"I was able to choose between jumping to ledges far above my hedgehog or descending to the depths of lakes. Going one way might lead to a long series of slides that send Sonic careening into a mammoth ocean of oil. However, a different path might keep him safely above that ecological disaster."
Initially, I wasnít amazed with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The early levels of the game seemed a bit too similar to those of the original and enemies tended to be few and far between -- making your only real task to get to the end of each level without falling afoul of a bottomless pit or taking a hit without any rings in your inventory (a fatal mistake, as in the original).
But as I continued playing, Sonic 2 got better and better until I found myself struggling to recall exactly what my qualms were in the first place. Wildly pinballing through virtual slot machines in the Casino Night Zone provided an amusing diversion, while watching the Hill Top Zone go from a seemingly tame place to an intense collection of lava pits and deadly hazards made me realize business was rapidly picking up.
And pick up it did. The final worlds in this game proved to be both challenging and exhilarating. The Mystic Cave, Oil Ocean and Metropolis Zones all proved to be wild dashes past nearly everything but the kitchen sink, as Sega seemingly pulled out all the stops in helping the egg-like Dr. Robotnik exterminate the not-so-common hedgehog. Going through eight worlds wasnít enough in this game, though, as Sonic 2 still had a few more surprises before Robotnik finally was dropped for the count.
The beautiful thing was that after finishing these tougher stages, I had a new appreciation for the more vanilla introductory zones. With the exception of the comparatively small Emerald Hill levels that open the game, I found nearly all the stages offered a great deal of opportunity for Sonic to explore. I was able to choose between jumping to ledges far above my hedgehog or descending to the depths of lakes. Going one way might lead to a long series of slides that send Sonic careening into a mammoth ocean of oil. However, a different path might keep him safely above that ecological disaster. The best thing is that I never was threatened with running out of time (which had happened a time or two with the originalís more linear levels), allowing me to explore alternate paths to my heartís content.
This made the lionís share of Sonic 2ís 18 platforming levels (there also is a short flying level and a two-boss showdown towards the end) a wondrous experience. Controlling the spiky-haired critter as he scoots up and down hills, jets through the air and gets catapulted into space is pure pleasure. Thanks to an added number of zones combined with fewer stages within each one, this game always feels fresh. One qualm I had with Sonic the Hedgehog was that the majority of the worlds were composed of three very similar levels, giving me a constant sense of deja vu as I went from zone to zone. While I admit the levels in Sonic 2 maintained that similarity within each zone, with only two in most worlds, I never became tired of my current scenery.
I also had a bit more control over Sonicís speed in this game. Pressing down on the control pad and hitting the proper button revs him up and allows him to instantly zip off -- just the thing for scaling ramps without a running start. As this game, much like the first, tends to reward players for knowing when to use super speed and when to take it slow, having that extra degree of influence over how fast Sonic moves at any given time is a real positive.
Personally, I felt this gameís main strength was in how Sega was able to tighten the play control and relieve the tedium caused by maneuvering through too many levels that seemed carbon copies of others -- in other words, how they improved on the basic formula. While a number of new things were added, none of them really seemed to add much to the proceedings. It didnít take long for me to decide not to allow Sonicís new buddy, Tails (a fox), to be involved in my quest, as something about being tailed....no pun intended....by a computer-controlled buddy just doesnít appeal to me. As a solo player, both of the gameís multiplayer options (cooperative or competitive) were meaningless. Worst of all, I still canít believe how the Chaos Emerald minigame was butchered.
Attempting to get all those items was fun in Sonic the Hedgehog. Bouncing randomly through a rotating maze while being mesmerized by a trippy background -- now that was a fun way to unwind after a hard day of bopping wildlife and dodging spikes! Here, in Sonic 2, things have definitely changed, and not for the better.
Sonic now will be running down a tube, collecting rings and dodging mines. At certain points in each tube, there will be checkpoints. If Sonic has enough rings, heíll get to continue. If not, itís back to the drawing board. Compared to the psychedelic mazes of the original game, these minigames are lengthy, boring, ugly and frustrating. After taking a couple of stabs at them, I threw in the towel. Sorry, Sonic, the ďSuper SonicĒ abilities you get for collecting all these emeralds might be cool and all (and actually useful in this game), but I just donít have the time or patience to help you out.
Fortunately, those minigames, just like Tails and the multiplayer features, are all optional things that can easily be ignored. And since Sonic 2 is such an excellent game on its own, that is definitely a good thing. When I look at the 20 levels of this game, maybe I do think the first few are a bit too easy and non-threatening, but this game is still an exhilarating experience. The variety of worlds and challenges within far exceeds Sonic the Hedgehog -- a very good game in its own right.
Iíd go as far as to call Sonic 2 the best game in the series, as with a scant few exceptions, itís hard to find much to complain about here. The myriad of ways to get through most levels gives this game tons of replay value and, while most of the bosses are fairly easy to dispatch, the battles are fun ways to bridge the gap between one action-packed stage and the next. And believe me, the fun of this game is playing through all the stages and watching Sonic as he sprints across collapsing walkways, catapults up to distant ledges and defies gravity by sprinting up ramps at 90-degree angles. All those tricks and many more help set Sonic apart from the overpopulated world of platforming characters and ensure that taking his cause will seem more like a joyous experience than merely another game.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 28, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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