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Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is great!

It’s been a while, but I’m finally getting around to writing this review! I got so caught up in Sonic 3 that I neglected to write this, but that’s a topic for next time, haha. Also, feel free to read my other Sonic reviews here. It isn’t necessary or anything, but it could help provide some context to the things I say here.

So, Sonic 2. Sonic 1 and CD are mostly disliked among Sonic fans, from what I’ve seen, but Sonic 2 is the first one that everybody seems to like. Naturally, I was really excited for it. Just like with Sonic 1, I played on the Fusion emulator, with a ROM bought from Steam. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it!

Story

Sonic 2’s story is a little more complex than Sonic 1’s, but not quite as much as CD’s. Sonic is on one of his adventures, flying around in his favourite plane, the Tornado (yeah, it’s actually Sonic’s plane, which I didn’t even know). He spots a pleasant island called West Side Island, and decides to take a break there. There, a little fox fascinated with machines named Miles (dubbed Tails by the animals, thanks to his two tails) is drawn to Sonic’s attitude and his beautiful plane. When Eggman attacks, searching for Chaos Emeralds to power his flying fortress, the Death Egg (since they’re apparently everywhere in this series), Miles follows Sonic on impulse, and joins him on his adventure. This is all explained in the Japanese manual, which has a much more elegant intro to the story than the English one, and it’s the same for the other classic games. If you haven’t, I suggest giving them a read. Overall, I like how the plot is set up. Tails is a great addition, and complements Sonic’s character perfectly. I especially like that Sonic acts like he only lets Tails follow along because he couldn’t be bothered to stop him, but in reality, he wants to keep an eye on the little guy. It shows the more caring side of Sonic’s character. Again, only explained in the Japanese manual, which is unfortunate.

Presentation

Sonic 2’s presentation is a great upgrade from Sonic 1. While Sonic 1 was generally pretty drab, with the exception of Green Hill, Sonic 2 is colourful throughout. It’s also not nearly as incoherent as CD’s levels. I especially like the upgrade to Sonic’s sprite here, it’s all the same except for a couple new animations and much more vibrant colours, which does wonders for him. It’s hard to go back to Sonic 1 and CD, with the dull blue used in those games. The music is as great as ever, though it does lose the high quality sounds of CD. The soundtrack definitely edges Sonic 1 out, mostly because it just has more songs. They also just sound a little nicer, to me. Overall, Sonic 2, though it’s clearly built from the same parts as Sonic 1, has a fairly substantial upgrade to its presentation, and I like it a lot.

Gameplay

Sonic 2 is nearly identical to Sonic 1 in a lot of ways. Sonic controls exactly the same, except for his new move, the Spindash. The Spindash is a great addition to Sonic’s moveset, allowing him to gain speed at a moment’s notice. There’s a reason this move became a Sonic staple, and was even put back into Sonic 1 later on. It feels like a natural extension to his moveset, and makes getting back on your feet after getting hit a breeze. Another change to gameplay is Tails, who will follow alongside you through the game (unless you decide to play as Sonic or Tails alone). Tails doesn’t do too much, in fact he’s often more of a liability than a help, most notably in the bosses, but it’s just plain enjoyable to have a partner with you on the adventure. The main reason he was included at all was to facilitate multiplayer, which I didn’t get to try, so I can’t really say on that front.

Aside from the Spindash, there’s one big change to Sonic that makes Sonic 2 completely different from Sonic 1 or CD, and that’s the level design. Sonic 2 is basically a full game of Green Hill Zones. Green Hill prioritized speed and flow, and it was by far the best Zone in Sonic 1. Here, every level plays out similarly, and it is wonderful. They’re all fairly straightforward, with a touch of exploration in the form of different paths and secret 1-ups/rings. They also emphasize momentum and speed, often rewarding you for completing a platforming section with a long burst of speed, or allowing you to use momentum to your advantage to reach new areas. One of my favourite spots for this is in Chemical Plant. Here, it teaches you that momentum can get you to higher areas by launching you down a hill into a ramp, rewarding you for reacting quickly and not falling back down. Later, there’s an infamous water section with a difficult platforming section, but if you use your speed and a slope, you can jump for crazy height and skip the entire section. That is so cool.

