Are old-school Sonic and Mario really that good?

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 

Damn and blast processing

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.



Which version of Sonic is the best version of Sonic?
From Sonic 1 to the Black Knight, which spiny avatar is best?

Which version of Mario is the best version of Mario?
If you could only play as one Mario forever, which would it be?

The many faces of Mario
A unique look at Nintendo’s mascot he’d rather you forget


  • Connors116 - January 9, 2010 8:34 p.m.

    Sonic The Hedgehog 2 was sort of a let-down for some, as no characters from the comic book (Which is still running today as the longest game-based comic book ever) never got into it. Hell, Sonic 3 never even lived up to it. If they actually had them, it would be too story based, but all we needed was one. And it was canceled. No one saw that coming coming. But Super Mario World still holds up to this day, along with the Sonic The Hedgehog Games. And yes, I know how to get to Top Secret Area. My Cousin taught me on his SNES.
  • SausageLozenge - December 14, 2009 11:45 a.m.

    Nail on the head.
  • B3rt - December 13, 2009 10:58 p.m.

    The Sonic 2 score dosent really line up with one of gamesradar previous articles where they reviewed all the old 2d sonics. Im pretty sure Sonic 2 got a 9 in that article.
  • Ravenbom - December 11, 2009 8:49 p.m.

    I'd like to see more of these retro reviews. Yeah, I find Sonic 2 to be overrated. I just played through Mario 3, Super Mario World and the first 3 Sonic games recently, and I still can't understand what was supposed to be so great about Sonic 2. That being said, my last play through of Super Mario World was sublime. My only complaint is how easy you can make the game with Blue Yoshi and a Cape (and Top Secret Area). Making the game easy is hardly a complaint, because the onus is on the player to make the game easier by seeking out Blue yoshi and a cape.
  • StoveToTheFace - December 8, 2009 10:40 a.m.

    I agree that mario should be a 10, one of the best games EVER! BUT come on Sonic isnt a 7 it should be atleast a 8.5, i would give it a 9. The boss battles arnt the best but Marios arnt anything that great either so if you arnt gonna knock Mario for it you cant knock Sonic for it, dosent sound like your being fair to deff more of a Mario fan then Sonic but i think your not giving Sonic a fair score.
  • Tomsta666 - December 7, 2009 2:01 p.m.

    Im old enough to have been there when these buggers first came out. Let me tell you, I still have as much fun with them now as I did when I was a nipper. Super Mario World for me, is the ultimate 2D platformer. It has everything that you could possibly wish for from something of the genre. It's probably the game that i've beat the most. Seriously, i've lost count of how many times i've done it. Way back when on the SNES, done it shitloads on GBA too. Aswell as Virtual Console and dodgy emulators! I Always keep coming back to it. Sonic 2 still holds up too. I'll agree with you that isn't as good as SMW it's still a damn good game, and my personal favourite of the oldskool Sonic Games.
  • rxb - December 7, 2009 1:40 p.m.

    Its impossible for me not to be bias reading this as I love Super Mario world more than some members of my own family. I think it could be judged by modern standards and still get a 10. A contender for best made in my book. I remember Sonic Twosday as well, a 10 year old me was very excited.
  • TheWebSwinger - December 7, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    How much, exactly did Nintendo-circa-1990 pay you to write this? /s.
  • HeavyTank - December 6, 2009 10:56 p.m.

    Yeah, these two particular old games are still very good today, you should review other classic games as well... Mario games are stil (pretty) good, but today's Sonic games cannot be compared in ANY way to the older games...
  • RoxasXXion - December 6, 2009 5:56 p.m.

    sigh I remeber when I used to sit for hours on end playing sonic and quakshot on the sega mainly because you couldn't save but still
  • AuthorityFigure - December 6, 2009 9:46 a.m.

    Sonic3 is even worse, and I made a review that points out the very same problems you've noted. It is here:,109381/
  • HeroicBilby - December 6, 2009 4:07 a.m.

    Personally I never understood why Sonic 2 was considered the "greatest". Sonic 3 & Knuckles(As they were always meant to be played) is the only real gemstone of 2D Sonic in my heart, just like Super Mario World is a ultimate example of 2D Mario to me.. ^^ S3&K also DEFINITELY did the bosses right. I'm a bit perplexed why they didn't pick the real best to compare, even if they only used one of the two they're still better done than S2( Except for that HORRID Carnival Night Zone puzzle! AARRRGGH! Definitely a 3/10 game just for that alone! ;D )
  • rampage198 - December 6, 2009 12:25 a.m.

    Really good article. While there have been lots of Mario Vs. Sonic peices written over the years this is one of the best.
  • TractorBoy21 - December 5, 2009 10:14 p.m.

    Claiming that the article is "biased" is a very ignorant thing to say, as all arguments are biased to some extent, fact. However, I would say that this was one of the best constructed articles I have read for a vey long time and would really enjoy this becoming a reular feature of sorts. I admit that I am a Sonic fanboy, however, I think that all the comments made by David were completely valid, especially when you look at the game as an example of a specific genre, or an era etc. The reason that we gain pleasure from different things, especially within games, because they are so imersing, is that we share personal experiences with the games, which is why I do not have an issue with the boss levels on Sonic, and would argue that the Mario boss levels are of the same school of thought. However, I acknowledge that the Sonic boss levels are "tacky" because that is what it is in the game, at least at this stage in the game, that appeals to me, because in my opinion, it seems intentional, and is like nothing else, so enjoyable, and yt epic at the same time. That is what makes a game for me, that it can be loved on so many different levels, just like both the games mentioned in the article. Again, loved the article, hope to see it re-occur.
  • Scotch - December 5, 2009 9:18 p.m.

    the retro reviews are a great idea! and i love how the guy with a sonic avatar is complaining about the sonic review! i guess that is one bad thing, if GR continues to do this fan boys can get mad AGAIN XD
  • B3rt - December 5, 2009 7:51 p.m.

    Sonic 2 was a great game but why doesn't any game site ever mention the combination of sonic 3 and knuckles? I found that game to be much more refined and more varied than sonic 2 and the length of the two games combined really improved the experience.
  • GameManiac - December 5, 2009 5:47 p.m.

    My gaming origin was 10 years ago, when I bought a PS1 and GameBoy Color. I have found a way to play these games eventually (such as when they came out for the GBA). And just from that, my money's on SMW.
  • SuperStingray - December 5, 2009 4:10 p.m.

    I honestly don't know why people see Sonic 2 as the best of the original games. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but I prefer S3&K by far. This is an interesting article, I will say, to look back on these games retrospectively and see how they fair by today's standards.
  • wrapdump - December 5, 2009 1:07 p.m.

    For my money this is backwards. Back when I first got into videogames around 1992, Mario still looked like utter crap. That's not really important, but it just wasn't compulsive enough, it wasn't very fun or engaging at all. I had absolutely no desre to keep playing to see what level was next. Were they cleverly designed? Absolutely, the amount of depth to almost every level, and the amount of thought that had gone into the construction was clearly huge, even to an 8 year old. But it was still crap. Sonic was a revelation. The boss fights were never important, they were an entertaining victory goal to each level, and if you really struggled with coping with some of the enemies, then you still need practice, 17 years on.
  • Xobi - December 5, 2009 10:36 a.m.

    Sonic 2 ..... 10

Showing 1-20 of 47 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000