Content of the article: "I just finished my very first “classic” Sonic game, that being Sonic 2 (on Game Gear). Here are my thoughts on the game!"
I haven’t played a whole lot of Sonic in my lifetime. The reason I knew who Sonic was as a kid was Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (also the reason I know so many of the characters in the series). Later on, I got Sonic Colours on Wii, and Sonic Generations for the 3DS. One time, I saw a video on YouTube about Sonic 2 on Genesis, heard it was great, and decided I wanted it. I found it was on 3DS eShop, bought it, turned it on, and… it was the wrong one. I bought the Game Gear Sonic 2, in all it’s screen-crunch and 8-bit glory. I was disappointed, to say the least, but I had the game, so I might as well play it. With the help of save-states, I made it to Gimmick Mt. (if I remember correctly) but I never finished the game. Recently, I replayed Sonic Colours (which I made a post about here, if you’re interested), and that got me in the Sonic mood, so I decided to beat Sonic 2, for real this time. Here‘s what I thought of the game!
The first thing you’ll notice about this game, at least if you’re me, expecting a Genesis game, is the presentation. It’s an 8-bit game, with short looping music and fairly low-detail environments/sprites. It’s not a bad look, but it’s certainly nothing impressive. It’s functional, and easy to get used to, but it’s definitely not the Genesis. I think it’s funny that the intro screens to each zone use the gameplay sprites from the Genesis games, just mutated into different situations. RIP Tails’ tails in Sky High Zone, you will be missed. Also, the ridiculous compression on the SEGA jingle never fails to make me laugh.
Sonic controls really well here. His jump arc makes sense, he has a satisfying sense of speed, it all works great and feels good. The only thing that didn’t feel intuitive here is that rolling and then jumping while holding forwards makes him accelerate like crazy, even past his top running speed. It’s not ever necessary or anything, so I don’t really mind, but it definitely confused me. Overall, Sonic controls great here.
I also love the way Lives and Rings are handled here. In the first 8-bit Sonic game, I’ve heard that instead of getting to pick them back up, you straight up lose all of your rings when you get hit. It’s similar here, except instead it just drops a small number (the max is like 5 or something). I think it works quite well to keep the spirit of how rings work without pushing way past the console’s limits. By collecting 100 rings, you’ll gain an extra life. Doing this is super satisfying, and so is finding the 1-up TV thingies. It’s great.
Now, something I need to mention about the gameplay is the screen. The game was developed and released in tandem with its Master System counterpart, leading to them commonly being referred to together as “Sonic 2 8-bit”. I haven’t played the Master System version, but I’ve seen footage of it, and it has a significantly larger field of view than the Game Gear version. Point is, it’s hard to see in the Game Gear version, despite it having the exact same level designs. This can cause problems. Many jumps in the game are completely blind, and basically require either memorization or luck to make. Personally, I didn’t have much of a problem with this, in fact, I think it helps the concept of replaying each level multiple times, but I also have a high tolerance for old games’ stupid crap. Objectively, blind jumps are not very fun, so take that how you will. It at least lets you look up and down, and it positions Sonic at the side of the screen, depending on where you’re looking, which is appreciated.
The level design overall is pretty good. It's the same kind of style as in the other Sonic games at the time, being large, open areas with lots of branching paths. It fits the idea of replaying the game over and over really well. I love how the Emeralds are hidden in the level, rather than in a special stage or something, adding motivation to explore. There are definitely a few awful levels, but most of them are pretty good. The game’s pretty short, so I figured why not go through each Act and talk about them separately? You can skip past this for my final thoughts if you want.
Under Ground Zone
Under Ground Zone, despite its vanilla sounding name, is pretty good. It has a lot of open space to run and get used to the controls, and is fairly easy, with lots of rings and few leap-of-faith jumps. Act 2 has one of my personal favourite Chaos Emeralds, in which you need to stay on the top of the stage. It’s not too tough to find, but you will need to know your way around the stage to reach it. The only real problem I have with these stages is that they feel very similar.
The boss is a little awkward. At the beginning of the game, it feels crazy difficult. It drops bouncing balls down a slope that you need to dodge. Also, if you try to walk, Sonic will start sliding down the slope almost uncontrollably, so you’ll need to jump before any movement. In the Game Gear version, you have very little time to react as well. On top of all that, you don’t have much room to stockpile lives at this point in the game. It’s definitely got a bit of a learning curve, but once I figured it out, I never had problems with it again.
Sky High Zone
Sky High Zone isn’t great. Act 1 is alright (although I died on it a lot before I figured out how to use the gliders), but Act 2 is pretty dumb. The visuals are pretty cool, to be fair, but the gameplay is just annoying. It’s filled with clouds that are sometimes platforms and sometimes not (I believe there’s a way to tell, but it’s not easy) and a hang-glider section that needs you to react really quickly to a wall or you’re doomed. Also, the Chaos Emerald is just sitting in the air at the top of the screen, one of the worst in the game. The boss fight is pretty good.
