After the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic had firmly established himself as the hot new icon on the block and catapulted SEGA to the forefront of the Console Wars. Anticipation was high for a sequel and, in keeping with their aggressive marketing strategies, SEGA dubbed November 24, 1992 as “Sonic 2sday”, a marketing stunt that not only heralded the worldwide release of the bigger, better sequel but changed the way the videogame industry went about releasing games for years to come.
Released: September 2007
Originally Released: November 1992
Developer: Sonic Team
Original Developer: SEGA Technical Institute
Also Available For: Gamecube, iPod, Mega Drive, Mobile, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable, SEGA Saturn, Xbox, Xbox 360
Sonic the Hedgehog was a massive success for SEGA; thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign and packing the game with their all-power 16-bit Mega Drive, SEGA saw sales of over 15 million copies upon its release. And yet all was not right at SEGA; Yuji Naka, the mastermind behind Sonic the Hedgehog, quit the company and was convinced to join the California-based SEGA Technical Institute. After bringing in many of his own Japanese staff, Naka began spearheading the creation of a sequel while an entirely separate, Japan-based team worked on Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993). Debates could rage on for years about which of these two games would be the “true” follow-up to the original title, and many ideas and concepts were reused and reworked for each title but, as if the massive “2” in Sonic 2’s title wasn’t enough, it’s clear to me based on graphics alone that Sonic CD was always meant to take place shortly after the first game.
Yet Sonic 2’s development was mired by an influx of ideas and concepts; another internal contest was held to design Sonic’s new sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower, and many Zones were scrapped from the final game despite being relatively close to complete. The pressure was on to top their efforts with Sonic the Hedgehog but, thanks to improved graphics and gameplay and the efforts of SEGA’s aggressive marketing machine, Sonic 2 proved incredibly successful; 400,000 copies were sold in its first week alone and over 6 million units were sold during the Mega Drive’s lifespan. SEGA’s control of the home console market shot up by 40% as a result of Sonic 2 and the game was widely praised upon its release and is still held in high regard, with many claiming that it is the best in the series. For me, I first played Sonic on the Master System but, upon acquiring a Mega Drive, played Sonic 2 before the first game and, as a result, I do prefer it over the original because of its faster, tighter, far more accessible gameplay.
Doctor Eggman is back! This time, he’s set his sights on Westside Island, home of the fabled seven Chaos Emeralds. Eggman unleashes his robotic Badniks upon the island, polluting and destroying the environment to find the gems and power his ultimate weapon: the Death Egg! However, Sonic the Hedgehog is hot on his heels and this time he’s not alone…
Like its predecessor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a 2D, sidescrolling action platformer in which you travel eleven stages (known as “Zones”). Unlike the previous game, the majority of Sonic 2’s Zones are split into two “Acts” rather than three (though there is, oddly, one three-Act Zone and two one-Act Zones just to confuse things) and, this time, you’ll battle Eggman in one of his diabolical contraptions at the end of each second Act before facing him once and for all on the Death Egg. Essentially, everything that worked so well in the original game returns here, bigger, shinier, and much more refined; Sonic is faster than ever, now able to zip through every single Zone of the game at breakneck speed thanks not only to his new “Spin Dash” attack but also vastly improved level design that ditches the slower, more tedious elements on the first game and focuses on speed and split-second reactions. Improved obstacles and enemy placement also help speed up the game, as does the implementation of more loop-de-loop, slopes, the introduction of Möbius strips, and very little instances where the game grinds to a halt.
As before, you can still roll into a ball when you jump or press down while running to break monitors and smash apart Badniks. This time, though, you won’t do it alone; by default, the game has you take control of Sonic with the computer-controlled by his side but, by entering the “Options” menu, you can switch to playing alone as either character. When Tails is onscreen, though, a second player can join in at any time; Tails has all of Sonic’s abilities and essentially plays as a reskin as, though he is seen flying with his unique two tails, this isn’t a feature you can utilise in the game. When playing as Sonic and/with Tails, Tails can collect Golden Rings, destroy Badniks, and dish out damage to Eggman all while being functionally immortal and largely invulnerable. Attacks won’t damage Tails and the only way to lose him is to run so fast that he cannot keep up; unfortunately, second players can also screw you over by jumping onto temporary or crumbling platforms ahead of time, essentially sending you to your death.
