Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the best video game movie ever made. I know, that’s not exactly a high hurdle to jump, but rest assured it was intended as a compliment without a hint of irony.

The past few years have seen video game movies give more of an effort to be, y’know, good. 2019’s Detective Pikachu, and 2021’s Mortal Kombat reboot were both solid movies that, despite their flaws, were enjoyable and paid respect to their source material. Although the Uncharted movie released just a few months ago may have missed the mark, it still at least gave an effort. The best of this recent resurgence of video game movies was 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which – along with the original 1995 Mortal Kombat film – was probably one of the top two video game movies. But Sonic the Hedgehog 2 betters its predecessor both as a movie, and as a love letter to the video games that inspired it, creating the first great video game movie.

Some film snobs may take offense to that statement. But as someone who can appreciate the value of a little thing called fun, I will happily tell you that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delivers just that, and in spades. It’s great fun. Tremendous fun.

The story here is that the titular Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) has settled into his new home in the small town of Green Hills, Montana with Sherrif Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Trying to find his place in the world, Sonic has been doing some moonlighting as a crime-fighter, but is a bit reckless and sloppy at it. Tom thinks Sonic needs to learn to be more responsible before he can become a hero, and leaves Sonic in charge of the house as a test in responsibility, while he and Maddie go to Hawaii for Maddie’s sister’s wedding.

Naturally, this is when things go wrong. Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) has managed to escape his isolation on the mushroom planet with the help of Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Knuckles wishes to retrieve the Master Emerald – an artifact of infinite power once protected by the Echidnas – to honor the legacy of his tribe, and believes Sonic knows of the Emerald and its location. Robotnik, of course, is merely using Knuckles to claim the Emerald for himself (with revenge on Sonic being a nice bonus).

While Knuckles’ strength and Robotnik’s intelligence are too much for Sonic to handle alone, the blue hedgehog gets a partner of his own in the form of Miles “Tails” Prower (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a two-tailed fox who idolizes Sonic after tracking the events of the first film. And so the race to find the Master Emerald is on, pitting Sonic and Tails against Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik.

As any longtime Sonic fan could tell you, despite the film being called Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the plot is actually based on the video games Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. There are some alterations that may upset overly literal fans (Knuckles trying to find the Master Emerald as opposed to already being its guardian, for example), but the movie can’t be exactly the same as the games. As someone whose formative years coincided with those of the Sonic franchise, I was constantly delighted by Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s faithfulness to the video games (which doesn’t simply feel like fanservice, but a genuine love for the series itself).

While I really enjoy the first Sonic film, it does in retrospect feel like it compromised a bit, playing like a 90s-style family comedy with Sonic, Robotnik and a few elements of the series sprinkled throughout. But now that it proved a success, it really feels like the gloves are off for this sequel, and it’s allowed to be a full-blooded, true blue Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Not only do we have the additions of Knuckles and Tails (the latter admittedly showed up mid-credits in the first film), and Jim Carrey actually looking like Robotnik now (as opposed to Jim Carrey with a mustache), but you also have the storyline from the games, and countless references, winks and nods to the series throughout. And not just references to the games, but even the old cartoons and comic books as well.

“The front for Dr. Robotnik’s continued operations is a coffee shop called “The Mean Bean.” Now THAT is a reference.”

The funny thing is that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is, in many ways, truer to the video games than the games themselves have been for a very long time (exception being Sonic Mania). This is particularly true of the four core characters of the franchise: Sonic himself is wonderfully realized both in animation (we’ve come a long way from that first trailer for the original movie) and in Schwartz’s vocals, while Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik (my favorite movie villain of the past few years) is still a show-stealer. The addition of Tails (and O’Shaughnessey) adds some extra heart to the proceedings. And importantly, I feel like the film (and Idris Elba) have redeemed Knuckles as a character, resurrecting his badass strength and determination (while still bringing humor out of his naivety) after the games demoted him to the bumbling doofus of the series once Shadow the Hedgehog pointlessly stole his role as Sonic’s rival two decades ago.

That’s not to say that Sonic 2 is exclusively for the hardcore crowd, and left fans of the first movie out in the cold. Something I greatly appreciated about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was how it performs a balancing act between being a fantasy adventure more in line with the games and still having the family comedy vibe of the first film.

