Sonic 2 Review (1992, SEGA Mega Drive/SEGA Genesis)

He may be little more than a really funny Twitter account these days, but there’s some real hope at the moment the Sonic The Hedgehog might well return to glory in the very near future. But let’s cast our minds back to a time when he was a true rival to Super Mario.

Name: Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: SEGA
Released on: Mega Drive/Genesis
Original Release Date: November 21st, 1992

When I first loaded up Sonic The Hedgehog 2 for the first time on Christmas Day, 1992, it felt like a special moment in gaming, even at that time. Those first few moments of turning on the console with Sonic 2 inserted were pretty damn memorable, with the now famous SEGA chant, and that title screen reveal of Sonic and his new friend, Miles “Tails” Prower.

But what always stuck with me that first time I pressed Start, was the immediacy and brashness of its opening seconds. In an instant, you notice the pastel-like colour scheme of the original Sonic, is replaced by this bright and colourful world, while the opening notes of the Emerald Hill Zone’s theme were so loud and confident that you had no other choice to be drawn to what was happening onscreen. It makes the previous game seem muted by comparison, in a way that so few sequels do.

Over 20 years later, and those opening moments haven’t lost that impact. It helps that those 16-bit Sonic games have always felt intuitive to play – There is only a D-pad and one button to worry about, after all. Sonic 2 is also a very good-looking 16-bit game – For a sequel, most developers would have taken the same art assets from the previous release, and put them in new levels; but here, Sonic Team have tweaked every returning character and sprite, and as mentioned previously, the colour palette has been drastically improved – Swapping muted almost pastel hues for a highly saturated scheme of eye-catching colours.

Sonic 2 Review Mega Drive

And the music, oh the music! This is a series that is known for having excellent, catchy music that makes the most of the SEGA Mega Drive’s synthesised tones, and Sonic 2’s track selection is a mix of extremely funky tunes that soon become complete and utter earworms. Tracks like the Chemical Plant Zone’s theme are incredibly well put together, and remain timeless in a way, and there’s a good contrast between the upbeat tracks like Emerald Hill Zone, Mystic Caves and the calmer pieces like Sky Chase. Personally, it’s my favourite of all the Sonic soundtracks, although Sonic 3 comes pretty damn close.

It’s a popular misconception that Sonic games are based around speeding through levels as quickly as possible, never taking a second to stop and think. But that’s not strictly true, and Sonic 2 does attempt to push back from that perception, with levels that contain all manner of alternative routes and hidden away areas that can only be found when putting the brakes on and taking the time to explore. But that’s not to say that Sonic can’t pick up the speed when required, and should you wish to forgo the exploration and just go full pelt through levels and reach the end as quickly as possible; you can do that, or at least attempt to as some areas certainly add some bottlenecks, designed to take your life if you rush through them without hesitation.

Of course, Dr. Robotnik is back, now a regular boss at the end of most second acts, instead of the third act like in the previous game. Once again, he’ll arrive in his cramped little vehicle, armed with some sort of ridiculous contraption designed to crush, smash, poke, stab and impale our hero, and the difficulty curve of each successive boss is well-designed, gradually getting tougher as Sonic 2 reaches its climax like any boss should be. The new Badniks continue to be cannon fodder for the most part, but there are a few nasty little piles of scrap that’ll take you down if you’re not paying attention, like these preying mantis-like bots with boomerangs.

But that’s not to say Sonic doesn’t have back up, as mentioned earlier this game is the debut of Tails, Sonic’s two-tailed chum. With the default game settings, he’s a CPU-controller player who is practically invincible, with even a death resulting in him flying back into view a few seconds later. He can collect rings and even destroy enemies, although when controlled by the CPU can be a little irritating, especially during the game’s Special Stage. Thankfully, he can be controlled at any time by a second player using the second controller port, or if you don’t want Tails at all, you can play the game as Sonic alone. If you really like Tails, I suppose you could play as Tails alone as well, I mean, if you want. The problem is, Tails doesn’t really serve any useful purpose and if anything, it’s easier to play as just Sonic on his own.

Sonic 2 Review Genesis

In fact, it feels like Tails’ only purpose is for SEGA to shoehorn in a needless multiplayer Vs Mode. In this split-screen mode, players can choose from three different zones and the special stage, and race through each level as quickly as possible while collecting as many rings and powerups as you can. This new mode is rather limited and not really worth playing more than ones, which is probably why it never returned in Sonic 3. However, it is quite fun to enable Teleport powerups only and watch the chaos of players swapping places every time an item box is opened.

Yes, single player is Sonic 2’s real bread and butter, and it’s a fine one player game. Each of the new Zones is well designed and are incredibly unique, each one being a memorable area, with plenty of gimmicks. Casino Night Zone is a definite highlight, expanding on the original Sonic’s Spring Yard Zone with real working one-armed bandit machines and plenty of pinball flippers and launchers.