Original Release: 1992, Platform: Sega Genesis, Developer/Publisher: Sega, Image Source: GameFaqs
Back in the early 90s the game I wanted to play more than anything in the world was Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis. Sadly, it was one of those titles I never really got around to. I had the occasional opportunity to play it at friend’s houses and on store displays. At home, however, the only major game console I had until 1996 was an NES. The closest I could get, in turn, was playing Sonic 2 on the Game Gear which, while not a bad experience on its own, just wasn’t the same thing.
I wouldn’t get a chance to properly play it in full until 2010 when I stumbled upon a copy of Sega Genesis Collection for the PSP in a GameStop bargain bin. The urgency to play Sonic 2 had long since faded away by then, but I still had some latent curiosity about the game that got away. I bought the collection and popped it into my PSP that afternoon to finally find out what all the fuss was about.
It was, honestly, a bit of a disappointment. I’m not saying I thought it was a bad game. In fact, I’d definitely chalk up a large part of my dissatisfaction to the fact that I’d built the game up in my mind so much when I was younger. Logically, I knew that it wasn’t going be the be-all end-all when I brought it home. My inner child though? Logic has never been one of his strong suits.
In other words, nostalgia got the best of me (again) and I wound up expecting more from Sonic 2 than it could ever have realistically delivered. That said, in the years since, I’ve often wondered how the game would fare if I were to give it another go with all those years of hype removed from the equation. Feeling like it was time to play the game again, I recently tossed a Genesis copy into my Retron 5 and took it for a fresh spin.
My final impressions were somewhat mixed. To be sure, I perhaps didn’t give Sonic 2 enough credit back when I first played it on the PSP. The game is filled with solid platforming and sidescrolling action that takes place in a variety of diverse levels filled with challenging obstacles and secrets. I’ll also go on record as saying that Sonic’s trademark shtick of running really, really fast is probably one of my favorites out of all of the platformers I’ve ever played. There’s simply nothing better than those stretches where you’re moving at top speed and the level is whizzing past. I could do that all day without complaining.
The problem is that you don’t. While Sonic’s fame is built almost entirely on his speed, Sonic 2 is rarely just about running. For every minute you spend dashing across the screen, there’s five more where you’ll find yourself trying to make it past obstacles designed specifically to slow you down. To be fair, many of these obstacles are well designed and often require genuine skill to overcome. Others, however, seem like they were made simply to frustrate. Several levels have prominent water traps that are absolute misery to get out of, while a later casino-themed zone is filled with so many flippers and springboards that a single misstep is all it takes to send you careening haphazardly around the level. Simply put, while most of the levels are a joy to play through, there are prominent sections that bring both your momentum and the fun to a grinding halt.
These frustrating sections are only made worse by controls that I found to be surprisingly inadequate. For the most part, the basic movement controls are fine. They aren’t as tight as something like the original Ninja Gaiden (one of my personal favorites), but there’s also some logic to the way Sonic movies. Sonic might be “the fastest thing alive” but he can’t start or stop on a dime. He needs time to build up momentum before he can move at top speed. Stopping similarly requires a second to put on the brakes. Learning to deal with this wasn’t really much of an issue for me. It just took a minute or two of practice.
Sonic’s jumping meanwhile, was harder to acclimate to. I never really felt like I had adequate control of Sonic once he was in mid-air. He just feels too sluggish and inaccurate for some of the precision platforming the game occasionally required. There were times, for instance, where I’d fail to do something as simple as jumping onto a platform directly above me because it started to change position and I couldn’t make the slight shift in trajectory needed to make the landing. And while that might not sound like a big deal, it certainly felt like one when missing meant falling into a pool of water that will drown you if you can’t get jump your way out of it fast enough.
There were a few other things I took issue with. The visuals, while colorful and attractive, could sometimes be a bit too busy. The developers seemed to have an especial love of parallax scrolling which, impressive as it was for that era, was quite distracting for me at times. I also have to say that I was less than impressed with the game’s collectibles: the Chaos Emeralds. I appreciated, of course, that the game put a collectible in there for players interested in going the extra mile to explore each zone. Unfortunately, the mini-game for acquiring them is the definition of tedium and repetition. There are only so many times that I can run down the same faux 3D track collecting power rings.
If any of this sounds like I’m being hard on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, you can rest assured that I still do think it’s a good game. That said, I’d definitely lump it together with those titles that you really had to play back in its native time period to fully enjoy. When I was kid, it looked like the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. As an adult though, I was constantly struck by how much it made me wish I was playing other platformers that, in my opinion, have held up better. That’s obviously not a condemnation of the game, but it’s also not a ringing endorsement either.
Next week I’m going to spend a bit of time discussing some of the side products that led to my early 90s obsession with Sonic.