Sonic 2 Retrospective Review – When Sonic becomes American

The following is a script for the youtube video below.  Feel free to read or watch the video as you prefer.

Hello, I’m Kinglink and it’s finally time to talk about Sonic 2. This game was made by Sonic Team and published by Sega, but that’s not the whole story. We are going to get there though.

So with the original Sonic the Hedgehog game out of the way, I wanted to immediately talk about Sonic 2 for a few reasons. I think in a lot of ways this is THE game in the franchise that defined what Sonic was. There are no massive changes here, but there are quite a few important changes for the series, such as the addition of the spin dash, but we get there as well.

Just to remind you guys. This is the second game of my retrospective series on the Sonic games focused on the PC title, because I had to draw the line somewhere. I’ve previously covered Sonic Mania outside this series and if you’re interested there will be a link at the end of the video. Last month we covered Sonic the Hedgehog, but stick around we’ll talk a lot more about these games all year.

Like last time I want to dive into the history of this game, especially because Sonic 2 has a lot of very interesting lore and history including some for the entire industry. One thing I didn’t mention last time was Sonic the Hedgehog was a pack-in title, that appears to be the only way anyone got the game. Everyone had one, at least anyone buying consoles after Sonic’s launch.

That was a big game and Sega, of course, wanted a sequel, they decided to go all-in on it, right? Well, kind of. Yuji Naka, who worked on the original game was kind of unhappy with it. According to several reports, the big thing was a lack of credit in the original game, he made this massive hit and no one knew him. Of course, by bringing up this story, things have changed.

Yuji Naka was on the way to leaving Sega, and Sega of America, which was run at the time by Tom Kalinsky, wanted Sonic 2, because.. who wouldn’t? This was the mascot of a massive company and their new console. So he offered a deal.

Yuji Naka and the Sonic Team could come to America and work at Sega Technical Institute known as STI, which was run by Mark Cerny. Cerny, on the other hand, has an equally impressive career, working on games in the Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Jak and Dexter, Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted. He’s also the lead architect of the PS4, an amazing console, and worked on Knack… ok, so he’s not perfect.

I bring this up because you have two incredible minds that come together to create Sonic 2, and minor points of contention but Sonic 2 is American. There’s more to the STI story after this game but we’ll talk about that in the future when we get to Sonic 3 and Knuckles. Or Spinball, Guess what games they worked on… spoilers.

This isn’t the only major change, this only affected Sonic Team what about the industry? Sonic 2 was going to be huge and to make it massive, it got something special. A release date. I’ve seen a couple of pieces that claim no other game got a release date like this, one of those sources is Console Wars by Blake Harris, a fantastic read, and well worth it.

However, I’m going to say this isn’t correct. Super Mario Brothers 3 had a major release so I don’t know if I can agree that it’s the first major release, it might be a worldwide release, but even there, Japan got it three days early. That’s not important, Sonic 2 did something … more.

Not only was it released on a certain day but it was released on Sonic 2sday. Yes a dad joke but not made by me, it was made by Sega themselves. Here’s the thing, Sonic 2sday was Tuesday, November 24th, 1992. And yes, the reason video games are released on Tuesday is because of that dad joke. As a father, I love it. It’s been over 25 years, and except for Nintendo, and the fact release dates are more spread out now, many games still are being released on Tuesday, so clearly this had a major impact.

Now since I have just covered Sonic 1, I’m going to skip some of the duplicate ideas. This game was made only a couple of years after the first one so much of the technology is similar, but there’s also a lot of amazing tech here.

Sonic 2’s graphics though definitely need to be mentioned. Everything in Sonic 2 has been refined and the graphics got a lot of love. Sonic does look better and I find the animations to be cleaner, but he’s still the same hedgehog.

But he’s no longer alone. We have in the background a new character named Miles “Tails” Prower. I do want to bring up that he shares a name with my father which probably only matters to me. There are not many Miles in the world. But well… his name Miles Prower or Miles Per Hour. Ok Sega, you can stop with those dad jokes.

