Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA AGES) Review

After reviewing the first Sonic game right around the same time the second was to be released on Switch, I thought it might be worth my time to take a magnifying lens to the latter as well. And what I have drawn from this is that M2 has done some fantastic things with the Sega Ages titles. Not only does it present the already beguiling speedy gameplay faithfully, it adds upon the game’s foundation through features new and old. You are essentially given two games in this Sega Ages package with the return of Knuckles in Sonic 2, the game mode that used lock on technology that was only possible with the two Sega Genesis cartridges. I dare to say that this may be the definitive version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

While Sonic 1 introduced us to the titular hero, Sonic 2 tightened the previous game’s performance, physics, and level design. Where the first game was plagued with slowdown in some levels, its sequel used the Genesis’ completely made-up, phony “blast processing” to its fullest potential. I never once experienced so much as a hiccup in gameplay during my time with the game. And Sega Ages is quite faithful in this respect. It’s emulated to near perfection, and that, with this iteration’s additions, rockets the game to a “must own” status for any Switch user. Momentum also seems like it works better here than in its predecessor, making the controls tight and responsive, and overall bolstering the way the game feels from a physics standpoint.

But most notable still is the game’s incredible level design. This is by far the best showing of what Sega is truly capable of when it comes to world-building. Multiple pathways branch out, providing the player with options as to how they want to get from start to finish. Not to mention it seems fast. I know, by today’s standards, Sonic’s 2D excursions don’t seem nearly as speedy as they did back when they released, but Sonic 2 somehow captures what it really means to be fast. Levels are designed to be just long enough to rationalize the purchase, but also short enough to make it feel like you are zipping through the game. While I am a veteran at these games, I was hard-pressed to break more than 3 minutes on any one act, making it great for pick up and play while also keeping the game fresh if you choose to finish it in one sitting as it was intended so many years ago. You will spend less than 6 minutes in an environment, and then be ushered into the next just as quickly as you entered the first. This is great level design at its very core. There are a couple cheap hits that the player is almost assuredly bound to encounter, but that is where replaying the game can impart the player with a way to attain better times and smoother runs.

The 16bit graphics are just as smooth as a veteran’s playthrough. With the Sega Ages copy, like the first, you can adjust screen size, scan lines, and smoothing to suit your fancy. There is something here for anyone to enjoy, catering to both purists and newbies alike. Even to this day the game looks great. Everything is so colorful and the foreground pops from the background nicely, never confusing the player like so many games of that era did. Overall, the game’s graphics are what is to be expected from a title from the early 90s, but even surpasses its cohorts in some ways. And the games visuals, paired with its killer soundtrack, provides quite the experience. The 16bit sounds are captivating from the moment they reach the player’s ears. My favorite of all the music featured in the game’s many levels are Hill Top and Sky Chase’s upbeat melodies. The way everything ties together somehow makes the game feel greater than the sum of its parts. It’s almost ineffable, and results in an experience that has blown me away since the age of five.

Sure, I may be talking from a nostalgic standpoint, but I also believe the game is objectively incredible, and it holds up to this day as one of the best Sonic experiences out there. If you’ve never played Sonic 2, the Sega Ages version is a great place to start, and if you are a longtime fan there is a lot here for you to enjoy as well. Overall this is a fantastic addition to my game library, and the extremities of the many features included in the Sega Ages rendition (counting the ring chase mode and drop dash ability) are just a bonus; but in all honesty, the game holds up even without those inclusions. Altogether, there is a little something for everyone here, and this game remains at the pinnacle of 2D platformers.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100

Sonic the Hedgehog (SEGA AGES) Review

With the recent success of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie in theatres now, I thought it would be fun to revisit the game that rocketed the blue blur into the homes of many young and impressionable children of the 90s. The movie has recently reached the status of best box office earnings over any other films based on a video game. I have yet to see it, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling hopeful of video game representations in the film industry.

I decided to jump right back into the series 1991 debut, and what better way than through the Sega Ages collection on my fancy pants, new Nintendo Switch? While the game exudes a 90s feel in charming 16-bit graphics and soundtrack, nostalgia had me expecting more from it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good game, but some design choices had me scratching my head, and in some ways it is far inferior to even the game’s sequels; which capture everything the first game was about, but with far better execution.

