Gaming has a rich history that spans multiple decades. To this end, The Last Word on Gaming Backlog is a series that looks back on titles across all generations. From the golden 8-bit era to the landscape-changing 64-bit scene and beyond, The LWOG Backlog’s aim is history. It’s time to revisit the sequel to one of the most important games of the 16-bit era – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Sega Genesis.
The Emerald Shines Brighter – Sonic the Hedgehog 2
The original Sonic the Hedgehog put the Sega Genesis, as well as the Sega corporation itself, on the map. Armed with blazing speed and a cocky attitude, the little blue hedgehog became an international sensation. His reach extended beyond video games; from merchandise to even multiple animated series, Sonic became Sega’s runaway success. Thus, once the original Genesis classic saw popularity, it became clear that there was more to this intellectual property. Published by Sega and developed by Sega Technical Institute, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Genesis released in 1992.
Headed by former Atari employee Mark Cerny, Sega Technical Institute brought together multiple developers to create exciting, new titles. Among the developers in question was Yuji Naka, the lead programmer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog. As STI worked on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Team in Japan created its breakout title for the Sega CD known simply as Sonic CD. However, when it comes to memorability, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the title that stood the test of time. Why do so many gamers consider this to be just as good as the original, if not better?
In Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Genesis, Dr. Ivo Robotnik is at it again. Armed with a fleet of new machines, as well as robots to do his bidding, Robotnik is set to rule the world by harnessing the power of the Chaos Emeralds. Once more, Sonic must rise to the challenge. This time, however, he isn’t alone. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 marks the debut of Miles Prower, better known as Tails, to the series. The young, two-tailed fox is determined to save the work alongside his good friend, Sonic, bringing peace to the world once more.
Simply put, if one were to play Sonic 1, then Sonic 2 would seem like more of the same from a narrative standpoint. In other words, the goal is to stop Robotnik. However, the inclusion of Tails makes this game’s story more significant. Furthermore, it expanded the game’s universe, adding new areas for the hedgehog and fox duo to traverse. This isn’t a title known for its story; despite this, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 remains a classic all its own.
The Sonic the Hedgehog series has been build on the foundation of speedy platforming, which the second title took to another level. If the original title was fast-paced, its sequel cranked up the proverbial dial, ensuring that every slower section was meaningful and each burst of speed felt well-deserved. Many of the established concepts, including boss battles and special stages, were brought to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, though revamped in their own ways.
Speaking of special stages, this is one area where Sonic the Hedgehog 2 differs from its predecessor the most. Instead of reaching a special stage at the end of a zone, Sonic 2 prompts the player to jump through a ring of stars after hitting a checkpoint with at least 50 rings. From there, the player is brought to a 3D area where the goal is to collect rings and avoid obstacles. To see a 16-bit title replicate 3D graphics was impressive, especially during a time when 3D gaming wasn’t the norm. Though these special stages aren’t required to complete the game, they will net the player Chaos Emeralds. By collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, players can transform into Super Sonic. This is a nearly invincible version of the blue hedgehog, provided they have enough coins to activate the transformation.
Another notable addition that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 brought to the table was Tails. As the player goes through the game as Sonic, Tails will follow behind, albeit at a slower speed. It’s not uncommon for the little fox to fall behind or even become the recipient of enemy collision. However, Tails can provide certain benefits, such as collecting stray rings or attacking bosses at the end of certain zones. Additionally, a second player can control Tails, which can shift Sonic the Hedgehog 2 from a single-player game to a pseudo cooperative experience.
However, for those that desire a traditional multiplayer experience, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has this in the form of a competitive two-player mode. Choosing between four stages, two players, one as Sonic and the other as Tails, race each other to the end. Today, this mode may be off-putting to some, as both players have to share TV screen real estate. However, during the game’s original release, this was more than satisfactory.
Presentation (Graphics and Sound)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 may be one of the best-looking games on the Sega Genesis, especially concerning color usage. The original title was a vibrant title, to be sure. However, the sequel took things up a notch, greeting the player with an overall striking presentation. Emerald Hill Zone, the first area in the game, is reminiscent of Green Hill Zone, though with a more robust color palate. Chemical Plant Zone, the proceeding area, is more mechanical, though no less impressive. Though Sonic moves blisteringly fast, it’s easy to appreciate how good the world around him looks.
Returning from the original, Masato Nakamura composed Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s legendary soundtrack. Fun fact: he created this game’s soundtrack while also working on what would be his band’s, Dreams Come True, upcoming album. From Emerald Hill Zone to Casino Night Zone to Metropolis Zone, each area has a memorable tune. In fact, depending on who’s asked, the sequel’s soundtrack outdid that of the original.
Much like its predecessor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 isn’t a terribly long game if one were to take a straight shot to the end. In fact, without collecting the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic 2 will take a seasoned player anywhere from two to three hours to complete. However, collecting said Chaos Emeralds will intensify the game’s challenge factor, having players repeat special stages to collect them all. Expect the gameplay experience to be extended by a few more hours for completionists.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t more to be seen in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. As stated earlier, the game includes a two-player mode that is a fun diversion from the single-player campaign. During the early 90s, it wasn’t uncommon for young gamers to play this mode with their parents, siblings, cousins, and friends. It can be incredibly competitive, an example of the joy local multiplayer is known to bring. Compared to the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2 has more meat on its bones.
As any gaming historian will attest, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 became a hit. Selling over six million copies, it would become the second best-selling title on the Sega Genesis; the first was the original Sonic the Hedgehog. However, given that the original game went on to be packaged with many Genesis consoles, the six million-plus landmark for Sonic 2 is that much more impressive. The fact that this title was instrumental in helping Sega overtake Nintendo’s market share, at the time, can’t be understated, either.
By the time the second console title was released, Sonic the Hedgehog fever was high. However, it didn’t quite reach the peak yet; two years later, Sega would release two more titles. These were the companion games known as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, which had to be played together to receive the definitive experience. While one may argue the success of Sonic in the 3D landscape, the blue mascot’s 2D platforming adventures, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 included, remain legendary.