Tails isn’t that special yet though, he can’t actively fly and just follows Sonic but he’s an awesome addition to the game and I love that Sonic has a buddy, who does tend to die, but you know… he comes back. He’s immortal or something.

He also does damage to enemies, and if you want, you can even play as Tails by himself. Cool.

The world in Sonic 2 is crisper, every level feels more defined and more to discover. It’s a better graphical adventure and that helped quite a bit. There’s also more diversity to the levels which helps a lot. I want to discuss them more when talking about gameplay but these levels look great. There’s not a bad looking level here, and there are tons of small touches that make them stand out.

Some enemies in Sonic 2 are copied from the original game, but that doesn’t mean they are the same, every sprite looks like they got attention and they all look fresher. And that’s just for returning enemies. There are tons of new enemies to discover. I personally love the little chickens which you find on the Wing Fortress, but I’m sure you’ll find something special here.

Besides, there are hazards in addition to the enemies in the levels here. Such as in Chemical Plant, and while these suck, it’s clear they’re not intended to be attacked. Compare this to the little bombs in the original game and I think you’ll understand why I find this a better experience.

Sonic 2 also feels faster, and I say feels, but it’s confirmed, they made the game faster with better scrolling and more. Of course, that doesn’t mean much since the original game was fast but Sonic never got up to top speed in most levels. But don’t worry, we now have the Spin dash… and come on it’s the spin dash, I really do mean it when I say this is the defining ability of Sonic. Even better, almost every level here is built for speed, so while Sonic’s tights controls are still amazing, Sonic 2 is just faster in every way and they haven’t given up that control for it.

And while I won’t play the music here, the music as well is a masterpiece, there are a ton of tracks here that are just memorable, not to mention the song that plays when you’re invincible and running around that will get you pumped up.

With that love fest out of the way, we have to come back to earth. We’re on the Sega Genesis or the Sega Mega Drive. Listen, the story of Sonic 2 is … Umm, kinda crap. it’s the same story again. Eggman or Robotnik, you can choose his name, because it’s not mentioned in-game. Either way our villain is after the Chaos Emerald, Sonic and Tails try to stop him. Similar to discussions of lives, I think it’s ok to give Super NES and Genesis games a pass on the story. They mostly were in the manuals and are not exactly special.

The idea of having Tails in there though does expand the world and makes it feel like two friends are battling against Robotnik instead of just one and give the game a more friendly feeling.

The levels here are still … alright, they’re not actually in order and feel very random. You go from Emerald Hill Zone to a Chemical Plantz to Aquatic Ruins to Casino Night… I think you get the point, this makes NO sense, as you’ve been watching me play the game, can you tell me the order the zones are in? Well truthfully, maybe you could make up a story, but there’s not a good reason for it.

Still, there’s a great point at the end of the game, as we end the Wing Fortress, which was a giant flying fortress, which was after a sky chase level, so that made sense, and then here we are where Tail is using his plane to fly Sonic up to the Death Egg. This is a rather cool moment, it’s really the only one in the game, but it’s a great addition.

So let’s get that love fest back, and let’s talk about the gameplay. That’s, of course, solid once again, and it’s light years better than the first game.

Before we dive into the levels I want to talk about that idea of control from last time. In the first game, Sonic was a blast to control, though not exactly speedy. This time around that control is still here and still fantastic. But Sonic is much faster. The spin dash was added to Sonic 2 to rocket him off in any direction he wished. Sonic can just go from 0 to 60 in a second and it makes the game much more interesting.

As mentioned the game also moves faster to keep up with Sonic and the experience is great. Those tight controls are even better because sonic seems to be able to dodge many attacks and traps just by how fast he reacts to the player’s inputs.

