Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Virtual Console Review - Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Sonic Team and STI - 10/10
(Originally written July 2, 2005)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the most successful videogame ever released for the Sega Genesis, and one of the most successful games ever made. I don't think there is another game that is as well-loved or admired in the entire system's library, and chances are if someone you know has only played one game, it's Sonic 2.
The First Four Sonics - they deserved to be titled as a group, like the Four Marx Brothers - revolutionized 16-bit console games, and represented an artistic and commercial triumph for Sega. While it's true that all platform and adventure games owe their existance to Super Mario Brothers, it's Sonic that everyone steals from.
The irreverant lead characters, the loose and jazzy level designs, the bursting speed and energy; they all point back to the hedgehog. I find that a bit odd, since it's well over a decade later and game designers should have the horse sense to come up with some new ideas. But, still, you can't argue with greatness.
I can never make up my mind whether I enjoy this one or Sonic CD more. Most of the time I give the slight edge to Sonic CD, just because it has that mammoth, trippy anime-inspired quality to it. But if I just want a quick rush, I'll go for this one.
Isn't this really the most heated of all the Sonic debates? One game becomes one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, while the other one fades into legend. Rubber Soul or Revolver? Are You Experienced or Axis: Bold As Love?
Why am I always making rock analogies with this series? Sonic the Hedgehog: the world's first videogame rock star.
Here's what I take out of my experience from Sonic 2: speed. It's an absolute rush. Even when I'm playing a quick game, darting around for ten minutes or so, the sheer kinetic energy is gripping. It's all so expressionist, like Jackson Pollack's paintings or Jimi's guitar.
Even if you just play for a moment, you're left with a spark - what a moment! The First Four Sonics just zap out of your fingers.
This game is just bursting at the seams to prove itself. Sonic seems taller, a little leaner, and a lot faster. The worlds are far better suited to his movements, and still invite curiosity; like a child at the playground, you're eager to run back to the beginning of the course for another run, this time to take one of those other paths. Should we barrel through the lower waterfalls, or try to reach those upper islands?
No more standing around, patiently waiting for something to happen. No more getting stuck in traffic like the first time. This entire game is a never-ending collection of roller coasters.
It in the second zone that Sonic vertigo really kicks in. You know these moments. When he starts spinning down a slope, and just flies up, down, back around, through a half loop, and then dropped off three screens away. It's an extended run where you're just carried along, and it's all you can do to hang on.
And when it's all done, you fall into some tube and start off again. What a crazy kick to see the television barely catch up to the action.
This is where the modern, three-dimensional Sonics really fail. The basic camera is overhead, behind the shoulder. Anytime you run through a loop, the camera pans back. It takes you out of the action, and treats you like a distant spectator. I never could explain this change. Did Sonic Team lose its nerve? They already created the perfect three-dimensional Sonic game. It's called Nights: Into Dreams.
Ah, well. Forget it. You can either worry about the present, or kick back for another turn through the Mystic Cave Zone.
Having grown up with Batman and Robin, I've always found it strange how very few games featured a sidekick. The best thing Sonic Team ever did was give Sonic that plucky little fox, Tails. He's a great character, full of spark, unique in his own little way. It's great to see him shadow Sonic everywhere he goes, mimicking every move.
I'm sure some people get annoyed when he causes them to crash and lose precious rings during the spectacular bonus rounds. I'd tell 'em to get over it. It's not every day you get to race through bobsled tubes inspired by Atari's STUN Runner with a blue hedgehog and a twin-tailed fox. If he crashes into a mine, who's fault is it. You're the one holding the controller.
I remember the first time my friends and I played the original Sonic, and discovered the rotating bonus round behind the giant ring. It was a terrific thrill because we had no idea such a thing would ever happen. It just popped up out of nowhere. The Sonic 2 bonus rounds gave me that same feeling. The halfpipe race is more fun than most full games to slither down the pike.
Have you ever noticed that none of the newer Sonic games on today's consoles or Gameboy Advance have decent bonus games like these? What's the story with that? You just want to grab the creative people responsible, and shake them down with a whiffle bat and a fly swatter. What's your deal? Bad toad! Bad toad!
There's something about the bright color tones, and all those quasi-abstract designs, in Sonic 2. It's all drawn with an eye towards early CGI. Cone-shaped pine trees, bushes composed of square blocks, enemy robots made out of spheres and oddly shaped animal heads. Those checkerboard patterns in Emerald Hill and Hill Top contrast perfectly with the smooth curves in Chemical Plant; the forest and swamp approach of Aquatic Ruin, set against the dry industrial angles of Metropols. I still somehow get lost in the middle of Oil Ocean; I'm still convinced there's another hidden cache of rings that I haven't found.
And then there's that whole final act, when Sonic and Tails fly past the turtle air force en route to the Death Egg. The pacing just changes, almost a reprieve before the final two thrilling battles against Mecha Sonic and Robotnik in his enormous Eggman machine. The development team must have been passing around some great drugs.
Coming this summer: Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests at the Sega Technical Institute. Be there or be square, baby. Dreams Come True will bring the tunes, and they do it better than anyone else on the scene.
Am I thinking too hard about a console videogame from 1992? Maybe. But it sure beats reading the paint-by-numbers drivel from any issue of Gamepro or Game Informer. You weren't expecting me to simply hand out gameplay tips?
It's interesting to note that Yuji Naka, the brilliant programmer for Sonic the Hedgehog and one of the game's primary talents, quit Sega after a pay dispute and left for America before his creation became a success. He found a friend named Mark Cerny, who created the brilliant Marble Madness at age seventeen, to work with him in California at Sega Technical Institute. The STI was a training ground for American game designers who were learning from the Japanese.
As it just so happens, the visiting developers from Japan included Hirozaku Yasuhara, Sonic's game planner. With two of the three top minds from Sonic Team in the States, STI was given the honor of creating Sonic the Hedgehog 2, with Naka in charge.
He took the opportunity and ran with it. You can see the skid marks all throughout the game.
What a long, strange trip it's been.