For the most part, the Sega Ages adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog is fantastic. The greatest notable feature is the inclusion of the spin dash introduced in Sonic 2, and the drop dash that was featured in Sonic Mania. The lack of a spin dash in the original turned me off from the game in my childhood, as I had experienced it after playing Sonic 3. It’s welcomed with open arms in Sega Ages though, and makes the game feel more modern, akin to the later series’ releases in the 90s.

Sonic’s whole shtick is speed; and zooming through the levels is facilitated with this new feature. My issue with the game comes with poor choice in level design. Where the later releases excel in the presence of multiple routes to take and many discoveries to be made, it is lacking in this first installment. It is still there, just not at the same level of quality as Sonic 2, 3, and Knuckles. It is at it’s best when getting from point A to point B is smooth, seamless, and fast. This simply just isn’t the case for some of the levels featured in this game.

Marble zone, the game’s second level clashes with the whole theme of the game that was introduced in Green Hill. Instead of timing your jumps and spins to get to the finish line in one swooping motion, the level forces you to slow down, push blocks, and avoid spike traps at every turn. This dampens the otherwise fun experience. It doesn’t stop at the second stage though, as the slowdown is also present in the game’s fourth stage, Labyrinth zone. And it is here that not only does the pacing slow down, but the actual game stutters and slows occasionally. In this sense, it is faithful to the original as I remember experiencing the same issue and frustrations in my youth. Outside of that, not much can be said about the game that hasn’t been expressed before, and perhaps where some have articulated better than I can hope to. I love Sonic the Hedgehog, and I believe nostalgia may contribute to that love in no small way.

The Sega Ages rendition of Sonic is well worth the entry fee, as it provides a decent level of personalization while also providing outlets for beginners and the more competitive individuals alike. Some basic features include the customization of the screen dimensions, scan-lines, smoothing, etc. While button layout options seem superfluous in a game where every button does the same thing, there are other features that should be commended. It is possible to save your game whenever you so wish, a fundamental necessity that just wasn’t available in games of old. You are also able to jump into any stage you want with the level selection feature. There is a mega-play version that emulates the arcade style gameplay, and a challenge mode that implements the mega-play version and another mode that encourages speed running of the first act in Green Hill zone. All in all, there’s a lot to play with here, and it keeps Sonic the Hedgehog fresh in a way that only the fine folks at M2 (who ported all the Sega Ages titles) can achieve. I highly recommend this to anyone who may have never experienced this 2D platformer before, and to those feeling nostalgic. Personally, Sonic the Hedgehog is the game I have bought the greatest number of times out of any title, as there seems to be a port of these games on every platform imaginable. Still, don’t pass on this one as it is well worth it just to have a portable version of the game. You should especially consider it if it goes on sale. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 will be getting it’s own Sega Ages release, and I’m looking forward to that one as well.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 3/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 20/25 or 80/100

Sonic Forces Review

Probably the biggest disappointment to mascots across the globe is the trajectory Sonic the Hedgehog’s career has followed. Being one of the most iconic characters in video game history, to dishing out disappointment after disappointment in 3D games, Sonic has great potential that goes unrealized time and time again. The kicker is, I actually like the latest installment, appropriately titled Sonic Forces, as this one comes out in full force. While I experienced moments of unmitigated enjoyment, the game falls a little flat in some very important ways. I wanted so desperately to love this game, to see Sonic make a comeback in the video game world; however, it should not be approached with high hopes that will more than likely be dashed; rather, to go in with low expectations and be pleasantly surprised.

