Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis is one of the more annoying iconic video games, as I argued in this review. Positive childhood memories fade when you encounter design flaw after design flaw. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, on the other hand, is much closer to what I remember many years ago: a fast and fun experience. It kind of shits the bed at the end, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 remains a very playable game and is vastly superior to its predecessor.
Not much to talk about here. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 might look a little better than Sonic the Hedgehog, which looks pretty good for an old game.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the original 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog is its music. As the game tortures me with idiotic stage design, the music makes everything seem more fun than what it actually is — a trick played by other “classic” games like Star Fox. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 maintains this high standard with the music and offers more tracks, thus surpassing the original.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 addresses almost every major complaint I have with the original 16-bit game (see complaint list under Gameplay). After Green Hill Zone, the first game goes out of its way to slow you down. In contrast, the majority of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 goes out of its way to speed you up. Gone (for the most part) are the enemies that come out of nowhere to crush your momentum. Even the underwater stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 go by relatively quickly. Some of the last few stages shit all over this dedication to speed (especially the absolutely awkward Sky Chase Zone), but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has some great stage design that gets to the heart of Sonic: nonstop movement.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 also tones down the spikes and fixes the problem in the original where you had no chance to recover after falling onto a row of spikes (even if you had a shield and/or rings). Sonic the Hedgehog 2 still doesn’t allow your rings to carry over into the next stage, but the improvements in stage design and control make up for this slightly annoying rule. I just feel more comfortable controlling Sonic in this sequel, even though he’s even faster than he was originally (the spin dash is an essential addition).
Even the boss battles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 have improved. They’re still quite simple, but I had a greater sense of accomplishment defeating Robotnik in this game than I did in the original. Another good tweak in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is that most zones only have two stages, which means the game switches scenery almost constantly. I must specifically mention Casino Night Zone, a colorful haven of gaming bliss that emphasizes interaction with the environment. This zone is the greatest thing that Sonic has given the gaming world. (Casino Night Zone also laid the foundation for Sonic Spinball, which I will be reviewing soon.)
Oh yeah, I almost completely forgot about Tails, whom I’ve never really cared about. Seeing and hearing him die can be entertaining, and he can help you rack up hits on Robotnik, but the little bastard can also set off enemies that you would like to avoid.
The levels in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 are bigger than those in Sonic the Hedgehog, so people who like to explore have plenty of reasons to come back. There’s also the allure of unlocking Super Sonic. Most importantly, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is fun for the majority of its run. This alone makes it more replayable than the original.
Don’t get the wrong idea from this review; I’m not a Sonic fan when you get down to it. But even I can see that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 stomps its tedious predecessor and sets a high standard for this type of game. Unlike many childhood games, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 can still create good memories.
Editor’s Note: This review is the second part of a series. Stay tuned for a review of Sonic Spinball at Fate of the Game.