I was concerned that the newfound fanservice may have meant the characters introduced in the first film would be swept under the rug and awkwardly forgotten. But if anything, those characters now feel more important to the overall Sonic mythology. Characters like Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), Green Hills’ dimwitted deputy Wade Whipple (Adam Pally) and Robotnik’s thankless assistant Stone (Lee Majdoub) now have bigger parts in the story. And while Tails is now at his rightful place by Sonic’s side, Tom and Maddie play a new role in the story as Sonic’s surrogate parents.

This is where Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually surprised me. In the first film, Tom basically played an older brother role to Sonic, trying to keep the hedgehog’s juvenile antics in check. But now Sonic has to learn to be more responsible, as he’s now playing the role of big brother to Tails. Not only does this lead to some genuinely heartwarming moments, but it also cleverly builds on the characters, their relationships, and what they learned in the first film. Wow. I can honestly say I didn’t expect Sonic 2 to be the kind of sequel that would connect and grow the narrative of the first film. So that was a pleasant surprise.

I admit, there are a few moments where the film does lose some of its balance with its aforementioned two halves, which results in some pacing issues (including one scene that resolves a subplot that goes on a bit long, entertaining though the scene may be). But for the most part, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 succeeds in being both an organic follow-up to the original film while also being a more faithful adaptation of the games.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 retains the sense of humor of the first movie (including some nice callbacks to that film’s best gags without simply repeating them), which apparently hasn’t sat well with some fans (who probably take the series a little too seriously). But I personally find it to be good family comedy that reminds me of the old Sonic cartoons from my youth. I’d rather see the Sonic series be intentionally goofy like these movies over unintentionally hilarious like the more “serious” and cinematic games in the series ended up being. And it’s just nice to see a blockbuster in this day and age that doesn’t simply use the same brand of humor that Marvel has been utilizing for way too long now.

It isn’t all jokes though. While Sonic 2 shares its predecessor’s humor, it completely outshines it with action sequences. Again, the first Sonic film felt a little restrained, which was echoed in its action scenes. They were fun, but small-scale and sparse. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, however, seems to (once again) take inspiration from the games for its action set pieces, resulting in a more satisfying action movie. Though the finale may feel a bit too close to that of a Marvel movie (so Sonic avoided that pitfall in one area, but not another).

There’s a lot to love about Sonic the Hedgehog 2, even if you aren’t overly familiar with the games. But it does feel – more so than any video game movie before it – like it rewards fans of the franchise. This may sound like the biggest cliche, but watching Sonic the Hedgehog 2 honestly made me feel like a kid again. Not just because of the (often deep cut) callbacks and references, but because of its honest-to-goodness love of the series it’s adapting. A lot of franchises these days are suffering because the people behind the camera are using said franchises to promote themselves, as opposed to coming from a place of love for the material. So it’s nice to see a series give back to its fans for a change, instead of taking from them.

I will admit (without spoiling anything), the mid-credits teaser has me a bit concerned for the future direction of these Sonic movies (as does Jim Carrey’s talks of possible retirement, since he’s now as vital to these movies as Dr. Robotnik himself is to the series as a whole). But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, let’s all appreciate this moment, and enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The first great video game movie.

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Top 5 Sonic the Hedgehog Characters

After nearly three decades, Sonic the Hedgehog finally has his first outing on the big screen. To celebrate the occasion, I figured I’d write at least a few thing relating to the speedy blue hedgehog.

Let’s start with an obvious choice: the top 5 Sonic the Hedgehog characters! The Sonic series has introduced many, many characters over the years (too many), and while making a full-on top 10 list would have been nice, this is Sonic the Hedgehog we’re talking about. So let’s settle for five.

Keep in mind that, for my list, I’m only including characters from the games. While Sonic has branched off into other media which introduced characters of their own, I’m a bit of a purest when it comes to making lists like this. Since Sonic the Hedgehog is first and foremost a video game franchise, we’re only counting the video game characters.

Without further ado, let’s see who are the best of the best Sonic the Hedgehog characters!

