Sega and Nintendo may have been rivals once upon a time, but these days Sonic is unquestionably most comfortable on Nintendo’s platforms. It’s no secret that the Blue Blur’s been stuck in the mud for a few years now, but when he first burst onto the scene he featured in a series of speedy, sprawling and spry adventures quite unlike those of his mustachioed rival. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, regarded as the best of the bunch by many ardent fans, has now been lovingly remastered for 3DS, retaining everything that fans fell in love with back in 1992 and adding a handful of important enhancements to make the game more palatable to players today.
Sonic the Hedgehog fills a special spot in many gamer’s hearts, but there’s no denying that Sonic 2‘s level design is leagues above is predecessor. The stages are larger, more populated and much more diverse, often bleeding into each other and creating a brilliant sense of continuity and scale. There’s more of an emphasis on telling a story with Sonic 2 as well, as the designers afford more time to directed sequences to help illustrate the escalating stakes and danger, and aren’t afraid to toss in single-act Zones for cinematic effect. These elements were again improved upon in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but they hold up incredibly well in Sonic’s second adventure.
Even so, there are moments in most stages that seem almost unfair, punishing you for blazing ahead in a game that prides itself on speed. It’s a problem that’s plagued Sonic’s adventures for years, and one players will have to accept in return for the excellent platforming that makes up most of the experience. After all, part of the challenge of Sonic games is exploring each stage, discovering its hidden and interwoven paths, and becoming acquainted with the hazards, obstacles and enemies strewn throughout, a unique style of design that sets Sega’s series apart from most other platformers.
Unfortunately, the Special Stages haven’t aged quite as well as the rest of the game. Visually astounding back in 1992, their attempt at faux-3D gameplay is jarring through a contemporary lens. They rely far too heavily on blind turns, forcing players to memorize mine placement instead of testing their reflexes at high speeds, and the AI companion character often drops the rings you worked so hard to collect. They pose a classic challenge purists will no doubt revel in, but M2 has also added a new mode that grants immediate access to Super Sonic, unlocked after you’ve completed the game once, that allows players to enjoy Sonic’s invulnerable form without subjecting themselves to the frustration of the Special Stages.
The port masters at M2 have added all sorts of other enhancements as well, like a choice between the international and Japanese versions of the game, as well a new ‘ring keeper’ mode, which lets you retain half of your rings after hitting an enemy and grants you 10 rings whenever you start a stage. These additions make Sonic 2 more accessible than ever, whether you’re a returning player or someone experiencing the Genesis classic for the first time, but players also have the option to play the game in its original form, complete with a simulated screen bend as if you were playing on an old CRT TV. Oddly enough, 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 lacks the resurrected Hidden Palace Zone that featured in the game’s recent iOS port, a stage that was left on the cutting room floor during the games original development. Considering the two versions of the game were handled by different studios, this is perhaps understandable, but it’s still worth noting for anyone expecting to find that extra stage tucked away in 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
The soundtrack has always been fantastic — one of the best in the series — and it sounds as good as ever on 3DS. The Genesis’ crisp tones and booming bass complement each stage’s distinct visual personality, which is only enhanced by the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D. Like 3D Sonic the Hedgehog before it, 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 takes fantastic advantage of the handheld’s unique feature, adding incredible depth to each stage (though some admittedly utilize it better than others). It brings out the details in the environment, like the abstract geometry of Emerald Hill Zone or the towering cityscape of Chemical Plant Zone, frequently begging you to stop and take it all in, even after playing those levels hundreds of times before.
Sega has shown a lot of care for its classics with its collection of 3D remasters, and 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 maintains those lofty standards. It makes great use of the handheld’s 3D to refresh its already gorgeous level design and offers a slew of options for players looking to experience the best of the game with minimal frustration. Though some elements haven’t aged well, the level design and music are still superb, and ultimately 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is likely the best way to experience an irrefutable classic.