Dr Robotnik is back and up to his old tricks, trapping animals in badniks and hunting the Chaos Emeralds to power his new world-conquering space station the Death Egg. But Sonic the Hedgehog is back to stop him and this time he’s not alone.
Released on Tuesday November 24th 1992, a day that will forever be known as Sonic Twosday, the blue blur’s second adventure was one of the most eagerly anticipated games of its day. The game took everything that had made its predecessor such a phenomenon and built on it with thoughtful additions to the gameplay that enriched the experience. Once again you must speed through the colourful zones collecting rings, smashing badniks and hunting Chaos Emeralds on the way to your ultimate goal of taking out Robotnik’s Death Egg.
The biggest addition is the introduction of a new playable character and one of gaming’s most recognisable sidekicks, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower the fox whose cute looks and ability to fly using his twin tails like helicopter blades made him an immediate fan favourite. You could play through the game as either Sonic or Tails or, by default, both together. You control Sonic with Tails following his movements and the experience definitely gains something by having the little furball tag along. There’s a charm in watching the faster Sonic leaving him behind in the speedy sections to see him flying back to his hero’s side later. Sadly when playing as Tails you can’t actually make him fly, that didn’t come until Sonic 3 but the game did feature one other new technique that made the playing experience complete. If you tap the button repeatedly whilst crouching, Sonic and Tails will spin on the spot, charging up their speed. When you release the button they shoot off at high speed. Being able to hit top speed with no run-up like this was so handy it made you wonder how you ever did without it in the original and the spin-dash is now as much a part of the Sonic gameplay as wall-jumping is a part of Mario games.
Although this sequel shares a great deal of makeup with the original it feels rather different to play. There are a total of eleven zones compared to the original’s six but most are only made up of two acts meaning the levels zip by much quicker making for a more exuberant pace. There’s also none of the slightly melancholic atmosphere of the original, in its place an unassailably buoyant tone driven by the superb music. The game opens in the Emerald Hill Zone, essentially a variation on the classic Green Hill Zone; an opening level that really showcases the game’s inventive use of Sonic’s signature speed with its corkscrew speedways and powerful springs to propel you along and the tune is so upbeat you won’t want to move on.
But when you do move on you’ll find yourself in the Chemical Plant Zone, possibly the best Zone in the series, one that makes the best use of everything that made the games iconic. Between the exhilarating and prolonged speedy sections are decent platforming challenges and fun little gimmicks to keep things interesting all set to one of the most infectious pieces of video game music ever created. Other standout Zones include the Casino Night Zone which builds on the pinball concept of the original game’s Spring Yard Zone with slot machines and point multipliers in a neon wonderland. Then there’s the huge Metropolis Zone, a massive factory of rotating gears and steam vents and some of the most aggravating badniks ever. The short lived but lovely Sky Chase Zone features the first appearance of Tails’ bi-plane which he flies through the clouds with Sonic wing-walking as they pursue Robotnik to his Wing Fortress Zone.
Sonic and Tails’ adventures will also take them to flooded crumbling ruins, volcanic mountaintops, underground caves and vast oil refineries, the variety in the themes is excellent and the vistas and accompanying tunes are uniformly memorable. There is of course one other playground for the pair, the obligatory special stages that challenge you to grab a Chaos Emerald. Instead of jumping through a giant ring at the end of an Act you can access the Special Zone from any of the Star Post checkpoints you find provided you pass them with at least fifty rings. In a big departure from the rotating mazes of the original you will instead be thrown into a pseudo-3D half-pipe which you must sprint down to collect a preset number of rings while avoiding bombs to earn your Chaos Emerald. It’s challenging and fun and more rewarding than ever.
Finding the Chaos Emeralds was a diverting secondary objective in the first game but this time round it comes with a much better payoff. After gathering all of the multi-coloured gems (seven rather than six this time) Sonic will be able transform into Super Sonic after grabbing another fifty rings. This bright yellow chaos charged version of Sonic is much faster and completely invincible. Bombing through the levels with abandon is a brilliant reward for your hard work but he doesn’t completely ruin the challenge as your ring count will steadily decrease as Super Sonic who reverts to normal blue Sonic when it reaches zero.
The game builds to one of the best endings of the era. The Death Egg Zone once you finally reach it comprises no rings and two boss battles. The first is Silver Sonic, the first metallic incarnation of Sonic the series produced and is a pretty decent boss but he is followed by one of the classic final bosses, Dr Robotnik’s screen-filling Death Egg Robot, a giant of a foe that when you’re seven years old is absolutely awe-inspiring and overshadows the equivalent in the original game massively. Beating it leads to a wonderful final sequence as Sonic plummets from the Death Egg to be met by Tails in the bi-plane and a euphoric victory melody. All the different elements combine to create one of the most satisfying, entertaining and polished 16-bit games in history.
Design – 10
Gameplay – 10
Graphics – 10
Sound – 10
Content – 7
Another classic fast-paced platformer with another classic selection of levels and another classic soundtrack with a great new sidekick and the best power-up ever make this one of the great games of the early nineties and a clearly improved sequel.