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: June 2013
Originally Released: 29 October 1992
Original Developer: Aspect
Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
I went into great detail about just how important a release Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) was for SEGA; hot off an aggressive marketing campaign and the incredible sales of the first game, Sonic 2 saw SEGA’s supersonic mascot catapulted into mainstream popularity and success. Like with the first game, SEGA also commissioned an 8-bit version of the game; unlike its predecessor, Sonic 2’s 8-bit version was developed by Aspect and, unlike its 16-bit counterpart (and despite the game’s title cards), it did not feature Sonic’s new sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower, as a playable character. Similar to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog, I first played the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the Master System, before its 16-bit counterpart, and the game was noticeably different from its equivalent. Despite being more difficult on the Game Gear, the 8-bit Sonic 2 scored high upon release and, even years later when it was re-released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console, it was praised for not being a mere clone of its Mega Drive cousin.
Doctor Eggman is back! This time, he’s kidnapped Sonic’s new friend, Tails, and invaded South Island in search of the six Chaos Emeralds once more. Only Sonic has the speed, the skills, and the attitude to bust up Dr. Eggman’s Badniks, find the Chaos Emeralds, and rescue Tails from the egg-shaped madman’s grasp.
Like its predecessor, and pretty much every Sonic the Hedgehog videogame, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which you must guide Sonic through seven stages (referred to as “Zones”) with three levels (referred to as “Acts”) each. Unlike in the 16-bit game of the same name, Sonic’s arsenal remains unchanged from the previous title; pressing any button will see him become a whirling ball of spikes and allow him to break open power-up monitors and smash Dr. Eggman’s Badniks with his patented “Super Sonic Spin Attack” and you can also put him into a similar spin by pressing down on the directional pad (D-Pad) when running along or down slopes. Pressing up or down also lets you scroll the screen vertically but, otherwise, that’s it for Sonic. While he doesn’t have the Spin Dash here, Sonic is noticeably much faster than in the last game; the game, overall, runs much smoother than its predecessor and there are numerous quality of life improvements as well. While the heads-up display (HUD) is still limited, with your Golden Rings counter still rolling over to zero after you collect more the ninety-nine Rings and your life counter capped at nine despite you accumulating more lives in the end of Act score screen, you can now recollect a few Rings when you’re hit, which is a hell of a boon over the last game, and there’s far less periods of slowdown unless you’re underwater.
There are, however, some noticeable omissions that make the game much harder. Gone are the Arrow Monitors and neither Signposts or Starposts are present, meaning that you’ll need to restart the entire Act if you lose a life. There’s also far less benefit to finishing Acts with fifty Rings or more; sometimes you’ll get a Ring or life bonus but there are no Special Stages to play this time around and, while extra life monitors can be found in Zones (usually off the beaten track or hidden behind hidden walls), these bonuses are much less prevalent than in the last game. Finally, while it’s great that the sprites are bigger and much more detailed, screen size is a real issue in the 8-bit Sonic 2; I don’t recall it being as big an issue in the Master System version but the Game Gear version definitely suffers from bottomless pits, spike pits, and other hazards being hidden off screen and, in a first for me, respawning Badniks whenever you leave the screen. Where the 8-bit Sonic 2 excels, though, is in its clear desire to mix things up a bit more. It bares absolutely no resemblance to its 16-bit counterpart and instead features entirely different Zones; while some are familiar, and their gimmicks are similar, the two are like night and day. This is seen right away in the first Zone, Underground Zone, which is a far cry from the bright, colourful levels that generally open Sonic games. This Zone features destructible blocks (which make their 8-bit debut here), ceiling spikes, lava pits, and, of course, the mine cart gimmick that appears again later in the game. Sonic’s options while riding a mine cart are limited to simply jumping from it before he meets a sudden end but your options are even more limited in Scrambled Egg Zone’s fast-paced tubes.
Similar tubes last you around in other Zones but these will require split-second decision making on your part and will often return you to the beginning of the maze, at best, or spit you out onto a spike pit or into the path of a Badnik at worst. You can also skim over the surface of the water in Aqua Lake Zone and explore its underwater ruins, collecting air bubbles to breathe and desperately fighting with the game’s clunky controls as you navigate Sonic through narrow, spike-filled tunnels while trapped in a big bubble. The 8-bit Sonic 2 also features the game’s trademark loop-de-loops, which appear most prominently in Green Hills Zone, a stage that features many uphill slopes and blind jumps over long spike pits. You’ll also roll around on spinning cogs in Gimmick Mountain Zone, bash through Dr. Eggman-branded blocks in Crystal Egg Zone, and generally find that most of the game’s Zones are much bigger and more difficult to navigate as a result. By far the absolute worst Zone in the game is Sky High Zone; at first, it’s a pretty typical sky-based level but, once you get past the collapsing platforms, sneaky spike pits, and figure out which clouds can be run along or bounced off, you’re met with the worst gimmick in this (or any) videogame: the goddamn hang glider! Controlling this damn thing is the hardest thing ever as you must have a lot of speed built up to stay airborne, tap left on the D-Pad in just the right way to gain height, and will fall to the ground (and usually your death) if you press the jump button, hit the ceiling, or hit a wall. All they had to do was have it so that you tapped up to stay afloat but, as it is, the controls are extremely counterintuitive and I have no doubt that many players’ experiences of the 8-bit Sonic 2 ended the moment they were forced to use this damn thing.