Thankfully, Sonic is much faster this time around. Zones are bigger than ever, with more branching paths to take and areas to explore and, best of all, there’s no tedious pushing of switches or blocks to slow things down. Perhaps the slowest Zone is Mystic Cave Zone (which also features a notorious pit that you cannot escape from), which features far more platforming elements and instant-death traps compared to the game’s other Zones; Sonic will have to grab levers and pulleys to create bridges and avoid floating blocks in this Zone but it’s got nothing on the seriously gruelling platforming and obstacles in the increasingly maze-like Metropolis Zone but, for the most part, Sonic 2 hits the ground running and doesn’t stop.
Sonic 2 introduces many firsts for the series; gone are the checkpoint-creating Lamposts of the first game, replaced with Starposts that perform exactly the same function but also double as the gateway to the game’s Special Stages (replacing the Giant Rings from the last game) when you pass them with fifty Rings or more. Be warned, though, after finishing or failing a Special Stage, you’ll be deposited back in the Zone with no Golden Rings to protect you (though the Zone’s Rings (and Badniks) will have respawned). The pinball-like mechanics of Spring Yard Zone are expanded upon in Casino Night Zone, a giant, pinball-themed Zone filled with so many little score-increasing mini games and distractions that it’s easy to run out the ten minute time limit in this Zone alone.
Another first is the inclusion of Sonic’s biplane, the Tornado, which mixes up the speed-based gameplay by having you ride atop the plane’s wings in Sky Chase Zone and, of course, the final showdown with Eggman on his space station. This latter element, clearly evoking imagery from the Star Wars trilogy (Various, 1977 to 1983), would become a recurring element in the franchise from this game onwards as subsequent games sought to either recreate the success of, or cash in on the nostalgia for, Sonic’s bigger, better sequel. As before, Sonic can collect Golden Rings to keep himself alive but, when submerged under water in Aquatic Ruins Zone or in toxic gunk in Chemical Plant Zone, will find himself under threat of drowning if he doesn’t escape to fresh air or find an air bubble before the all-too-familiar sinister countdown reaches its end. You’ll still gain points for collecting Rings, bashing Badniks, and clearing Acts and Zones as fast as possible but you no longer gain bonus points by jumping dramatically at the end of an Act.
Thankfully, all the little niggling issues that slowed down and counted against the first game have been largely addressed and eliminated; there’s no real danger here of being unfairly squashed or glitching the game (unless you perform some very specific actions) and the only real issue the game has in this regard is that it’s sometimes very easier to run or fly so fast off the screen that the game struggles to catch up. there some instances where you’re forced to use a little more thought than just speeding ahead, though; Oil Ocean Zone, for example, requires you to think a bit before making jumps as you can easily end up trapped in the quicksand-like oil or getting turned around. Like the first game, Sonic 2 isn’t especially difficult game; there are no difficulty settings to choose from as, again, the game’s difficulty gradually increases as you progress from Zone to Zone. This time, there are seven Chaos Emeralds to collect; the now-iconic half-pipe Special Stages are arguably much easier (or, at least, more interesting) than those in the first game, and you get an actual, in-game reward for collecting these gems.
Graphics and Sound:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 improves on its predecessor in every way: Sonic’s sprite is larger and now a vivid, eye-catching blue and Tails is visually very appealing thanks to his unique twin tails and cute appearance. Zones are as visually interesting and unique as ever; Emerald Hill Zone, while functionally similar to Green Hill Zone, has enough in it to separate it from its predecessor, such as coconut trees, Möbius strips, waterfalls, and underground areas. The game’s later Zones are some of the most iconic in the series; moving away from cliché element-themed platforming levels, you’ll roll around an industrial nightmare full of toxic waste in Chemical Plant Zone, frantically jump to escape from rising lava in Hill Top Zone (which improves upon Marble Zone’s lava gimmick in every way), and explore dark, dank caves in Mystic Cave Zone. Each Zone has different gimmicks to separate them not only from each other but those of the last game; Casino Night Zone is far less random than Spring Yard Zone, for example, with no bottomless spits to worry about and Metropolis Zone is nothing like Scrap Brain Zone beyond being the game’s toughest area to get through.
