Liam’s Game Room #11 (Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Genesis)

Introduction

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Sonic The Hedgehog and was released in November 1992. The game was released just over a year after Sonic 1 and was developed by the same studio Sonic Team. When Sonic 2 was released, the game received even more widespread acclaim than Sonic 1 for building upon the success of the previous game, as well as adding new mechanics and a new character. However, after nearly 25 years does Sonic The Hedgehog 2 still hold up and is it still as enjoyable today as it was in 1992?

Story

The story of Sonic 2 is quite similar to the first game, however Dr Robotnik as he is now known, has taken the chaos emeralds and is using them to take over the planet from his spaceship, the Death Egg. Sonic has a sidekick called Miles “Tails” Prower (the pun being Miles Per Hour) who idolised Sonic and does what he can to keep up with Sonic. It is up to Sonic and Tails to defeat Dr Robotnik once again, reclaim the chaos emeralds and save the animals from being Robotnik’s robot slaves.

I quite like the fact that the story is both similar to the first game, but expands upon it which makes the story feel different. Also, the addition of Tails adds another facet to the story as it isn’t just Sonic this time stopping Robotnik. The idea about the Death Egg spaceship is a rather intriguing concept because it ends up being the level of the final battle between Sonic/Tails and Robotnik and also shows Robotnik’s power rather than Robotnik being on South Island like Sonic 1.

Gameplay

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is similar in mechanics to Sonic 1, although some of the minor issues Sonic 1 had in terms of gaining momentum were fixed. The major mechanic that was added to the game was the spindash, which can be revved up by pressing down on the D-Pad and any of the A, B or C buttons repeatedly. The quicker that the player presses the button, the quicker Sonic revs up the spindash and once the player stops pressing down, the spindash is released and Sonic is launched across the screen that Sonic was facing. The next section is an analysis of the zones one by one, where I will be covering the graphics, difficulty and music.

Zone By Zone Analysis

Emerald Hill Zone

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 14.47.04.png

Emerald Hill Zone is the first zone that the player encounters and is perhaps one of the best opening levels to any 2D platformer. The zone has a lot of space for the player to adapt to Sonic’s mechanics and also to learn and understand the spindash mechanic. There are not too many enemies in this zone, but too so few that the zone feels empty or is holding the player’s hand.

The graphics of this zone are absolutely stunning and still as amazing today as it did when it first came out. The dark blue sky with the clouds and the clouds reflection in the water makes the background feel very detailed and the scrolling of the background is perfect with the high speed of Sonic. There are a couple of sections of the zone where Sonic is slightly underground and the background distinguishes the difference between inside and outside flawlessly.

The music of this zone is fantastic and extremely catchy. The major improvements between this piece and the music for Green Hill Zone is that the composition itself is much longer and has sections to it. Im not saying Green Hill’s music is bad, but Emerald Hill Zone is a huge expansion on the simplistic nature of Green Hill.

Throughout the piece, there are multiple instrument sections, which really stand out on their own and work with the other sections to create a well rounded and catchy piece of music. The first thing of note is that this piece is in stereo, which at the time was used, but I feel that the stereo effects really add layers of depth to the piece. For example, the horn sounding instruments are purely panned to the right speaker, whilst some percussion sounds are panned to the left. This is a piece that listening to it through headphones is a experience of both joy and amazement that the piece was from 1992. The bass in this piece is also fantastic and really leads the chord progression well. It just seems that every element of this piece was very well thought out and is distinguishable from each other element.

Chemical Plant Zone

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.21.47.png

Chemical Plant Zone is the first zone in the game where the player really gets to see Sonic go extremely fast because the level design is in such a way that the amount of platforming required by the player is minimal. The player will spend as much as 50% of both levels of this sone spinning and watching Sonic reach maximum speed. The first time that I saw go this fast it actually made me feel very dizzy because the speed was so quick.

