(Review archived from May 3, 2018)
Time spent with a classic is always time well spent. Time spent delving into the arcane and obscure can of course be quite rewarding as well, but the classics represent the high water marks for any given discipline. And when we ensconce ourselves in the classics we are able to more easily perceive the lofty heights to which lesser works aspire. I think it’s safe to say that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 can inarguably be called a classic in the medium of video games. It ticks all the right boxes. Here we have an iconic flagship character appearing in a sequel that improves upon its predecessor in almost every meaningful way, no small feat in and of itself!
For me the aspect of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that towers over all else is the level design. This is a masterwork of 2D level design. Each stage feels massive though not in an overwhelming capacity; moreso in that the player is given total autonomy in terms of how to tackle any given stage. It feels like there are multitudes of paths through a stage each with clever funnel points that in turn branch out to any number of other paths. It’s as if this sense of freedom was fully baked into the design of the game, simultaneously encouraging both speed and exploration, or any combination thereof for that matter.
This sense of quality and excellence certainly carries over to the audio-visual components of the game as well. Sonic 2 is an excellent set piece for the bright and bold design aesthetic we often think of with regards to the Genesis. Almost any given screen is alive with color and movement and detail. One is almost encouraged to take a pause every so often just to take it all in or for that matter just to listen to the music for a while. The music perfectly sets the tone of the game and further solidifies what we think of as the ‘sounds of Sonic’.
In my opinion any weak points in the game will largely fall to personal preference. Growing up as a ‘Nintendo kid’ I’ve always felt slightly iffy towards the controls in Sonic. They’re brilliant for what they do and they’re absolutely true to the ‘Sonic feel’, but at the same time the push-pull dynamics of the speed and inertia always strikes me as resulting in movement that feels ever so slightly unpredictable. Of course there are legions of speed running videos which prove me wrong on this point though, so again this is ultimately just down to personal preference. While most of the game resolves itself to take the elements of the first game and do them ‘bigger and better’, one aspect which is radically altered from the Sonic 1 is the bonus stages. Here we see some nicely rendered pre-3D graphics in which Sonic races headlong down a twisting turning halfpipe in an effort to collect a specified number of coins while avoiding bomb traps. Along for this ride is Tails who almost never fails to be more hindrance than help during these stages. These stages are fun and a really nice technical demonstration of what the Genesis was capable of … but I find myself missing the more puzzle oriented aspects of the bonus stages in Sonic 1. Whereas the bonus stages in the original game were simultaneously challenging and dare I say relaxing, the bonus stages here never take their foot off the gas for even a moment. Truth be known this really is more in keeping with the spirit of the character, but it’s almost as if because the bonus stages in Sonic 1 felt a bit out of place that they were all the more interesting for it. Still this is a minor quibble at best.
What more can really be said about Sonic the Hedgehog 2? If you’ve somehow never played this game, it’s highly enjoyable. Regardless of whether you play games for sheer enjoyment or whether you consider yourself a ‘student of the medium’ Sonic 2 has something for you (which is not to suggest that these things are in anyway mutually exclusive). Highest recommendation.