There’s also the Special Stages, which are quite different from Sonic 1’s. Now, they activate if you have 50 rings at a checkpoint, not at the end of the stage, meaning you have many more chances to try for an Emerald. I’m a little split on this decision. On the one hand, it rewards careful exploration by giving you more tries at the Special Stages (which, rest assured, you will need) but it also interrupts the flow of Sonic’s speedy gameplay at times. It really depends on how you prefer to play the game, but I’ll get into that later. Fortunately, with practice, it’s possible to complete all the Special Stages before the first Zone is even finished, meaning you’re able to play the rest of the game freely. Or, of course, you can just ignore them, you won’t be missing out on any secret levels/bosses like Sonic 2’s Game Gear counterpart.

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As for the Special Stages themselves, well… I quite liked them, personally, but I’ve heard that a lot of people despise them, for one reason: they’re hard. Sonic 2’s Special Stages focus almost entirely on pure memorization, and while it does appear in other games’ Special Stages to various degrees, Sonic 2’s are on another level. I can see why this would annoy people, but to me it felt like a fairly natural extension of Sonic’s focus on replayability, especially considering you’ll be getting a Game Over on the final boss at least a few times, so you’ll have plenty of time to practice the Special Stages throughout your playthrough. Also, to those of you who think Tails is screwing you over, he isn’t. Sonic is in front of Tails, so Tails will only be able to grab rings that Sonic misses, meaning keeping Tails safe is a bonus challenge more than anything. Anyway, once you’ve managed to overcome all 7 Special Stages, instead of an extra ending, you’ll get Super Sonic, which is just the absolute coolest. He has higher acceleration, jump height, and maximum speed, plus invincibility. You need 50 rings to activate him, and your rings will slowly drain as you lose him, but once you’re invincible it’s pretty easy to keep up with the ring count. Super Sonic is just an absolute power trip and a wonderful reward for overcoming the Special Stages, especially considering how difficult they are here. Also, I love his new animations. Running, crouching, pushing, teetering on an edge, all of it has different animations, and it brings Super Sonic to life. This is a much better reward than we’ve had in previous games, and it’s also significantly better than Colours’ Super Sonic, which felt like it barely did anything.

The Zones

Emerald Hill Zone

Emerald Hill is a great way to start off Sonic 2. It’s mostly a reskin of Green Hill, but it’s still a lot of fun, and shows off the new level design in Sonic 2. It also allows you to unlock Super Sonic almost immediately, which is cool. Great level.

Chemical Plant Zone

This Zone really emphasizes Sonic’s momentum, teaching you how to use it to gain height, as I mentioned. It’s a fast and fun level to zip through. It’s also the level that stumped many children back in the day, thanks to that water section with the moving platforms. It’s certainly difficult, and that’s why it feels so good to skip it.

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Aquatic Ruin Zone

An actually great water level! Aquatic Ruin is cool because, with practice, the water can be entirely avoided. The slower water physics serve as a punishment for falling from the top path, and that’s really cool. Personally, I felt Aquatic Ruin was a tad forgettable, but it’s fun nonetheless.

Casino Night Zone

Casino Night Zone absolutely nails the presentation, with its bright lights, casino-themed obstacles and funky music, but it falls a little short on the gameplay aspect for me. Not a bad stage by any means, but not one of my favourites.

Hill Top Zone

Hill Top Zone is around where Sonic 2 starts to become a bit of a slog for me. It’s a fine stage, I don’t really have any issues with it, but I often start to get tired of Sonic 2 by the time I reach this point. The Zone itself is alright, just a bit forgettable.

Mystic Cave Zone

This is a similar situation to Hill Top. The Zone is fine, if a bit forgettable. It does include the infamous Pit of Death, but thankfully I never ended up down there during my playthrough.

Oil Ocean Zone

This one I didn’t like at first, but I started to appreciate it more as time went on. It’s a solid stage, though it does feel like the concept is a little too similar to Chemical Plant at times.

Metropolis Zone

This is the big one. Metropolis Zone is filled to the brim with enemies and traps, and it’s often considered the worst Zone in the game because of it, especially since this is the single Zone in the game with three full Acts rather than just 2. Personally, while it can be pretty frustrating and slow, I don’t mind it. The music keeps it exciting, haha. Besides, most of it isn’t that bad, it’s a few select sections that really suck.