Continue reading “Top 5 Sonic the Hedgehog Characters”

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble Review

*Review based on Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble’s release as part of the Sonic Gems Collection on Nintendo GameCube*

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble was the first Sonic platformer released exclusively on the Sega Game Gear handheld system. Prior handheld Sonic titles were based on the Genesis games, like the Game Gear versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2, or were simultaneously developed for the Sega Master System, like Triple Trouble’s own predecessor, Sonic Chaos. While those games all felt like “Sonic Lite,” Triple Trouble actually made a decently successful attempt at replicating the look and feel of the Genesis titles. While there are moments of fun to be had with Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble, it ultimately suffers the same fate as many early translations of classic franchises onto handheld systems, with the limitations of the hardware holding it back, and ensuring that the experience has aged poorly.

Triple Trouble gets its name from the fact that it boasts three antagonists: the big bad of course being Dr. Ivo Robotnik, who is joined once again by Knuckles the Echidna (who is being mind controlled by the good doctor this time around, as opposed to manipulated by him). The third villain in this triumvirate is Nack the Weasel, a treasure hunter who is after the Chaos Emeralds for his own desires. Admittedly, Nack is one of the better “not Robotnik” villains of the series, so it’s a shame that after his debut outing, he made sporadic appearances for a couple of years before being dropped from the series.

The game is a platformer very much in line with the Genesis Sonic games. Players can play as either Sonic or Tails as they collect rings, zoom through stages, and try to track down the Chaos Emeralds in the game’s bonus areas. Though Sonic is the star of the show, Tails is the more ideal character, as his ability to fly for a brief time makes it much easier for him to scour the stages for all their hidden goodies. Especially since the hardware limitations rob Sonic (and Tails) of some momentum when on foot, making the series’ trademark sense of speed feeling clunky. Going through loops becomes a pain pretty quickly because of it.

The level design is nothing special, but isn’t necessarily bad, either. Again, Triple Trouble did a pretty decent job at translating the Sonic gameplay to a handheld for the time. But this was the time in which the convenience of handheld gaming came with the price of sacrificing some quality, and the limitations do begin to show up pretty quickly through the repetitious stages and the lack of new elements for the series.

Their are five worlds total (strangely, only one of which boasts the series usual moniker of “zone”), with each consisting of two stages and a boss level. The stages themselves are pretty straightforward, though gaining all of the Chaos Emeralds (of which there are only five this time) is a bit more difficult, perhaps more so than it needs to be.

As usual, you have to hold onto fifty rings before you can enter a bonus area. While the Genesis titles had Sonic enter the bonus areas through the convenience of checkpoints or giant rings, here the bonus areas are found by breaking hidden monitors with a picture of an emerald on them (much like the monitors that hold the series’ power-ups). Not only are these small monitors easy to miss, but if you accidentally break one while holding less than fifty rings, it won’t do anything, thus wasting an opportunity to get an emerald.

If you do have fifty or more rings and break the monitor, however, you can enter one of two different bonus zones: the odd-numbered emeralds take Sonic and Tails to labyrinths they have to navigate to find the emerald, and sometimes end with a fight against Nack. The even-numbered emeralds see our heroes pilot a plane in a 3D environment where, similar to the bonus stages of Sonic 2, they must collect a set number of rings that fly from the background to the foreground while avoiding bombs.

The former category just end up being too confusing, which may not be a problem if you had more chances to claim the emeralds. Meanwhile, the latter category feel like sloppy versions of Sonic 2’s bonus games, with the rings and bombs not being visible until you’re pretty much right on top of them.

Graphically, the game actually looks pretty impressive. Triple Trouble doesn’t quite capture the timeless look of the Genesis Sonic games, but it comes closer than it has any right to. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the music, which comes nowhere near the memorable tunes of the Genesis titles.

Released in 1994, Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble was decent for what it was at the time. If you were on the go, but still wanted to play a Sonic the Hedgehog title, Triple Trouble came as close to possible to providing the classic Sonic experience on the go. But like Super Mario Land, Triple Trouble just hasn’t aged well. The awkward momentum of the characters, combined with the tedious nature of finding the Chaos Emeralds, and the general lack of newness or challenge for the series makes the already short adventure that much less noteworthy.

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble wasn’t bad per se. It’s just very much a product of its time, and not a particularly memorable one at that.

 

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Sonic Mania Review

Sonic the Hedgehog is back!

