I’m sure I am not alone when I say I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve purchased Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in various incarnations, be it through a port to a 7th gen console or a compilation release over the last decade. Yet, SEGA keep coming back to these classic titles in order to capitalise on those still reminiscing of a golden age, and indeed I keep coming back to these epitomes of gaming on the Megadrive. I might have been apprehensive in purchasing this game once more, had it not been for the involvement of the now legendary Taxman and Stealth in this port, and going off their incredible rebuilds of Sonic 1 and Sonic CD for iOS and Android I couldn’t resist.
Indeed, even after playing for a few minutes, it is obvious that there was no misplaced faith. The Retro Engine lends itself perfectly to the title, with Emerald Hill looking crisp from the get-go. Once you pop into the special stages though, your eyes are in for the real treat; gone is the old frame-by-frame half-pipe, now replaced by a glorious gliding 3D environment that is so silky smooth it’s almost hypnotic. It’s impressive that even the busiest screens don’t show any break in frame rate, which really helps maintain the pace; even when other iOS applications are throwing update after update at you.
I’ve never been fond of the touchscreen interface with mobile ports, but one thing that has made these titles much more bearable is playing them on one of the larger devices, specifically the iPad; the larger footprint of the D-pad makes for a much more pleasant experience than on the iPhone counterpart (or maybe it’s just my fat thumbs). That said there were some experiences where precision was required and my thumbs missed the control, resulting in my hurtling down the level after failing to avoid an Asteron explosion.
Controls aside, what will really sell this to the veteran Sonic fans is the new inclusions to the game, namely the much talked about Hidden Palace Zone, which until now only existed as screenshots from the Beta version, an unused track in the sound test and years of speculation on forums. Should you be fortunate enough to find the new stage (as its name suggests, it’s hidden, and hidden in the most ingenious place), you’ll discover a level that has been built from the ground up by Taxman and Stealth. Without spoiling the mystique for those who are yet to play through, the stage feels like it’s been part of the game forever; alternative routes, Badniks and obstacles unique to the environment are some of the highlights of the stage, along with the most original and refreshing boss fight I have played though in many, many years. The Hidden Palace Zone music from the original has not been utilised to accompany the stage, but instead has been replaced with the 2-player stage theme to fit the pace of the level; a wise choice in my opinion.
On the subject of the two player mode, the feature has been completely revamped in order to open it up to the competitive arena of the internet, bringing in elements such as randomised item boxes and the shields from Sonic 3 / S&K, making for a much different experience from previous incarnations. While not an element of gameplay I generally garner the most pleasure from, many will find the ability to drop in and out of the multiplayer mode a huge attraction, even if the odd disconnection and lag occurs from time-to-time; this seems to be symptomatic of networks rather than a flaw in the game itself. The various time attack modes available also offer an extra dimension of re-playability that will extend the game’s interest long after completion of the main game.
I’m unsure whether it was intentional or not, but in both play through with Sonic and Tails I failed to encounter the Hill Top Zone boss. The first time through, the change only builds anticipation of the additional zone, however, many will be disappointed that this boss has been left out the final version, or only appears in certain circumstances. [UPDATE: Apparently the omission of the boss was a glitch, and the new update fixes this – T].
Flaws aside, and smalls flaws at that, this game makes for the hat-trick of classic ports that have regenerated the titles universally thought to be virtually perfect. The title is a testament and an example of a game in a franchise where those working behind the scenes have a great passion for what they are creating. Taxman and Stealth should once again be proud of their magnificent endeavor, and I only hope SEGA are now negotiating their work on a fourth title. If you own an mobile device, this is a must have purchase regardless of your level of dedication to the franchise. Even if you have defeated Sonic the Hedgehog 2 a hundred times, you’ll want to revisit it at least once more through the mobile port; it makes for a strangely new, yet nostalgic experience.
+ Three playable characters from the get-go for three different game experiences
+ A brand new level, faithful to the world of Sonic the Hedgehog 2
+ Boss and stage time attack modes
+ A rejuvenated multiplayer mode with online play
– Some frustrating moments with connection issues
– Using the touch screen controls in vital situations
– Putting the game down