The biggest overall change in Sonic 2’s levels is the idea that you can explore them. Let me explain with the Aquatic Ruins on screen. This is, of course, the water level.

But is it? You see I can beat the first level reasonably fast without really touching the water. There is an upper and lower path and this is common in Sonic 2. There may even be a third path on some levels.

Not every level has two fully formed paths but many levels allow exploration and multiple ways to traverse them and that’s a fresh idea for the franchise. Yes, parts of this were seen last game but not to the extent that Sonic 2 does it.

The levels themselves are better, let’s start talking about the most famous level. Casino Night Zone. I mean come on, if you’ve played this game you’ve spent a good amount of time here, and I think most true Sonic fans will have at least run out of time once if not multiple times. It’s just a great level.

Though you know, there’s a lot of talk about the ills of Microtransactions and yes there’s many problems but simulated gambling has been in games for multiple decades and doesn’t necessarily lead to gambling. I think we need to trust the audience a bit more. I can tell you this because … Well, this Casino Night zone has many slot machines and you’re probably going to spend some time trying to farm them for coins, or just fun. And many of us who grew up with Sonic 2, didn’t get addicted to gambling.

With that diversion out of the way, there are many strong levels in Sonic 2. Chemical Plant Zone, the second zone of the game is extremely memorable especially with the fact that you’ll move in multiple different directions. Oil Ocean also is just a great level with a lot to see and do, and some clever fan systems that feel fun and unique. And that Wing Fortress is just a blast to play through. It feels unique and special and elevates Sonic 2 to something different.

At the same time, not every level is great, and some levels are a little weaker. Sky Chase Zone is entirely too experimental, and while it’s an interesting moment in the game it doesn’t hold up well. I’m not a huge fan of Mystic Cave Zone, though I know people who love it, and while I praise Wing Fortress, it’s a bit too linear at times, and … there’s a lot of bottomless pits.

Finally, I do have to call out Metropolis Zone, which has three acts for no reason. Every zone in this game has one or two acts, most with two acts, and Metropolis Zone just feels bloated with a third act that does nothing new.

The level design of these levels is really strong and many of the levels are some of the best of all time, not just for sonic but for any character. Yet….

Alright, I have to rag on Sonic 2 a bit, Metropolis has these spinning nuts and if you try to spin dash through the level, this can happen. Mystic Caves, the final boss doesn’t have any rings which make the boss significantly harder. Finally, Chemical Plant’s final couple of feet, as well as the boss is EXTRA cheap if you’re trying to rush through it. I’ve lost two runs in this section.

There were a ton of places in the first game that had cheap deaths, in Sonic 2 there are only a few of them, those three I mentioned are the big ones outside of Wing Fortress. So this is a huge improvement.

If you take a slow methodical approach to the game you’ll always be able to beat what’s ahead of you, which sounds odd. The fact is a fast approach can still work here. Even hitting spikes twice in a row is no longer an instant death, and it’s clear that the Sonic Team has learned something from the original game. You’ve learned Sega…. You’ll never make a bad Sonic game again… HAHA. I wish.

There are huge improvements throughout the game. There are more 1-ups, easier rings to collect, in fact, almost every time I got hit by something and lost my rings, there was at least one ring visible to collect to keep me safe for the future.

The bosses in Sonic 2 are…. A bit of a mixture though. Many bosses here are fun and interesting to fight, though a couple of them are cheap. I did call out Mystic Caves for not giving rings before a boss, but the fact is almost every level has a few rings right after the last checkpoint. It’s a great addition that feels good.

Some bosses are a bit harder than the original game, Chemical Plant can be cheap with floors that drop out and he might bounce you into them as you attack him. Mystic Cave uses a cramped zone and falling debris, and the Wing Fortress also uses a very cramped area, and I’m not a fan…

I also do have to call out the final boss. Similar to Mystic Caves there are no rings before the final boss. Even worse there are no rings at all in the level. Joy.

