Sega had been happily churning out iOS ports of its 16-bit classics for years; basic emulated affairs that offered little to anyone who had played them before. When it came time bring the Sonic series over, Sega decided to use a subtler touch. Starting with Sonic CD, Sega enlisted Christian Whitehead to do native ports that faithfully preserved the originals, while also taking advantage of newer hardware. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the third release from Sega and Whitehead and looks to do justice to what was arguably the series’ peak.
If any game deserves a quality port, it’s Sonic 2. The original Sonic was a revelation; a game that showed, definitively, what 16-bit hardware could do for the platform genre. Its complex physics were coupled with simple, accessible controls and an unmatched sense of style. The contrast with the conservative design of Nintendo’s Super Mario World couldn’t have been any sharper, and the title put Sega in the lead for the newly-launched console war.
Sonic 2 was a critical game for Sega. It was proof that their early success was no fluke, and it took everything that made the first game great and dialed up the speed, size, and wild level designs. Where the original (and Sonic CD) were filled with more exploration and slow-paced moments, Sonic 2 was a wild roller-coaster with comparatively few stops. Despite this, it introduced sprawling, multi-pathed stages that rewarded exploration and multiple plays, even if the pace didn’t always encourage it. To this day, it remains one of the finest platformers ever made.
At first blush, not much has changed in the move to mobile. There are some snazzy new menus, very similar to those in the Sonic 1 port. The low-res pixels of the original remain crisp and blocky, but widescreen support offers a subtly extended view. On closer inspection, there are a few more enhancements to be found. There are now some rotation effects, like the gears in Metropolis Zone, as well as some alpha blending to replace some of the old “flicker” transparency. Alas, the latter effect has not been applied to things like the waterfalls that used the color bleed of the Genesis’ composite signal to fudge transparencies. This seems like it would have been an easy opportunity to gussy up the old graphics, but it sadly goes overlooked.
The most dramatic visual enhancement comes during the game’s famous special stages. These levels featured a then-dazzling 3D viewpoint where Sonic ran along a half-pipe. For the mobile port, the blocky pre-rendered backgrounds of these stages have been replaced with real-time 3D stages, and the more fluid movement is immediately apparent. They still play identically to the original, but there’s even a little subtle 3D camera effect when moving around.
The most talked about new feature of this release is the inclusion of Hidden Palace Zone, the mythical secret stage that was ultimately cut from the final game, but still accessible in unfinished form in certain rare prototypes. The stage optional and fairly well hidden, accessible at the bottom of a formerly deadly pit in Mystic Cave Zone. The layout of this single-act stage isn’t based on any of the existing prototypes, and has matured a good bit compared to unfinished versions. There are new enemies, new props, and new effects, and the stage itself is a completely original layout. The single act zone ends with a new boss fight, created specifically for this new port, and it’s worthy of Robotnik’s other attempts.
There are a few other additions to round out the package. An expanded version of the game’s classic competitive racing mode is included, and playable online using Google’s Play services. This mode works much like the split-screen version on the original cart, but there are some new power-ups (including the elemental shields from Sonic 3) and, of course, you get the full screen to yourself. There’s also a time-attack mode for those so-inclined, and many of Sonic 2’s levels are perfect for this sort of challenge. While not exactly new, thanks to “lock-on technology,” you’ll also be able to play through as Knuckles if you want.
Ultimately, this is still the same game you played all those years ago, but it’s good to see Sega making an effort to make this more than just a simple emulation. The source material holds up as well as ever, and even the touch controls seem to work pretty well thanks to the original’s simple layout. Full controller support alleviates even this gripe, making this seem like the definitive version of a time-tested classic.
By no-means a remake, Sega’s new version of Sonic 2 nonetheless has a few new tricks up its sleeve with some new graphical effects, new modes, and an exclusive new restoration of Hidden Palace Zone.