Review by Derek Zoolander
"You might like this game, but I don't"
The Sonic series on the Genesis was built around speed and simplicity of gameplay. Since only one button was required to control Sonic (to make him jump, and in this instalment, rev up his turbo charge), a beginner could be speeding through the colourful levels at huge speeds, without a care in the world for anything other than collecting rings and bopping on enemies – all within a few minutes of picking up the title. Thus the Sonic titles were great games for youngsters and gamers who just wanted an entertaining, easily picked-up platformer.
However, the simplicity of gameplay is also a big weakness. While some would call just running and jumping around levels pure platforming bliss, others would call it somewhat shallow. The levels are nice to look at and the scenery varied; however, you just can’t shake off the feeling that the whole game is a bit too simple (not necessarily easy, though), and lacking of real innovation. Perhaps it’s just me, but in any case I don’t view this game as a classic, or anything close.
No longer is Sonic alone in his quest to stop evil Robotnik and rescue his woodland friends. Joining the fray now is his buddy and protégé of sorts, Tails, a furry bi-tailed fox. Tails can use that unique trait of his to hover around levels, although his hovering ability is lost when you’re actually controlling him. Tails spends most of the game trailing behind Sonic, helping our hero pick up anything he might’ve left behind. Meanwhile, Sonic still races around the levels using his exceptional speed and jumping ability to pick up rings and kill enemies.
In case you haven’t played the Sonic series, rings are a staple of the game (similar to Mario’s coins). If you pick up 100 rings in a level you gain an extra life, and the number of rings you get during a level also determines whether you get any bonuses at the end – for example, a handy point bonus or the ability to play in a bonus round. You’re never required to hunt for rings, but they often lead you into unexplored zones and secret areas, so it’s always good to be on the lookout for them. Also, if you have no rings and an enemy hits you, you immediately die, whereas if you have at least one ring you only lose your rings when hit. If you’re quick, you’ll be able to recover most of them, so all is not lost.
Sonic can take out most enemies through the traditional method of jumping on them. You can also press down on the d-pad while travelling at top speed to transform Sonic (or Tails, of course) into a spinning ball of fluff, which will take out most anything in your way. There is another move that is new to Sonic 2, and that’s the turbo charge: press a controller button while holding Down and Sonic/Tails will rev himself up; release Down and Sonic or Tails will charge ahead at huge speeds. This is a great way of wasting enemies and also gaining speed without the necessity of a run-up, and most levels will give you a few places where you can throw caution to the wind and simply dash around madly.
And there are plenty of places to dash around. The first zone is your typical happy, green, bright woodland zone, filled with nice loop-de-loops, copious numbers of rings, and easy enemies. After that you enter a factory zone, with toxic sludge and your usual high-tech machinery. Later in your quest you’ll encounter water-filled ruins, bright glitzy casinos, darker forests, bright plains, oil rigs, and even a ride on a plane. This sounds quite varied, and admittedly the developers did work to give each zone its own ambience, mood and feel, and yet all you’re really doing is jumping from platform to platform – once you get used to the jumps, it’s just a matter of perfecting your timing for the later levels. I would’ve liked it if Sonic got more abilities or if the gameplay feel actually changed, but alas, this is not the case.
The first two zones are unique in that you can just dash through them without a care in the world, but after that Sonic becomes your typical platformer. You’ve got your typical platformer jumps over gaping holes and lava, as well as the requisite moving platforms; and the enemies have also changed little from the first Sonic. We’re still dealing with hornets, coconut throwers and fish – the enemies’ names and appearances have changed, but until the later levels, there aren’t any types that you won’t have come across in the original Sonic. The bosses, mechanical contraptions housing Robotnik, are also your typical platformer-type contraptions: large ungainly drills, little pods that emerge out of slime and lava, huge robotic things, flying machines that drop bombs on you in the Casino level, and so on. I’ll praise the developers on their creative bosses, but every boss his a pattern, which is usually easy to predict and foil. While you might not beat the boss on your first try, after seeing its patterns it’ll be a cinch. This is a bit unfortunate since it means that only the last few bosses possess something of a real challenge.
There’s still some fun to be had, though. At times, you slow down, not only to admire the scenery but also to pick up some powerups, which are housed in little TV-like objects. Invincibility, SuperSonic speeds, shields, and extra rings are among the bonuses to collect. They make your life a lot easier, and perhaps more importantly, they force you to actually explore the levels for goodies. It’s only when you have a decent look around each level that you notice the good level design, and all the secret areas craftily hidden away. There’s also a more tangible reward for exploring: if you have fifty rings or more, you can also enter bonus portals, where you run a gauntlet and attempt to collect a target amount of rings. If you succeed, you earn…something really nice.