The background of Chemical Plant are very detailed with the background different sections of the plant. Everything from the working machinery when the player is lower down in the stage, to the skyline of the plant in the higher sections of the stage. Also, the water in this stage is of a purple shade, which really depicts the presence of chemicals well. The background seems somewhat futuristic in style and also somewhat similar to the look and feel of Death Egg. The reason for this coincidence is because Chemical Plant was meant to be the final levels of the game with the Death Egg background and Metropolis Zone 3, but Sega considered the game would be easy so close to the end of the game.

Chemical Plant’s music is hands down one of my favourite pieces of video game music of all time because the theme is even catcher and memorable than Emerald Hill Zone. There is a synth sound, which is concentrated on what would be the equivalent of the guitar lead and solos. There are also 2 guitar sounds one in either speaker both playing different parts, which makes the piece upbeat and very busy without being overwhelming. The horn instruments also play down the left side as well, which may in theory make the left side louder than the middle and right, but the volume is perfectly balanced.

Aquatic Ruin ZoneScreen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.22.55.png

Aquatic Ruin Zone is somewhat slower compared to Chemical Plant. There is more precise platforming required and there are fewer chances to really unleashed the speed the player experienced in Chemical Plant. There are also some underwater sections, which I found during my recent playthrough to be somewhat confusing and infuriating. Although, the fusion of both underwater sections which leads to above water sections works quite well because the level design will mean the player won’t be underwater for nearly as long as Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1.

The background of Aquatic Ruin Zone is nicely detailed, but doesn’t look as good as Chemical Plant because when the player is high up in the level, the background is pure blue. It isn’t until the player is mid to low height that the background really reveals itself quite nicely. The underwater backgrounds are quite pleasing on the eye because the green background doesn’t piece through the light blue of the water, which means the colours match perfectly.

The music for Aquatic Ruin is quite interesting because compared to Chemical Plant and Emerald Hill, the tempo is much slower and also has much less going on in terms of sonically. I do like the panning of the mid range instruments, which both different parts in both left and right speakers and also play in unison for the final section of the composition. The bass in this piece is much more spread out in terms of not playing on every beat, but rather every 2 beats and then plays on every beat in the final section. I do like the fact that both the bass and high range instruments play through the middle whilst the mid range play down either speaker panned, as it really establishes the sections well and makes the sections all noticeable rather than having to listen to the composition multiple times to get the full sound.

Casino Night ZoneScreen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.23.47.png

Casino Night Zone is my favourite zone of the entire game because the aesthetics and the mechanics of this zone are pleasing. Casino Night Zone looks like the interior of a Las Vegas Casino with the golden platforms and the roulette wheels in the walls. Sonic can also go into some slot machines where the player can gain as many as 150 rings, but can also lose 100 rings if three Robotniks are matched. The zone is medium paced zone and there is not too much platforming because the level layout is mostly set out like a pinball machine. This zone also inspired a spin off title called Sonic Spinball, which is a Sonic pinball game, which was released the year after Sonic 2.

The background in this zone is gorgeous and is predominantly looks like a Las Vegas skyline, which gives the feeling that Sonic is high up in the sky. It is almost the feeling that you are on top of a hill overlooking Las Vegas with palm trees and lots of bright lights shooting up to the sky. It is very pleasing on the eye and doesn’t stand too much, which gives the background and foreground good separation.

The music for Casino Night Zone really shows off the wide variety of sounds available on the Genesis soundchip. Casino Night is of a slow swing jazz tempo, which really matches the feeling and the look of the zone impeccably. The instrumentation in this composition is fantastic because the choices of instrumentation gives the feeling of a 50’s big band, with the sounds of a wind section. Also, the bass is fantastic because as it leads the piece marvellously, which also acts as a bridge between loops. The panning in this composition is much more noticeable with only the bass and the drums playing through the centre, with everything else panned to stereo channels. This really gives off the feeling of the sound that you would hear in a live Las Vegas performance and it sounds fantastic. It is one of the highlights of the soundtrack, as the sound was so different in comparison to soundtracks at the time.

