I was, by this point, a fan of Sonic - those being the days when Sonic was new and fresh, and not an endless parade of lewds, pockets stuffed with diminishing returns. I remember a mate telling me that he'd picked up the original on import from Wembley Market, and that it was everything the hype had promised. To wit: a gorgeous, super-fast, take on the Mario formula, with bags of carefully curated "attitude". I waited a month for the official release, and was gleeful to note that he wasn't wrong.
I was already looking forward to Sonic 2 when I accidentally landed the job writing for Digitiser. That's a story I've recounted before, but Sonic 2 was a significant part of my Digi misadventure. I was young, naive, and excited that I'd somehow stumbled into the games industry. I didn't expect it to last, but I would at least take my best shot at becoming the next "Jaz" Rignall.
Without really knowing what we were doing, we'd registered with a number of video game PR companies, informing them that Digitiser was taking over the teletext gaming service from Oracle. Sega was the first to give us any sort of acknowledgement - by sending us tickets to the launch of Sonic 2. Admittedly, we never got a free review copy - and wouldn't start getting those from Sega until we began being horrible to them on our pages - but it was, at least, a significant step forwards... even if it would falter.
I'd never experienced anything like it before. I'd been employed by Teletext as a graphics artist, and had no experience of being a journalist. I never intended to write about video games for a living; it's something that happened to me more or less by fluke. Furthermore, launch parties were just something that I saw pictures of in newspapers and magazines; not something a regular pleb like me got to go to.
Best of all, Digi was over a month from launch, so we could enjoy the event (get drunk) without needing to remember enough to write about it. This began a Digitiser games launch party tradition of stroking the backs of celebrities and wandering away without being challenged.
Sonic 2sday was a massive deal, and virtually unprecedented.
It was a global event - the first of the huge games launches - which helped boost Sega's share of the 16-bit games market by 50%, and ensured that Sonic 2 was possibly the first game that every Mega Drive/Genesis owner had to own the day it was released. Prior to Sonic 2, games just sort of dribbled out without any sort of fanfare.
High profile Sonic 2 launch parties were held at stores in the US and UK - in Toys R Us outlets in New York and Los Angeles, and at Hamley's toy store in London. The US launches were attended by "edgy" teen stars, such as Jonathan Taylor Thomas - from the sitcom Home Improvement - and Dustin Diamond - star of Saved by The Bell (who recently served four months in prison for disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon, but that's another story). Several had been paid to attend, and were filmed expressing their love for the game. Two facts which were, I'm sure, entirely unrelated...
In comparison, the best the UK launch could manage, to the best of my memory, was Tucker Jenkins and Right Said Fred, who rocked up purely on the promise of some free drink, after-hours toy shopping, and being stroked.
According to accounts, this mega-launch was masterminded by Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske - who was viewed with suspicion by his Japanese counterparts, seeing him as something of a silver-haired megalomaniac. It would kick off a power struggle between the company's US and Japanese divisions - the latter throwing a hissy over Kalinske's aggressive approach to marketing, and deciding unilaterally that the game would be released in Japan three days before the rest of the world.
Regardless, Kalinske's gamble paid off, and it's fair to say that Sonic 2 was a lewd hit straight out of the bath. Speaking at the New York launch, held a few hours after the UK one, Kalinske coughed: “Today we have received word that Sonic 2 is already off to an incredibly fast start. The game has been on store shelves in the United Kingdom less than a day and already it’s sold eight hundred thousand units.”
A promotional video filmed at the New York launch was played on all major news outlets, in which Dustin Diamond spoke highly of the game's speed, drawing particular attention to how Sonic 2 made full use of the 16-bit system's "Blast Processing" capabilities. Again, nothing to do with any appearance fees, as he's clearly an individual with integrity. I'm sure he just really liked "Blast Processing"...
In all, the release of Sonic 2 - not including the cost of development, a co-production between Sega of America and Sega of Japan, which took less than 12 months - cost the company around $10 million. Fortunately, Sega made over $30 million on launch day alone.
Regardless of its success, not everyone was happy with the finished product. In early 1992, an unfinished ROM of Sonic 2 had been stolen from a New York City toy expo. The leaked version - released online a few years back - included stages which never made it into the completed game. The levels Wood Zone and Hidden Palace Zone were dropped due to a combination of cartridge capacity, and the ambitious released date imposed upon the development team.
Both later turned up, in revised form, in Sonic & Knuckles, whereas another level - alluded to in the unfinished ROM - sported the worrying name "Genocide City". A planned time travel element also had to be set aside, later turning up in Sonic CD.
The development team felt they were forced to throttle their ambitions in order to slither through Kalinske's launch window. Even the name of Sonic's new sidekick was an act of compromise; Sega of Japan favoured the pun-tastic Miles Prower, whereas Sega of America wanted him to be called Tails. In the end, he was known as Miles "Tails" Prower: The Two-Tailed Tit.
Nevertheless, Sonic 2 was well received by the gaming press, garnering 9s and 10s out of 10 across the board. One exception was Games Master magazine's Andy Lowe, who bravely awarded it 65% for being too similar to its predecessor.
Going back to it now, regardless of what Andy Lowe thought, Sonic 2 was the last great, all-original, Sonic game. Sonic 3, Sonic CD and Sonic & Knuckles were solid entries, but mostly reheated the formula. Following the end of the Mega Drive era, Sega dropped the ball spectacularly, seemingly unsure how to wring the best out of its mascot. It's an issue which remains to this day, and has seen the company mash its face into brick wall after brick wall.
Sonic 2, however, marked the real beginning of a golden age. It underscored the promise of the 16-bit era, and helped the shift of gaming from being a hobbyist pursuit for solitary teens to something that everybody could enjoy. Furthermore, Sega's marketing managed inexplicably to make gaming seem cool; something it had always failed to be.
Digitiser never reviewed Sonic 2, given that it was released more than a month before we went on air. Nevertheless, the first thing on the first page of the very first Digi was a graphic I'd drawn of Sonic. For me, the two are forever intertwined.
Also, I got a load of grief from idiots for giving Sonic 3 72%, which pretty much marked the end of my love affair with the series. Happy now, Andy Lowe?