You fight a metal version of Sonic, not to be confused with Metal Sonic, but it’s the same thing. Not-Metal Sonic is a little challenging but repeats a pattern you can learn well. Once you’ve beaten the non-metallic Sonic, you have to go up against a second boss, Mecha Robotnik, and again, no rings so one mistake here and you’re dead. I don’t want to swear but this is crap.

Even better, if you die to Mecha Robotnik, you start the level over again.

Changing gears, I do want to praise the bonus stages. The ugly and annoying bonus stage of Sonic The Hedgehog is gone for good, and now we get these amazing halfpipe levels that are just a blast to play, even if they are very challenging at times. Also to get to the Bonus stage you only have to get 50 rings and find a checkpoint, rather than go at the end of the stage, which means you can hit two or three bonus stages a level.

I do remember enjoying them as a kid, but I’ll be honest, they can be frustrating, still, I find these stages to be great. It’s a huge improvement and even tails can pick up some rings. Though he also tends to hit many of the bombs so he’s not exactly helpful at times.

At the same time, the bonus stages leave sonic with no rings. It’s not a major problem. It feels like if you started a new life and you can go grab rings, but… it’s also what happened right before Mystic Caves’ boss. I went from 100 rings to 0, and that’s annoying. From that point on I tended to avoid the special stages to skip risking that.

But special stages are important because if you get all seven emeralds… you get …. SUPER SONIC! Or if you’re playing as tails, you get crap.

Super Sonic was such a major addition to the game. I remember earning him the first time and just loving the invincibility. And shortly after that I fell into a pit and remembered that this game can still be cheap. But Super Sonic is just such a great little addition to the game that only completionists will find.

There’s even a two-player mode in Sonic 2, which my kid sister and I played when we were young and it was a blast as kids to be able to play this game with two players, and it’s still a blast. Admittedly, it’s nothing special, and playing it now with multiplayer games and more it is a minor feature but you can play Sonic 2 with two characters AND compete to beat levels and play at the same time? Take that Nintendo.

Even better, if you’re playing single-player mode someone can grab the second controller and play as Tails, that was a major feature and is still really cool today. It’s also drop in drop out. If the second player is off-screen he’ll eventually return to Sonic, but if the second player stops playing Tails eventually returns to his AI state again. While the camera only follows Sonic, this is kind of amazing for the time.

We can talk more about Sonic 2, but I think we’ve gone over many of the important features. It’s exploration, two players, faster, Super Sonic, and more.

Honestly, if you have somehow never played Sonic 2, you owe it to yourself. I would recommend it to even the person who hates this series so they can see why this series is so popular. And if you have played this game before, you already know how great it is.

So, as mentioned last time the purpose of this video isn’t to review the game itself, but rather where it sits in the pantheon of Sonic games. Is this a game you want to play, you want to own or you want to skip. But is there a question? I think I’ve been clear. There are some things to criticize with Sonic 2, but dear god. This is a masterpiece. This is easily one of the best games of the generation, and a must-play in this franchise. Get this game, there are many ways to play it, and you will be guaranteed a good time.

Like I said last time, you can skip Sonic the Hedgehog and just start here.

If you want a score for the game though… it’s a 5/5. Yes, I have issues with the game, but I also understand it came out on the Genesis and this is a massive hit of a game. It’s inventive, fun, and this is what people talk about when they say a system seller. Back then you would pick up a Genesis just to play Sonic 2.

So next month we’ll be talking about Sonic Adventure and.. Guys… I am probably going to be a little harsh about that one, so stay tuned.

As a small note, I’m going to try something different with the channel for February. I still want to talk about games, but I’ll be back soon with something a little different than a review, I think you might enjoy. Hit that Subscribe Button and ring that bell to be notified when I release it.

I’ll be popping up my Sonic Mania review and my Sonic the Hedgehog review so you can get caught up on this series if you missed out on them.

Until next time, I’m Kinglink and thank you for watching.