Hill Top Zone

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.24.10.png

Hill Top Zone is one of the weirdest zones in the game as it feels somewhat out of place. The zone is extremely easy and feels like a filler zone between Casino Night and Mystic Cave. Hill Top as a zone feels like quite bland and uninteresting in comparison to the previous zones, which is a shame as the previous 4 zones look great. There is a lot of platforming in this zone and some of the platforming is difficult. At the end of Hill Top 1 there is a checkpoint about 5 seconds before the goal, which makes no sense and gives the impression that the stage was meant to be longer.

The background is actually quite good, with the lower sections of the zone being mainly clouds and some buildings in the distance. Higher up in the zone, there are some large rock structures, which either gives the impression that the player is high up or the clouds lower down in the stage could be fog. The foreground looks quite bland with the platforms and the core area being mainly blue blocks that look like blocks from Tetris, and some grass sections above ground.

The music in Hill Top Zone is somewhat strange and feels extremely out of place. The style of music depicted in the composition is what I can describe as 16 bit country music, with an instrument that tries to sound like a harmonica, but rather doesn’t sound like it at all. The harmonica’s timbre just doesn’t sound right and almost sounds out of place, although I do like the trill effect on the sound during the intro. I do like the guitar sounds quite a lot actually and it really saves the composition from sounding overly annoying. Also. this is no panning at all during this composition, which is disappointing as the previous pieces have been in stereo and this in mono.

Mystic Cave ZoneScreen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.25.05.png

Mystic Cave Zone is one of the more interesting zones in terms of level design because there are so many routes that the player can take through the stage. The zone is less based upon Sonic going fast and more based upon platforming. The zone reminds me a lot of Marble Zone from Sonic The Hedgehog 1, although Mystic Cave has a lot more variety in terms of what route is available to the player. There are very few checkpoints in both zones, which can make the zone somewhat challenging, especially considering that there are quite a few death pits.

The background of Mystic Cave zone is very highly detailed and has a wonderful blend of the light purples and the dark black colours. The purple tones are mainly used in the rock structures whilst the black creates both an outline of the rock structures and also the feeling of a never ending chasm. The green rock structures below the platforms makes the zone look bright and vibrant whilst also looking daunting to the player.

Mystic Cave Zone has some of the most memorable music in any Sonic game because the music makes the zone feel somewhat scary and creepy. The thing I love most of the theme is the wind style instrument that is heard during the intro and also in the final section, as the way that it was composed almost sounds like the music is laughing at the player. The high pitch instruments sounds like a Theremin, which is an instrument that plays different pitches dependant on the hand position between two sensors. This really adds more fear into the composition alongside the atonal key signature, this is an early example of how to do creepy and eerie music, but still be funky and listenable outside of the game.

Oil Ocean Zone

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.26.39.png

Oil Ocean Zone is perhaps one of the most interesting zones in terms of level design and background because the setting is so unique. The whole zone revolves around Oil and the mining of the resource to the point that even the enemies in the zone look like they have been mutated by the effects of the oil. Oil Ocean is interesting because the level design is more around a vertical maze where there is one or two paths, which both join up towards the end of the acts. The only major problem with this stage is that there is no point in sprinting with Sonic because if the player overcooks a jump can mean that the player will have to repeat quite a lot of platforming.

The background of Oil Ocean Zone is extremely detailed and looks like Sonic is in the Middle East aboard a Oil drilling rig in the ocean. The thing I really like the most about the background is the bright sun creates shadows on the buildings, as it creates a really authentic feeling. Also, the fact that sometimes the sun peeks between the building really adds another layer of depth to the scrolling background. The colours in the background work very well because there is dark of the buildings and in contrast there is the yellows and oranges of the burning sun.

