In 2011, Christian Taxman Whitehead worked with SEGA on a bold new venture: To bring Sonic The Hedgehog CD to mobile devices, PC, and home console platforms through the use of his new Retro Engine, which allowed him to reconstruct the cult favorite title from scratch, rather than through more difficult to achieve SEGA CD emulation. With the addition of Sonic’s friend Tails as a playable character and a host of other new tweaks and features to create what is arguably the definitive version of the game, the new version of Sonic CD was well received– well enough for Taxman to join forces with Stealth to perform the same trick in updating the mobile version of the original Sonic The Hedgehog in May of 2013.
Continuing their updating of the classic Sonic games, we now have the recently-released and remastered Sonic The Hedgehog 2, once more exclusive to mobile devices. However, whereas Taxman and Stealth had previously worked their magic on a cult favorite and the foundation of the series, they’ve now found themselves attempting to remaster the title in the series which is often considered by many to be its very best, often making lists of the top video games of all time. The question, then, is can they do it one more time?
Gotta Go Fast
One of the biggest changes to Sonic The Hedgehog and Sonic CD was the addition of new playable characters to games which had previously only allowed for players to use Sonic. The addition of Tails to these two titles and Knuckles The Echidna to the original allowed for different ways to play and new ways to explore, even bringing with them new places to discover due to the inclusion of their unique flying, swimming, gliding, and climbing talents.
Unfortunately, Sonic 2 winds up a little lacking in this department. Admittedly, it can’t really be helped; it was the game which introduced Tails in the first place, and thanks to the lock-on capabilities of Sonic & Knuckles on the Genesis, Knuckles was playable in all his glory as well. With that, there wasn’t much for Taxman and Stealth to add, but they did make one minor tweak that some fans will find welcome: Previously, Tails was but a clone of Sonic, matching him ability for ability; no more, and no less. This time out, however, some of Tails signature abilities– flying and swimming– are now available for the first time ever in Sonic 2 (though truth be told, they don’t seem as effective here). Plus, you don’t have to unlock anyone: Everyone is playable from the start.
To make up for this, the developer took a different tactic. If they couldn’t add more characters, they’d instead add more stages. Or at least one stage; though SEGA’s promotional material uses the plural, so far only the Hidden Palace Zone is known.
For those who don’t know, the Hidden Palace Zone has a certain sort of significance among the Sonic The Hedgehog fan community, as it was a level planned for the original game, but ultimately left out. Some preview images existed and assets for it, along with a few other omitted zones, were left in the game’s code to be discovered years later by the modding fan community. Exclusive to the remastered mobile edition of the game, players can now explore this all-new one-act zone with the new scenery, Badniks (we particularly like the little dinosaur robots), and bosses it provides.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it cannot be selected from the game’s Stage Select mode despite being displayed there with the rest. If you want to access it… well, we won’t spoil it for you, but we will offer a hint: If you’re familiar with Sonic 2, you can find it by going to the last place even Super Sonic would ever want to be.
The game has several other cool things going on as well. The old codes still work, there are new modes such as the Boss Attack mode (a gauntlet of the game’s bosses), and there are options aplenty, from the size and position of the game’s controls to which packaging (North American, European, or Japanese) represents the game on the menu screen. The graphics look great, and there even seem to be some added effects sprinkled throughout, such as panels with a pulsing glow in the Metropolis Zone that didn’t do so before. The bonus stage has been remade with a fully 3D background as well, rather than the simulated trickery used before. The sound is also really good, and certain sound effects which didn’t come through as clearly before are now much more pronounced.
Oh, and for fans of the original, the stinger at the end of the credits has been tweaked a bit. We won’t spoil it here, but suffice to say you’ll want to stick around for some nice, fan-servicey foreshadowing.
Bothersome Bugs and Badniks
In spite of all the neat new features, touches, and inclusions that have been added to Sonic 2, one simple truth remains: This version of the game is still a bit of a mess.
For starters, the controls feel a bit iffy at times, and can be a bit unresponsive. This is less about the Dpad, which is as good as you can get on a touchscreen in side-scrolling stages (though it feels a bit oversensitive in the halfpipe bonus stages), and more about the jump button, which has failed to respond for us on several occasions, most particularly where characters with mid-air actions are concerned. This would seem to be where the aforementioned difficulty with Tails’ swimming and flying comes from, but it hinders Knuckles as well.
Beyond that, though, there’s just an overall sense of bugginess about the entire product. Longtime fans may notice that the pistons in the Metropolis Zone seem to be out of position; whereas before they were flush with the ground upon approach, allowing faster players to run by them while dawdlers were crushed, they’re now raised, leaving the floor open to catch you as you run by. Other quirks include characters walking partway through a wall/floor, enemies disappearing, and the Mystic Cave’s lightning bugs’ flicker effect seems off, too, making it more difficult to detect when they’re about to go off.
Things only get more serious from there, as the game does rather poorly with tight spaces. On more than one occasion, we’ve gotten into some narrow places without any trickery, or even where we’re supposed to be, only to wind up dying. Just climbed up on a ledge once, and boom– dead. We weren’t the only ones having problems with death, either: In some of the screens here, you can see a bug we encountered where we defeated Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik in the new Hidden Palace Zone, and he just would not stop exploding. In fact, it looked like his death animation went partially in reverse, and he just continued floating over our head, not allowing us to finish the stage. Instead, we had to reset and try again.
Truth be told, while the inclusion of the Hidden Palace Zone is a cool treat for longtime fans, it feels kind of tacked on with a lack of the same sort of flow as the other levels, some cheap hits, and other oddities. You can see in another screen here how Super Sonic’s colors glitch out when in this zone’s underwater portions, and the boss battle just feels a bit cheaper and more frustrating than the rest of the bosses in the game. You can’t even hit Eggman on the way in, which was one of the best parts of the Genesis titles for skilled players.
As long as we’re listing grievances with the game, one other thing: Both Super Sonic and Super Knuckles are in, but still no Super Tails. Boo.
This one is really tough to nail down in the end. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is a great game, but this version is lacking. What’s more, some of the areas in which it’s lacking are wildly inconsistent; you may not experience some of the glitches mentioned above, all while experiencing some on your own. Or none at all. The game is playable and good when it is, but there’s an element of chance with it.
We will say this, though: This isn’t the first time something has gone wrong with one of these remastered games, but Taxman and Stealth have come through before. For instance, beating Sonic 1 with Knuckles would have him die during the credits until it was fixed. With that said, we’re hopeful that they can and will iron out the various wrinkles found within, and that this game will become the definitive version of Sonic 2 as its predecessors have for their games. But until that time, we have to go with a lower score.