(Game Gear)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Game Gear)

Game Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Morgan Sleeper

Saving your Tails

A year after the runaway success of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, SEGA followed up with a sequel that introduced Miles 'Tails' Prower and the iconic Casino Night Zone to the gaming world. This, however, is not that sequel. Rather than leaving its Master System and Game Gear-owning fans with a simple, downsized port of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, SEGA crafted a wholly unique title for the 8-bit systems, with a new plot, original level set, and quite a few gameplay differences. While it doesn't quite live up to either its big-screen sibling or its excellent portable predecessor, it's still a worthwhile link in the Sonic series, and a fun - if sometimes frustrating - game.

The first change players familiar with the console version of Sonic 2 will notice is that there's no spunky sidekick to run alongside you this time. That's because Tails - despite his prominent placement right behind Sonic in every pre-level illustration - has been kidnapped by Eggman, and it's up to you to save him. You'll do that by running and jumping through seven stages of two acts apiece, picking up rings, taking out baddies, looking for Chaos Emeralds, and besting bosses at the end of every world. It's the standard Sonic formula, and it's undeniably fun, but the difference between good and great in Sonic's world is largely down to level design, and that's where this one stumbles.

First, the good news, because there's a lot to love about these levels. There are tons of secrets - more so than in most Sonic games - with hidden rooms full of rings and power-ups, unmarked shortcuts, and invisible paths to discover. There are also quite a few inspired set pieces that keep things fresh: Sonic will ride mine carts, fly hang gliders, navigate pipe mazes, float inside air bubbles, and skip across the water on his journey to Eggman, and each addition makes the trip that much more fun.

Unfortunately, this game is also an early example of death-trap-heavy Sonic design - blind jumps that lead right into lava pits, a hang glider positioned playfully above an unseen, spike-filled ravine, springs that launch you directly into enemy fire - and it feels cheap, rather than challenging. Sonic games are at their best when the levels play to his abilities, but here it seems like they're working against him as often as not. Many require quite a bit of trial and error - can Sonic make that jump, or will there be spikes? Will this tube bring rings or death? - and that feels at odds with the secret-filled stages of this game, which otherwise encourage exploration.

Even if you're not after any secret ring stashes, you'll still need to do some treasure hunting, since the Chaos Emeralds are hidden within the levels. Most of them are quite tricky to find, which would be a nice bit of added challenge, except for the fact that Sonic needs to grab every last one before he's even allowed to attempt the final zone. It's entirely possible to reach the end of the sixth zone without seeing a single gem, and the resulting disappointment of watching the aptly-named "bad ending" and having to start all over to get to Eggman is the kind of traumatizing experience that taught children of the '90s to always read the manual first.

Along with the Chaos Emerald requirement, there are a few other gameplay changes from Sonic's first Game Gear appearance. There aren't any Special Stages, for one, which is disappointing as they're often a highlight. A happier change is that you can pick up rings you've dropped this time around, but you still won't be able to use any in boss battles; Sonic can only take one hit in his Act 3 encounters, and that makes them incredibly tense. The bosses themselves - all based on robotic versions of animals - are fantastic, from a sumo-stomping pig to a mechanical seal that bounces Sonic around on his nose like a beach ball.

The Mega Drive version of Sonic's second adventure introduced his signature Spin Dash, but that's not an option in the Game Gear game. Instead, Sonic's still getting plenty of mileage out of its manual equivalent: running and curling up into a spiky sphere. It takes a bit more skill to use effectively, but it's a lot of fun to pull off, and uncovering secret rooms and pathways often involves clever uses of the technique. Luckily, Sonic controls very well on the 3DS - though the hang glider takes some getting used to - and the Circle Pad is a superb stand-in for the Game Gear's eight-way D-Pad, though the new handhelds equivalent is also a fine option.

SEGA's done an excellent job with the Virtual Console conversion as always, bringing Sonic up to speed with customizable controls, tons of display options, and restore points, which are especially helpful here. Restore points can be used to soften the constant threat of cheap deaths if you so choose, of course, but they'll also let you easily retry Act 2 of each zone until you find the all-important Chaos Emeralds, and that makes a big difference.

