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