The game starts off in a predictable manner, Eggman hatches a plan, Sonic and friends oppose him, blah blah blah. The truth is, Sonic has never carried a strong story in almost all his games across the last 28 years. It’s been Sonic vs Robotnik in nearly all these games. Sure, new characters are often introduced, like Chaos, Shadow, etcetera; but they have always been allied with Eggman, and Sonic Forces continues this tradition. A new character, Infinite, is introduced and may very well be the strongest foe to fight the blue blur yet. Again, this new character is under the direct orders of Dr. Eggman. Nothing new here. The introduction shows Sonic being defeated by this new enemy. Jump several months later and there’s an all-out war between Eggman’s army and a resistance force led by Knuckles. Shortly after, you are recruited as the new rookie on the team. That’s right, YOU. Sonic Forces has, for the first time, allowed the player to customize his own character to be dropped into the game. Your custom character, along with the rest of the gang, attempt to take the world back from Eggman’s control. All in all, it’s a cookie cutter story that really doesn’t do much to enhance the gaming experience. In fact, most of the story is dealt outside of cutscenes, in little dialogue bubbles between characters. These conversations would have served the narrative way better if they had been part of cutscenes and it all seems lazily put together. There is something left to be desired in terms of narrative here. What it lacks in story is made up for in gameplay. After only 4 hours this is probably Sonic’s fastest adventure yet.

There are three different game variants that you are thrown into in separate stages. You can play as modern Sonic, boosting through enemies on what seems like a race track, flipping from 3D to 2D, reminiscent of the day stages in Sonic Unleashed. These levels are fast, most often allowing the player to boost through most of the action, with a few hazards sprinkled here and there. You can also play as your custom character in stages similar to the aforementioned gameplay. In this mode, you are given a weapon and wisp abilities you can use to navigate the stage, and depending on your weapon you are granted different passive and active effects. These were my least favorite segments of Sonic Forces as I found they were so similar to modern Sonic, without the insane speed. Lastly, classic Sonic has been shoehorned into the game with very little rhyme or reason. The only explanation that is given is that somehow, Infinite is messing with different dimensions. It very loosely fits together. However, I actually enjoyed these stages where I imagine most gamers will be turned off. The glaring issue is the game’s physics when controlling classic Sonic. Jumping seems a little floaty, and momentum works differently here than in previous Sonic games. I personally enjoyed these new changes; I felt the controls were fresh and unlike the mechanics I have seen before. It takes some getting used to, certainly, but if you give it a chance these physics may grow on you too.

I’ve always been a strong believer in the importance of level design, especially regarding Sonic games where the whole point is to get to the end in one fast and fluid motion. It can’t be easy to develop these stages knowing that it has to be long enough to appease players all while the character is travelling at the speed of sound. I actually think the devs did a good job here. The levels weren’t too long to bore me, and they were just short enough to leave me wanting more. While it is a common complaint that these levels may be too short, I don’t see how they could have done it any other way. What’s most important here is that fun is distributed in short bursts over a decent period of time. There are over 30 different stages (albeit some within the same locale) that keep the fast and furious playstyle from growing stale. And if that’s not enough, there is the added challenge of getting S rank and collecting all red rings in each stage. There is plenty here to enjoy and even go back to should you so wish.

I have never really been disappointed by music in Sonic games, in fact, Sonic Adventure 2 holds so much musical nostalgia for me that it is a contender for one of my favorite video game soundtracks. Somehow though, I don’t believe Sonic Forces appeals to me that much. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the music and sound effects immensely, but nothing has left a lasting impression on me. I can’t recall a single song that sticks in my head. Ultimately, an okay soundtrack is just that: okay.

Graphically, Sonic Forces does nothing wrong, with a colorful pallet that is visually pleasing, but it doesn’t do anything exceptional either. It’s very average compared to most other cartoony triple A titles. This is saying a lot considering I always felt Sonic pushed the envelope when it came to its graphical style. Even from the early Genesis years, the colors popped so much that it was one of the best looking games on that console. When I saw Sonic Unleashed for the first time my mind was blown. I wasn’t quite as shocked this time around, but that might be the fault of the graphical style itself. It’s hard to imagine the visuals being improved upon, and it may be the case that cartoony graphics such as these have plateaued. In comparison to other graphical styles, this cartoony aesthetic doesn’t bring anything that we haven’t seen before to the table. That being said, the colorful aesthetic is easy on the eyes at the very least.

While there may be no bigger disappointment than Sonic’s evolution, this title is solid enough as a standalone game to provide some enjoyment. While the idea is new, creating your own character to be thrown into the story is not as great as it sounds conceptually. In the end, it’s the fast-paced action within short snippets of levels that make this game hold up as a solid Sonic game. It does some things better than its predecessors but is far from recapturing the essence that made Sonic so fun when I was young. This game is very much average.

Sound: 3/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 17/25 or 68/100