Graphics and Sound:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor in terms of presentation; apart from the aforementioned differences in screen size, there’s next to no discernible difference between the sprites and Zones of the Master System and Game Gear versions. Sonic’s sprite is thus bigger, more colourful, and much more cartoony; he has a whole new idle pose where he shrugs his shoulders with indifference when left idle and a whole bunch of new animations thanks to the game’s new gimmicks. Sadly, the Badniks don’t really get the same upgrade; you’ll encounter the same handful of enemies in every Zone and most of them are just recycled versions of Motobugs, Crabcrawlers, and Newtrons, with none of them really standing out.
The game’s Zones are quite the mixed bag; on the one hand, I absolutely love how they’re completely different from the 16-bit version and they’re definitely very unique, with some big and detailed foreground elements. On the other hand, the backgrounds are actually less detailed than before, with only Gimmick Mountain Zone really impressing me with its background elements. While Green Hills Zone is somewhat derivative, it distinguishes itself from its predecessor by having more slopes and (unfair) spike pits; Aqua Lake Zone might be similar to Aquatic Ruins Zone and Labyrinth Zone but stands out by allowing you to take the upper path across the water or using the new bubble mechanic; and it was quite the bold strategy to start the game with the dank and dreary Underground Zone but the use of mine carts and lava helps to make it a fun and simple enough opening stage.
Perhaps the most bonkers Zone is Crystal Egg, which is populated by flying fish Badniks, cacti plants, falling crystal blocks, and a maze of translucent scenery that is a far cry from the mechanical hellscapes of most final Zones. Indeed, Scrambled Egg Zone (which bares more than a few similarities to Hidden Palace Zone from later Sonic titles) arguably would have been a better choice for the final stage, especially as the final boss is fought in an arena that’s more like Scrambled Egg Zone than Crystal Egg Zone. In addition to featuring a short opening cutscene, more detailed title cards (which replace the map of the last game and, oddly, feature Tails accompanying Sonic), and the traditional ending cutscene (including a cute little sprite of Tails), the game’s music is also quite a step up. Still featuring jaunty, catchy chip tunes, Sonic 2’s music is much longer and more layered than in its predecessor and more than makes up for the game’s less impressive sound effects (though the “SE-GA!!” chant at the beginning was a welcome and unexpected addition).
Enemies and Bosses:
As I alluded to above, the 8-bit Sonic 2 kind of drops the ball when it comes to its Badniks; once again, the only time you’ll see Sonic’s woodland friends dancing about is when you free them from the Dr. Eggman-branded flying saucer at the end of Act 3 and you’ll encounter the same handful of baddies in every Zone. There’s only really one new one (the hovering turtles, or “Game-game”, which are a constant pain in the ass) but some returning Badniks have been given an upgrade; Bomb, for example, spews pellets when it explodes and Buton appears as a more fearsome version of Ball Hog but lacks the former’s bomb-throwing ability.
Rather than taking on Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of every Zone, you’ll instead have to battle the mad scientist’s six “Master Robots”, which each one appearing as a large, mechanical creature. As before, you’ll have to navigate through a few obstacles to even reach the boss without the aid of any Rings, which can be a pretty tall order when spikes and hazards are much more prominent this time around. Indeed, Dr. Eggman even inexplicably saves you from an unavoidable dip in lava to force you into battling the Antlion Mecha, a mechanical beetle that waits for you at the bottom of a steep slope. To defeat the Antlion Mecha, you have to jump over or avoid the bombs that bounce in from the left side of the screen so that they damage the boss instead of you. This is much easier said than done thanks to the slippery slope and the Game Gear’s reduced screen size; also, Dr. Eggman will rush in to try and ram you near the end so be sure to hop over him. The Goose Mecha requires a lot less strategy; it drops little Mecha Hiyoko around the clouds that you must take out and then bobs around the arena shooting projectiles at you. Simply ram it in the head and avoid getting hit and it’ll go down pretty easily.
