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Sonic the Hedgehog was a huge success on it's original release for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis in 1991, becoming a real, legitimate rival for Nintendo who dominated the video game market at the time with their mascot, Super Mario. Sonic the Hedgehog changed the game and showed that there was room at the top for two. Sega needed to capitalise on this newfound success, and they did so with the release of the imaginatively titled Sonic the Hedgehog 2, also released for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis a year after the original, in 1992. Since its release it has been ported and rereleased on all sorts of different video gaming platforms, most recently for mobile devices in 2013 in a remastered version.
The original Sonic the Hedgehog promised the gaming world blistering speed and fast paced platforming action. What we really got was some standard (although still entertaining) platforming sections briefly peppered with speedy sections. This was one problem that is rectified somewhat in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The speed is balanced more, you get a greater sense of it, it seems to deliver exactly what you would want from a pixel based Sonic the Hedgehog game, much more than the original. Adding to the speed theme is a new move called the "spin dash'" that allows you to charge up a spin attack that, once released, will propel you forward with that classic Sonic speed. A simple addition that is now almost unthinkable to imagine Sonic without, something that fits perfectly. It makes traversing the zones and their many platforms much easier.
A second addition, arguably as big as the "spin dash," is the addition of a second character for you to play as through the game, or to use as a partner. The new character, Tails, plays much the same as Sonic although he can perform a flying move that can airlift Sonic out of some tight situations should they arise. A new character and a new move, both incredibly important and defining additions to this game, really help to not only set it apart from its predecessor but also set it apart from every other platform game available at the time. Instant speed and a second person watching your back are marked improvements over the original, which could really have benefitted from both such revelations.
One tradition the second game continues that was started by the original is the stellar music. Once again the musical score must be commended for its catchiness and for the way each song seems to fit the level perfectly. Chemical Plant Zone could only exist with that music, nothing else would fit. As good as the songs were in the original, they could arguably be beaten by the second games offering, and a fine offering it is too. All very unique, very distinct, and very hard to forget, once again in a Sonic the Hedgehog game the music is a key element.
Level design is just that bit tighter than the previous game. It still contains a lot of slow platforming sections, but the mix between speed and slowdown is balanced much better in this game. For example, the aforementioned Chemical Plant Zone has large loops and straights that Sonic can run down and gather speed to propel him straight into some purple goop, which will slow him down considerably for a few moments before he can pull himself out of it again and finds another long straight he can zoom down. This time around the level design and the promise of speed are coupled together in a much tighter fashion, and you feel it as soon as it starts. Everything feels like an upgrade over the last game. The music pops a little bit more, the new "spin dash" move allowing you to fly through the newly designed levels, the new robot enemies look a little more polished and inventive than they did in the previous game. Even the opening level is an homage and upgrade over the original game. Sonic the Hedgehog starts in the Green Hill Zone. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 starts off in the Emerald Hill Zone, its music just that more infectious than in the original. The original had six levels, Sonic 2 has twelve. At every step of the way Sega wants you to really feel that this is a sequel, an improvement, the pinnacle of Sonic, the pinnacle of platforming to that point, and the standard bearer for all to come.
This game and the game(s?) that immediately follow it are the games used to gauge other Sonic the Hedgehog games. Music, level design, inventiveness, all of these factors are held up to Sonic 2 and 3 to determine whether or not it's a success. It's fair to say that Sonic the Hedgehog 2, when it was first released, was indeed a success, finally proving that Sega might be able to do what Nintendon't after all. It remains a joy to play and to listen to, a real classic. If you want an immediate speed thrill, it's arguable that you could do no better than Sonic the Hedgehog 2. A real classic.