The behind-the-scenes story of how Sonic 2 became Sega’s trump card

Despite a flurry of entries since its initial release in 1991, many still consider Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to be the pinnacle of the series. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 received countless critical acclaim upon its release in 1992, and surprisingly, that reputation has not faded decades later. We asked the people behind the game’s success to share how Sonic’s second appearance has become one of Sega’s driving forces in its fight against Nintendo.

After the huge success of the Japanese-developed Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega shifted development efforts for the sequel to the newly formed Sega Technical Institute in the United States. mascots like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Key members of the original development team, such as series creator Yuji Naka, moved to the United States to work on the sequel to Genesis’ flagship title.

“The development team moved to San Francisco while developing Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and we were able to realize the great [power] about our title in the US and hearing from the kids,” Naka said. “I think it’s a good influence for the development team.”

Al Nilsen, a former marketing manager for Sega of America, said that the team decided to go all out to ensure that they could follow up the mascot’s debut with another hit. “The problem with sequels — whether it’s books, movies, or video games — is that sequels aren’t always good and in many cases they suck,” he said. The development team knew they had to raise the bar for the much-anticipated sequel, and Naka’s team had plenty of ideas. However, one key defining characteristic must be maintained. “What hasn’t changed is that Sonic pursues speed,” Naka said. “In Sonic The Hedgehog 2, we raised the speed limit compared to the previous game. I think this proves our passion for speed. This game also has a 2P mode that we tried. installed in Sonic The Hedgehog at a later stage of development. I’m glad we continued with this and achieved it in the sequel.”

Former Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske, who worked closely with the development team alongside Nilsen and former chief product officer Madeline Schroeder, says that constant communication between the product and development teams has helped beneficial to the process in those days. Nilsen says that the feedback loop helped the team refine Sonic 2 into the critically acclaimed game it is today. “The game would probably be three times bigger if we left everything there,” he said. “Naka ​​and the team really did a phenomenal job of tweaking what’s going to be in the game and aren’t afraid to say ‘I’ve been working on this for four months, it’s not working. Let’s take it down. Go.’ [In] a lot of games, that won’t happen. It’s just a great management of the project.”

Nilsen claims that Sonic 2 looks like a big hit earlier than most other games the company has ever seen. Because of this confidence, the marketing team began drafting elaborate promotions like “Sonic 2sday” and an introductory poster with the tagline “Are you 2?” Sega had bet big that it had a big hit on its hands and wanted this to be a celebration like a product launch.

With Sonic 2, Sega’s bets were so high that the game was polished to the last possible moment, then flown by two people on two separate planes to Japan for production – just in case one plane crash. The code arrived in Japan without issue, but despite Sega’s confidence, the question of whether it deserves the hype in the public eye.

When asked what would happen to Sega if Sonic 2 failed, Nilsen hesitated for a long moment before saying it was hard to imagine. “I think that means we have to shift focus,” he said. “We may have stopped making Sonic 2sday until May ’92, so we’re pretty pleased with what we’ve seen in Sonic 2 knowing it won’t just be a normal sequel, it would be a much better sequel. […]But if it didn’t [been good], we were able to figure out something else. We are Sega! I just didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to have to think about it, but we could have done something else.”

Thankfully for Nilsen, Sega didn’t need to worry about coming up with a plan B. The game ended up being considered by both fans and critics alike as one of the best 2D platformers of the ’90s. It boosted Genesis hardware sales to the point where it was almost on par with Nintendo in terms of market share. Slick, challenging and innovative stages gave players a bigger playing field to speed up. The inclusion of Sonic’s main spin adds significantly to the player’s gameplay options, and the game serves as an introduction to Tails, the series’ most popular companion to this day. . “They brought not only a great game, but an extraordinary game with new elements that make the game bigger and better,” said Nilsen.

The current head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka doesn’t work on the game, but he does acknowledge how special Sonic 2 is. “As someone who worked on Sonic 3, it hurts a bit to say it, but I really feel that Sonic 2 is truly the best in the classic Sonic series,” he said. “Really, really solid level design. There are a lot of reasons why I think a lot of people are still attracted to Sonic 2. Sonic 2 was born in the US with the perfect combination of development staff and development staff. USA with Japanese development staff and everyone talking, discussing and working together where all staff will say this is a great game for Japanese tastes but also is a great game for American tastes. Sonic 2 really captures the global sense of game design and level design.”

Sonic 2’s legacy lives on to this day, as it pops up on countless platforms and serves as the gold standard for all Sonic 2D games. One of those titles is the recently released Sonic Mania, which pays homage to classic games in the franchise at every turn. Sonic Mania ensures the legacy will live on, as it not only received good reviews, but performed well for Sega, ranking high in digital stores like Nintendo’s eShop for months after its release. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was an undeniably special title that cemented Sega’s translucent blue as a true Mario rival, and to this day, fans, critics, and creators alike. So it all looks back on the speed hedgehog’s second attempt with great affection.

For more on the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, check out these other stories:


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