With a just-released major motion picture knocking everyone’s socks off at the box office, now would seem like the perfect time to capitalize on the hype with the release of a brand-new Sonic the Hedgehog game, wouldn’t it (ignoring that tie-ins usually come out alongside or ahead of a movie’s release)?
Well, we’re not getting that; we’re getting an old game instead. But, it’s in a new form! And the fact that it’s often been considered one of the greatest games of all time (don’t ask me to cite sources, I have too many magazines I’d have to go through. Just trust me on this) doesn’t hurt matters any, either.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue
This isn’t M2’s first time around the block with the Blue Blur on Nintendo Switch, so if you’ve played that version, a lot of what’s here will seem familiar to you — more so if you played the 3D Classics release. But since we don’t have a review of the first SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog, here’s a quick rundown for you.
The game features an “Original Mode” that is the core game, but rather than having to enter a stage select code, you can just toggle that on or off at the main menu. You can choose between the Japanese and International versions (though the differences are fewer than in the first game, mostly coming down to whether our little fox friend is referred to as “Tails” or “Miles”), and you can toggle the Drop Dash from Sonic Mania on or off, as well as a “Ring Chain display” that tracks how many consecutive rings you’ve collected without getting hit.
Then there’s the “Ring Keep Mode,” which starts you with ten rings, and you’ll only lose about half of them whenever you take a hit. Or, you can try “Super Sonic Mode,” which not only spares you the grind of going through the Special Stages, but even starts you with 50 rings in each stage so you can power up immediately. You get this by beating the game, but hey, remember that stage select I mentioned? Just like in the Nintendo 3DS version, you can take care of that pretty darn quick if you please.
“Challenge Mode” returns, only it’s a bit different this time. Whereas SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog had you either complete Green Hill Zone Act 1 as quickly as possible or play the Mega Play version of the game to get as high a score as possible in one life, this one has you collect 100 rings as you race to the goal of Emerald Hill Zone Act 1 as fast as you can.
And of course, you have all the usual SEGA AGES staples: Saving, Loading, Replay, Ranking, Staff Credits (this time with the animations from the 3D Classics version, but with several happening simultaneously to the menu theme), and access to the Manual website, which never works for me. I always thought it was because I usually get to play these before release, but no, it still doesn’t work in the game for some reason. Anyway, the usual display options are all here, though presenting the viewing window for the game in a larger size means you can’t view the Ring Chain display while it’s docked (it works in handheld; go figure). The custom wallpaper for this title is based on the packaging art for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in Japan, as is the title screen.
Knock-knock, it’s Knuckles
The biggest difference between this release and SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog is in what could be called its “preservationist” content. That is, SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog gave us the Mega Play arcade version of Sonic’s first adventure, which removed the slower-paced stages and made things more difficult by not allowing extra lives to be obtained.
For SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog 2, however, instead of giving us the Mega Tech/Mega Play version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (which features fewer differences and cut content on the whole), M2 elected to give us Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the version of the game which was playable only when you would attach the game to Sonic & Knuckles.
You can play this version with the Original Mode and Ring Keep Mode as well, though unfortunately, the Super Sonic Mode isn’t available here. On the bright side, the Stage Select is still an option, and all of the old codes from the original versions of the game still seem to work (I can confirm Debug and Super Knuckles), so while you won’t be starting with 50 rings, at least you’ll still be able to achieve that form with relative ease.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, you can tackle the Challenge Mode with Sonic or Knuckles. Poor Tails, though — he’s completely left out for some reason. Sure, in Sonic 2, he doesn’t offer anything different from Sonic, but fans of the esteemed Mr. Prower might nevertheless be disappointed by this (I know I am).
The Taxman cometh
So, here’s the elephant in the room, the big question: Is this better than the version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Taxman and Stealth created for mobile devices all the way back in 2013?
The answer is, of course, absolutely not. The mobile version of the game features widescreen (minus stretching the image), smoother animation at 60FPS in both regular and Special Stages, also has the ability to play as Knuckles, and goes even beyond that by allowing you to toggle on the ability for Tails to fly, play as Knuckles with Tails following, better control when you turn Super, use Sonic 3 power-ups, and even restored the original Hidden Palace Zone with new enemies and a new boss.
There was talk at one point of including content in SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that programmer Yuji Naka was unable to implement due to the Mega Drive’s limitations, and had they done that, it may have very well elevated this release to something on par with Taxman and Stealth’s work. Alas, there seems to be little indication of that here — not even the Hidden Palace Zone made it into this version.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has been released many times on many platforms over the years, and of them all, the Taxman and Stealth port remains the definitive version. As such, among those releases with their different features, this one earns a strong
However, here’s the clincher: As good as the Taxman and Stealth version of Sonic 2 is, for reasons that elude us to this very day, it’s never been released outside of the mobile space.
As far as any version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 goes that you can play on a console? M2’s SEGA AGES release stands head and shoulders above them all, and among those, earns a solid