The Behind-The-Scenes Story Of How Sonic 2 Became Sega’s Ace In The Hole
Despite a deluge of entries since its original release in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still considered by many to be the pinnacle of the series. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was showered with acclaim upon its release in 1992, and surprisingly, that excellent reputation hasn’t faded decades later. We asked the people behind the game’s success to share how Sonic’s second outing became one of Sega’s driving forces in its fight against Nintendo.
Following the huge success of Sonic the Hedgehog, developed in Japan, Sega relocated development efforts for the sequel to the newly founded Sega Technical Institute in the US with 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 the flagship Genesis title.
“The development team moved to San Francisco when it was developing Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and we were able to recognize the great [power] of our title in the US and listen to the opinions of the children,” says Naka. “I think he was a good influence on the development team.”
Al Nilsen, former director of marketing for Sega of America, says the team decided to do everything they could to make sure they could follow up their mascot’s debut with another smash hit. “The thing about sequels, whether it’s a book, a movie, or a video game, is that sequels don’t always work and, in many 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 main defining feature had to remain. “What stayed the same was Sonic’s quest for speed,” says Naka. “In Sonic The Hedgehog 2, we raised the speed limit of the previous title. I think this showed our passion for speed. This game also had a 2P mode that we tried to install in Sonic The Hedgehog in the last phase of development. I’m very happy that we’ve continued with this and achieved that in the sequel.”
Former Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske, who worked closely with the development team along with Nilsen and former product manager Madeline Schroeder, says constant communication between the product team and the development team helped the process along. in those days. Nilsen says the feedback loop helped the team refine Sonic 2 into the highly praised game we have today. “The game probably could have been three times as big if we had left everything in there,” he says. “Naka and the team really did a phenomenal job editing what was going to be in the game, and they weren’t afraid to say, ‘I’ve been working on this for four months, it’s not working. Let’s remove it.'” [In] many games, that will not happen. It was just great project management.”
Nilsen claims that Sonic 2 seemed like a smash hit before almost any other game the company has seen. Because of this trust, the marketing team began drafting elaborate promos like “Sonic 2sday” and a teaser poster with the tagline “Are You Up 2 It?” Sega bet big that they had a huge success on their hands and wanted this to be as much a celebration as it was a product launch.
With Sonic 2, the stakes were so high for Sega that the game was polished to the last possible moment and then two people on two separate planes flew it to Japan for production, just in case something went wrong with a plane. The code made it to Japan without a hitch, but despite Sega’s confidence, the question of whether or not it would live up to the public’s expectations.
When posed with the question of what it would have meant for Sega if Sonic 2 failed, Nilsen pauses for a long time before saying that it’s hard to imagine. “I think it would have meant a change of approach for us,” he says. “We could have pulled the plug on Sonic 2sday until May ’92, so we felt pretty good about what we’d seen in Sonic 2 to know that it wasn’t going to be just an ordinary sequel, it was going to be a much better sequel. […]But if I hadn’t [been good], we would have noticed 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.”
Fortunately for Nilsen, Sega didn’t have to worry about coming up with a plan B. The game ended up being considered one of the best 2D platformers of the ’90s by fans and critics alike. It pushed sales of the Genesis hardware to the point where it was nearly equal to Nintendo in terms of market share. Polished, challenging and inventive stages gave players a larger playing field to speed up. The inclusion of Sonic’s main spin move added substantially to players’ gameplay options, and the game serves as the introduction of Tails, the most popular sidekick in the series to this day. “They delivered not just a good game, but a phenomenal game with new elements that make it bigger and better,” says Nilsen.
The current head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka, did not work on the game, but he acknowledges how special Sonic 2 is. the classic Sonic series,” he says. “The level design is very, very solid. There are many reasons why I think a lot of people still lean towards Sonic 2. Sonic 2 happened in America with the perfect mix of US development staff along with the Japanese development staff and everyone.” talking, discussing and working together where all the staff would say it was a great game for Japanese tastes but also a great game for American tastes. Sonic 2 really captured that overall sense of game design and level design.”
The legacy of Sonic 2 lives on today as it appears on a multitude 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 classic games in the franchise throughout. Sonic Mania ensures that the legacy lives on, as it was not only well reviewed, but also performed well for Sega, ranking high on digital stores like the Nintendo eShop for months after its release. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an undeniably special title that solidified Sega’s blue blur as a true Mario competitor, and to this day, fans, critics, and its creators look back on the speedy hedgehog’s second effort with great affection. .
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