Recently, at my brother’s wedding (Rings & Coins Founder), I had the chance to play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 from start to (almost) finish. I say almost as I died on the final boss, an unfortunate by product of drinking too much alcohol and staying up far later than anyone else. I originally started playing while awaiting my turn on Super Mario Kart but shortly I was captivated by Sonic 2, a game that shaped my childhood, unable to put down the controller.
Released simultaneously worldwide in November 1992, Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was developed by Sonic Team and the Sega Technical Institute for the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis. This sequel to the 1991 smash hit Sonic the Hedgehog, is a platformer which places an emphasis on speed. A game which incidentally celebrated its 25th anniversary recently.
The story is a fairly basic affair, and is almost a beat for beat copy of the original. Dr. Ivo ‘Eggman’ Robotnik is plotting world domination and it is up to Sonic, and his new sidekick Tails, to prevent this from happening. Dr. Eggman aims to achieve this goal by through various means. These include using his army of robots (which contain trapped animals), harnessing the power of the seven chaos emeralds, alongside his new (and definitely not a Death Star!) Death Egg.
As you may imagine, the aim of the game is to defeat Eggman, whilst saving the captured critters alongside finding the chaos emeralds. Despite the set up though, during the game little exposition is given, instead the game tells its entire story through the use of subtle animation and sound alone. All in all it’s excellently done, and although being simple, you always understand the gravity of the situation.
Feel The Speed
Gameplay follows on from its predecessor. Sonic must reach the end of the level whilst collecting rings, defeating enemies, hitting checkpoints and opening item boxes. Then finally, upon reaching the end of the final act within each world Sonic must take on Dr. Eggman within one of his many contraptions.
On top of the obvious graphical improvements the game does vary in a number of ways. Instead of three acts there are now only two to each zone. Although there are certain exceptions towards the end of the game, allowing Sega to create a far more varied experience that keeps you on your toes.
In comparison to the original, Sonic 2 is also notably faster, giving Sonic a greater sense of speed and character. This isn’t seen just within the pace of the game, but also the mechanics, most notably through Sonic’s iconic Spin Dash, or Triple Spin. A move where Sonic curls into ball and spins while stationary which results in a speed boost and the ability to destroy certain enemies.
The special stages are also drastically different this time around. Gone are the labyrinths of the first game, and welcomed are the pseudo 3D halfpipe mini games. These are far more enjoyable and less frustrating than the labyrinths, and provide a welcome escape from the intense action found in the main stages. What’s more, the way these are accessed is also much improved. As now players can access these special stages via the game’s checkpoints, rather than at the end of a level.
Miles ‘Tails’ Prower
Sonic 2 also introduces Sonic’s sidekick Miles ‘Tails’ Prower. Tails in this game controls no differently to Sonic himself, although in later iterations does possess the ability to fly. Nevertheless, the single player mode can be played with either Sonic or Tails, or both protagonists together. In this way, the default style, Sonic is controlled by player 1 and Tails is either controlled by AI or player 2 via a drop in/ drop out system.
Tails though provides the game with its biggest difference from the original, a head to head multiplayer mode. Although limited in scope, this mode allows two players to race against each other and battle to be first. Sadly though, this mode suffers from slow down and isn’t varied enough to offer a complete multiplayer experience.
Addictive & Enjoyable
In my opinion there has been a tendency for revisionist history where Sonic’s gameplay is concerned. Many of today’s critics suggest that Sonic’s gameplay lacks the accuracy and ‘tight’ controls exhibited by his opposite, Super Mario. This is something I have always disagreed with, and was reaffirmed during my recent, and subsequent, playthroughs.
The gameplay is beautiful, it gives you a true sense of speed and style, but always placing you on the edge of disaster. One wrong move can send you off a cliff and into spikes or an enemy, costing you those precious rings. It’s only by replay after replay do you learn where the pitfalls are and which are the easiest routes.
Ultimately, it’s this that makes Sonic 2 so addictive and enjoyable to play. In fact, one of the only faults that can be levelled at Sonic 2 when looking at its gameplay, is that the final stages can be extremely challenging. This is compounded by the lack of a save feature, and even a complete lack of rings when it comes to the Death Egg. All in all, as the difficulty drastically ramps up, this can set up the player for some very cheap deaths. Here’s looking at you Wing Fortress!
The Sound of Success
The music of Sonic has always been one of the franchises strongest points, and this is no different with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Every sound is carefully curated to form one of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history. Each stage’s music is as iconic as the design of the world.
This also applies to the sound effects as well. Each ring you collect chimes with a certain satisfaction, every spike you hit twangs with despair, and each time Sonic breaths for air underwater, a sense of relief engulfs you. This emotive connection to even the simplest of sounds really exemplifies the quality of the sound design.
The highlight of the game’s audio also comes through within in the boss battle music. This iconic and evocative music sends chills down your spine, and helps to address the gravity of the situation you now find yourself in. As mentioned earlier, in conjunction with the animation, the music helps to tell a story. A skill that games to this day still struggle to master.
It may not be to everyone’s cup of tea, but in my opinion the classic Sonic games are of the highest quality. Sonic 2 takes everything that was great about the original, whilst improving on every area its predecessor struggled in. The audio is second to none, and the gameplay set the bar for platformers trying to deviate from the norm. Additionally, graphically Sonic 2 is beautiful, with each sprite designed to perfection, and little slow down ever hampering the experience.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a game that shaped my childhood. As such, this will always leave me with a biased viewpoint. However, in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I truly believe that this iconic game justifies its place with the greats of not only the 16-bit era, but within gaming as a whole.