The music for Oil Ocean Zone is perhaps one of the most unique 16 bit compositions I have ever heard. The musical style is heavily influenced by Eastern Europe and Middle Eastern musical style with some call and response between instruments. The high pitched wind instrument sounds like a Turkish reed instrument called a Duduk, which is used often in music from the Middle East. The music also does something called a fusion, which is where music of different genres are combined within the same composition to create a sound which is either not traditional used or not been experimented with. Oil Ocean is exactly that, with a combination of Western guitar sounds and orchestral sounds playing alongside a traditional Middle Eastern instrument set. The fact that this was achieved on the Genesis back in the early 1990’s, where fusion music in the West using Middle Eastern styles was started to be experimented with is astonishing considering the technical limitations of the soundchip.

Metropolis ZoneScreen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.29.33.png

Metropolis Zone is one of the most notorious zones of the 16 bit era mostly because it is a zone which is very difficult and it is the longest zone in the entire game. The mainly reason for the notoriety is because there are a lot of enemies that can’t be attacked from the front and even if Sonic rolls towards the enemy, Sonic will still lose rings. In the walls of the zone, there are starfish that will explode when Sonic gets close to them and then they explode, they will shoot out spikes in 4 directions. Most often, this happens when Sonic is ascending on spinning bolt and can knock Sonic down to the bottom of the ascent, which can take as long as half a minute to recover the progress. This can make this zone feel both very cheap and also overly frustrating.

However, the background of this zone is extremely detailed and looks just like the inside of a factory full of machines. The design looks to get quite a lot of inspiration from a 1927 movie called Metropolis, which is set in the future and has a lot of futuristic looking machines throughout the movie. This inspiration seems to give the zone some sense of familiarity to me or really captures the mechanical nature of a future metropolis perfectly. I do like how in the background, the player can see the machinery moving, which adds another layer of authenticity to the zone.

Now the music of Metropolis Zone is perhaps the most iconic piece of Sonic music and really set the bar high for what musical timbre could be achieved on video game console soundchips. The style of this piece is heavy rock music with 2 bass guitars leading the tempo of the piece and a heavy drum beat setting the tempo for the bass guitars. There are at least 3 lead guitars all playing melodies, which makes the piece feels huge and vast. The major breakthrough this composition was able to do was to be able to distinguish the sounds of multiple similar sounding guitars at once, which the panning helps a lot with and the fact that the guitars are all playing at different pitches most of the time makes the timbre of the piece that much better. But perhaps the best thing about this composition is the fact that there are 2 guitar solos, which both play solos towards the end of the piece and both have amazing timbre for the time as they sound clean and crisp on the ear. This piece just sounds fantastic even to this day and has aged beautifully because of the approach to the composition making it sound timeless.

Sky Chase ZoneScreen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.31.16.png

The Sky Chase Zone is perhaps one of the most relaxing zones in any Sonic game because the zone is an autoscroller. Immediately, this is an autoscroller that is annoying or overly difficult because once the player knows the layout and the enemy placement the zone is actually quite straightforward. The only things that the player has to contend with small ships, which launch to the left and are in sets patterns and the turtles which fire missiles towards Sonic. Also, the scrolling isn’t very quick, which allows the player to move quite freely without worrying about falling behind the scrolling.

The background of this zone is perhaps one of the simplest in terms of design as it is simply just a blue sky with some clouds to make the background not look boring. Halfway through the autoscroller, the player sees the Wing Fortress ship in the background scroll upwards as the background indicates that Sonic is getting ready to board the Wing Fortress. The Wing Fortress scrolling in the background almost adds a level of tension to the end of the zone because the player is getting a preview of what is up next.

Sky Chase Zone is a much more laid back composition compared to the heavy and upbeat sound of Metropolis. The emotions depicted in this piece is one of feeling that the journey that the characters in the game have been on has been a tough one, but the journey is almost over. There is almost a sense of sadness that the work that Sonic and Tails have had to do is nearly over and the instrumentation comments on this extremely well. The bass and drum parts are sparse and really offers a lot of space for the mid high range melody to take centre stage in the composition. There is also a mid range wind instrument, which plays when the other melody stops almost offering a call and response.

