Seething Cauldron of Pop Culture Talk

Irascible Analysis of Popular Culture

SNES vs. Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Hot of the heels of their roaring success with platformer Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega needed a follow-up that captured the appeal of the original but expanded upon the formula enough that it could still be just as fresh. This time around, members of Sonic Team [such as Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara] traveled to the United States to work with a newly-formed development team known as Sega Technical Institute. The product of their labor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, went on to sale six million copies and helped the Genesis catch up to the SNES in market share. It’s also been branded as one of the greatest videogames of all time, certainly no mean feat.

This time around, Sonic is joined by his pal Miles “Tails” Prower, a fox with two tails [hence the nickname], who aids Sonic by, mostly, providing moral support. However, Tails can, at times, accidentally attack the enemy. Usually he falls into a pit or walks directly into an enemy and dies, only to reappear a few moments later. He does prove his worth near the end, however, so I suppose he’s not entirely useless. Clever players will discover that Tails can be directly controller during singe player with the second player’s controller. There’s also a two-player race mode where Sonic and Tails race through various levels to see who can be the fastest, but everything gets really squashed during this mode and there’s a lot of slowdown, so I wouldn’t really recommend it.

This time around, the gameplay has been streamlined a bit and made a bit easier. Sonic can run much faster than before and there are various things that have been implemented to take advantage of this, such as more loops and twirls for Sonic to run through and less strategically placed enemies. In the first game, it was hard to get up a lot of sustained momentum because there was usually and enemy or a spike trap waiting just ahead, so you had to be very careful about how you used Sonic’s speed. That’s not the case with Sonic 2. But, that doesn’t mean that Sonic is just about running fast from one side of the level to the other, there’s still a great deal of platforming and quick-reflexes required. This is especially evident in levels like Oil Ocean Zone and Chemical Plant Zone which have large, sprawling levels and, in the case of the later, a number of insta-death pits places in the final third. Another addition is the ability to rev Sonic up by crouching and pressing the A button, allowing him to build up speed for a sudden burst. This is very useful for getting up steep inclines or powering through enemies. Much of the rest of the gameplay is very similar to the first title, you collect a lot of rings, jump on enemies, run really fast, and fight Dr. Robotnik at the end of every zone. That’s not a downside, of course, as the gameplay standard set by the original is one of the best in 2D platformers.

Both the graphics and the music have seen a considerable update for this sequel. The backgrounds and the foregrounds popout with detail, depth, and a vibrancy that many Genesis titles sorely lack. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say that this is one of the best looking Genesis games. As I stated before, Sonic moves even faster than before. For the most part, the Genesis has no trouble keeping up, although sometimes Sonic can get moving so fast that he actually starts to move ahead of the camera. This is usually the case most often when Sonic is going through a series of loops and doesn’t affect normal gameplay. The music, done again by Masato Nakamura, is absolutely one of best soundtracks ever made. Nearly every track is an all-time classic and each is highly memorable. On the technical front, it’s an absolute gem.

On a special note, one of the zones where the graphics, music, and gameplay gel the most is the Casino Night Zone. The two levels that comprise this zone is are just so absolutely brilliant. The way the skycrapers in the background shimmer in the night, the stars that pass by up in the sky, the sprawling, complex levels filled with bumpers, flippers, slot machines, and more. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that the Casino Night Zone is one of my favorite levels in any platformer ever. Everything about it is just so good.

As I stated earlier, Sonic 2 is a bit easier than the original. It’s possible to store up a bevy of extra lives and extra continues without much effort at all, although it’s still very possible to lose all of them fighting the final boss. I certainly have on more than one occasion, but getting that far is not the Herculean effort that it is in many other Genesis platformers.

Bottom line: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an all-time classic in every way and one of the greatest games ever made.

May 5, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sega, fighting a grueling battle against gaming juggernaut Nintendo, had some success with its Master System, but the time was coming when they’d need a new console to fight the battle. That console, the Mega Drive/Genesis, arrived in Japan in October 1988, North American slightly less than a year later, and became a serious contender for Nintendo’s throne. But a console alone wasn’t enough, they needed a figure who could be pitted directly against Nintendo’s mascot king Mario. That figure, designed by Naoto Oshima, Yuji Naka, and Hirokazu Yasuhara, was Sonic the Hedgehog. Unlike the portly plumber, Sonic dripped attitude and cool. He could run at insane speeds and leap wide chasms with ease. Upon its release, it was an instant hit and even launched the Genesis past the SNES during the 1991 holiday season. Despite being released nearly seven months after Super Mario World in Japan, it actually slipped into North America a month and half before Nintendo’s latest entry in the Mario series. The title was developed by Sega’s Sonic Team, originally known as AM8 but renamed to mark their first release as a group. The game’s amazing soundtrack was handled by Masato Nakamura, who also returned to compose the sequel.

The basics of the gameplay in Sonic the Hedgehog are similar to those of other platformers. As Sonic, a speedy hedgehog out to save his animal friends from being turned into robots by the evil Dr. Robotnik [Eggman in the Japanese version], you must traverse from one side of a level to the other, jumping on the heads of enemies you might come across or simply avoiding all the while also avoiding various pits and other traps. Sonic, however, is not without it’s little quirks that set it apart. For one thing, Sonic is fast. Really fast. At times he’s little more than a blur on the screen. In giving this speed a good use, there are lots of loops, open spaces, and tunnels for Sonic to traverse. His speed, however, is not without its price. Enemies can appear very quickly, as can deadly obstacles like the dreaded spikes [some of which can hide in seemingly innocuous areas only to spring out as Sonic approaches]. It’s very important that player be aware at all times and not simply attempt to speed through a level as quickly as possible.

Also, rather than a health bar, Sonic must collect rings. As long as Sonic has a single ring, he can survive being hit [although any rings he has will instantly explode through the air, though they can be recollected after a second or two], except from being crushed or falling into a bottomless pit. These rings also give extra points at the end of each level.

The level set up is three levels based on a certain theme [Green Hill Zone, Marble Zone, and so on] with the end of the third level featuring a boss fight against one of Dr. Robotnik’s latest inventions, usually a modification of his personal airship. There are seven sets of levels in all, including the final zone. There are also special stages that can be accessed at the end of the first two levels of each zone by obtaining fifty rings and jumping through a giant ring at the end of the level. Each stage has at least one checkpoint that will act as a restarting point if Sonic dies elsewhere in the level.

As stated before, the soundtrack is one of the better 16-bit soundtracks out there, rivaling the best of Nintendo and Square. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I could listen to the soundtrack over and over and never get tired of it. Graphics-wise, it’s a very vibrant looking game with nicely detailed sprites that are just the right size for the game. Backgrounds feature scrolling elements and there’s even some trickery used to give the far background an element of depth that most games back then didn’t have.

There is one aspect of the game that I find a bit aggravating: you get three extra lives and then it’s game over. There’s no continues here, none at all. Giving the nature of the game, it means that you’ll more than likely get a few game overs before making it all the way to the end. It’s a bit unforgiving in that respect, but it’s certainly not a big enough issue to hurt the game all that much. It’s still a genuine classic and one of the greatest games ever made.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment