It’s been a while since I reviewed a Game Gear game, and I don’t want the system to feel neglected, so let’s have a run at a bit of an oddity of a game with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I call this game an oddity because it is a rare instance of a game being downgraded to run on an older system. In this case, the overwhelming popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis prompted Sega to make downgraded version of the game for the older 8-bit Master System as well as the Game Gear. Adding to the oddity, this game was released before Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Genesis, marking the official debut of series mainstay Miles “Tails” Prower.
Despite the downgrade, I remember the game being a pretty solid Sonic game. I also remember rarely playing it because of how ungodly difficult the very first boss was, rendering the game as little more than a demo. But more on that when we get to him. With age, wisdom and experience, let’s see if I can finally defeat this menace of a boss and see what more this sonic title has to offer. If not, well, that’s what Game Genie was created for. I WILL SEE THE 2ND ZONE THIS TIME!!! LET’S GO!
Unlike other sonic games that open with the Green Hills Zone, the green paradise most people associate with the Sonic franchise, this game instead opens in the Under Ground Zone, an area full of mine carts, falling stalactites, and pits of lava. It’s not quite the happy welcome I was hoping for, but then again I already know I’m not going to have a very good time with this game.
Though the scenery might be different, the gameplay is perfectly familiar. Sonic can run and jump and collect gold rings which double as his health should he ever be hit. And as always, when Sonic jumps or crouches while running, he’ll curl up into a ball of destruction to wipe out everything in his path.
The levels themselves however are a bit disappointing. While they are graphically appealing for the system, and offer the branching paths you’ve come to know from the sonic series, they are incredibly short, even by sonic standards. Even with a fair amount of exploring, it took just over 2 minutes combined to complete the first two acts. All this ends up doing is further disappointing when the first boss proves to be near impossible.
The brief third act leading into the first boss is so short as to be unnecessary. You start with a mine cart ride, which you then have to jump out of. This brings you to a rail you have to run down and get launched over a lava pit.
As you fall helplessly towards the lava pit with no possible way of saving yourself, Dr Robotnik swoops down at the last second to catch you and save your life. Of course he wants you dead, so he’s not really saving you, he just wants to drop you off in front of the boss, The Antlion. Honestly, for a supposed genius, this was a horrible plan. Save Sonic’s life from certain doom by lava so he can maybe be eaten by an Antlion.
Of course, the Antlion is immobile, thus being an extra terrible opponent for the incredibly fast Sonic. But Robotnik has thought of everything as he starts throwing balls at Sonic to knock him off the slope. The low bouncing ones aren’t that big of a problem, just jump over them. It’s the high bouncing ones that make this so hard. You can’t really jump over them because of how high they bounce. You also can’t easily run under them because of the slope, and the fact that they aren’t on screen long enough to really judge a trajectory to find a safe spot.
So there you have it, the whole reason I hardly ever played this game as a child. This level is virtually impossible. Leading into the boss, there isn’t a single gold ring to be collected, so a single hit means death. The slope makes movement difficult. You can’t touch the boss or you’ll die. You can’t touch the balls or you’ll die. You can’t avoid the balls because they aren’t on screen long enough to dodge. With only 3 lives, there’s no way for you to ever expect to beat this monster.
There was one last surprise in store for me before the level would end. This giant flying ship. It looks so menacing, I was sure there was a second round to the boss. But no, this device is actually holding all the cute animals sonic is trying to rescue. I’m so used to seeing the container with the very obvious button on top that this was a bit of a shock at first.
So, what joys have been awaiting me my whole life just beyond the unslayable beast? Sky High Zone? It actually feels very reminiscent of the green hills zones with the vibrant greens and the fluffy clouds. I’m glad I finally get to see them.
The first act was unbelievably short though. After a few springs up to higher ground, you find an invincibility power up. Unfortunately, that power up is immediately followed by a hang glider. This glider is surprisingly difficult to control and inexplicably resistant to simply moving forward like you would expect a glider to do. Successfully gliding across the gap will then place you right at the end of the level, making the previously collected invincibility power up all but useless.
Act 2 isn’t quite as pleasant as Act 1 was. Gone is the happy blue sky, replaced with rain and lightning. Again you are forced to use that stupid hang glider, except this time you’re expected to navigate it through a passage of spikes. On the plus side, this level does allow you to literally run on the clouds, which was kind of fun. But again, the level is over before you even know it.
We finally make it to the second boss. We’re making real progress now. Who’s it going to be this time? It’s some tiny little pigeons. Are we sure about that? Isn’t sonic supposed to be here to rescue all the cute little animals? Oh well, these pigeons can actually be deceptively hard. Because of their small size, it’s easy to miss hitting them with your attacks. This unfortunate puts you right on top of them, and vulnerable to being hit with the tiniest of movements. Similar to the last boss, the stage leading up to the fight is devoid of even a single gold ring, making a tiny poke to the leg from one of these little birds surprisingly fatal.
Destroy the tiny helpless creatures and OH MY GOD IT’S THE MOTHER! Perhaps these seemingly innocent birds were actually robots the whole time, because now we must fight a giant robot chicken head that breaths fire. This battle wasn’t nearly as annoying as the first boss. In fact it was rather enjoyable, and along the lines of what I have come to expect from a Sonic boss. The tiny birds were somewhat annoying as mentioned before, and the cause of most of my deaths in this fight, but it was significantly better than the Antlion.
Ok, we’re on a roll now. We’re building up lots of momentum. What’s next? Bring it on! Oh no! Aqua Lake Zone? Please tell me it’s not an underwater level. Sonic is TERRIBLE at underwater levels. Yep, it’s an underwater level. That’s it, I quit. Sonic, you’re on your own now.
Mechanically, sonic controls just as well as he does in his genesis counterparts. Even graphically it’s a good game. But the level designs are convoluted and in general too short. Then the boss battles are insanely difficult, robbing the game of any and all enjoyment. Even with infinite lives and years of gaming experience, I barely managed getting past the Antlion, and would have rage quit soon into the Aqua Lake Zone had my half hour not run out. I have always wanted so badly to like this game, but I can’t. It just doesn’t compare to what a good sonic game should be. I am glad to finally see what the game has to offer past the first zone, but I doubt I will ever play it again.
Price – $3.50
If it wasn’t already obvious, this doesn’t seem to be a highly sought after collectible.
Fun Rating – 3 / 10
The game has great potential. Sonic controls perfectly, and the graphics and music are still top notch after the downgrade. But it still ends up as a horribly unplayable game. Without cheats of some kind, it’s little more than a demo as you’re unlikely to ever get past the first zone. Even with cheats, it wasn’t a very enjoyable game.
Play Again? – Probably not
While I would love to play more classic Sonic, this one just doesn’t compare to the Genesis games it’s downgraded from.
Total Deaths – 28 Deaths
An amazing 28 deaths in a mere 30 minutes. And I was barely out of the 2nd zone when my half hour was up, but I would have rage quit about then anyway. Poor Sonic, he is so abused.
Whatcha doing down there Sonic? Did the programmers forget to program the bottomless pit?
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