Wing Fortress ZoneScreen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.31.35.png

Wing Fortress Zone is quite a daunting and different zone to navigate because there are many areas which have nothing but death pits. The platforming in this zone is extremely difficult as there are some platforms which spin and some that retract into the ship. what this means is that the player has to time the jumps pretty much perfectly, but also time when to start the platforming because if the player starts too late, then by the time that the next jump is executed, the platform could be gone entirely.

The background for this zone is pretty much the same as the Sky Chase Zone, but with the ship background being the main feature of the zone. However, when the player gets high enough on the ship, the sky and the ship background merge, with the ship being the main background. The main background change is at the end of the zone after being the boss, Sonic grabs on to the Death Egg ship that Dr Robotnik is trying to escape in. The background goes from a blue sky, to a space background as Sonic continues to hold on before boarding the Death Egg.

The music for Wing Fortress is perhaps the most orchestral piece of music on the soundtrack, with all sections of the orchestra being used to perfect effect. The drum hits are on sections where the wind instruments are playing trills and at the end of a bar. The initial section is played by a keyboard, before the string and wing instruments dominate the piece. The piece feels huge with panning being used really effectively to double up on the layers to thicken the texture, which adds tension really well. Also, the trills on the string instruments is incredible, as it really adds the orchestral feel to the composition and also gives the feeling that the structure of the composition is very well thought out.

Death Egg ZoneScreen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.32.50.png

Death Egg Zone is the final zone where Sonic faces off against Metal Sonic and Dr Robotnik to try and rescue the last of the captured animals. These bosses are extremely difficult, especially Dr Robotnik himself. The problem which makes this zone so difficult is that there are no rings in the zone at all, which means that the player has to complete both bosses flawlessly. This for both new and experienced players is a really difficult thing to do because some of the hitboxes are wonky, which means sometimes can go through Dr Robotnik meaning that the player has to do the entire stage over again. The background is similar to Metropolis and Chemical Plant Zone, which most elements being there, but fused to create one background.

Although the player normally doesn’t hear much of the composition because the theme ends as soon as the boss starts. However, the reason why Death Egg has a full theme is because it was meant to be a full zone and used the layouts of Chemical Plant and Metropolis 3, but Sega thought the zone would be to easy. The theme for Death Egg is extremely dark and sound atonal in chord structure. The theme sadly feels quite repetitive especially in terms of the melodies, which makes the theme not as effective as it could have been. Also, the lack of instruments makes the theme feel quite empty and lonely, which works well especially considering Sonic is on his own against Robotnik.

Other Music Themes Of Note

The boss theme is a really solid theme with a driving and thumping drum beat, which alongside the huge bass sound works well in terms of adding some tension, but not too much that it is overpowering. Halfway through the piece, the melody splits into 2 parts and is panned left and right for the separate parts. This works very effectively in terms of adding some thickness in terms of the texture of the theme. The piece crescendos throughout and towards the end before looping. The crescendo feels very natural in terms of progression and it builds in sections rather than the crescendo potentially being too steep and potentially brash on the player.

The final boss theme is a fantastic theme to end the game and really shows the grandeur of the fight. It also build the tension incredibly well and really put the player on edge. I remember what I beat Robotnik, the entire time whilst this theme was playing, I would become extremely nervous and borderline scared because I had got all the way throughout the game and was hoping I could beat him. The drum beat in this theme feels like a march and the deep bass instruments really makes the piece exponentially more effective. There are some higher pitched instrumentation, but none that really reach the extremes of the instrumentations range.

Conclusion

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is perhaps the best Sonic game of all time in my opinion because the balance of difficulty and interesting boss fights make the gameplay extremely memorable. The soundtrack is fantastic with all the zones bar the Hill Top Zone theme being easy to listen to and so catchy that I still hum themes from the game months after playing through the game. This game is a masterpiece and has both stood the test of time sublimely, but has a set a standard for platformers that followed this game and also platformers released today and shows how a fast paced, well designed platformer is done.

10/10

Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s