This is largely due to the Zone having three Acts, which means it soon outstays its welcome. Add to that and some annoying enemies and the Zones maze-like layout and you would have a fitting final Zone for the game if it wasn’t for Wing Fortress Zone. Taking place aboard Eggman’s vast airship, this Zone is your last chance to get any remaining Chaos Emeralds before the game’s final Zone and features a whole host of dangerous taps; for one thing, you can fall to your death at any moment, never mind precariously jumping from platforms and hooks and riding gusts of wind to progress further. Once again, there are no transitions or cutscenes or story included in the game until you clear Wing Fortress Zone, then a little cutscene plays showing how the player gets aboard the Death Egg and another shows how he escapes. Generally, though, the same obvious environmental message of the first game is repeated, but dialled up a notch as you end up in space! Both Sonic and Tails have idle animations this time around, giving them each their own distinct personalities, and the game’s soundtrack is, arguably, the best of the series. It’s everything the soundtrack was in the first game but far more bombastic and triumphant, far more foreboding and sinister, far more catchy and memorable.
Enemies and Bosses:
Once again, Sonic and Tails must do battle with Eggman’s Badniks; these cute-looking mechanical monsters are just as deadly as before but their danger increases as you progress further in the game. To start off with, it’s no bother at all to bounce off of Mashers and Buzzers just like in the first game but, soon, you’ll encounter Spinys and Flashers, both of which can throw up defences to sap your precious Rings. While their placement is generally much fairer in this game, you’ll still have to contend with Badniks like Grounder and Crawlton popping out to surprise you but the absolutely worst enemies in the game are found in Metropolis Zone. The mantis-like Slicer will toss its boomerang-like pincers at you and they’re a pain in the ass to dodge, to say nothing of Shellcracker’s massive spiked claw that will almost always catch you unawares or the self-destructive Asterons which always shoot out their damn spikes when you’re halfway up one of those corkscrews!
As before, you’ll face Doctor Eggman numerous times throughout the game; this time, he attacks at the end of every second Act and each time he has a deadlier contraption to try and end your adventure with. If you thought the wrecking ball from the last game was easy, you’ll be begging for a challenge even half of that when you encounter Eggman for the first time at the end of Emerald Hill Zone. Rather than trying to squash or zap Sonic, Eggman instead casually drives towards him back and forth, leaving himself wide open for the attack and only being a problem when he detaches his drill appendage at the last second. This mockery of a boss battle is quickly forgotten when you take on Eggman in Chemical Plant Zone, however. Here, Eggman tries to drop sludge on your head, which isn’t as much of a problem as the temporary ground that borders the arena and it’s very easy to fall to your death after landing the killing blow or while trying to escape Eggman’s attacks. Thankfully, most of the game’s boss battles aren’t as tough; Aquatic Ruin Zone’s boss can be a chore because of the jumping involved and Casino Night Zone’s is quite tough if you struggle with Sonic’s perfectly-attuned momentum-based physics but you shouldn’t really encounter an issue until you reach the Oil Ocean and Metropolis Zone bosses; thanks to Eggman’s shielding and strategy, it can be tough to land hits on his Egg-O-Matic in these bosses but, if you have a second player alongside you as Tails, they’re a breeze.
Things really ramp up once you reach Death Egg Zone, though; no matter how you play the game, you’ll have to tackle this final Zone alone and with no Rings to help you. Unlike the first game, where the final boss was pathetically easy, Sonic 2 has you run a gauntlet as you must first take on the armour-plated Mecha Sonic (or “Silver Sonic” depending on your preference, and not to be confused with the far more recognisable Metal Sonic). Mecha Sonic is a dangerous foe thanks to its buzzsaw-like spikes and fast-paced attacks but, luckily, its attack pattern is easily memorised; it’ll stand there posing, allowing you to hit it, then charge across the screen before either rolling at you or jumping over you. it can also shoot out its spines in a spread but, if you’re quick and smart enough, you can trash this dubious doppelgänger in no time. Once you do, though, you’ll find Eggman leaping into a massive robotic suit, the lazily named “Death Egg Robot”, which takes a whopping twelve hits to put down. Thankfully, again, this boss battle is very predictable; Eggman stomps towards you, allowing you to get a few hits in (as long as you’re careful to avoid his spike arms), then flies off-screen. A targeting reticule will appear and follow you around; simply wait in one of the far corners charging your Spin Dash and blast away when Eggman comes crashing down. Stay at the far end of where you end up to avoid his rocket-powered arms and repeat until he goes down. I wouldn’t recommend getting trapped behind him as he drops egg bombs that are difficult to avoid and you can also land a hit when he comes crash down from the ceiling if you’re fast enough. All in all, though, it’s a far more dramatic, taxing, and entertaining last boss than the one from the first game with some kick-ass music to boot.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, numerous computer monitors are scattered throughout the game’s Zones to help tip the odds in your favour. Breaking these open will award you with exactly the same rewards as the first game (ten extra Rings, a shield, an extra life, a speed up, or an invincibility) with the only difference being their appearance, sound effects, and the music that plays when you acquire them. Sadly, the only new power-up to be found is exclusive to the game’s two-player mode, which is a bit disappointing considering every other aspect of the first game was expanded and improved upon.
