It didn’t take SEGA long to realise they had a golden-mine sitting on their laps, one that easily rivalled (and in my personal opinion, outshined) Nintendo’s mascot Mario. Sonic the Hedgehog was a huge success because it brought something new to the table. All that remained to be seen was whether or not SEGA would pursue further, and if so, how they could possibly top themselves.
I can honestly say that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is easily one of the BEST sequels out there. Why? Because it effortlessly captures what made the original game fun to play whilst throwing in greater elements in order to be an all-round better experience. Plus, this time round Sonic wasn’t alone. We were introduced to his trusty, loyal sidekick (and best friend) Miles “Tails” Prower (or simply known as Tails), a fox born with two tails, thus granting him the ability to fly.
This was the unique element about Tails in which SEGA didn’t just create a carbon-copy of Sonic, and instead explored the world they had created and the types of characters they could develop. Tails quickly becomes a likable character because of his innocence, his bravery, and his pure dedication to following Sonic wherever he goes (better explored in future games and spin-off material, such as the cartoons and Archie comics [before they were cruelly brought to an end – fuck you Ken Penders!!]).
In many ways Tail’s addition added more dynamic to the gameplay and allowed the narrative to expand, setting up the slow process of introducing a huge roster of characters that will one day become gaming icons (though Big the Cat was definitely not necessary). And, let’s not forget the fact that not only can you play as Tails but you can also have Tails accompany you when playing as Sonic, which adds wonders to certain sections when a second player can jump on-board and help you out through Tail’s ability to pick Sonic up and fly him across the stage (at least until Tails runs out of juice and conks out like a broken engine.)
Of course, things aren’t too different from the original game, which is good because it shows that SEGA weren’t willing to fix something that wasn’t broken, and instead built upon it. One of the best new features was the ability to freely spin-dash, to which in the original game you had to build up momentum (and in all fairness could become a pain in the arse at times). Now you’re able to freely whiz through the levels and really declare yourself as “the world’s fastest hedgehog”.
In terms of your goal, well, they’re precisely the same. Dr. Ivo Robotnik has returned and this time he’s back with a vengeance, trying once more to turn every innocent little critter into one of his dreaded Badniks, as well as steal the Chaos Emeralds, this time to power his destructive space-fortress The Death Egg. The stakes have never been higher and to accommodate this SEGA increased the ante in order to give the player a larger, and bolder, adventure.
Like I mentioned in my Sonic the Hedgehog review, the SEGA Megadrive era of the franchise did really well at conveying an epic journey without the need of cut-scenes and onscreen dialogue. It’s all in the imagery and the level structure, showing the journey through your own ordeal of getting Sonic to the end of each stage, pushed further by the fact that each new area leads to greater danger and more difficult obstacles to overcome.
As much as I liked the diversity in the level design from the original game I can’t help but be even more overly impressed by SEGA’s efforts within the sequel as they really pushed themselves to give us a radical shift in structures, colourisation, and more unique platforming challenges, making the overall experience that bit more impressive.
Things start off rather easy with “Emerald Hill Zone” with a nice gentle fast-beat jog through a tropical beach, resembling the neatly crafted introduction of the original game. Honestly, it almost feels better than “Green Hill Zone” for its bright colours and easy to grasp gameplay which quickly settles you into the experience and makes you want to continue Sonic’s epic quest. Not to mention that Dr. Robotnik’s first encounter isn’t as pathetic. Okay, the boss itself is still pathetic in terms of how easy it is, but he feels a little bit more threatening driving towards you with a massive drill, as opposed to him swinging a massive boulder at you.
There’s also been some nice tweaks to the “Special Stages”, to which you now access them through the Star Posts upon collecting 50 rings. After jumping into the portal displayed above the Star Posts you’re transported to a new kind of “Special Stage” in which you’re required to collect rings in order to obtain the Chaos Emerald. This is done in a rather unique way as for the first time you play as Sonic within a more 3D environment (as opposed to the usual 2D side-scrolling), with the camera placed behind Sonic as you move him side to side down a ramped pathway.
Collect the required amount of rings within the allotted space and you progress to the next section of the obstacle course until you finally reach the end. But you’re journey will be obstructed by carefully placed bombs which will make you lose your rings (and possibly your chances at collecting the Chaos Emerald). Like with the original game each “Special Stage” gets harder and harder to obtain the Chaos Emerald, meaning you have to be extremely careful with your movements and jumps in order to both collect rings and manoeuvre around the dreaded explosives.
Unlike with Sonic the Hedgehog the advancing to the second stage is more appealing and fun. “Chemical Plant Zone” shows a nice progression within Sonic and Tail’s journey, venturing into a toxic factory where biological substances and machinery run amuck. It’s a nice little curveball in order to make the player more alert as to what is to come, showing them that even the second stage will get tougher, and the environment cleverly shows this.