Aqua Lake Zone
Aqua Lake Zone isn’t great either. In classic water level fashion, it’s really annoying. Act 1 is okay. The underwater stuff is annoying, but once you figure out how to roll on the water it gets way easier. I didn’t find this one very memorable, though. Act 2 is pain. I mean, it’s not bad, but having to deal with breathing is frustrating, and the movement is just super awkward underwater. The flying bubble mechanic was pretty fun though, and the Emerald was good, at least. The Emerald requires you to take a different exit in one of the tubes. If you don’t figure out you can take different paths there, you’re required to learn it in Scrambled Egg, so you’ll probably figure it out eventually. It also hints that there’s an alternate path at the end of the tube, since you can see a higher platform to the left. It’s good stuff. The boss took me a while, but once I figured out how to damage it, it was easy.
Green Hills Zone
Green Hills caught me off guard. It’s a level called Green Hills, with an S, and it uses a song I recognize (which I later found out is the intro song to Sonic CD, apparently). It’s also quite easy, and filled with lives. This is important, since Act 3 is… probably my least favourite level in the game. It seems like it’s trying to use the screen size as a level mechanic, but just kinda fails. You need to bounce to the right on springs, and basically hope just holding right will land you on the springs. However, if you, for example, have a bit of momentum before hitting the first spring, you’ll go careening into some spikes. It’s bad game design. The boss is okay, and the Emerald was also fairly simple to grab.
Gimmick Mt. Zone
Gimmick Mt. Zone, on name and level theme alone, sounds awful, but it’s actually pretty fun. It’s one of the more exploratory levels in the game, often asking you to go… left. I liked it a lot. The Chaos Emerald was pretty fun to find, with a small challenge area to complete before you can grab it. Act 3 had a short platforming gauntlet that was quite fun. The boss is fine, not much to say there.
Probably the most annoying Zone overall in the game. It mainly uses those tubes as its gimmick, which is fine, but it has a bad habit of spitting you out into spikes if you mess it up, especially in Act 2. There’s some seriously precise platforming here as well, a lot of which requires memorization or luck. Besides the cool name, this one is not great. Still, once you get it all down, it’s quite enjoyable. The boss is Silver Sonic, who would be near impossible if his ball form could damage you, but if you’re in your ball form as well, it can’t. As such, you can kind of just jump around and hit him until he dies. The Chaos Emerald here is probably my least favourite conceptually, since it doesn’t follow any of the patterns the others laid out, but at least it’s easy to grab.
Spoilers for the ending! After the boss, it cuts to Sonic running while the credits roll. It’s a nice credits sequence, but you’re left wondering where Tails is at, and as it pans up to show his face in the stars, you realize Tails is probably dead. I prefer the idea that it’s just telling you that Tails is still out there and that you’ll just need to go back and grab the Emeralds to save him. Speaking of, yes, that’s what the Emeralds are for. By collecting all of them, rather than turning into Super Sonic, you’ll unlock the final, secret Zone: Crystal Egg Zone.
Crystal Egg Zone
Crystal Egg Zone scared me when I reached it. It’s such a heavy contrast with Scrambled Egg, with its bright colours and happy music, and it caused it to feel more unsettling than cheery. The level itself is pretty easy. The boss fight, on the other hand, is not. You’ll spin around Robotnik in a tube while he zaps the screen with electricity, runs lasers along the ground, and shoots out these annoying spinning energy balls. Fortunately, you’re completely invincible in the tube, so you can simply watch for a bit to figure out his patterns, and from there you can take him out. This one was really hard, but fortunately, I had a ton of lives. The counter stops at nine, but you don’t actually stop getting lives. I surely died at least 10 or 15 times, but it never went below 9, so I guess I had a lot. After this, Robotnik returns Tails, and the true credits roll. It’s the same as before, now with a cheerier tune and with Tails right behind. The screen pans up and now shows Sonic next to his buddy. It’s a nice, simple ending, with some cool art. Not much else to say there.
Game Gear Sonic 2 really surprised me. I thought it would be kind of a slog, with the small screen space and probably outdated level design. However, it was actually a really well designed, bite-sized Sonic experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. I definitely recommend this game, it’s great. I do suggest at least trying a bit without save states. I think it would be a much less memorable and rewarding experience with them. With them, there’s less incentive to explore or play well, and since you’ll only see each level once, you won’t retain much of the level in your memory. Overall, I see this being a game I come back to every once in a while, giving it a quick playthrough, and then coming back again sometime later. It’s a short, sweet experience and boy did I love it.
That’s it for my review! I hope it didn’t get too long. If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on Sonic, I made a Colours review not too long ago on this very subreddit. Next up, the last Sonic game I’ve played before, Sonic Generations 3DS! I hope you’re looking forward to it! Also, if you have any feedback, I’d appreciate it. I’m still learning how to talk about video games 🙂
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