different times before, and chances are if you were interested in playing it you’ll have probably found a way to do it by now. As another shining example of the Sega Ages series, the treatment it’s been given by M2 can’t be questioned here. What maybe could come under scrutiny, though, is why it was chosen above any of Sega’s more unsung heroes.
A brilliant presentation of a fantastic platformer, with a reasonable helping of extra features (some useful, others fairly throwaway). If you haven't played Sonic 2 before it's a must-have: whether it's worth buying if you already have the game in some other form, though, is questionable.