Another Classic Returns
Time sure flies, doesn’t it? It hardly seems possible, but Taxman’s remastered port of Sonic CD is already two years old. That port received critical acclaim, found commercial success, and opened the door for similar remakes of other old Sonic games. Earlier this year, Taxman and Stealth remastered the original Sonic the Hedgehog with new features and characters, and I still believe that it’s the best version of that game you’ll ever play. Now, with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the duo have set out to make one of the franchise’s best games even better. Can the lightning strike a third time?
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2
Available on: iOS 5+, Android 2.3+
Reviewed on: iPhone 5, Nexus 7 (2012)
Once you launch the port, you’ll notice that it looks remarkably similar to the remastered port of Sonic 1. The menus, settings, and overall presentation come directly from that game, and this creates a nice sense of cohesiveness between the releases. The game itself plays exceptionally well with the Retro Engine performing admirably, a condition I’ve more or less come to expect from this kind of release. The visuals are crisp, the remastered soundtrack hits all the right notes, and the gameplay is impeccably smooth; no matter how busy things became, the frame rate remained rock solid. However, despite the integration of one of the best digital D-pads I’ve ever used, the port still succumbs to flaws inherent with Sonic 2 and its existence on a touchscreen; some quirky collision detection led to a few undeserved deaths and some parts of Casino Night Zone left me begging for a physical controller. Other than that, however, this is pure two-dimensional platforming bliss.
In terms of the overall feature set, you can expect the usual Retro Engine upgrades; leaderboards and achievements, a Time Attack mode, and an updated widescreen presentation are all along for the ride. However, there’s a slew of new features as well, and all of them add something interesting to the package. Some of them are relatively minor; Knuckles is playable right from the start, and a new Boss Attack mode puts you up against all of Eggman’s monstrosities, one right after the other. The other new features are more substantial, and perhaps the most intriguing one is Hidden Palace Zone. Despite showing up in early mock-ups of the game, the zone never made it to the final product, and its existence in leaked betas has sparked decades of discussion and debate within the community. Now, Taxman and Stealth have given the zone new life by rebuilding it from the ground up while simultaneously staying true to the tenets of its original design. It’s layered, it’s long, and it’s a refreshingly original affair. Over the years, fans have naturally constructed their own idea of what the zone should be; there’s even been some mild controversy surrounding the choice of music for the level. Ultimately, this resuscitation won’t please everyone, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a kinetic and engaging creation that stands out as one of the better zones in the game.
Now let’s talk about my favorite new feature; for the first time on a handheld, online multiplayer is present in Sonic 2. That’s right. You can now play that famous 2-player race mode with friends and strangers the world over. This time, however, you have the entire screen to yourself, and you can still hear your opponent’s activity once they fall outside of your field of vision. This makes for a very hectic and frantic race to the finish, but it’s not all about speed; factors such as your final score, the number of rings you have, and the number of item boxes you opened all play into who wins. You can play up to eight zones in one match, and if you’re the daring type, you can choose to randomize the item boxes as well. If that wasn’t enough, the elemental shields from Sonic 3 are present and function exactly as you’d expect them too.
That said, the game mode is not without its hiccups. Games can occasionally lag and glitch in odd ways; for example, my opponent’s ring count in the Special Stage would occasionally only get updated sporadically, so I was never really sure who was winning. What I found must frustrating, however, was that fact that I got disconnected. A lot. Nearly every match I played ended prematurely thanks to the other player randomly quitting. I actually played about twenty matches before I was able to take one to completion; that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. On the whole, my Android matches fared better than iOS in terms of glitches and length of play, but your mileage may vary in this respect.
I feel like I’m making it sound as though multiplayer barely works, so let me back up. Connecting to matches and getting started is incredibly easy, and I averaged about two full zones of play for every match I got into. The mode is far from broken, and almost all of my issues with it stem from player behavior. Even though the disconnects are frustrating, they didn’t stop me from becoming completely engrossed in the experience. I honestly couldn’t help but go back for more, and I sunk hours of my time into this mode, time I probably should have spent writing this review. Since I didn’t play the Xbox 360 port, I’ve often wondered what online multiplayer for this game would be like, and once I finally got it in my hands, it was a hell of a lot of fun.
That’s what this entire port is, really. It’s fun. It’s a dramatic overhaul of one of the best Sonic games ever made, one that gracefully and completely brings it into the 21st century. Yes, there are a few issues with multiplayer and not every death is completely fair, but these are small blemishes on an otherwise stellar experience. Taxman and Stealth have delivered another phenomenal port of a classic Sonic game at a very reasonable price, and it’s one you should definitely get your hands on. I don’t care if you’ve played Sonic 2 since it was released or you’ve never even heard of it. This is a game no fan of the franchise should miss.
Why? With silky smooth gameplay, the return of a lost zone, and an addictive multiplayer offering, Taxman and Stealth do justice to another classic.
UPDATE: This review was amended to reflect that this port of Sonic 2 was not the first to implement online multiplayer. This amendment does not impact the game’s final rating.