Sky Chase Zone

I don’t like Sky Chase. It’s a cool novelty, but after your first run through, it becomes a 2 minute waste of time. It’s just plain boring.

Wing Fortress Zone

I like Wing Fortress a lot. It feels climactic, and it’s quite difficult, both of which are fitting as it’s the last (real) Zone. The music was always a little off-putting to me, but I kind of like it that way, it makes it feel dangerous.

Death Egg Zone

(Spoilers for the final boss and ending)

Death Egg Zone is quite the headache. There are two boss fights: the first is a fairly easy fight against Silver Sonic, and the second is the Death Egg Robot, Robotnik’s last stand to protect his Death Egg. The Death Egg Robot is… very difficult, and not in the fun way. It’s only vulnerable in a few very specific places, everywhere else is an instant death. Keep in mind, Sonic gets no rings here, so every failed attempt to attack is one life gone. The first time I fought the final boss, I knew only one way to damage it, and it was extremely slow, taking me over 3 minutes just to take out the boss. Now, I’m not really sure what to feel about this boss. On the one hand, having a boss so focused on trial-and-error at the end of a game in which you can’t save is pretty bad, but on the other hand, it serves the replayability of the game quite well. If you could breeze through all of Sonic 2 in a couple playthroughs, then you wouldn’t get the full experience. The final boss will keep you busy to both learn Sonic 2’s levels and also memorize its Special Stages, and I think it actually improves the game as a whole.

The ending of the game is simple, but nice. It shows Tails saving Sonic’s life by catching him with the Tornado. I like this because, not only is it just cute, but it also shows a turning point where Sonic has to depend on Tails, not the other way around, and it really cements their friendship. It’s cool!

My Playthrough

Sonic 2 was a really interesting game for me, because at first, I actually didn’t like it at all. It felt like “just another Sonic game”, with none of the flair CD had. I played all the way up to Wing Fortress and died. Later, a friend of mine challenged me to a race: whoever could reach the end of the game first wins. This was when everything changed for me, because it was awesome! We both died on the final boss, but it was fun nonetheless. That and later playthroughs led me to two realizations.

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First, my favourite playstyle in Sonic is to go as fast as I can. Exploring is fun, but nothing beats trying to keep a strong flow in Sonic, and I felt the same way while playing Sonic 3 (but again, I’ll get to that later). I think that’s something that’s really cool about Sonic, that it supports multiple playstyles. You can take it slow and explore, or ignore everything and move as fast as possible. I’ll go into this in more detail with my Sonic 3 review.

Second, it confirmed my idea that these Sonic games really thrive on repeat playthroughs. I always seem to dislike these games when I first start them, and then as I play them, I start to warm up to it more and more. Trial and error is a large part of Sonic, and while it sounds bad, the reason it works so well is because they’re so replayable. Sonic 2’s final boss forces you to replay the game a solid few times, and as you do, you start to remember the level layouts. Problematic enemies, hidden lives, checkpoints, strategies for the boss fights, everything. And, as you do, you’ll start to get more and more of that sense of flow, zipping through levels that previously gave you a hard time. It can be tough to stomach the idea of playing through a game all over again because you died, but I think there’s a very important reason that they did that. Unlike Sonic 1, in where I don’t really remember the levels, all of Sonic 2’s levels are distinct enough, and I had to play them enough times, that I can remember many of the layouts from the game. It’s really well done.

Conclusion

Sonic 2 takes everything Sonic 1 did at its best, and makes it better. It’s the best Sonic game I’ve played so far. If you’re looking to get into classic Sonic, this is the game to start with. If you can, check out the mobile port by Christian Whitehead. It includes Knuckles and Tails as playable characters (Tails was playable in the original, but he was a straight up reskin of Sonic until Sonic 3), widescreen, save points if you want to use them, and a whole new hidden Zone, if you can find it. I didn’t play it, but everybody seems to agree that it’s the definitive version. Overall, Sonic 2 is a must-play for anyone remotely interested in Sonic.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this review! Next time, we’ll be covering Sonic 3 and Knuckles, which… well, let’s just say Sonic 2 wasn’t my favourite Sonic game for long. 👀

Source: reddit.com

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