Strategy rears its head again when you face the Mecha Sea Lion; if you try and attack as you would a normal Badnik, the Mecha Sea Lion simply balances Sonic on its nose and tosses him around. You can only damage it when its blowing up a red balloon; attack this before it can launch it at you and you’ll land a hit but, otherwise, this is a pretty simply battle. Similarly, the hardest thing about tackling the Pig-Boar Mecha is the spikes on its back and the rocks it causes to fall from the sky. Jump over it when it charges and it’ll stun itself, leaving it vulnerable for a quick hit before charging at you again, kind of like a mixture of the Emerald Hill Zone and Mystic Cave Zone bosses. The Pig Mecha can also be quite a pain; not only is it arguably the hardest boss to even reach thanks to you needing to spring your way over vast spike pits but it also can only be damaged when not curled up into a ball and the window of opportunity to strike is quite small. The Pig Mecha will roll, jump, or fly across the arena and screen trying to hit you and then uncurl to taunt you, making it functionally very similar to the fight against Mecha Sonic in the 16-bit game.
Speaking of Sonic’s robotic doppelgänger, you’ll encounter Silver Sonic at the end of Scrambled Egg Zone. Despite its sleeker, more futuristic appearance, though, Silver Sonic is far easier to take on; it tries to slap you with an extending arm and will repel your Spin Attack with one of its own but is otherwise very easy to attack when it’s standing out in the open or trying to charge at you with its rocket boots. If you didn’t find the five Chaos Emeralds before this boss, your game will end here but, if you did, Silver Sonic relinquishes the sixth and final Emerald and you get to play Crystal Egg Zone. This culminates in a final battle against Dr. Eggman; this time, he summons spinning energy balls, arena-filling electrical storms, and little thunderbolts to try and kill you but, while this fight is certainly more harrowing than in the last game, it’s actually more about patience and timing. Sonic must hop into the tubes and circle the arena over and over, popping out to land a hit only when the timing is right and the hazards are gone, which can take some time and be a bit frustrating. Once you defeat Dr. Eggman, he’ll flee once more but, rather than delivering a final blow, Sonic is content to be reunited with Tails.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Oddly, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually includes less power-ups than its predecessor. You can still find monitors in Zones that will grant you an extra ten Rings or an extra life, but there are no longer shield monitors and I don’t recall seeing any speed-up shoes, either. The invincibility is still present, though, and not only appears far more often but is actually required to reach the Goal Post in some Zones as it’s the only way of safely crossing the spike pits.
Like the previous game, playing the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the 3DS is highly recommended; the game is much tougher than its predecessor so the save states are massively helpful when trying to hunt down the six Chaos Emeralds. With no Special Stages to play, you once again have to hunt for the gems in Zones, with all of them being found in Act 2 this time around. However, these are much harder to get to than before, requiring you to stay on higher paths when it’s almost impossible to do so, jump through hidden walls that don’t look any different to other parts of the environment, and making pixel-perfect bounces on springs. They’re also far more important than in many Sonic titles as, if you don’t have all five by the time you fight Silver Sonic, you can’t play the final Zone or rescue Tails; indeed, the game’s bad ending heavily implies that Tails dies as a result of your inadequacies! Sadly, you’ll probably see this ending a lot without a guide; the Master System version has a convoluted level select code that used to help me out a lot as a kid but legitimately beating this game with the good ending takes a great deal of skill…and it’s not like you get to play as Tails for your efforts, or at all for that matter.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 contains many quality of life improvements over the original; the game is bigger, with more colourful and detailed sprites, has a more developed soundtrack, more Zones, and runs a lot fast and smoother (especially when underwater). There’s loads of fun new gimmicks introduced here that help the game stand out from its 16-bit counterpart; the two are like night and day, with each Act being a little different from the last and new mechanics at your disposal so that it isn’t just more of the same Sonic action. However, at the same time, there’s noticeably less; no Special Stages, no real incentive to finish Zones with Rings, less power-ups, and the noticeable absence of Sonic’s two-tailed companion. Not only that but the game is far more difficult, almost unreasonably so, and made even trickier by the Game Gear’s lower screen resolution. Tracking down the Chaos Emeralds this time around was an absolute chore rather than being fun and making it so that you have to have them to even play the full game was a bit of a stretch. However, by far the worst thing is that damn hang glider; it basically derails the entire game as it’s almost impossible to control and, while you can finish Sky High Zone (and even acquire its Chaos Emerald) without using them, I can’t help but feel like this mechanic could have been better implemented. Overall, I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile inclusion to your library but do yourself a favour and get it on a console like this that allows for save states as it makes the game far more enjoyable.
Could Be Better
What did you think to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2? How do you think it compares to its predecessor and its Mega Drive counterpart? Which of its unique Zones is your favourite? Were you annoyed that Tails was reduced to a hostage rather than being a playable character? Did you ever manage to get the hang of the hang glider and find all the Chaos Emeralds? How are you celebrating “Sonic 2sday” this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic 2, and Sonic in general, drop a comment below.