Despite an avalanche of entries since its original release in 1991, many still consider Sonic the Hedgehog 2 the pinnacle of the series. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was lavishly acclaimed when it was released in 1992, and surprisingly that reputation hasn’t faded decades later. We asked the people behind the game’s success to tell us how Sonic’s second appearance became one of Sega’s driving forces against Nintendo.
Due to the huge success of Sonic the Hedgehog, developed in Japan, Sega shifted development efforts for the sequel to the newly formed Sega Technical Institute in the United States. Sega hired Mark Cerny to direct the STI, who has since been involved in the development of other mascots such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Key members of the original development team, such as series creator Yuji Naka, relocated to the United States to work on the sequel to Genesis’ flagship title.
“The development team moved to San Francisco during development of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and we could see the big ones [power] of our title in the US and hear the opinions of children,” says Naka. “I think it was a good influence on the development team.”
Al Nilsen, former Marketing Director at Sega of America, says the team has decided to do whatever it takes to ensure their mascot’s debut can be followed by another smash hit. “The thing about sequels—whether it’s a book, a movie, or a video game—is that sequels don’t always deliver and in a lot of cases they suck,” he says. The development team knew they had to up the ante for the anticipated sequel, and Naka’s team had plenty of ideas. However, one essential feature had to remain. “What stayed the same was Sonic’s pursuit of speed,” says Naka. “In Sonic The Hedgehog 2, we’ve raised the speed limit from the previous title. I think that proved our passion for speed. This game also had a 2P mode that we tried to install into Sonic The Hedgehog in the later stages of development. I’m very happy that we continued and achieved that in the sequel.”
Former Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske, who worked closely with the development team alongside Nilsen and former product manager Madeline Schroeder, says constant communication between the product team and the development team aided the process at the time. Nilsen says this feedback loop helped the team refine Sonic 2 into the critically acclaimed game we have today. “The game could have probably been three times the size if we’d left in everything that was there,” he says. “Naka and his team have done a truly phenomenal job of editing what should be in the game and weren’t afraid to say, ‘I’ve been working on this for four months, it’s not working. [In] many games, that will not happen. It was just great management of the project.”
Nilsen claims that Sonic 2 looked like a huge hit earlier than almost any other game the company had seen. Because of that trust, the marketing team began crafting lavish promotions like “Sonic 2sday” and a teaser poster with the slogan “Are You Up 2 It?”. Sega was banking big on having a massive hit on its hands and wanted this to be both a celebration and a product launch.
With Sonic 2, the stakes were so high for Sega that the game was polished up to the last possible moment and then flown to Japan for production by two people on two separate planes – just in case something went wrong with one plane. The code arrived in Japan without issue, but despite Sega’s confidence, the question remained whether or not it would live up to the hype in the eyes of the public.
When asked what it would have meant for Sega if Sonic 2 had failed, Nilsen pauses for a moment before saying it’s hard to imagine. “I think that would have meant a shift in focus for us,” he says. “We could have pulled the plug on Day 2 of Sonic by May 1992, so we felt pretty good about what we had seen in Sonic 2, to know that it wasn’t just going to be an ordinary sequel, it was would be a much better sequel. […]But if not [been good], we should have thought of something else. We are Sega! I just don’t know what it is and I don’t want to have to think about it, but we would have done something else.”
Luckily for Nilsen, Sega didn’t have to worry about coming up with a plan B. The game was considered one of the best 2D platform games of the 90’s by both fans and critics. It increased sales of Genesis hardware to the point that it was almost on par with Nintendo in terms of market share. The polished, challenging, and imaginative stages gave players a bigger playground to dash through. The inclusion of Sonic’s mainstay, Spin Dash, greatly expanded players’ gameplay options, and the game serves as the introduction of Tails, the series’ most popular companion to date. “They not only delivered a good game, but a phenomenal game with new elements that make it bigger and better,” says Nilsen.
The current Sonic team leader, Takashi Iizuka, hasn’t worked on the game, but he acknowledges how special Sonic 2 is. “As someone who worked on Sonic 3, it pains me to say this, but I really think Sonic 2 is the best of the classic Sonic series,” he says. “The level design is just really, really solid. There are many reasons why many people are still interested in Sonic 2. Sonic 2 originated in America with the perfect mix of US development staff along with Japanese development staff and all other talk, discussion and collaboration where all staff would say it’s a great game for Japanese tastes but also a great game for American tastes taste was. Sonic 2 really captured that global sense of game design and level design.”
The legacy of Sonic 2 lives on to this day as it appears on a variety of platforms and serves as the gold standard for all 2D Sonic games. One such title is the recently released Sonic Mania, which pays homage to the franchise’s classic games at every turn. Sonic Mania ensures the legacy lives on as not only was it well reviewed but it performed well for Sega and ranked highly on digital storefronts such as Nintendo’s eShop for months after its release. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an undeniably special title that cemented Sega’s bruise as a true contender for Mario, and to this day fans, critics, and its creators look back on the speedy hedgehog’s second feat with great affection.
For more information on the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, check out other stories:
- Where Sonic went wrong
- How Sonic 3 became two separate games
- How Sonic made the jump to Nintendo
- Sonic the Hedgehog’s burning questions finally answered
- More burning questions answered about the Sonic The Hedgehog franchise
This article was previously published on Source link