Double the speed, Double the attitude
The 1990s were all about attitude and brashness. Bright colors, loud advertisements, and media that people still look back on with fondness and nostalgia. Out of this miasma of neon garishness rose a video game icon that perfectly exemplified the times; with his cocky attitude, too-cool-for-school mentality, and predilection towards chili dogs and running at a high rate of speed, Sonic the Hedgehog provided a perfect mascot foil to the juggernaut of Mario. And no other retro Sonic game best exemplifies the pure, distilled Sonic experience quite like Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Releasing on the oft-cited “Sonic 2sday” on November 24th, 1992, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 solidified that there could be multiple video game mascots occupying the same space. The original Sonic game was popular enough, but the hype leading up to the sequel was massive all around the world. This led to huge sales and records being broken all over the place, proving that people really resonated with this blue hedgehog with an attitude as big as his ego.
While the first Sonic game definitely made waves and became popular in its own right, it did suffer from a bit of bloat. With three stages per zone and very few ways to travel in a true Sonic fashion, it tended to come off as clunky and slow. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 changed that significantly, tightening up the amount of courses per stage that were offered from three to two, but also adding the spin dash, which allowed you to store up speed as a ball while standing stationary. This allowed you to experience a quick burst of speed that truly felt like you were breaking the boundaries of your TV screen.
My own history with this game is tied in with truancy. My older brothers were the keepers of the Sega Genesis, and thus, my time allotment with it was few and far between, wholly dependent on the whims of my siblings. Unfortunately for them (and my educational career), I soon developed a rather deceptive plan to fake being sick from school so that I could stay home all day and sneakily play the Sega Genesis – and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in particular. This was, of course, an awful plan and there are times that I regret it even to this day; however, this did afford me many hundreds of hours getting to know nearly every aspect and secret of this game, all free from my brothers’ purview.
And what a wealth of interesting secrets does this game have! Cheat codes were not unknown during this era of gaming – in fact, they were highly sought after and valued. But the secret codes you could input in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 almost felt unreal at the time. I had been used to the Game Genie growing up, which tended to break apart any games you tried to use with it. The codes that you could input into this game felt very different.
Right off the bat on the title screen, you could go to the Sound Test in the Options menu and quickly play a series of tracks in rapid succession. Successfully doing so would grant you the Level Select mode, allowing you to traverse to whatever stages and zones you wanted to. Not only that, but the Level Select menu also had its own secret Sound Test, which is the only place you could input the codes for gaining the seven Chaos Emeralds instantly (which allow Sonic to transform to his Super Saiyan-esque “Super Sonic” form) and a strange Debug Mode, which allowed the player to transform Sonic into nearly any asset in the game (whether item or enemy) and place whatever kinds of traps or hazards or countless amounts of rings wherever you wanted to in basically any stage. It was a very bizarre mode – almost unsettling, in a way, similar to when you first encounter “Missingno” in Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. But the tantalizing control you had over the game at that point was admittedly very tempting. I cannot count how many times I’ve tried to break the game using the Debug Mode features, nor can I recall how many times I’ve busted through levels as Super Sonic, tearing into enemies left and right. It was such a fun inclusion that could be easily missed; yet, it was so integral to my enjoyment of the game that I honestly never properly finished the game without using these cheats until just last year!
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is such an enjoyable game to play even today, even amidst some of the weird decisions that have been made with the franchise over the past several years. Thankfully, the original is ported regularly to modern systems, and even has an updated version on Mobile that adds some very helpful quality-of-life features for those that do not want to suffer through some of the archaic design decisions of the past. I periodically go back and play through my favorite sections every year just because the nostalgia is so strong. Regardless of the other games in the series, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 will always remain one of the most beloved entries.