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Game 39 of 40: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - 30/04/24


Ryannumber1gamer

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Next up on the Sonic marathon is one of the most beloved fan-favourite games not only of this entire series, but also possibly retro games, period. Am I there with them? Do I hail Sonic 2 as the ultimate game of the series?

...

I mean, don't get me wrong. I can't act like Sonic 2 doesn't hold some kind of special place in my heart, much like most anyone else who grew up with the franchise. I played it a lot with Mega Collection Plus, I too loved the speed of Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone as a kid. But as time went on, I personally just never really clicked with it as much as I wanted to. I always found Sonic 2 as a good game that's a step in the right direction, but still somewhat counter to the promise of speed-based gameplay.

So I was curious to see how my feelings on it would change, especially since for the purposes of this challenge, I would not be playing the much more superior Taxman version that's on mobile, and in Origins. I wasn't going to play the Sonic 2 Absolute that's been on my backlog for ages. I wasn't even playing the original game. I was playing the Vintage Collection port that is frankly not particularly well-received on PS3. Let's just stop with all the blather and jump right in, shall we?

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As you would expect from a Classic era Sonic game, the story is extremely simplistic. Frankly - nearly the same as the first. Following his defeat in the first game, Eggman has moved to a new island and has gotten up to his old tricks, wishing to use the Chaos Emeralds to fuel a space station as a weapon. Go and stop him with your new sidekick in tow.

This is where I feel the cut content of the game is more interesting than what we got. The original story actually involved time travel, with locales getting corrupted and altered due to Eggman interfering with time, Sonic and Tails racing through zones from the first game as they're altered by Eggman as a result. Still relatively simple, but a cool concept to revisit the first game like that.

Either way, the story doesn't really matter - the best way to describe Sonic 2, as most tend to do - is that it's every problem with the first game more or less fixed. Gone is the mostly tedious platforming segments that constantly slowed down the main selling point of the series, with Sonic 2 having a renewed focus on the high-speed gameplay that the series promised, along with more unique and memorable level locales. So many of the typical Sonic tropes we have become so well-known to have all started here. From the GHZ-type level, to the casino level, to the big metropolis city level and more.

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I know it's a rather boring way to ultimately discuss a game, and Sonic 2 is ultimately one of those games I find hard to discuss because so many people have gone so in-depth with it before, but it really is just Sonic 1 but ten times better. The level design absolutely trumps it in every way. Tails is a fantastic addition to the game, even if he's mostly there just to follow Sonic and grab some occasional extra rings. Super Sonic is a insanely great reward for getting all of the Chaos Emeralds, the sprite work this go around is immaculate, the level tropes are so much more memorable, and the bosses are much more varied and interesting. 

Even as someone who does love Mania and S3&K, much more than Sonic 2, if I was still to try and sit someone down to sell them on Classic Sonic, I can think of little other levels to showcase the high speed fun than Chemical Plant Act 1 with it's massive swooping jumps and long speeding pathways. As much as I complaint, I can't not acknowledge just how insanely this game truly does capture the speed of Sonic at times. Not to mention the music, which I think is miles ahead of the first game. This is one of the most beloved soundtracks of the series and for great reason.

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I would say all things considered, my biggest takeaway from the three consecutive runs of the game I had to do to 100% it is that I came away actually appreciating and enjoying the core game more. There was once upon a time I hated Sonic 2 outside of the Taxman port, and I thought that so much of the game's problems were boiled down to the level design wanting to encourage speed, but the game's enemy placement always being there to punish you for trying to go fast. It's not to say that isn't not a problem, I do argue it's still a problem, but I found myself really enjoying zones I never usually enjoyed as much before. Mystic Cave, Hill Top, and Casino Night in particular all really clicked this go around.

That said...I do think the game unfortunately outstays it's welcome towards the end of the game. Oil Ocean represents exactly what I disliked about a lot of the levels in Sonic 1, and every time I get to it, it's constantly a massive pace breaker. It's not only a massive halt on speeding through levels, but it's also the main difficulty spike of the entire game. It'd be one thing if I said it was a bad zone, but I do honestly feel that the game unfortunately becomes a slog from here. Metropolis is a cool idea, but it's filled with a ton of irritating badniks, hazards, and a bit of a labyrinth like design, Sky Chase is too slow for it's own good, Wing Fortress feels extremely cheap with the one shot kills, and that's not to mention the surprise assault of taking on Silver Sonic and Death Egg Robot back to back with no rings.

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What can I say about this fight that most haven't already? It's cool as a setpiece, sure. Silver Sonic is a neat idea that stands out from Metal Sonic. The entire idea of the fight taking place in space with a massive mech is such a huge step up in ambition compared to Sonic 1's pipe fight, but still, it's just really hard for me to excuse how terrible it feels to get cheap shotted because you mistimed a jump or didn't realise that the spiked arm wasn't fully in the vulnerable position. It feels like a means to chew through lives so you game over and have to do the whole game again. 

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Then there's the special stages. The goddamn special stages. The infamous, awful, halfpipe special stages. I don't like them much in the Taxman version where it's at least in full 3D. But here, in the original form, with the pseudo 3D, where you can softlock yourself out of the emerald if you didn't get enough rings on certain sections, and the unbelievably strict requirements, as well as the sheer infuriating trial and error nature of the special stages, and not to mention the fact that Tails will screw you over big time here. It's miserable. Utterly miserable. 

I hate them. I really hate them. I hate, hate, hate, hate them.

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It's at least nice they changed the requirements. I like that you can just get them now by getting to a checkpoint, and it gives multiple chances per zone, but these special stages are horrendous. The fact they became the most iconic stages to the point so many games replicate them is really not good.

I suppose the final thing to mention is also the fact that I was playing a really shit port of the game. Not only is it's functions extremely basic, with just a very simple save state system, but the Vintage Collection version of the game also randomly hitches and freezes up for a second at random points - in a 16-bit era game, where speed, and reaction time are highly critical. This goes without saying that it led to some failed attempts at emeralds or deaths. The trophies at least weren't too bad, but it was pretty annoying having to do multiple runs to accommodate a speedrun trophy for beating the game within a hour.

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But still, when all is said and done, I can't deny that I came out of this whole run with a new appreciation for Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Do I still think it's the best of the series? The peak of the series? No. I still definitely love S3&K, Mania, Generations and Adventure more. Do I think it's not got major problems? No, I still think it has a lot of cheap bullshit, and towards the end, it turns into a bit of a slog.

But something clicked here. I had a load of fun playing with the game. I found a lot of new appreciation for zones that I didn't previously enjoy much at all. I gained new appreciation for everything that Sonic 2 changed up and improved from the first game, and how much it introduced to the series, even if modern games have started to really make these tropes annoying to deal with.

Sonic 2 isn't jumping up to my favourite Sonic game list anytime soon, but I came out of this whole experience - botched port or not - with a much more positive outlook on the game, and I'm happy for that. I'm happy that I can enjoy most of the game now, compared to before. Why it was this particular run that made things click, I don't know, but I'm happy it did. 

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