Ever since Sega announced that they would be making a series of 3D Classics for the Nintendo 3DS, I've been waiting for M2 to tackle Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - arguably the best game in the series.
Released back in 1992, it represents Sega just as it was reaching the height of its 16-bit glory. Along with Streets of Rage 2 and a handful of other classics, it is probably the game fans most associate with the Sega Genesis. Much of what we could consider "Good Sonic" came about from Sonic 2. Tails got his start in this one, and so did Super Sonic and the outstanding Casino Zone. There have been very good Sonic games since then (no really, play Sonic Colors or Sonic Rush), but it seems as if the series has been caught up in trying to recapture the apex of Sonic 2.
Anyway, if you're wondering whether it still holds up, it does. This is still the series at its most confident, its level design ambitious but also restrained in comparison to what appeared in Sonic 3. Everything about Sonic seems to be geared around emphasizing his speed, with the pace occasionally getting to the point that he almost outruns the screen as he leaves poor Tails in the dust. It makes its more deliberate predecessor seem poky by comparison.
Sonic 2's design is captured best by the Chemical Plant Zone - a wild and twisting series of ramps, pipes, and loops that remains my favorite level in the series. It's fun to see how that level layers together as you go shooting past checkpoints and power-ups in one of the many tubes, encouraging you to stretch out and explore. I would of course be remiss if I didn't remember to mention how good the music is in the Chemical Plant Zone. Back in the '90s at least, it was a track that made Sonic seem cool in a way that Mario just couldn't match.
Not everything about it works, of course. Back when it was released, Sonic 2's main selling point was Tails, who could use his two tails as a helicopter rotor to carry his buddy Sonic. He's a cute character, and he remains one of the more beloved fixture in Sonic's menagerie of friends, but he's mostly superfluous in this game. When I used to play Sonic 2 with my friends, I was always the one stuck being Tails, leaving me to get run right off the screen as the camera remained fixed on Sonic. In all honesty, there's not much else Sega could have done to make it all work without compromising Sonic's speed, but the fact remains that it doesn't really work. And playing single player, it's actually better to play with either Sonic or Tails alone because the CPU-controlled character will inevitably lose you the rings you need to get all of the Chaos Emeralds in the halfpipe.
The halfpipe, as it happens, is another slightly iffy element of Sonic 2. A technical marvel back in its day, its rolling hills frequently disguise mines and other obstructions, which can be frustrating when you're trying to obtain the Chaos Emeralds. It's one of those examples of old-school difficulty that comes off as more cheap than it does charming.
That said, even the elements that don't necessarily work have their charm, though that may be the nostalgia talking. I loved Sonic 2 back in the day, and it's one of the few games in the series that I can still pick up at any point and enjoy. Along with Streets of Rage 2, it's the crown jewel of M2's Sega Genesis ports.
The M2 Factor
We've had plenty of praise for M2 around here in the past. With apologies to other studios specializing in retro ports, they are the best in the business. Their calling card is their meticulous desire to capture the essence of what it was like to play these games while adding something new to the experience, as they do in Sonic 2.
3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has most of the extras that we associate with M2, including the ability to select between the International and Japanese versions, the latter which includes a handful of graphical enhancements like independently moving clouds as well as certain bug fixes. You can also select a Classic screen mode, which will bend the image in such a way that it looks vaguely like a CRT television. Interestingly enough, one feature that this version does not include is the Hidden Palace Zone - a level originally left on the cutting room floor that was restored for the iOS and Android remake of the game. I don't know that it's a surprising omission given that a different studio worked on the iOS versions, but it is a notable one.
M2's biggest additions are the ability to access a stage select screen and a Ring Keeper mode, the latter which allows you to keep 10 rings when you die against a boss. Both are designed to make it easier for fans to experience the entire game, which can be quite difficult at points, and there's nothing really wrong with that. Sonic purists, of course, will probably opt to turn them off. There's also local multiplayer for those who want to delve into Sonic 2's cooperative and splitscreen elements.
As usual, M2 has done a great job with this port, making it a fine capstone for their run of Sega 3D Classics. It's really a pity that it's coming to an end because there are still plenty of interesting Sega Genesis games worth revisiting, including Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the Thunder Force games, and Vectorman. Hopefully M2 will be getting another run in the near future. In the meantime, Nintendo really needs to take a look at what M2 has done for Sega. It's a travesty that their games haven't gotten the same treatment.
In any case, Sonic may not have the best reputation these days, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still terrific. It's absolutely worth having on your Nintendo 3DS. M2's customarily excellent port is just the icing on the cake.
Floaty jumps and an emphasis on momentum can make certain platforming elements frustrating. It is, after all, a Sonic game.
The Chaos Emeralds add a lot to Sonic 2's replayability. Beyond that, it's a tough game that should keep you busy for a while.
How can you not love that soundtrack? The series has never managed to top it.
Sonic's cartoony sprites are detailed and expressive, and they still hold up very well today. It's one of the Sega Genesis's best looking games.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 captures both Sonic and Sega at its best. This games has appeared on a huge number of platforms in recent years; but as usual, M2's efforts are a cut above the rest. Unless you're wild to play through the Hidden Palace Zone or you have a Sega Genesis at home, this is the version to own.