Sonic the Hedgehog 2Sega's mascot made a pretty good impression in his first game on the Master System, so I was eager to see what the speedy blue hedgehog could manage in his second outing on the system.
The game's plot revolves around Tails this time, who has been kidnapped by Robotnik and it's up to Sonic to race through more zones beating the stuffing out of badniks to rescue him, along with the other unfortunate citizens who got nabbed by the evil doctor as well. It's a bit more personal than the first game's simple "beat bad guy" thing which is nice, although after the backstory there's little to advance things until the end. It's also a shame that we see very little of Tails considering his appearances on the box cover.
The game does a good job of looking good for the player. The sprites used for Sonic and the various badnik enemies are detailed by 8 bit standards, with clearly distinguishable features visible and they also have decent animations for things like running and attacking. The zones you play through are well constructed, with each area using a specific theme like the underground mines complete with mine carts or areas set in the clouds in stormy weather and the graphics match that theme. The special effects work well too with stuff like explosions and sparkling.
The music is OK in this game, much like the first game. The music numbers used are all pretty upbeat and fit in with the Sonic universe, although nothing I would call especially catchy or memorable. Sound effects work nicely to match up with the actions happening onscreen.
So once again, you're racing from the beginning of each zone to the boss waiting in the final act, before thrashing it and moving onto the next zone. The game is all about speed and Sonic moves at a pretty fast rate. Here that speed seems tuned well, giving players the sense of speed they're after without making it all feel out of control. Sonic also handles well in the air when you need to jump, so for the most part you feel totally in control. That is, unless you fling yourself off a ledge at high speed and hope your landing point isn't a pile of spikes, but that's a risk you accepted when you did that.
Level design is great in this game. You have all the usual trappings like platforming segments spaced out just well enough to test your jumping skills without feeling like it just enjoys watching you fall to your death. Hazards like spikes can be scattered around to for you to avoid, just in case you decide to run around carelessly, but the balance is done well so that you rarely feel like dashing into danger was a cheap tactic. A few new level features appear as well to make each zone more interesting. In the first zone you can dive into mine carts and have them transport you speedily along their preset tracks. In the next zone you can grab hold of a hang glider that, although tricky to use at first, is fun once you get the hang of it. They're also set out well for a bit of exploring and multiple routes in some cases. For the most part this is largely just to find the chaos emeralds, which unlock the final zone when you collect them all and have one hidden in each zone. Sometimes you might find a powerup or rings off the usual path too but there's rarely a significant incentive to go for them like there is with the emeralds. One thing to mention about those emeralds though is that if you happen to miss one then you miss out on the final zone unless you restart the game and try again. In a way, that can be a little annoying, as you don't have multiple chances as you would in the Mega Drive games and their acquisition is generally more important than it was in the first game.
Speaking of which, powerups make a standard return and compliment the gameplay. Rings are the main thing to collect, which act both as a score and a form of a shield where getting hit will only cost Sonic the rings he carries instead of a life. The damage system here has been tweaked where Sonic can reclaim a portion of the rings he loses when hit if the player is quick enough, making mistakes slightly less punishing as a result. Other items include things like temporary invincibility or extra speed, so there's a good number of them. Which is handy when you go to take on the enemies in the game. An assortment of badniks try to impede you and Sonic's job is to smash them on his way past through the classic spin attacks. Sadly there's no spin dash yet in this game for a swift ground based spin but the more familiar moves will likely suffice. You can still expect some epic boss battles at the end of each zone too, each bringing about their own specific set of strategies you can use to clear them.
This platformer will give you a fair amount to do, with seven zones with three acts each to play through and those chaos emeralds to collect, even though it's nowhere near the scope of something like Super Mario Brothers 3. It's also a fairly decent challenge, especially in the last zone where hazards present a much bigger threat and the final boss is all too eager to try and zap you into the middle of next week. Again, there's no save system though, so if you do want to play it you better have enough time to play through it all in one sitting.
Sonic's second outing is definitely a success. I must admit I was disappointed that Tails wasn't actually playable, but other than that the game puts in some notable tweaks and improvements over the previous game and shows that Sonic's 2D games held a lot of enjoyment in their content.