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Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis) artwork

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis) review

"Level design."

Riding off the momentum of Sonic the Hedgehog, a big hit that cemented the speedy mammal as the company's mascot, Sega followed it with a sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, a game that's more ambitious in scope. Featuring a bevy of Zones, colorful, unique landscapes with slick technological designs and abstract shapes, a more flexible hedgehog, and a side kick that tags along, Sonic 2's loaded with content. People ate it up, too, since the game sold like crazy, easily becoming one of the best-selling titles for the Sega Genesis, reaffirming its status as a legitimate threat to its rival, the Super Nintendo. To this day, many players adore the game and perceive it as the greatest Sonic title for the system, or the best Sonic title period, recommending it as a must play for those interested in purchasing Genesis games.

While I wasn't able to play Sonic 2 at its launch due to lack of availability in my area, I was happy to get my hands on it a few years later, when I had to replace my first-gen console for a nifty, smaller version that came after. At this point, I owned Sonic 1, 3, and Knuckles, and was excited to complete my collection with the supposed best of the bunch. Then I started playing Sonic 2, and the strangest feeling came over me halfway through: I wanted to quit and do something else. There was no urge to see the game to its completion. I eventually did beat Sonic 2, but back then, this feeling bugged me for a long time. I mean, it had all the makings of a solid Sonic title, and it played very similarly to the others on the Genesis. However, there was always this "thing" that didn't sit well with me.

At first, I thought this "thing" was Sonic 2's length; with 11 Zones total, about double the amount of the first game's, I figured it was because Sonic 2 was taking longer to complete, contributing to me zoning out halfway. I could not have been more wrong, though, since Sonic 1 and 2 can casually be finished in the same frame of time, with the sequel edging out with 15 or so more minutes. Eventually, I had realized the actual reason the game wasn't pulling me in as strongly as the others, a reason I didn't want to reach because I was apparently in denial: Sonic 2 just isn't the great game I believed it to be.

Pray tell.

Level design. Specifically, the game has this uneven balance where some stages are good and others are a mixture of being awkward or filler-ish. The one Zone that always immediately comes to mind is Hill Top Zone, the third "green stage" following Emerald Hill Zone and Aquatic Ruin Zone. The only real thing that makes it stand out are the boring lift rides that move at a snail's pace and a segment where you kinda-sorta have to out run rising lava. The team easily could have implemented these aspects into one of those two earlier stages, avoiding the feeling of overkill. Hill Top really does seem like it exists just to make Sonic 2 look bigger. This is especially so late in the game where quality control kind of fizzles away. Metropolis Zone, similar in style to Sonic 1's Scrap Brain Zone (but not as good), has you repetitively moving around in a factory with not much variety. You run up giant screws, go through tubes, and avoid exploding starfish for three long Acts. Afterwards, you then have to deal with a slow-paced, automatic scrolling stage in the sky that can put you to sleep.

I got the impression the development team decided to throw in as much stuff as they could into Sonic 2 before the deadline, and after reading various quotes from Yuji Naka himself, that's exactly what happened. The devs were trying too hard to pump as much stuff out like some kind of assembly line that the flow and some of the stages aren't as sturdy as they should be. Sonic 1 may have six Zones, but they made sure each Act had the design and variety to back them up; Marble Zone makes you traverse carefully through corridors of lava pits, hidden traps, and spiked ceilings; Labyrinth Zone places you in water mazes where you search for air bubbles and avoid platforms that rush up to spikes; Scrap Brain Zone tests your agility around quickly disappearing platforms, electrified ceilings, and rapid conveyor belts under giant saws. If Sonic 2 had taken a similar approach, one with less Zones, the team could have used that opportunity to solidify ideas instead of cramming a bunch of them in without having the time to flesh them out.

Not to sound like I'm completely trashing the game, I should reemphasize that some of the stages are pretty solid. Casino Night Zone is a fun area modeled after, as its namesake implies, a casino with pinball mechanics, loaded with bumpers, flippers, and slot machines that press your luck. Wing Fortress Zone, too, adds pressure by having to navigate outside a flying ship, carefully jumping from small platform to small platform. Chemical Plant Zone could have been another winner, with constant twists, turns, and water pits that can quickly lead to your death. Sadly, it's one of the earliest examples of "keep running right" in the series, so you get something very shallow instead. I will also say this: Sonic 2 is easily one of the most visually-pleasing titles on the Genesis, filled to the brim with a diverse color palette, detailed backdrops, and well-made character designs. It's amazing that a lot of titles released after it had trouble reaching the same level of quality. Goes to show how much dedication was put into the artwork.

But some of the level designs, man, they really push the game down a peg, making it my least favorite main Sonic title for the console. But that's kind of like saying Die Hard 2 is the weakest in the series: it's still a good action movie in general. Same goes for Sonic 2 in my eyes. So even with my grievances, I still view this as recommended playing if you haven't had the chance yet. Sonic 2 is still an important aspect of the series, showing just how capable the blue hedgehog is and where the franchise could go from here. It's just... there's a chance you might get sleepy 30 minutes in.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 26, 2012)

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dagoss posted August 27, 2012:

Good review and you make some good points. I think only having two levels per zone contributed to that under-developed feeling you were talking about. This was one of the few Genesis games I owned as a kid, so I played it a lot, and I got very familiar with the first half of the game--not so much the second because I'd lose interest. (This might also be the lack of an easily accessible level-select feature -- I could never remember the numbers to enter in the options screen to activate it).

One things that always annoyed me is how the bonus stages are harder if you have both Sonic and Tails. You have to collect more rings if you have both, and Tails lags behind and is always lose his stuff, the dumb nuts.
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pickhut posted August 27, 2012:

That really irritated me beyond belief when playing the game the first few times. I would get a decent amount of rings, enough to make it to the next segment, then Tails would run into a bomb and lose just the right amount... Eventually, I just gave up on the bonus stages altogether, since getting Super Sonic isn't all that great, especially since transforming into him takes but a simple jump.

I kinda wanted to mention the bonus stages, but I ultimately left that out, since it would feel like I was really laying into the game, which wasn't what I was aiming for with this review. Heh, in the first draft of my upcoming Sonic 3 review, I actually spent an entire paragraph comparing that game's special stages to the ones in Sonic 2. I currently have that paragraph taken out, since I feel it disrupts the overall flow of the review.

And thanks for reading! Yeah, the second half of the game feels a bit more bumpy compared to the first half.

Edit: Er... actually the special stage comparisons are still in there. I was actually thinking about the paragraph where I moaned about the differences in transforming into Super Sonic in both games.

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