Sure, “Marble Zone” had lava and an abundance of tricky spike hurdles to overcome but it felt really flat in its design, as well as being dull in its atmosphere. Here, you’re entering an environment that you wouldn’t expect to see until much later on within the game, thus adding in a more fun and divisive level structure. Gone are the gentle settings of a beach filled with palm-trees where you can ease your way through the stage. Now you’ve entered the ACTUAL game and things are about to get real!
Things become a little bit toned back for “Ancient Ruin Zone” through its more recognisable structure but it throws quite a few dangerous hurdles your way through unexpected placements of Badniks and the added dread of falling to the under city and ending up underwater. But what I like about this level is its fast pace, meaning you can just fly through the level and simply enjoy yourself. Also, it’s great to see the tighter additions to the physics from within “Labyrinth Zone”, meaning you’re not too bothered enduring the underwater sections (with the added bonus of knowing you’re never too far away from the surface).
The game takes a interesting turn within “Casino Night Zone” and you’re faced with a stage that is there to completely distract you. I’m serious! Try doing this level as fast as possible because I guarantee if you can then you’re quite sad. Surely nobody wants to do this stage in a hurry due to the obsessive impulse to gamble. That’s right folks, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has a stage specifically to encourage you to gamble all your rings away on slot-machines. They’re positioned all over the place in order to give you several opportunities to collect rings, extra lives, and even extra points (which if you get enough you’ll end up with another extra life).
To this day I can’t stop the urge to spend minutes after minutes trying to earn the Jackpot and watch in excitement as I’m handed hundreds of rings (like a gambler who has serious issues), before ultimately trying my luck again (which usually results in me losing them all after getting the Robotnik icon [which is a real kick to the bollocks, as if reality just doesn’t want you to have fun]). Honestly, this is as close as you’re going to get to having a free Las Vegas simulator (basically kids, don’t gamble, because you’ll probably lose all your fucking money!)
Things become rather laid back when it comes to “Hill Top Zone” as we have ourselves another “Green Hill Zone” inspired stage. It’s a rather odd stage because it feels rather like a filler level. That, and well, it just feels out of place. The levels have clearly been progressing but then this level jumps out of nowhere (with its oddly composed music [which, despite it’s strange melody, is still really catchy]) and you’re sat there like, “Okaaay…” But it’s really enjoyable and I guess just allows you to enjoy yourself. It’s rather straight-forward and has some fun sections to get through (particularly the underground areas).
Although it is rather odd that this stage has clear sections that can’t be completed without you smashing the “Invisible” Video Monitor. Seriously, if you don’t have “Invisible” activated then you’re fucked, doomed to watch Sonic and Tails die as the caves fill-up with lava. Thinking about it, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 does seem to have a theme running throughout, in which the level designs switch between natural settings to manufactured settings, which I suppose adds to Sonic’s desperation to preserve the islands natural beauty before Dr. Robotnik turns it into a wasteland of machinery, filled to the brim with his mindless robotic minions.
“Mystic Cave Zone” can certainly be a tricky bastard as it constantly throws shit your way in order to make your journey that bit more FUN! I personally really like this stage but I can understand quite clearly if you absolutely hate the fucking thing. I mean, it is quite unforgiving in how relentless the obstacles are throughout. They’re literally all over the place, ready to leap out at you at any given second in order to bring your journey to a complete stop (and in some cases, a complete end).
With spike pits that you can’t escape from, to Badniks that strike from the walls, to annoying switch-activated platforming, “Mystic Cave Zone” is certainly one nasty beast to overcome. But despite all that, it remains rather colourful in its design and structure (as well as being the last FUN stage within the game).
Honestly, once I reach “Oil Ocean Zone” my enthusiasm for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 goes right out the fucking window. Seriously, it’s literally like hitting the point of no-return as you get bombarded with one shit train after another, constantly battling against the most tedious enemy placements and bastard-annoying platforming sections, which usually accommodate the bombardment of unexpected enemies who leap out at you and take all your rings that you went to all the effort to collect.
Not to mention that the music to this zone is incredibly bleak, adding to the depressing tone of travelling through an oil rig where the sea has become oil (a ruining theme from “Chemical Plant Zone” where the water was reduced to biological material). This level can go fuck itself for all I care. And then things only go downhill from here…
“Metropolis Zone” seems harmless enough at first, catching your attention with its funky music, but you quickly realise that this entire stage is an endurance test. Now, it’s not overly difficult, making for a far more gentle mechanical stage compared to the likes of “Scrap Brain Zone”, but it’s the length that quickly becomes the issue. Seriously, what the fuck where SEGA thinking? This entire stage is just padding for the sake of padding, making your journey feel torturous as the ending never seems in sight and you’re forced to go and on through the maze-like factory, confronted with endless fuck-you! Badniks that are there LITERALLY to fuck with you at every turn.
