Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 1991, and with just one game, Sega had immediately established themselves as a legitimate alternative to Nintendo. Sonic was a system seller with an iconic character that the company could base its promotional materials around. Sega’s success as a company and Sonic’s success as a game series were suddenly and forever linked. Knowing that they couldn’t take their foot off of the gas, Sega set out to do what Sega had always done; iterate and improve. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a bigger, better, and (arguably most importantly) faster game that expanded upon the strengths of Sonic and introduced few (if any) weaknesses of its own.
The developers of Sonic 2 set out to make each level significantly larger than its predecessors’. They succeeded, with each level being significantly bigger than the ones in Sonic. Not only that, but many of them are better-looking, too. Brighter colors, better animations, and more interesting levels (Casino Night Zone’s endless horizon of blinking lights immediately springs to mind) make Sonic 2 an easier and more interesting game to look at. Note that this is not a slight to Sonic 1 but a testament to how great Sonic 2 is. Through what the (computer illiterate) author of this piece can only assume was the use of black magic, the developers also significantly increased the speed of gameplay without any slowdown, and Sonic 2 is all the better for it. After all, a game built around a super fast main character doesn’t really amount to much unless if the main character actually is super-fast, right? The special stages in this game also opted for a pseudo-3D “run down a halfpipe” mode, and while it has not aged gracefully, it is still fun to play and was pretty exciting to see pseudo 3D on a Genesis.
Sonic 2 also introduced the spin-dash, a move that quickly became a staple of Sonic’s repertoire. By holding down and pressing any button, Sonic would curl into a ball and spin in place, creating an instant speed boost when the player let go of down on the directional pad. While a large part of the game still revolved around Sonic building and maintaining momentum as he careened through each level, the spin dash meant that you could get back to full speed in seconds. Literally hitting a wall or crashing into an enemy would not significantly impede your progress as it had in Sonic. With the addition of the spin dash and the technical improvements made to the game, not only does each level have more for you to see, but simply getting through each level is a faster and smoother experience. There simply is no comparison to Sonic; Sonic 2 is better in nearly every significant way.
In addition, Sonic 2 introduced a new character to the Sonic universe. Sonic’s sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower made his debut here and quickly became a fan favorite. During the single-player mode, Tails would follow Sonic around and mimic Sonic’s movements. Tails could hurt bosses and enemies, but he had no life limit or health gauge of any sort. Since you couldn’t control him directly (and since Sonic was often leaving him in the dust), he didn’t break the balance of the single-player mode. Well, not without a bit of effort, anyway. In single-player mode, a second player could take control of Tails at any time. The gameplay still focused on Sonic, but Tails had access to all the same skills as Sonic and his constant respawning ensured that he could catch up to Sonic easily. Tails was essentially an exploration of how co-op gameplay could work in a Sonic game, something that was not fully fleshed out until later Sonic titles. Sonic 2 also features a split screen competitive multiplayer mode, but it was hampered by only having three stages and suffering from significant slowdown.
Sonic 2 also features one of the most robust soundtracks of the 16-bit generation. Masato Nakamura, bassist from the J-pop band Dreams Come True, was tapped to handle Sonic’s soundtrack. After being so well received, Sega asked him to score Sonic 2 as well, and Nakamura absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one. Sonic 2’s soundtrack covers an almost overwhelming number of musical styles. From the triumphant and bombastic Wing Fortress Zone, to the big band styled Casino Night Zone, to the country twang of the Hill Top Zone, to the Middle Eastern inspired Oil Ocean Zone, to the J-pop sounding ending music, Sonic 2’s soundtrack mixes and matches musical styles with aplomb. As great a game as Sonic is to look at and play, it’s fantastic to listen to as well.
Sonic 2 is without question one of the best Sega Genesis games. You could argue for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles being better Sonic games, but it is this author’s opinion that Sonic 2 is the high-water mark of the series. Sonic 2 really is the whole package: Great, blistering-fast platforming gameplay with great music and a great difficulty curve. The only real complaint you can level against it is that the multiplayer mode was half-baked… but when the rest of it is so good, well, who cares?
