SEGA AGES ‘Sonic 2’ Review: The Classic’s Most Complete Version Yet
The SEGA AGES series for Nintendo Switch already has a number of winners to its name. Under the AGES banner - which dates back to the Saturn era, but has been revived for Switch - we've received absolutely fantastic ports of Virtua Racing, Out Run, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, and the original Mega Drive Sonic the Hedgehog, among many more from the gaming giant's back catalogue.
So adding the Tails-introducing, split-screen-compatible Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to that list, given the game's reputation as one of the best 2D Sonics of all time, is a no-brainer. Right?
Right. Obviously. This all-timer of the platform genre, easily a God Tier entry in our recent Sonic ranking, is still as great now as it was on release in 1992 - the difference being that various re-releases have expanded the SEGA mascot's first sequel with tweaks and improvements, making it practically indispensable both as a piece of gaming history and a gleefully frenetic 360-degree-scroller for the here and now.
This new AGES version for Switch - handed by emulation extraordinaires M2 (the studio behind all the games on the Mega Drive Mini and Konami's imminent PC Engine Mini, as well as SEGA's fantastic 3D Classics series for the 3DS) - adds more than just gameplay tweaks to the original experience. Not that these additions - including the drop dash spin move seen in 2017's Sonic Mania, and the 'ring keeper' mode added to the 3DS version, which makes what's always been a tough game a lot more bearable - aren't very welcome.
The real reason to grab this version of Sonic 2 over any others right now - and the game's already on Switch, as part of its Mega Drive/Genesis Classics collection - is because it plugs Knuckles into the mix. If you were into all things Sonic and SEGA in the 1990s, you'll know that 1994's Sonic & Knuckles came on a very special cartridge that allowed players to slip either Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 into the top of it. Doing so with the former allowed you to play through Sonic 2 as Knuckles the Echidna, climbing walls that Sonic couldn't scale and gliding across divides that the hedgehog would fall short of.
And the Switch's SEGA AGES Sonic 2 gives you just that: the option of playing through the game as the Guardian of the Master Emerald himself. Which is something that a lot of players who've come to the Sonic series after its 16-bit heyday (did I go there? Oh boy, did I ever go there) won't have experienced before. Using Knuckles totally changes how you approach stages - if you want it to, that is, by making the most of the character's abilities. And if you don't, I guess you just prefer red? I'm not here to judge you, it's cool.
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Whoever you choose to play through the game with - Sonic, Tails or Knuckles - Sonic 2 remains a reactions-testing, eye-popping, imagination-rich journey into a kind of 16-bit bliss that, nostalgia goggles off, so very rarely stands up to modern scrutiny. That ring keeper mode - activating it halves your ring loss upon taking a hit, instead of automatically putting you down to zero - is a blessing for anyone who's out of practice (hello), but even with it, there are stages here that will turn knuckles - yours, not him - white. That's not a bad thing, by the way - in an age of Celeste and Super Meat Boy, Sonic 2 shows that the old-school could be punishing, too.
Also new to this Switch version is HD rumble. It's a lot more subtle than on some games, buzzing gently as you spin-dash onwards and bump against antagonist Dr Robotnik's nefarious inventions; but it's a neat touch that shows how M2 adapt their projects to best suit the platform in question, rather than simply pushing out the same old game regardless of where it's headed. Of rather less interest is the game's challenge mode, a time-trial affair set across the game's first stage, in which you have to get 100 rings as quickly as possible. It's there if you want it, but it's unlikely you'll touch it twice.
A terrific port of a terrific game, then, finished off with background options, screen size and scan line adjustments, and the option to play the Japanese version (it changes Tails' name to Miles, that's about it). But do you need another version of Sonic 2 in your life? For me, given I've already got this on at least four other platforms - not least of all the Mega Drive itself - I probably wouldn't have grabbed it had SEGA not provided a copy, even with the added Knuckles. But if you've never taken this sensational platformer for a spin before, and the Switch is your console of choice right now? To echo a previous sentiment: it's truly a no-brainer.
Featured Image Credit: SEGA