Video games used to scare me.
Seriously, when I was three or four, seeing those pixels running along the screen used to send me running from the room. To be fair, so did thunderstorms and Scar from the Lion King. Eventually though, I began to realise that the pixels I was seeing on the screen weren't scary at all. Sonic 2 was the game that converted me. Any kid would eventually realise that all the bright colours and sneaker wearing hedgehogs weren't anything to be afraid of. I watched others playing the game and eventually summoned up the courage to do so myself. In the twenty years that have followed, I've played tons of games but Sonic 2 is always the one that sticks out as both the first and one of the favourites. Here's some reasons why.
The original Sonic laid the foundations for the series, bringing a fast paced platformer designed to knock Uncle Mario off his perch. The sequel, released only a year later, managed to build on the initial ideas of running through bright levels with mean robot machines by upping the speed. Sonic ran faster, jumped higher and looked sharper. The introduction of the spin dash meant Sonic could curl into a ball and blast away like a rocket from the off.
Sonic 2 also introduced a sidekick named Tails, a fox with two tails. Tails could use these to fly like a helicopter (though it wasn't until the next game that the player could actually do this themselves). It meant that the adventure could be undertaken by more than one player, or that the characters could be pitted against each other in multiplayer. The multiplayer option decided victory not just on who could finish the stage fastest, but on points like the most number of enemies destroyed, rings collected and more.
Speaking of levels, this was another area the sequel improved on. Sonic 1 had six zones, plus a final boss zone, whereas the second game had ten with another seperate boss zone. These levels were significantly larger than in the previous adventure, and more speed focused than the original (Labryinth Zone still brings back bad memories). There was more variety in these stages as well, with creativity shown in fast paced Emerald Hill Zone or the tricky Wing Fortress Zone.
Other series staples like Super Sonic, achieved after collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, and Metal Sonic made their debut here as well.
While time has dimmed the visuals slightly, I still feel that Sonic 2 creates a wonderfully colourful world for the Mega Drive. Many games attempted impressive looking games at the time but Sonic 2 looked to create a ton of diverse levels that all looked impressive. Certainly the opening level is definitely an iconic one for me, with it's ocean view, green fields and checkerboard loops, but it's not alone. Casino Night Zone has it's slot machines and neon lights, the Chemical Plant is a grey factory, until it's deadly toxic waters turn the screen pink. There's a wide colour pallet that's more usually associated with Nintendo in Sonic 2.
Enemies look unique as well, with care taken in the design of the robots, as well as in the different Dr Robotnik bosses, from his drill car right up to the Death Egg Robot, most recently recreated in Sonic Generations.
Yeah it doesn't look quite as sharp as it did 20 years ago, but I still think it's smooth enough to impress even today.
While it may not have been an element I considered much in my youth, the game contains some great music. The Emerald Hill zone music is a great opening piece (though the Green Hill Zone theme is probably more iconic). The Casino Night theme is jazzy, whilst the Metropolis Zone conveys a bustling factory. There's a great contrast between the music for Sky Sanctuary, which is quite slow paced like the level, and the Wing Fortress, which is far more dramatic and conveys the feeling of heading to the final act of the game. Certainly as time has gone on, I've appreciated just how well the music fits the action on screen.
It's twenty years on since I sat down with Sonic 2 and just as I've grown, so has the series. It had a very awkward teenage phase and nearly went off the rails altogether, but seems to have come good in recent years. Although I'm not the Sonic fan I once was, I still find myself returning to Sonic 2, which I also have the ports of on both the Gamecube and the 360. Even now, with all the amazing technical marvels we can play today, I still find time to blast through this gem. As soon as I hear SEEEEEEEEGA and the twinkling on the title screen, I'm five years old again.