It feels so good to be able to say that again, but it’s finally happened. Sonic the Hedgehog now has a new title to his name that lives up to the series’ most iconic entries on the Sega Genesis! In fact, I might even go so far as to say that Sonic Mania outdoes them.

Back in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog hit the gaming scene, and quickly became a video game icon. Sonic was to be Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, and indeed, for a few years, Sonic was even more popular than Nintendo’s famous plumber.

But it was not to last. While Sonic’s first several outings on the Sega Genesis (and its add-ons) are still highly revered even today, what he’s done since then has been a little less consistent. Mario proved to be a jack of all trades, seamlessly making the jump to 3D with Super Mario 64, transitioning into other genres with the likes of Super Mario Kart and Super Mario RPG, and still producing some of the best titles in gaming decades later with the likes of Super Mario Galaxy. Sonic, on the other hand, felt lost in time.

Though Sonic initially looked poised to replicate Mario’s versatility, the series would soon lose its footing. There wasn’t a proper Sonic title to be had on the Sega Saturn (and that console’s would-be Mario Kart, Sonic R, was a bit of a disaster), and though the Sonic Adventure titles on the Dreamcast were praised in their day, time hasn’t been kind to them, exposing utterly chaotic camerawork and more than a few notable technical issues. After that, Sonic became a multiplatform series once Sega went the third-party route, and things didn’t ease up for the blue blur.

During these years, Sega would try all kinds of experiments with their mascot. Some of these experiments worked to a degree, while others were all-time lows for the series. In many cases, it seemed like the Sonic franchise just leached its way onto anything, and that the developers at Sega would rather be making something else entirely (quite literally in the case of the infamous “Sonic the Hedgehog ’06”).

Whatever Sonic games that did shine during this time were those that played closest to the Genesis playbook, with Sonic Colors and Generations becoming fan favorites. Though sometimes Sega could get carried away with the nostalgia card, with the two episodes of “Sonic the Hedgehog 4” feeling like watered down, clunky versions of the classic template.

But now, we have Sonic Mania, and it’s a thing of beauty.

“Sonic Mania even includes an anime-style opening a la Sonic CD.”

Released as part of an extended 25th anniversary celebration to the franchise, Sonic Mania is perhaps a better gift to the series and its fans than they could have even asked for. Sonic Mania is everything Sonic should be.

Though Sonic Mania is published by Sega, its development team consists of notable members of the Sonic fan-game community. The game was helmed by Christian Whitehead, who was famously recruited by Sega to port a number of the classic Sonic titles to mobile platforms, and teamed by PagodaWest and Headcanon, who have a few Sonic fan-games to their resume.

I’m not sure whether it’s poetic or ironic that it literally took the fans to create the best Sonic game in over two decades, but the end results prove that Sonic Mania truly is a labor of love by people who love the franchise, for people who love the franchise.

First there are the obvious connections to the Genesis classics; the 16-bit visuals and character sprites make the game feel like a proud follow-up to Sonic’s initial outings, albeit taking advantage of modern hardware to make for some dazzling effects that weren’t possible back in the day. Additionally, the majority of Sonic Mania’s “Zones” are new versions of those found in Sonics 1, 2 and 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic CD. Some such “remixed” Zones even use the templates of their original forms, but with some new additions and tweaks, so that even when Sonic Mania is at its most comfortably familiar, it’s still full of surprises.

“Here’s the final boss from Sonic 2 in the first level of Sonic 1.”

For example, the game begins in Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone. While that first-ever level of the franchise has been countlessly recreated in recent years, it’s never been done so poetically as it is here. The Green Hill Zone begins almost identically to how it did back in 1991, until suddenly you notice one of Sonic 3’s magnetic shields in place of Sonic 1’s standard force field, and the corkscrew loops from Sonic 2’s Emerald Hill Zone are at play. Alterations such as this are just the tip of the ice burg, as Sonic Mania is constantly finding ways to reinvent what we know about Sonic’s past.

That’s not to say Sonic Mania is simply falling back on nostalgia, however, as it also includes level design that is entirely its own. Along with a few brand new Zones unique to Mania, the second “act” within the returning zones are less remixed, and more built from the ground up. Sonic Mania really is the perfect marriage of the old and the new for the franchise.

