Continuing my quest to revisit the mainline Genesis era Sonic games, one done simply for my own curiosity, I am brought away from the disheartening Sonic The Hedgehog and towards its far more beloved sequel Sonic The Hedgehog 2. A game I fondly remember playing at my dentist’s office while I waited for her to clean my teeth and tell me how many cavities I accumulated over the past six months. Good times.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Review
Platforms: Sega Genesis, PC(Reviewed), and a dozen more
Developers: Sonic Team and Sega
Being a sequel released only a year after the original, the core foundation of Sonic 2 is effectively the same as Sonic 1. Sonic is a fast blue anthropomorphized animal with sneakers who traverses around a series of speed based platforming levels while collecting rings he loses whenever hit and avoiding various pits and enemies placed along the way before fighting a series of bosses at the end of every other level. Eventually foiling the antics of the nefarious ne’er-do-well Dr. Robotnik, or Dr. Eggman if you want to use the modern name that was implemented by Sega of America. That all remains true, except Sonic now has a two tailed fox following him around nearly every level, creatively named Tails. A character who, to this day, I think was only included so one’s younger brother could play the game with them.
From this familiar foundation, the game proceeds to make some major improvements over its predecessor, with the first being the general handling of Sonic himself, as he no longer moves around like he is on ice, and platforming is nowhere near as tricky because of it. In fact, combined with the spin dash, a series staple that unfortunately can only be charged when Sonic is standing still, the game feel here is actually pretty good, and I enjoyed going through a lot of the game because of that. Everything is responsive, and I very rarely felt the controls hindered my enjoyment, even though that should be viewed as a standard for all video games.
However, the hectic and often obnoxious nature of the first game unfortunately still stands true, and there is plenty to find annoying in this game. With the limited screen size and level design that often has Sonic rushing into danger before the player can reasonably react to said danger being the two big ones. An understanding of the environment and ability to properly react to hazards are an essential of pretty much every game, and even when trying to assess this game while being forgiving to design decisions that were common in the era, such as the archaic and stupid lives system, I can’t understand how anybody thought this was acceptable.
While not a huge issue in a lot of scenarios, there are just as many, if not more, where I genuinely feel that the player is incapable of predicting where a hazard is as the game sends Sonic rocketing through the stage at high speeds. Which is a shame, as the act of progressing through these levels, moving at high speeds, gathering shiny things, and defeating animal robots that contain other animals inside of them, can be quite exhilarating and fun. The act of moving through a level at breakneck speeds is inherently enjoyable, and when the game works and level design caters to this sensation, the game can be a blast.
At its high points, Sonic 2 is a genuinely fun speed based platformer, one with a memorable soundtrack of diverse and unique songs that have stood the test of time and been subject to countless remixes for good reason. One that also boasts memorable environmental design, with a series of distinct and colorful levels. Each one of which has their own theme, and all of which manage to remain cohesive with one another, from plains, to underground jungles, to factories to airships. Plus, the amount of attention put on the sprite work this time around really does show, especially compared to its predecessor.
However, I am fully prepared to dismiss all of that and declare this game to be truly wretched thanks to the special stages. I try to avoid hyperbole when possible, but going through these stages, even with save states at my disposal, was a truly infuriating experience. These special stages place both Sonic and Tails in a halfpipe where they must skid around on their feet, running forward in a faux-3D environment in order to collect a set number of rings and dodge bombs. A simple premise that is ruined by thee things.
One, the slipperiness and lack of control from Sonic 1 returns, and my goodness is it far, far worse. You slide about like the halfpipe is coated in grease, and the act of swaying over from one side to another, much less spinning around the entire halfpipe is both awkward and greatly imprecise, when you need to be precise to gather rings. Two, Tails is accompanying you during this, and is controlled by the game, who reads your inputs, but half a second after you make them. Meaning there are instances where he will likely get his and lose some of his rings, lowering your total.
Three, you barely have enough time to predict what’s coming in front of you. Your draw distance is so poor and the characters move so fast that it is nearly to get Sonic and Tails past some obstacles without memorizing hazard and ring locations ahead of time. Which is an example of terrible game design as far as I am concerned, as the player genuinely could not predict the threats coming at them.
Your reward for all of this are the seven chaos emeralds, and the ability to become Super Sonic, and invisible and super fast version of Sonic who consumes one ring a second. An appealing gimmick, but one that is completely unruly as it is simply too fast for some of the more traditional platforming elements of the game, and more often than not leads you to an untimely death via a bottomless pit. So this game not only has the player go through hell and back to uncover a secret reward, but said reward is actually pretty worthless once the momentary novelty or super speed wears thin.
While I certainly understand why some find enjoyment in this game, and admit that I see it as possible for one to still enjoy this game, despite all of the hair pulling moments where Sonic is propelled across the screen and into a hazard faster than the player can react, I still can’t honestly say I think Sonic 2 is all that good. The needless difficulty of games of this era is very prominent here, and I wonder just how many people genuinely love this game, but lack formative memories regarding this game. Because I’m guessing they are few and far between.