Visually, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a treat. Sonic's sprite is charming and well-animated, the backgrounds are clean and colourful, and - occasional bout of slowdown aside - it all looks great in motion. The level themes are fantastic as well: Sky High Zone's second-act thunderstorm is wonderfully atmospheric, and Eggman's hideout in Crystal Egg Zone is especially cool decked out in glistening glass, baby blues and coral pink - a very welcome departure from the metallic doom and gloom of most final Sonic levels.

Sonic is a series renowned for its music, and his second portable outing carries on the tradition with 8-bit gusto. The earlier songs are catchy enough, but the second half showcases some incredible tunes well worth plugging in headphones for, like Green Hills Zone's chiptune anthem - later reworked into the title theme for Sonic CD ("Toot Toot Sonic Warrior!") - and the ornate, infectiously upbeat Crystal Egg Zone track that matches the stage perfectly.

Conclusion

The personality that made the hedgehog a hit is present in spades in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, with fun gameplay ideas, beautiful graphics, a memorable soundtrack, and glimpses of speed-platforming delight. Unfortunately, the experience is somewhat marred by sporadically sadistic level design that bends over backwards to put the breaks on Sonic's joyride. There's still lots of fun between the death jingles, and its unique zones definitely make it worth playing for series fans, but if there's no nostalgia tying you to this particular cartridge, we recommend checking out the original Game Gear Sonic the Hedgehog before dashing into this one.

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User Comments (34)

EarthboundBenjy

#1

EarthboundBenjy said:

Really disliked this one when I played it in Gems Collection, and in Adventure DX. Downloaded the SMS version from the Wii VC, and I still hate it. I might get this version as well so I can hate it for a fourth time.

Ristar42

#2

Ristar42 said:

My first reaction to this game (way back when I first bought it for my Game Gear) was slight disappointment.
Whereas the original Sonic had a unique look on the Game Gear, with a new Sonic sprite, extra detail in the background and slight level alterations to accommodate the smaller screen, it seemed with Sonic 2 SEGA just 'zoomed in' the Master System version.

Which might not be so bad, the Master System game is great, but it was ‘zoomed in’ too close, making aspects such as the first boss encounter needlessly frustrating...
A fun game, but the first Sonic was just a better example of how to port a Master System game to the Game Gear.

iPruch

#3

iPruch said:

Well, I think this game is very underrated out there. The only negative aspect I can think of is the easiness of getting lives. But I love this game as much as the first one of MS/GG. I've always been a Sonic fan (I grew up playing Sonic games, and they were the first I ever played) and I think these two 8 bit Sonic versions are better than, at least, the first 16 bit Sonic. What makes me the most sad about 8 bit versions is that most people think that are mere ports when in reality they are two totally different and new games full of Sonic essence and magic.

SyntheticPerson

#4

SyntheticPerson said:

I loved this one so much. It can be quite brutal, but not anywhere near the likes of Ghouls 'n' Ghosts. Yeah, there are a lot of cheap traps but (as iPruch mentions) they kinda throw extra lives at you so you can afford to use trial and error.

I also love that there are no special stages. I hate the special stages in all the sonic games, bar Generations 3DS where it is largely inoffensive.

RevolverLink

#5

RevolverLink said:

I had a couple of friends that both had Game Gears, but I think this is the only game either of them had for it. I remember being quite impressed with Sonic 2's colorful visuals on GG's backlit screen, especially when compared to what the Game Boy had to offer on that front at the time.

manu0

#7

manu0 said:

"Sonic can only take one hit in his Act 3 encounters"

I think you mean he can't take any hits... ;)

Reala

#8

Reala said:

Still my fav 8 bit platform game of all time, mostly played it on the master system rather than gamegear though

Knuckles

#9

Knuckles said:

While there might be an awful lot of blind jumps, I say its better than Sonic 1 GG.

TeeJay

#10

TeeJay said:

This is the game I grew up with in the Game Gear, I'm sure. Inrecognize that brown hill background...