The gameplay is, once again, Sonic at its purest (and best) form. Players can select Sonic, Tails or Knuckles, each with their own abilities (Sonic is fastest and now has a “Drop Dash” move to keep momentum after jumping, while Tails can temporarily fly and Knuckles being able to glide and climb up walls). You’ll run through stages collecting rings, which once again work as a kind of health system (get hit and you lose your rings, get hit without rings and you’re dead). You can collect the aforementioned force fields and shields from Sonic 3 (magnet shields pull in rings and grant a double jump, fire shields give a charging attack and can burn through certain obstacles, and bubble shields allow you to breath under water and jump higher). There’s also a new power-up in the form of blue rings, which are something like a ‘ring insurance.’ The blue rings will make sure that, the next time Sonic gets hit, he can still reclaim every last ring he held by clumping them together in a few giant rings. The blue ring may not sound like much, but in those times when you make a little mistake that would have otherwise cost you hundreds of rings, it becomes a godsend.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a 16-bit Sonic title without some 3D bonus stages. If you can reach a checkpoint with twenty-five rings secured, you can jump into a halo above said checkpoint and play a new version of Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s famous Blue Sphere mini-games (and yes, they’re as hard as ever). Should you complete a Blue Sphere mini-game, you are rewarded with bonuses such as new game modes and unlockable content.

“Sega Saturn FTW!”

But Sonic Mania once again goes beyond the call of duty by including a second such bonus stage, this one brand new (albeit inspired by Sonic CD). If you can find a giant ring hidden in a stage, you are transported to one of these new bonus stages, where Sonic (or Knuckles or Tails) have to catch up to a UFO to claim a Chaos Emerald. These bonus stages have you collecting blue spheres to pick up speed to reach the UFO, while also gathering rings to put more time on the clock, all while being presented in Sega Saturn-inspired visuals.

Another iconic attribute of the Sonic games were the soundtracks. And good heavens, does Sonic Mania deliver on that front. Once again the creation of a series fan (Tee Lopes, famous for covers of various Sonic tracks), the soundtrack to Sonic Mania includes stellar remixes from Sonic’s past (each returning zone gets a different remix for both of its acts), while the brand new tracks are more than worthy successors to the franchise’s legendary music. Though the soundtrack takes most of its cues from Sonic CD – which up to this point had the best soundtrack in the series, hands down – it also feels distinctly its own. It may even be my favorite gaming soundtrack of 2017 and, yes, it may even top Sonic CD for the title of “best Sonic music ever.”

If I had to nitpick anything about Sonic Mania (and you’d have to nitpick to have anything negative to say), it’s that some of the obstacles in the Flying Battery Zone feel a bit unruly and hard to predict, which lead to more than a few accidental fumbles; and the Hydrocity Zone can be a little on the confusing side. But again, any complaints to be had are minor.

“Old levels now feature new gimmicks, like these bouncing gels in the Chemical Plant Zone.”

Sonic Mania obviously plays the nostalgia card, it is so much more than simply a trip down Hedgehog memory lane. This is exactly the kind of sequel the franchise has been begging for for two decades, and the kind of Sonic experience Sega has tried to create themselves in the past, but couldn’t quite get right (Sonic Generations was probably their best attempt). This is the classic Sonic gameplay we all know and love, but it’s also smarter than the games that inspired it. The level designs – which contain so many alternate routes and introduce so many new gameplay gimmicks that they never lose a shred of their charm – are arguably the deepest in the series, and even have a Mario sense of exploration about them to track down their every last secret. And the boss fights are, bar none, the most consistently entertaining in the franchise. No matter how difficult (or easy) the boss fights got, they all provided something new and left their mark.

Sonic Mania is the game fans have waited ever so patiently for. It’s so lovingly crafted, and so well executed, that it may actually have you forgetting about Sonic’s missteps over the years and make you feel like the series never slowed down. From the obvious homages to the most esoteric of references, Sonic Mania oozes an unmistakeable love for all things Sonic (well, all the good things), and lives up to the very best games the blue hedgehog has ever starred in.

If Sonic Mania is anything to go by, then Sonic has finally returned, and in such fashion that it feels like he never left.

 

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