Sonic Jam - "Sonic The Hedgehog 2" (1992)


First of all, I'd like to thank the people reading these posts, because the first three have done pretty damn good so far. So that's cool. I mean, even if they weren't, I'd still keep writing them, but it's nice that there's an audience. That's always a plus.

Anyway. Where were we? Ah, yeah, that one Sonic that everyone loves.

For pretty much my entire life, I held Sonic The Hedgehog 2 in pretty high regard. And why wouldn't I? It was a colossal hit at the time, firmly cementing the Blue Blur as a household name and completely trouncing whatever Nintendo was putting out at the moment. Not only that, but it's one of the Sonic games that's stood the test of time, having been held up as an excellent example of platforming for over two decades at this point. Oh, and it introduced Tails, which is... pretty cool. I guess.

So, yes, for a good portion of my life, I thought of Sonic 2 as a golden standard of excellence when it came to gaming. Some of my most fond childhood memories involve crowding around a microscopic TV in a small, dark, cramped room with my best friends at the time to take turns on their old Genesis, "ooh"-ing and "ahh"-ing at stuff like Casino Night Zone. But sometimes? It's best to leave memories alone.

Because frankly? Sonic The Hedgehog 2 hasn't really aged that well, guys.

It's pretty much all downhill from here.
Hear me out. I'm not saying that Sonic 2 is a bad game, or anything even close to it. I'm saying that it's not really the solid gold bit of gaming bliss that some people would lead you to believe. It's a very good platformer. It has some great music. Its visuals are undeniably beautiful. But there's something lurking beneath the surface that undermines the entire experience. Something that puts a damper on how much fun I'm able to have with the whole thing.

And that's how downright uninspired the entire package feels. These days, it's a lot easier to see that Sonic 2 is really nothing more than a greatest hits of what people loved from the first game. Taking off my nostalgia goggles, which, granted, isn't easy, Sega's follow-up to its unprecedented 1991 hit feels a lot more like a glorified re-skin than it does a genuinely new game.

Which isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong. The first game was dynamite, and anything that feels even remotely close to it is impressive. Recapturing good stuff from past games has ended up proving to a bit of a challenge for the series in recent years, after all. But at the same time, after the unadulterated burst of originality and adrenaline that Sonic was, Sonic 2 feels like a light, non-threatening jog in the exact same direction, and playing both games back to back, it's more than a little disappointing.

It starts at the levels. You've got a grassy level, a temple level (we actually get two of them here,) a city level, an industrial level (we also get two or three of these)... there's no one way around it, to me: the levels here are pretty much glorified rehashes of the same sorts of places we went the first go-round. Some of them aren't even as good. Chemical Plant Zone, Oil Ocean Zone and Wing Fortress Zone are three of my absolute least favorite sets of levels in the entire series, and I mean that with all sincerity. The horrible framerate drops in the first, the counter-intuitive direction of the second and the absolutely garbage platforming of the third are some of the worst times I've had with a single game in the series, hands-down.

That's not even getting into the finer details of the controls and platforming mechanics in general. The sense of speed is constantly undercut by the incessant desire to fuck over the player in the cheapest, most infuriating, least thought-out ways possible. The fun thing about the first Sonic was how platforms would crumble, paths would become blocked off, and players would have to scramble to figure the best way to navigate the rest of the level. That's fun! That's novel! But it sucks when practically every step of a level is a potential deep-dicking for both Sonic and the player. Arrows flying in from off-screen, unclear hitboxes on enemies, hidden traps, imprecise boss fights... everything in Sonic 2 feels sloppily put together and poorly conceived, like it all could have used a few more months of fine-tuning.

This level can go die.
Which isn't just a feeling, actually. Sonic 2 was very much a game slapped together in the span of a year and developed in a pressure cooker-esque environment. When development began, Sega planned a massive worldwide launch that was the first of its kind. It was called "Sonic 2sday," and it would be a lavish, celebrity-packed affair that would firmly cement Sega as the ultimate Nintendo-killer. This was planned months in advance, and it had an underlying ulterior motive.

Yuji Naka had recently bailed from Sega of Japan after poor working conditions and lack of creative control, among other things, and Sega of America was desperate to scoop him up and put out a sequel to their new hit franchise. This required crashing both the American and Japanese dev teams together and asking for a new game. Not only that, but the whole "Sonic 2sday" deal was conceived as a way to pressure Naka, a notorious perfectionist, into finishing the game on time. If he didn't, the whole shindig would happen, leading to he and his dev team being the object of ridicule for not having the game done. Now, I'm not saying that Sonic 2 feels the result of sloppy work due to a stressful environment and...

Actually, no, wait. That's exactly what I'm saying. Despite the fact that it's still a pretty good game with a lot of fun to be had, there's an overwhelming feeling that this is something made purely to capitalize on the success of the first, and that it truly doesn't bring much more to the table.

Except for one thing, of course, and that's the Spindash. Sonic's signature technique of "curling up and bumping into things" was given another degree of control in Sonic 2, one that would carry on through the rest of the series. It's weird to describe this in retrospect, especially now that it's such a mainstay of the franchise, but basically, this was the first game where Sonic could rev himself up into a ball and fire himself into shit. This fixed the biggest problem that players ran into in the original: running up something and losing momentum. Now, players could build their own momentum, which was pretty great.

That was a pretty big innovation for the franchise, absolutely, but it ultimately doesn't change how I feel about Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It's a good game, sure, but a great one? The best Sonic? One of the best games of all time? Nah. Not to me, anyway. Sonic got way better on the Genesis, as you'll see in the coming days, and ultimately, Sonic 2 wound up being a bit of a stopgap game.

But before we get to those later gems, it might be a good idea to check out what's on the tube.


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