Unfortunately, the desire to hunt through each level carefully is often quashed by Sonic’s sheer speed. Sooner or later, you’ll just take off and not look back, until you reach a hard part of the level, at which point you revert back to “jump and land on the enemies’ heads and don’t make a false move” mode. So all you’re doing in the game is running through level ground, jumping about in not-so-open terrain, and hopping around precariously on platforms and lifts here and there. This is classic platforming stuff, of course, but I would’ve hoped for a little more variation ~ letting Sonic change his traits, giving Tails’s tails an actual reason for their existence, or just something to separate this from its run-jump-land mould that it almost stagnates in. There are some innovative spots – for example, the Aquatic Ruins and the skywalk zone – but otherwise, the game has a tendency to become bland or irritating.
These are definitely the best aspects of the game. The developers knew that Sonic shot to fame partly on his bright visuals, so they’ve made an extra effort here. The levels look wonderful; there are palm-like trees and nice bright grass in plains zones, whereas the factory and casino zone have wonderfully neon-bright colourings and fancy machinery. The bright purple toxic sludge that bathes the second zone is a sight to behold, and each level has its own similar distinctive feature. My favourite has to be the third zone, which is a mixture of nice low vegetation, rustic (and fragile) loop-de-loops, ancient marble ruins, and lucid, deceptively inviting water. Sonic and Tails are drawn well, with lots of animations and a fair bit of character. The same goes for most enemies (even if they are sort of recycled from Sonic 1), and all the bosses look sharp and menacing in their mechanical shells.
The music perfectly complements the graphics, especially for the levels. The Ruins zone I mentioned earlier has a sort of rustic, almost melancholy melody that adds a lot to its ambience (it reminds me of the music from the Marble Zone in the first Sonic). You could match each zone to its music at first glance: you’ve got the usual, happy, fast-paced stuff on the first zone; a techno-ish tune in the factory level; a great razzy score in the Casino level (my favourite), and other varied tracks accompany Sonic and Tails. The same boss tune plays throughout all your encounters with Dr Robotnik. In my book it’s fairly good and creates a foreboding atmosphere.
The sound effects hit the mark as well. In addition to the tried-and-true rings sound, and the ‘spring’ of each jump, there are also fitting sounds for Sonic’s turbo charge, his spin, each powerup, and more. If you operate a mechanical contraption (for example, a lift, or the amusing slots machine in the Casino) you’ll get some nice feedback, and of course there are a variety of “dings” and “clanks” which sound whenever you hit the bumpers and other obstacles that are littered throughout some zones. The effects are only rarely repetitive, and nicely timed all round.
When all’s said and done though, Sonic is your basic platformer, and like many other platformers, it has some trouble convincing gamers to go back after they’ve completed it. Exploring the levels and uncovering secrets is fun, but only the first time around, and there are no puzzles or particularly brilliant spots that will compel you to come back for more. A few later levels are worth replaying, but you’ll have to re-run through the rest of the game in order to get to them. Hmmm.
Sega did throw in some extras, though. There’s a nice multiplayer mode, where you and a friend can either race through the zones on split-screens (competing against each other for the best time, most rings, most powerups, most lives, and so on), or try and collect rings and dodge bombs while running and jumping through the obstacles of a 3D gauntlet. Both are fun diversions, particularly the twisting and turning gauntlet that is probably Sonic 2’s most innovative feature, but they don’t extend the replay indefinitely; there’s not quite enough variety or depth to label them anything more than just diversions.
Sonic is just one of those games that never really ‘clicked’ for me. I simply found Sonic 2 to be less than the sum of its parts. The graphics and audio are bright and fitting and the multiplayer is decent, but the game itself – the concept itself – just seems a little…shallow, and even irritating at times. I don’t really like the idea of running madly through the first few levels, and I also don’t like the simple, jump-jump-run-jump philosophy of the later levels. I’m not saying the game is easy – in some places it requires great timing and vision – but it just doesn’t have the gameplay variation or innovation that makes a truly fun, long-lasting platformer. There isn’t much that has been changed since the first Sonic, and as they say, if you’re treading water, you’re losing ground.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 10/15/01, Updated 02/08/03
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