The weird thing is, every other level by this point had been cut down to a more reasonable 2 Act structure, but “Metropolis Zone” felt the need to add another Act in there just for the Hell of it, making what is already considered a never ending experience of torment, into a stage that you just want to give-up on because you just can’t be arsed with Sonic the Hedgehog 2‘s bullshit anymore.
I know I might’ve said at the beginning of this review that “Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is easily one of the BEST sequels out there”, which is still true, and the ending of this game really culminates Sonic’s epic journey perfectly by upping the ante and pushing him to the brink of his sanity to prevent Dr. Robotnik from activating the Death Egg. But, I HATE the fact that it becomes so tedious, so unnecessarily difficult, and (quite frankly) too fucking unforgiving, to the point where I can’t actually COMPLETE the game.
“Sky Chase Zone” is without a doubt the most unique stage within the game for being incredibly different. We have ourselves a short (but sweet) journey through the skies as you hop onto Tail’s plane (The Tornado) and follow Dr. Robotnik as he attempts to flee aboard his Flying Fortress. There’s not much to this level. You simply steer The Tornado (whilst also controlling Sonic) as you guide your way through the waves of Badniks trying to prevent you from reaching Dr. Robotnik.
After the torment of “Metropolis Zone” it was nice to receive such a gentle experience (accompanied with a pleasant composing). But I guess this was needed because the final stretch was underway and things were about to get INCREDIBLY serious.
“Wing Fortress Zone” is the penultimate stage of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (when will this fucking game end?) as you battle your way through The Flying Fortress to reach Dr. Robotnik in order to stop him once and for all. However, Tails is separated from you after The Tornado is shot down, leaving Sonic (for the first time in the game [unless you personally selected Sonic to be the only playable character from the menu]) on his own, which makes things that bit more DIFFICULT.
This stage really does test your patience as you’re confronted with some really fiddly platforming which can easily get you killed, resulting in a game of repetition as you repeat the same moments over and over again until you finally prevail. I know it’s the penultimate level but come on! No need to give me an anxiety attack due to the amount of pressure I’m under, not to mention the dread of constantly fearing I’m going to fall if I don’t time my jumps properly.
And then we come the conclusion were Dr. Robotnik throws everything at you to give you the MOST PAINFUL EXPERIENCE EVER!! Seriously, FUCK the ending of this game!! First you have to endure a boss battle which revolves around relying on shitty placed platforms (with spikes underneath them just to make it that bit harder) in order to destroy Dr. Robotnik’s security system. Then the fat bastard tries to do another runner, escaping into space to board The Death Egg where you face the final stage (“Death Egg Zone”).
To this day I have not been able to complete this level because of how impossible it feels. First you have to confront Mecha Sonic (an advanced robotic replica of Sonic that can move just as fast, as well as spin-dash), to which can be incredibly tedious (particularly in remembering its patterns and making sure you hit it in the right spot otherwise you DIE).
Then you finally confront Dr. Robotnik, to which he enters a massive robot replica of himself (The Death Egg Robot) and thus I’m flipped the middle finger. You’re expected to hit this mother-fucking monstrosity 12 fucking times, to which I’m lucky to hit it once before dying. This final boss is riddled with painfully structured attacks which give you little, to no, time to respond, resulting in instant death. Did I mention you had to do all this without any fucking rings? Yeah. You’re expected to complete this tedious (and near impossible) task without any safe-guards.
Fuck you SEGA! I know I had no rings for the “Final Zone” but that final confrontation wasn’t overly difficult and was COMPLETELY possible to complete without rings. Here, you NEED rings in order to have a fair chance at completing the stage because the hit ratio is FAR TOO PRECISE, meaning you die from just attempting to hit the fucking thing. Totally unfair, resulting in one of the MOST BROKEN FINAL BOSSES OF ALL TIMES!!
It’s a shame that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 concludes this way because prior to all the bullshit that accompanies the game after “Oil Ocean Zone” it’s a really fun experience, and a GREAT sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog. But, sadly, the constant reminder that I can’t complete the game (whether because I’m an average gamer, or lack the patience, or because the final boss is LITERALLY broken) is enough to turn me off playing this sequel because it becomes pointless for me to continue.
At the very least I can enjoy the 2-player content which is just there to have FUN. Race through four stages (“Emerald Hill Zone”, “Casino Night Zone”, “Mystic Cave Zone”, “The Special Stage”) to see who wins. Though the fun factor comes with the different criteria’s in which you can complete in order to declare yourself the winner other than just finishing the stage first. Plus, it’s always fun competing within “The Special Stage” as it’s brokenly designed that only one player can be in front at one time, meaning you’re constantly fighting for leadership of the stage in order to collect rings. Then there’s the gamble of breaking open the Video Monitors and risking having your positions reversed.
Also, the music helps to redeem Sonic the Hedgehog 2‘s utter bullshit because it’s even better than the original game‘s composing. THE END!