The Hedgehog dilemma. The question of whether or not you should find out of what really is the sound of one hand clapping in the hospital next to an unconscious patient.*zips*
No, there is another fable of the Hedgehog, one I heard from a book called Good to Great.
It mentions a Hedgehog and Fox. A fox is clever, knows many things about the forest, how to hunt in the forest. The hedgehog, however, looks dumb, an imbecile, a moron, buffoon, a grade-A dunce, but the hedgehog knows one big truth, that no one is going to bother it because all it needs is its quills. The story is about finding one strength and playing it hard. Its all you need. Though, this metaphor tends to fall apart because foxes are still clever enough to kill a hedgehog, but you get the point. The book goes onto show examples of businesses finding one strength and sticking too it. One being Walgreens, or CVS. They compete with Wal-Mart with their pharmaceuticals. Easy drive-thru access on the corner of every street. Easier than having to weave your way through a Wal-Mart Parking lot. Other business examples would be that of Dollar General, they corner the market in the middle of now-where towns that most business won’t think twice of establishing in. I digress, but its such an interesting thing to point out, find your strengths, and hone in on it.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 continues where Sonic 1 left off and stays true with its strengths. Then it adds to those strengths by totally making the level design worth playing. This was an era where Sega intentionally practiced the Hedgehog concept with game production. Present day Sega, as the book Good to Great also stated, getting caught in a doom loop, Sega can’t seem to pick one strength for Sonic and stick with it. Always changing the formula completely with each iteration.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 released in November of 1992, a little over a year after Sonic 1. That’s fast, really fast, and surprising that it turned out so well, but as I said before, it didn’t diverge much from its predecessor. Development was quick thanks to having a solid foundation to build upon, Development started not 4 months after the initial release of Sonic 1. A year to develop Sonic 2. The physics and trick shots are still present.
Sonic 2 rehashes the same plot as Sonic 1. Ivo Robotnik is trying to conquer the world with the Chaos Emeralds again. Tale as old as plumbers rescuing princesses. If it works, don’t fix it. If it works, add to it. Sonic 2 introduces Miles(Tails)Prower,(Miles-Per-Hour) adding the power of Two.
Tails game design wise was nifty. Two characters could now play on screen, nothing new really, but Tails wouldn’t die. He was the character you have your little brother play and wouldn’t get in the way, and if your little brother wasn’t a dunce, he would actually be of use. Tails was also a good entry player character because he could fly. If Sonic was too much for your brain to handle back when it released, Tails functioned as easy mode. Selecting him didn’t even feel like you were shamed into playing on easy mode, because Tails is just so fun to play. He does everything Sonic does and can fly. Whats not to love?
Sonic still plays the same but with Sonic 2 additions, we get a Sonics iconic spin dash. Hold down and press A and you beat the level, good job, hug your grandma. Overall though, Sonic handles just like he did in Sonic 1 with a little more control. Nothing short of fun.
Lets get into the nitty gritty with what I was disappointed about with the previous installment, is nearly all taken care of here, the level design. They have taken the three tier structure of, namely green hill zone, the previous installment and cranked it up to eleven. Take Aquatic Ruin Zone, The three tier structure is very inter connected, and the loops are more organic than a circular geometric shape. They will lead you up a tier and down a tier. Fun fact here, Aquatic Ruin Zone was initially going to be Neo-Green Hill Zone, but it was obviously the jazz session to Sonic 1s Classic level design.
The third act is thrown out, all except the final level. I wasn’t to thrilled about that because you got more bang for your buck, but there is a change to the game play that makes the levels have more staying power. The high, medium and low paths are utilized here again. Various zones use this design in various degrees of execution. Thinking back to Sonic 1, I wonder if Green Hill Zone was the last level they designed, because its the only one that uses the multiple tier structure to the full. The creative process is seldom linear.
And thats what I want to point out about these Zones. They aren’t as linear as you’re lead to believe. There is also an element of exploration thrown in thanks to the way you access the bonus levels. These are the Zones staying powers. In Sonic 1, you had to have 50 rings to get the bonus ring at the end of the stage to activate. Here, its activated by having 50 rings and finding a checkpoint. Most stages will have up to 3 checkpoints you can access and plenty of rings to access them in each zone. I managed to grab three emeralds in one zone.
The quest you take to get the Seven Chaos Emeralds will guide you to learning the levels in and out. Speed is what Sonic has always marketed itself as, and this has been a double edged sword for the blue rodent. A couple of complaints is how you’ll get hit by off screen enemies, or miss an important jump coming up. Well, if you go on that quest to gain all seven emeralds, you’ll learn the ins-and-outs of various zones, making the game easier to maintain speed. You have become Super Sonic.
After collecting all seven emeralds, you unlock Super Sonic, who fundamentally breaks the game, but hey, that’s the reward for mastering the levels.
Sonic 2’s level design is massive improvement. The only draw back, save for the final level, are the boss battles. Many of them seem to be copy and pasted from one another.
In Sonic 2, you can see how here, is where many main-stays of Sonic has made its way into sequels. The Casino Zone, Dr.Robotniks final battles taking place in Space, and the exploration that you will find in the following sequels, Sonic CD and Sonic 3 & Knuckles. In fact, Sonic 2 was meant to have a time mechanic that got put off and eventually picked up in Sonic CD. These were the years where every new installment built of the previous games strengths. The hedgehog concept in action. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a massive, MASSIVE, improvement on the strengths of Sonic 1.
However, As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, with my reference from the book Good to Great. Sega seems to be caught in a doom loop, at least for the game production part of their business. They keep changing Sonics formula but not changing their business formula of rushed game releases. As a professional arm-chair-business-man-consultant-guy, I can’t help but give my 2-cents of advice to an impersonal mega-corp. Advice I got from reading one barging bin book from Barnes and Nobles. Trust me, I’m an expert.
The good-to-great method is to stick to one formula that works, and keep building on that or maintain it. What Sega should consider is doing that with Classic Sonic, and to a lesser extent, 3D Sonic, is maintain a quality formula. Make sequels, prequels and spin-offs to the story, with varying degrees of innovation of game design. With well understood coding practices, coding time won’t take long. Yes, that can get stale, you want to avoid diminishing returns, but you don’t see McDonalds changing the Krabby patty secret formula every year. If it sells, it sells. You can use this solid base of production profits to produce innovative titles on the side that do risk new innovative ideas, but you’re not going to branch out if there isn’t a tree to branch off from.
This tactic employs both the Clever foxes knowledge of many things of the forest, and the hedgehogs knowledge of one big thing.
A dynamic duo.