Article by Alex Reo
GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic the Hedgehog 2
9 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic the Hedgehog 2”
Great piece on a high watermark for Sonic!
>the J-pop sounding ending music
Rigtt you are, it IS J-pop, in fact…it’s an instrumental version of Dreams Come True’s “Sweet Sweet Sweet!”
This is probably my favorite Sonic game. It’s just such a pleasant experience – though ‘pleasant’ here also means ‘incredibly easy.’ It does get progressively more difficult, but you won’t find anything resembling a challenge until the last few stages – Wing Fortress is full of cheap pitfalls, but that’s to be expected, given the nature of the level. And the last couple of bosses probably won’t be beaten on first try.
I only wish Sonic Generations had done more Modern Sonic levels using these – every single one is unique and, as you mention, a joy to look at and listen to. Given how well the Modern Sonic levels played, I just wish they would remake the entire game like that.
The thing that’s easy to forget is that while this game was the debut of Tails (aka Miles Prower, a pun name I wouldn’t get until much later in life), his definitive ability of using his tails to fly only served as a respawning animation here. In Sonic 2 gameplay terms, he’s essentially the same as Sonic sans the ability to go super.
Speaking of going super, the Dragon Balls-err, “Chaos Emeralds” actually had a purpose in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and that’s to make Sonic go all Super Saiyan-Super Sonic. Getting all seven emeralds in one game run is an insane task that requires lots of luck and memorization (or save state abuse), but in the versions without achievements you could pop a couple of codes into the sound tests and have Super Sonic right from the start of the game. Trashing Doc Robotnik’s drillmobile by simply walking alongside it is the best thing, and it makes me all the more sad that the very welcome return of Super Sonic during normal gameplay in the newer games doesn’t matter as much since the bosses have their own separate stages now.
Sonic 2 really is a great game.
Still my favorite Sonic game of all time. I think that this was the pinacle of the Sonic game design. After 2 there were many interesting additions (save file being the most crucial!) but this to me had a perfect balance of speed, options, level design, visual and audio design and pick up and play gameplay. They just got it right. I have never enjoyed any Sonic game that came after this. Colors and Generations gave me some hope, but were just too hyper spasmotic.
As a long-time SEGA fan and Genesis owning kid, Sonic 2 was easily the best thing in the world when it was newly released. But in hindsight, Sonic 3 & Knuckles (if you can it as a single game) is easily the apex of Sonic Team and the Sonic series itself. I must be the only Sonic fan in the world to not be a fan of the spindash. Though it can be useful at times, it takes away the thrust of Sonic’s core gameplay, which is to play skillfully enough by dodging obstacles and defeating enemies and retaining top speed. The spindash doesn’t reward the diligent player, when you can simply gain speed and cut through enemies at the same time at any given point. Sonic 3 and Knuckles, OTOH, had nifty power-ups and shields that were not only useful but significantly impacted gameplay as well, directly influencing your approach to tackling a level (e.g., using the fire shield in Lava Reef Zone or the bubble in Hydrocity).
I hate to be “that guy”, but I’ve always considered 3&K infinitely better than 2. But like you said here about 1, that’s not a flaw in 2, 3&K’s just that good.
They finally released the Sonic 1 & 2 soundtrack recently (since Sega doesn’t own the music; Nakamura and his band does), and in the booklet that comes with it, Yuji Naka gives an anecdote about how, after the release of Sonic 2, they received a demo tape in the mail from Nakamura that was simply labeled “Surprise!” Naka then recounts the dev team popping the tape into a player and nearly crying when they heard the song on the tape, which was a fully orchestrated and lyricized version of the Sonic 2 ending theme (“Sweet Sweet Sweet”).
I always thought that was a pretty interesting story, as Nakamura clearly enjoyed working on the games, but it is made a bit more depressing when you learn that Sega replaced him in future entries of the series because he asked for too much pay :/
man, alex hit it out of the park with this article. Sonic 2 really is a fantastic game.
Great read. I’m a huge fan of the art deco sensibilities at play in this game (which Sonic CD would take a step further). The colors don’t pop any brighter or more vividly in the whole series than they do in Sonic 2. Each level has its own flavour simply through their use of the palette.
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