As of the time I write this, Sonic the Hedgehog has turned 19 years old. Since his debut in 1991, he has been lucky enough to star in numerous games, several animated series, a long-running comic book series, an anime movie, and more. It was early in his career that one of his greatest adventures of all time took place. In 1992, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which turned out to be an improvement over the original game in many ways. That is not to say that the first game was not good, because it was, but the sequel surpasses it in just about every way imaginable. Let me tell you more about this game which has been embraced by Sonic fans for years.
Once again, the maniacal Dr. Robotnik is out to wreak havoc. This time, he has built the Death Egg, a space station which he plans to launch into orbit. He wishes to get his hands on all of the Chaos Emeralds in order to bring the Death Egg to full power. Luckily, Sonic learns of the doctor’s wicked scheme, and heads off to stop him. Joining him on this quest is Miles Prower, a young fox who wishes to be just like Sonic when he grows up. He has two tails, and as such, has received the nickname of “Tails,” which has stuck with him ever since. The story is minimal as in a lot of classic Sonic games, but it takes a back seat to the fast-paced action seen throughout the game.
In several ways, Sonic 2 is similar to the first game. Sonic must race through each level, destroying robots along the way. These robots are actually Sonic’s friends, who have been trapped inside these machines and forced to do Robotnik’s bidding. In each stage, Sonic can collect rings that can protect him from harm. If he is hit while carrying any rings, he will lose them, but he will not lose a life. If he is struck without having at least one ring with him, he will lose one life. If Sonic gathers 100 rings, he will gain an extra life. He can also break open monitors that will give him extra rings, additional lives, shields for added protection (though they vanish after one hit), shoes that make him run faster for a short time, and invincibility power ups. Most zones ends with a fight against Robotnik, who will attack you in one of his machines. Defeat him, and you will move on to the next zone.
There are a number of features that debuted in this game that would become commonplace in many subsequent titles. First, the game marked the first appearance of Tails the two-tailed fox, who can normally be seen running behind Sonic. He can grab rings to help our hero, and if he gets left too far behind, he uses his tails to fly and catch up with Sonic. He is also an expert pilot, as he can fly his special plane, the Tornado, in one of the later levels, while Sonic becomes a wing walker and trashes enemies that try to take them both down. With his usefulness and cute appeal, it is little wonder that Tails became a fan favorite, showing up in many other Sonic games and even starring in a few games of his own.
Starting with this game, there would commonly be seven Chaos Emeralds, not six as in the first game, to be collected. Grabbing them would not be easy, though, as it required Sonic to run through some rather difficult special stages. To access these stages, Sonic needed to hit a lamppost with at least fifty rings in his possession and jump through the sparkly ring that appeared (the lampposts also counted as checkpoints where Sonic could start from if he had lost a life). Each stage required Sonic to collect a specific number of rings before hitting a checkpoint. Along the way, he needed to avoid spiked balls, which would make him drop some rings if he ran into them. If Sonic successfully fulfilled all of the ring requirements in a special stage, he would gain a Chaos Emerald. Otherwise, he would leave the stage empty handed.
For players who managed to collect all seven emeralds, a special trick could be pulled off that would reappear in other classic Sonic games. By collecting fifty rings and leaping into the air, Sonic could become Super Sonic, a yellow hedgehog with enhanced abilities. He could run faster, jump higher, and was invincible to most enemies and obstacles. The drawback was that Sonic lost rings while in this form, and once all of his rings had been used up, he would change back to his normal form. Nevertheless, this was a nice little addition to the game, and Super Sonic would make many more appearances, though nowadays, he tends to show up only at the end of a game, with no way to use his powered-up form in any of the stages.
As for other new features, many zones now have two acts instead of three. The exceptions are the Metropolis Zone, which has three acts, and the Sky Chase, Wing Fortress, and Death Egg Zones, each of which has only one act. There are eleven zones and twenty stages in all, and the idea of having many if not every zone have just two acts would be carried over to other Sonic games. For the first time, there is a two-player mode, in which Sonic and Tails try to see which of them can make it to the end of a stage first. Players can play as Sonic and Tails together, or they can choose to play only as Sonic or only as Tails. Unlike subsequent games, the game is largely the same no matter which character you pick, though the ending differs depending on which character(s) you use and whether or not you collected every emerald, and Tails cannot go super even if he has all seven emeralds.
With all of these features, it is little wonder that Sonic 2 continues to be hailed as a masterpiece to this very day. As for other positive aspects, it is more fun than ever to explore every zone, as they feature plenty of cool and memorable secrets and surprises. The boss fights are exciting, the special stages are suitably difficult, and you will want to play again and again until you can beat the game with every last emerald. About the only criticism I have is that the game is on the short side, and must be completed in a single sitting, which can be a tricky feat for first-time players, though you can earn continues by scoring a lot of points in each stage. As a whole, however, Sonic 2 is a shining example of what a marvelous Sonic game should be like.
The graphics have improved somewhat over the original game. It seems to run faster than its predecessor, and the visuals are bright and colorful. The game also contains a memorable soundtrack, with such classic tracks as Chemical Plant, Oil Ocean, Mystic Cave, and Hidden Palace, the latter of which is believed to be from a zone that was ultimately removed from the game. The background music managed to be included in the game’s sound test, though. Also included are the classic Sonic sound effects, which have also become commonplace in many games. If Sega wanted to enhance the graphics and sound in addition to the game play, they succeeded quite well.
Eighteen years have passed since Sonic 2 was released, and it remains a beloved masterpiece. From features that would show up frequently in later games to wonderful and memorable levels to a catchy soundtrack, this game has it all. It has been re-released many times on compilations, on the Wii Shop Channel, and on the Xbox Live Arcade service for people who want to play the game without having to track down a copy of the original Genesis version. This is a game from Sonic’s best era, when Sega did not rely on gimmicks that would practically ruin his games, and it makes me wish that all of his games could be this good. Clearly, there should be more Sonic games like this one, and fewer games like Sonic Unleashed.