Retro Scope: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Genesis)

Have you ever wondered why this sequel is considered one of the best games ever made? Come find out why!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/15/2023 13:49 Comment on this     ShareThis

It occurred to me the other day as I played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that for those of us who grew up in the ’90s, the debate about the greatest video games of all time has really changed. Back then the list of software revolved around the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man 2, Sonic 2, Final Fantasy VI, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that any of these games have been or should be disqualified from current discourse, but let’s face it, nowadays discussion revolves around totally different names. Resident Evil 4, The Last of Us, Ocarina of Time, and so on, are all part of an ever-evolving and growing list of software that makes today’s debates about the so-called best far more daunting, far more complex.

Playing Sonic 2, though, reminded me of the fun of these arguments during a time when there were less games to sift through. Or at least, a time when as a kid it felt like there was less to sift through. Childhood represents a simpler time for most people, but arguably the gnarly days of the early to mid ’90s truly were a golden era of gaming that was just, well, different than the world of today. And Sonic 2 is highly emblematic of all the things that defined that way past cool period of time.


Although I profess to being a lifelong Nintendo kid, I do admit to dabbling with the enemy on many occasions growing up. Sonic was a mainstay in my home thanks to the cartoon show. I still have the rubber bank that my mom gave me of Sonic shortly after she discovered the show on TV; something about the character appealed to her and she encouraged me to watch. On the gaming front, though, many of you either recall or have heard of the intense cold war that raged between Nintendo and SEGA fans. It was one or the other back in the day, and I was no exception. My uncles on my mom’s side of the family, though, were Genesis guys. This meant visits to my grandpa and grandma’s house were filled with hours of playing SEGA games, including Sonic 2.

As Sonic spirals his way through a checkerboard-emblazoned corkscrew, the twitchy nature of the gameplay and the intense speed really started to suck me in. There are certain games I play on autopilot. I’ve written in the past about how some games are like mental comfort food; old standbys that never fade, that always entertain, and that I can play without thinking. Sonic games fit into this niche, but this past Saturday afternoon I found myself drawn into Sonic 2 in a way that I haven’t felt in years. I wasn’t just playing it passively this time around. I was legitimately experiencing it.

And you know what? I can see more clearly than ever why Sonic 2 would so often get that nod for being one of the greatest games ever made. Graphically, it’s a sight prettier than the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Emerald Hill Zone is basically just Green Hill Zone with different grass, but once Sonic has transitioned into the industrial twists and turns of Chemical Plant Zone, it becomes immediately evident that things have changed in this sequel. The colors pop a bit more, the environments vary in wild and zany ways. One minute Sonic is gasping for air in viscous pink chemicals, the next he’s clinging to the side of an enormous airship. You never know where he’s going to wind up.

The energy of the development team is palpable throughout Sonic 2. Tails is already such a perfect complement to Sonic, both visually and in terms of gameplay, but he really gets cemented as a legend by the time the player is soaring across the skies with him atop his Tornado plane in Sky Chase Zone. Sonic rests on the plane’s wings as Tails helps guide his friend to the final battle with Eggman—a brave, unforgettable duo was born in that moment. So many memorable events make their way into Sonic 2 that it’s hard to peg any one as the most impactful, but this chunk of the game in particular really stands out.

Before I wrap things up, can we talk about Sonic’s Spin Dash for a second? What an ingenious innovation. Yuji Naka once said how he wanted to rival the simplicity of Super Mario Bros.‘ control scheme by having Sonic able to be controlled with one button versus Mario’s two. The Spin Dash helps to ensure that Sonic is always able to generate enough motion to get through spirals and corkscrews without having to retread terrain like in the first game, but without adding any extraneous buttons to the mix. Simply press down and jump, and suddenly Sonic is revving like a Firebird ready to burn rubber. This “one button philosophy” lends these early Sonic games a true elegance thanks to the economy of inputs that the player has to memorize in order to progress. Brilliant stuff.

Sonic is fortunate in that SEGA has never shied away from making sure his early adventures are easy to play on modern hardware. Sonic Origins Plus is one option, but there’s also the SEGA Genesis app for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscribers, and there’s the excellent M2 version in the eShop, as well. As I watched Sonic soar back to the earth after felling Robotnik, Tails hot behind him to make sure his buddy is okay, I reflected that while many of today’s pundits might not be as quick to place Sonic 2 on a “best games ever” list, I’m definitely not one of them. What a gem. Go play it.

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