One can draw many parallels – and just as many differences – between the Sega CD and one of the most sought-after, most noteworthy games produced for said Genesis add-on, Konami’s 1994 ‘cyberpunk’ adventure, Snatcher. Like its host console’s tenure of some two short years, Snatcher’s duration is short and quite notably incomplete; but where its parent peripheral’s hold was shaky and fated for obscurity, the game’s hold to this day on players’ minds – and wallets – is far more gripping (just check Ebay for proof of that). And like the CD-ROM system’s library, Snatcher is a mixed bag of sights, sounds, ideas, and gameplay experience; but, as cannot be said of the aforementioned library, it’s also nigh-unanimously loved and lauded by those in the know. While many say that Snatcher, with the illusion of freedom granted by total stylistic immersion in a fairly point-and-click world, is easily the system’s best offering and a pivotal development to the industry, others, citing the same PC-game style and interface as redundant and limiting, call it overrated.
Sift long and hard the sands of gaming history, and I assure, no parallel will you find for what one series did for one console and its maker starting in 1991. Having turned up the heat on the competition in his most recent outing, Super Mario missed no strides in his transition to the Super Nintendo – in fact, he nailed it with flying colors, which worried one company into action. They’d seen what happened to their Master System the generation before, and they weren’t about to let it happen again this go-round. The company was Sega – they needed an answer, and needed it bad.
And it came. From deep within their development lair, from the visionary mind of Yuji Naka and his titular hero’s namesake Team, a blur of blue was set to take the world by storm. The world gaming stage was blown away when Sonic the Hedgehog crashed through the speed barrier in his 1991 debut, which quickly become the pack-in title for the Genesis console. Thanks to the unusual choice of species for the main character, kids everywhere learned what a hedgehog was, and for anybody who was anybody, Sonic was the hedgehog to own. As his popularity soared, so did the demand for a new game.
What happened next was an ambitious undertaking – what was to be a quickly-delivered, tour-de-force collaboration of the best minds at Sega of Japan and their American counterpart, did indeed turn out to be one of the best games – if not THE best game – of the following year, and perhaps on the system in general. As the Japanese developers boarded the plane home from the US, the future of Sega had already been secured by a game that would pay dividends across the globe – Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Sonic 2 was arguably the pinnacle of the series. It’s not hyperbole to say, from looks to longevity to sheer fan love, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was, quite simply, supernatural, beyond the means of the supposed second-rate player of the 16-bit era, the Genesis. A game of obvious loving and impeccable craftsmanship, Sonic 2 is a work of lasting appeal that not only stands the test of time but defies it, still baffling the gamer’s mind today with the innovation, the visual wizardry, the pure joy of playing that few others manage to attain even now. Perhaps it simply showed how inadequate the previous efforts on the Genny had been before Sega, masterful beyond compare of their own hardware, pulled together and hit their OWN stride in their time of need.
But Sonic was a far deal more than just an ‘answer’ to Mario.
Dr. Robotnik, whose metal minions each contain a captured animal from Sonic’s world, must be stopped before his aspirations of mechanized megalomania are realized. Whether whizzing through the loop-de-loops in a race against time and the robotic opposition or head-to-head against a friend in Versus Mode, charging through the special stages for the coveted seven Chaos Emeralds that would allow the transformation into the omnipotent Super Sonic, or battling the viciously difficult bosses piloted by the conniving villainous genius himself, Sonic 2 was the essence of virtual excitement. It had it all – gorgeous, colorful graphics that showcased the sprite-pumping, lightning-fast scrolling, head-spinning animation powers of the Genesis like never before, a glowing reprisal of the music-scoring role by the band Dreams Come True, and whiz-bang running-and-platforming action that provided hours of enjoyment long after the ten-odd Zones of the game were beaten. And over these 10 Zones, all manner of design mechanics thrown your way – swirling corkscrews, springboards and spring-loaded launchers where hedgehogs are the ammo, giant, nut-and-bolt elevators and super-sized slot machines, to name a few – seem even more clever by today’s standards.
It’s safe to say that Sonic 2 improved on the first title in nearly every conceivable way. The sound was top-notch for the hardware, with a variety of memorable, thematically-appropriate tunes in, among other synthesized instruments, wailing saxophone, snappy drums and driving rock guitar. The sound effects, as in the first game, also made the most of their native console, making Sonic’s world come alive with dinging pinball bumpers, boinging springs, and whirring spin dashes. As said before, the graphics were a splash of color and a slap in the face to critics of the console’s limited palette, and the gameplay still finds no equal for pure diversity.
Yes, Sonic 2 really did have it all. Gameplay mechanics were, as in the first, not terribly complex. Sonic and Tails could jump, run, do the spin dash, and the all-new super spin dash, whereby upon holding a crouch and rapidly pressing jump, they rev up their engines for a burst of balled-up super-speed. Add in the monitors that, when broken open, would reveal power-ups like the Shield, a ten ring bonus, a1up, or the newly added Super Sneaker (aka ‘Hot Socks’) that ramped up the game to even more insane speeds, and you basically get the full scope of Sonic’s abilities. But the stages featured a number of moving parts that would bounce, launch, lift, slide, or crumble beneath our hero, and that interaction sets the mechanics of Sonic 2 apart.
An added gameplay bonus was to have a second player take up the control of new buddy Miles “Tails” Prower, a two-tailed, flying fox who, although he acted like a dummy character as controlled by the CPU save for some Sonic-saving exceptions (like freeing him from the clutches of the hanging spider-bots in Chemical Plant), could be slightly more helpful with a human brain. Aside from helping to add to (or detract from) the ring count in the Special Stage, where bombs hurtled down the track in devious formations seeking to blow away ten of the heroes’ rings a pop and their chances at the Chaos Emerald, this cooperative two-player mode was kind of limited as it saw Tails becoming an oft-lost fox, flying back into action as the screen wouldn’t follow him past Sonic’s lead. However, the Versus mode provided hours more of entertainment split-screen in three of the single player Zones and the ultra-cool Special Stage.
The only negative in all this – and it often was quite a blow to the game – was the apparently hurried bug testing, as evidenced by some serious glitches such as stalling in mid-air during a stage-end Super Sonic transformation after the zone 5 boss, or falling through the floors in zone 3, or becoming caught in the top of a loop-de-loop in stage 2. But aside from the seemingly random minor bugs, one could pretty much predict when these game-stoppers would occur and thus avoid them. In the end, it was just as much a part of the game as anything else. We got over it.
+ Pros: Sensational design, Sonic 2 is a real treat for the eyes and ears, with addictive gameplay to boot. A true classic and unforgettable game.
- Cons: Bugs! Triggering them is all too easy, and it can disrupt the experience severely. An entire playthrough without suffering a major bug is, however, more likely than not.
Overall: If this came off more as a glorified fan tribute than a real review, then you don’t know the greatness of Sonic 2 – in which case, you have no excuse not to grab Sonic Mega Collection right now. Better still, grab a Genesis and the game right now. There’s no way to be entirely objective about such a defining game of the old school generation, but with that said, Sonic 2 was still Sega’s brief, beautiful shining moment, one they have never managed to replicate on subsequent hardware, and will forever remain one of gaming’s finest treasures.
Written by Katie Montminy.
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