UnseatingKDawg

#11

UnseatingKDawg said:

I love this game. And personally, I think it's much, MUCH better than its 16-bit cousin and the 8-bit Sonic 1.

Trikeboy

#12

Trikeboy said:

The GG version of this game is infuriating. Because it is so zoomed in, the hardest boss in the game is actually the first boss thanks to bouncing balls that can come out of nowhere. I won't be picking this one up. The first GG Sonic is better anyway.

zipmonStaff

#13

zipmon said:

@iPruch What makes me the most sad about 8 bit versions is that most people think that are mere ports when in reality they are two totally different and new games full of Sonic essence and magic.

Exactly! I love that about these games. As a kid who grew up with a Game Gear but no home consoles, I really appreciated having these new & different experiences instead of second-rate ports! The 8-bits are still some of my favourite Sonics, especially for the music :)

@FFL2and3rocks Hardest boss in the game, IMO! It's a lot easier on the Master System version with the wider screen, but on the GG that little ant-lion is killer.

@manu0 Ha! You're totally right. Semantic slip!

RaylaxStaff

#14

Raylax said:

I love this one. Dat music~
The Game Gear version is particularly tricky thanks to the squashed aspect ratio: the first boss is a nightmare. The Master System version gives you more horizontal room to play with and is consequently much easier. Same goes for a lot of the leaps of faith: you can see where you're headed in the MS version.

That first boss is a really weird moment - first Robotnik saves his mortal foe from certain death, and then flies in and kills the boss robot himself after it's taken a few hits. The heck?

iPruch

#16

iPruch said:

@zipmon Yes! That music... Bridge or Jungle zones music's been in my mind since I played the first game and never became repetitive :)

@rastamadeus Yes. It's about preferences. Do you prefer the original MD? Well, good for you, but that does not give you any right to insult me. Make yourself a favour and think twice before posting.

rastamadeus

#17

rastamadeus said:

@iPruch Fine, lets put it another way: in what ways are they better to you? Is it the lack of challenge? Poor level design? Use of gimmicks to keep interest? Ridiculous death pits appearing out of nowhere? Boring boss stages (in the first one)?
Please stop with the insults toward other users — TBD

Bulbousaur

#18

Bulbousaur said:

I still stand by my hatred for this game, it is simply too cheap and difficult compared to the first to be enjoyable for me. I love Sonic 1 8-bit, maybe my favourite Sonic game, but Sonic 2 in my top 10 most hated games.

ricklongo

#19

ricklongo said:

I have a lot of good memories from the Master System version of this game. I remember getting the bad ending there was the very first time I was bitten by the "collecting bug" - I just HAD to try again, find every single emerald and save Tails.

bugaham

#21

bugaham said:

Is this game better than Sonic Triple Trouble? I'm not sure which to get.

santaglause

#23

santaglause said:

one of my all time fav sonic games! dont think many newcomers would like it much, hope they do

SparkOfSpirit

#24

SparkOfSpirit said:

The Master System version is way better. The cramped screen leads to way too many deaths in this version.

This is easily my least favorite of the 4 classic Sonic style 8-bit platformers.

MeWario

#25

MeWario said:

Man loved this game as a kid. Was my favourite Sonic game but I never managed to beat it.

kurtasbestos

#26

kurtasbestos said:

The third screenshot shows why I hated this game. I died a million billion times against that stupid ant lion boss thing as a kid... and many years later when I was all growed up and way more betterer at games (and the English language, apparently), I decided to give it another try... and died a million billion times at that stupid boss. But man... I REALLY wanted to play this game, and the very little of it I did see was apparently enough to make me want to keep trying. Stupid ant lion boss thing.

RaylaxStaff

#29

Raylax said:

players familiar with the console version of Sonic 2 will notice is that there's no spunky sidekick to run alongside you this time. That's because Tails - despite his prominent placement right behind Sonic in every pre-level illustration - has been kidnapped by Eggman

Fun fact - the sprite data found for Tails in the game would suggest that at one point he was intended to be playable, as in the Mega Drive/Genesis version. He was probably edited out as deadlines loomed.

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