Thomas Whitehead

Back in the late 80s and early 90s we had a ZX Spectrum. Games would take an eternity to load, if they did at all, and were simple, glitchy affairs. It did a job, but my older brother and I wanted more, and our parents decided that they would get us the console of our choice. It was to be the newly released SNES or the more established Sega Mega Drive, and being a young lad of 7 years old it was left to my older brother to make the final call. We opted for a Mega Drive because it had a more established games library, and I was sold on the idea by a promise; “there’s a cool game called Sonic the Hedgehog”.

This was a big event, especially as games and gaming systems were so expensive back then. A new game would cost the same as it does today, and that was back in 1992. So the idea of having our own games console was exciting, to say the least.

It arrived, we plugged it in, and the first cartridge to grace our shiny Mega Drive was Sonic the Hedgehog. It blew me away; the colours, the animations, the jumping, the running. My only experience had been ZX Spectrum games, so this was intoxicating. It was also difficult, and the game pad felt completely alien to me. What’s a D-Pad, where’s the keyboard, what about the joystick?

What excited me about the original Sonic was gaining momentum, accelerating to the point that you had no chance of avoiding sudden danger. But, to my young eyes, and gaming sensibilities that were quickly adjusting to 16 bit experiences, there were problems. Why can’t Sonic run up a hill, why does he take so long to build up speed, why is the last level so impossible? It was still my favourite game, but it could be so much better. Then Sonic the Hedgehog 2 arrived.

Due to the expense, new games were normally reserved for special occasions. With Sonic 2 my parents made an exception, because they had seen how much I’d loved the first game. In our personal timeline, Sonic 2 followed shortly after we got the console, so I was hungry for new experiences. When I fired it up, it seemed like an answer to my prayers. The frustrations of the first Sonic? Gone.

The levels were longer, the graphics brighter, the special stages were spectacular, and there was two player gameplay. What made the difference though, the definitive feature that made this game a forward leap of epic proportions? The ‘Spin Dash Attack’. Hold Down, repeatedly tap A, and Sonic charges up a boost to propel himself forward. Can’t get up a hill? A spin dash was the answer. It was a simple, yet ingenious, addition. It was also the coolest thing ever, and I would happily charge up a dash attack for minutes at a time; the sound effects and graphics for this move were, in a word, awesome.

Completing this game was also an epic undertaking: beating 20 Acts over 11 separate Zones was a big challenge. There was no save option so you had to get yourself comfortable, make sure no-one was going watch the TV and go for it. The levels become increasingly epic: Metropolis Zone was a regular ‘Game Over’ stage for me, and the final boss fight was teeth-grindingly difficult. When I beat the game for the first time, I was glowing for days. Once I came down from the high I thought, “wait a minute, I didn’t get all the Chaos Emeralds”. So I played it again, and again, and again.

Earlier this year I dug out the old Mega Drive, found a spare TV and hooked it up. I looked over the collection of games, surprisingly vast and a testament to my parents’ generosity, and shortlisted Sonic 1, 2 and 3. All classic, all fun today, but I opted for Sonic 2. This isn’t just nostalgia talking, but this game is still a blast to play today. The moments where you run faster than the screen itself, where you stumble over the finishing line with no rings to your name; all present and correct. I got to Metropolis Zone Act 3 and bit the dust.

I couldn’t help it; I came back the following night, my Sonic ‘sensei’ skills more finely tuned. I accumulated lives, got past the dreaded Metropolis Zone and met the final boss. For those who haven’t played it, I won’t spoil it but it's one of the coolest boss fights in gaming (in fact it's so good SEGA resurrected it for Sonic 4: Episode I — Ed). It’s also cruel and difficult. My lives dribbled away, then my continues, until I had one life left. With a slightly fortuitous run of events I beat the final boss. Even as a grown man of 26 years old, I punched the air in delight. I’d beaten the game, and I’d loved every minute of the two and a half hours it had taken me.

But, wait, I didn’t get all the Chaos Emeralds…