And “slick” is the word all over. Visually and aurally, the game is a feast. The art drips with glossy production values, and new character animations burst with dynamism and flair. Every Zone has a very definite sense of place and atmosphere, and when that identity is married with area specific gameplay elements (such as the bridge-building pulleys in Mystic Cave Zone, or Sky Chase Zone’s on-rails plane section), Sonic 2 is as good as Sonic gets. Though it would be nice if those sort of new ideas littered the whole game rather than getting sparing use in the second half.
And on that slightly negative note, we must move on to the bad things. Because to be brutally honest, there are more than people like to remember.
Above: Get used to cheap ambushes like this one
First up, while Sonic 2’s levels are frequently a hoot, the monsters that inhabit them frequently aren’t. In fact their use is frequently cheap, tacky and thoughtless in the extreme. It is not, for instance, anything like good design to repeatedly set up unavoidable enemies directly in the path Sonic’s trajectory will take after hitting a spring. It’s an even worse idea to have enemies burst out of background walls at the exact moment he zips past their spawn point.
Always inserted so that the speeding player gets no prior warning of their existence before being hit, there is no excuse for cheesy enemy placement like this. Even as a way of extending the length of the game by forcing trial and error repetition, it’s crap, especially considering the finite lives and lack of save functionality in the game’s original release. We’re all for games being stupidly hard as long as they’re fair, but randomly hitting the instakill button and sending the player back to try again just smacks of a lack of thought for the player experience. It’s gameplay by attrition, and throws a heavy taint over the production.
Above: "What's your big plan for the climactic fight, Dr. Robotnik?" "Walking back and forth and getting hit a lot"
Similarly, the boss fights are utterly rubbish. Robotnik might now have passed safely into the halls of classic video game villains, but all of his appearances in Sonic 2 are piss-weak. Yes, he’s got the iconic quirky vehicles, but in the most part they hardly do anything. Frequently capable of only one, repeated attack pattern, seemingly ad infinitum (Giving a half-arsed boss a stack of hit points in an effort to make it seem more of an event is also lazy design), they’re mostly rendered free of any sense of drama, achievement or enjoyment. It’s a good job then, that many of them can be wiped out in a matter of seconds with an aggressive enough approach.
In another example of Sonic 2’s apparent lack of thought for the player, Boss fights also occasionally happen in environments where it’s possible to die after defeating Robotnik but before actually finishing the level. Getting that sort of thing right is game design 101, and getting it wrong is just plain sloppy. And let’s not even get into the Wing Fortress Zone boss, which is easily one of the worst we’ve ever played; a clumsily designed difficulty spike that substitutes clever challenge for being needlessly hard for all the wrong reasons.
Moving away from the enemies, despite the improved level design over the original Sonic the Hedgehog, there are still more than a few leaps of faith than is comfortable, and even worse, this leads to a few pits of instant death which look safe given the context of what has gone before. The appearance of Tails this time around helps the pathfinding a little, but his AI is so basic that he’s often best off ignored.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 then. In many ways still very good. But like a hot but self-centred girlfriend, its alluring superficial gloss belies an unpleasant tendency to ignore your feelings, leading to a fair bit of sadness and resentment.
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