As you might expect, this version of Sonic 2 comes with a handful of Achievements for you to earn. If you’ve played Sonic 2, or any Sonic game, before, these aren’t exactly difficult to get and include standard fare such as reaching certain Zones, collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, and completing the game though the online and time limit-specific Achievements may be trickier to accomplish depending on your skill level (finishing Chemical Plant Zone, Act 1, in under forty-five seconds is no joke!)
As in the first game, players can access Special Stages to try and earn one of the Chaos Emeralds. This time, you must pass by a Starpost with at least fifty Rings to challenge for an Emerald, making the process a hell of a lot faster and easier. Additionally, the God-awful, head-trippy rotating mazes of the first game are gone as you now race down a half-pipe, collecting Rings and avoiding bombs. While these Special Stages are much better, they can be more difficult as it’s hard to know what is coming up without a lot of trial and error, you must collect a certain amount of Rings to qualify for an Emerald, and the delay between your jumps and Tails’ can cost you precious Rings if you’re not careful. Special Stages start off deceptively easy but, by the time you go for that damn fourth Chaos Emerald, you’ll start to notice how fast and unrelenting they can be; the seventh and final Emerald is, fittingly, the most difficult to get because it barely has enough Rings to hit the target. Luckily, you can cheese save states to make this so much easier than it was on the original hardware. Collect all seven Chaos Emeralds, though, and rather than jus earning a slightly different ending, you’ll be awarded with the ability to turn into the Super Saiyan-like Super Sonic. “Simply” collect all seven Chaos Emeralds, collect fifty Rings, and jump and you’ll transform into this super-fast golden upgrade of Sonic that has a constant speed up and invincibility. Don’t get too cocky, though, as you can still drown and be crushed and your Rings will slowly be lost over time; once they run out, the transformation ends so be sure to collect all the Rings you can to keep the form up as long as possible.
The addition of Tails also means that Sonic 2 has a multiplayer component; not only can a second player play alongside you in the main game but you can also race against a friend in a woefully-realised split screen mode. While the screen is awfully crushed and you can only pick from four Zones, this mode was decent enough back in the day; it’s fun to blast ahead and leave your friend in the dirt only for them to smash a monitor and have you both switch places. Sadly, while this version of Sonic 2 won’t allow you to enter the iconic cheat codes and doesn’t feature any of the tweaks, upgrades, and additions for the far superior mobile port, a save state system and online leaderboards are included and, best of all, if you also purchase Sonic & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), you’ll gain the ability to play as Knuckles the Echidna. Be warned, though; while Knuckles’ abilities mean there’s much more room for exploration, his rubbish jump makes battling certain bosses (particularly the Death Egg Robot) far more challenging.
As great as Sonic the Hedgehog was, it’s nothing compared to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Bigger, bolder, faster, and better in every way, Sonic 2 is the quintessential example of how not only to do a sequel title right but how to do a Sonic title right. While the first game laid the foundation, Sonic 2 set the standard that subsequent games in the franchise tried to hold themselves up against (or surpass, with mixed results). Sonic 2 introduced numerous elements than immediately became staples of the series; add to that the fascination with all the content that was cut from the game and you have a title that continues to be relevant and influential even now, nearly thirty years after its release. While I, personally, prefer the next game in the series, Sonic 2 is still a highly regarded entry in the franchise for me and I’d always pick to play it over the first game if given a choice.
What did you think about Sonic the Hedgehog 2? Where does it rate against the other games in the franchise for you? Which Zone is your favourite? Were you the younger sibling always being forced to play as Tails or were you the older sibling who got the privilege of playing as Sonic? Would you like to see a spruced up version of the game released one day, with all the cut content restored as originally conceived? Perhaps you think Sonic 2 doesn’t live up to the hype and prefer a different game in the series; if so why, and what is it? How are you celebrating “Sonic 2sday” this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic 2, and Sonic in general, drop a comment below.