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'Sonic 2' retrospective: Mega Drive platforming classic turns 20

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Sonic The Hedgehog 2

© SEGA



First released: Mega Drive / Genesis (1992)
Now available on: Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, Virtual Console, PC, iOS

20 years ago today - Tuesday, November 24, 1992 - saw the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, a day dubbed as 'Sonic 2sday'. It was particularly notable for being one of the first truly global releases for a game, releasing in Japan, North America and Europe at the same time - a feat rarely seen even today - effectively making it the first ever blockbuster gaming release.

And Sega were right to confidently push it to a worldwide stage, as it created a Sonic that arguably has yet to be bettered - and a fantastic platformer that's still a blast to play today - and helping to project and establish the mascot on the gaming stage.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2

© SEGA



Sonic the Hedgehog 2 offered a number of advances over its predecessor, and you could argue that some of these changes stemmed from a change in development, shifting studios from Sonic Team in Japan to the Sega Technical Institute in North America, but managed by the original game's lead programmer and creator Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara.

The sequel is not only faster to play, but it's also a far better paced game. By opting for more zones with fewer acts within them, the game is fleshed out with a far more diverse set of places with genuine personality.

While platformers of the time often relied on the same few reliable settings - such as an ice stage, a fire stage, one set in a desert and so on - players had to survive in chemical plants flooded with deadly purple goo, earthquake-ridden mountains with shifting platforms, an oil rig and haunted caves.

It also helped that Sonic's speed and the moment-to-moment gameplay was a little faster, partly thanks to the introduction of the Spin Dash. But a common mistake about Sonic games is that they're all about speed, with a running joke about the series that you need to 'push right to win'.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2

© SEGA



While it's perhaps fair to say some of the later, non-Mega Drive games did this, Sonic 2 finely balanced moments of rushing through loop-de-loops and pipes with slower but tenser platforming moments that required precision and care.

For example, Chemical Plant Zone's dizzying journeys through its tube network are often followed by blocks that open up new pathways, and the zone culminates in a dreaded underwater section that offered the real threat of drowning, while Casino Night Zone let you gamble on slots after pinging around a pinball table.

The shift between careful, slower platforming and fast-paced action was finely balanced, much more so than the often sluggish original and the obnoxious, unpredictable level design of Sonic 3.

This desire to introduce new ideas resulted in a more memorable adventure, one backed up by a catchy soundtrack and a gorgeous art style. You could also argue it had one of the best conclusions to any platformer, starting from a bi-plane ride in the sky against an advancing robot army, through to back-to-back boss battles in a Star Wars-inspired space station, facing a Metal doppelgänger of Sonic and Robotnik in a giant walking tank styled after himself.



There's also the introduction of Tails, a docile side-kick that sticks by Sonic's side and loosely copies his movements. Whether through poor implementation or on purpose, his delayed actions were the source of much hilarity, accidently leaping into an enemy or spin dashing off a cliff, and added another dash of personality.

Tails can also be controlled by a second player. Unfortunately, multiplayer in Sonic 2 feels a little shoehorned and frustrating - he's limited to Sonic's field of view, while additional modes saw players compete to rush through a stage, fighting both the clock, each other and a bad framerate.

Tails also appears in all-new Special Stages, which see the pair rush down a twisting, turning tunnel coated in rings and bombs, where a second player could come in handy with the difficult later stages.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2

© SEGA



Between widespread critical appraisal and releasing when the Mega Drive was gaining serious momentum worldwide, Sonic 2 went on to become the second-bestselling release on the system - second only to the original.

The release of lock-on title Sonic & Knuckles also gave it a new lease of life, allowing players to play as Knuckles through all Sonic 2 stages, where gliding and wall climbing would open up access to new routes and items.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a classic and one of Sega's best-ever releases, and thankfully the publisher hasn't been shy in re-releasing it on modern platforms, including Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, PC, Wii's Virtual Console and iOS, if you fancy celebrating 'Sonic 2sday' 20 years on.

Do you have many fond memories of Sonic the Hedgehog 2? Add a comment to the space below and use the #sonic2sday hashtag on Twitter!

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