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The Greatest SEGA Game of All Time

VOICE OVER: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
With a history spread over multiple decades, consoles, and franchises, Sega has developed and published games that have proven to be timeless, influential, and just plain fun. Out of all of the company's classics, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” on the Genesis represents Sega at its peak.
Transcript
Script written by Mark Sammut

The Greatest SEGA Game of All Time


With a history spread over multiple decades, consoles, and franchises, Sega has developed and published games that have proven to be timeless, influential, and just plain fun. As shown in our “Top 20 Sega Games of All Time” video, the Japanese company has blessed the world with fantastic RPGs, iconic beat-em-ups, and ground-breaking open-world titles. Out of all of the company’s classics, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” on the Genesis represents Sega at its peak.

The console wars of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s brought out the best in Nintendo and Sega, spawning some of the greatest games of all time. For many people, Sega’s journey starts with the Genesis console, but the company spent the best part of the 1980s cementing its legacy with classic arcade titles. Games such as “OutRun,” “Golden Axe,” and “Space Harrier” changed the gaming industry for the better, showing Sega could craft innovative masterpieces with mass appeal. This trend would continue in the ‘90s with “The House of the Dead,” “Daytona USA,” and pretty much anything with “Virtua” attached to it.

While Sega did well in arcade halls, the home console market was another beast entirely. Sega’s first console, the SG-1000, surpassed expectations, but the Master System struggled to maintain its predecessor’s momentum. Unless Sega came up with a figurehead capable of competing against Nintendo’s jumping plumber, the company would always play second fiddle. “Sonic the Hedgehog” was the final piece Sega needed to become a household name.

Regardless of whether someone preferred a SNES or Genesis, the gaming industry as a whole benefited from the fact Sega could be uttered in the same breath as Nintendo. 1991’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” was a cultural phenomenon driven by Sega’s unapologetically aggressive marketing strategy that positioned the blue blur as the “cool” mascot of gaming. Selling over 15 million copies, “Sonic the Hedgehog” did not put Sega on the map but it ensured the company would remain relevant even after quitting the console manufacturing business.

Focusing on high-speed platforming and vertical level design, “Sonic the Hedgehog” has aged pretty well, even if it can feel a bit limited compared to its sequels. For the follow-up, Sega had to fine-tune the elements that already worked in the original, but high expectations meant “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” needed to be one of the greatest games ever to avoid being a disappointment.

Unlike the first “Sonic,” the sequel was created by a collective of American and Japanese developers, a mix that naturally led to some communication issues. The team was also working against the clock, as the sequel's development began just a year before it was released. The goal was to make “Sonic 2” bigger, better, and faster. Ideas omitted from the first game, like multiplayer, were implemented in the sequel, while other concepts such as time travel were considered but eventually dropped.

On November 21, 1992, aka “Sonic 2sday,” “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” landed on the Sega Genesis and was an instant worldwide hit, shipping around six million copies. Only the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” sold more units on the Genesis, and that game had the benefit of being bundled with consoles.

The sequel’s success put the Genesis firmly in contention with Nintendo’s SNES and arguably marked Sega’s peak as a console manufacturer, but “Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s” status as the publisher’s greatest game is not merely due to its cultural and commercial significance. Take away the merchandise, ‘90s attitude, and hyped-up marketing terms like “Blast Processing,” and what remains is a platformer that stands toe-to-toe with any of the genre’s top offerings.

From the second “Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s” title screen launches, it becomes clear that Sega has created something special. Masato Nakamura’s main “Sonic” theme provides a sample of the bouncy, expansive, and catchy soundtrack that works alongside the game’s visuals to inject each of the eleven zones with individuality. Even at the franchise’s lowest points, “Sonic the Hedgehog” can typically be relied upon to deliver sensational music; so, it’s hardly surprising that the series’ best game has a soundtrack for the ages.

The fourth console generation’s focus on 16-bit graphics has allowed its best games to age more gracefully than most titles from the third and fifth generations, with “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” serving as a prime example. 1991’s original was a looker, but “Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s” visuals are crisper, more detailed, and brimming with life. As backgrounds can become little more than a blur when Sonic hits top speed, the levels make skillful use of color to ensure constant clarity. The sprite work is brilliant throughout, not only for Sonic and Tails but also for the enemies and Dr. Robotnik's boss fights.

While the developers had to reduce their initial plan for 18 zones to just 11, those that made the cut were masterclasses in level design. Along with being gorgeous mostly unique, with the “Mystic Cave Zone” and “Chemical Plant Zone” being especially memorable, the stages' vertical design rewards experimentation as players try to find the best way to the end point. Even though most Acts can be completed in a few minutes, many of the levels are huge.

So, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” looks and sounds incredible, but how does it play? As the sequel used the same engine as its predecessor, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is basically just more of the same, only better. Sega implemented tiny changes that made Sonic feel like a more controlled character. The Spin-Dash attack might just be the most important mechanic in 2D “Sonic” games, as its introduction meant the protagonist was no longer at the mercy of the environment to gain speed. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” manages to be both faster and more accessible than its predecessor, providing better thrills with fewer frustrating moments in the process.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” incorporates 3D Special Stages that present a welcome break from the core gameplay loop as a reward for performing well on a stage. Sonic can also go pretty much Super Saiyan after collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, which is as overpowered and awesome as it sounds. When it comes to sequels, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is a perfect example of a follow-up that retains everything great about its predecessor while eliminating or diminishing the things that did not fully work.

Sega’s iconic franchise went on to produce plenty of other brilliant games, many of which also dropped in the early ‘90s, but none of these sequels could quite replicate “Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s” impact. Although the masterpieces would continue to roll out, Sega’s post-Genesis systems lagged behind Nintendo and Sony’s offerings, eventually leading the company to drop out of the console race following the Dreamcast. As a third-party publisher, Sega has gone through its fair share of ups and downs, but IPs like “Yakuza,” “Phantasy Star,” and on occasion “Sonic” have kept the company relevant. Sega predates the blue blur by decades and would probably still be around today if it never released “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” but the company’s legacy would be very different.

What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree. What is your favorite Sega game and why? This kind of thing is really important to us, so we really want to hear from you.
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