Grab your Long Johns and let’s hit the Metropolis Zone


Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)

If there was a popular 90s game series, so too was there a 90s cartoon based on it. And some, like Street Fighter and Mega Man, weren’t exactly Studio Ghibli in their animation prowess. Think more Studio Gimply. There was cartoons for Double Dragon, Earthworm Jim, there was even a Battletoads pilot for heaven’s sake. Mario had a few cartoons under his belt, some pretty fun stuff that used to have the actual game music playing in the background. Not many plot revelations to be found in the Super Mario shows mind, apart from showing us what was under Toad’s hat (spoilers, there ain’t much there).

Then there was the Legend of Zelda with a talking Link – you probably wouldn’t have expected talking Link to be a treat, and you’d be partially right, unless you harbour a guilty love for his infamously sassy “well excuuuse me Princess”. He must have said that a hundred times across 13 episodes, and all for want of a kiss from dainty Princess Zelda. Well, it’s better than the love scenes in that bizarre CG Donkey Kong Country series of the late 90s. One day I really must sit down and watch half of this rubbish. I’m sure most of them are Youtube tier anyway.

Sometimes you do get that lovely gem of celluloid that comes along, and in this case it was Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (that’s the one with Scratch and Grounder, if you’re confused). Even though much of the tone is different, this cartoon always puts me in the mind of an early prototype for Spongebog Squarepants, even though it’s probably far more like Earthworm Jim. Does that make sense…?

Even from AoStH’s opening theme, you get a bit of the ould classical with the original Sonic 1 & 2 theme remixed with In the Hall of the Mountain King and Flight of the Bumblebee. So there you go, who says cartoons rot your brain – here, you get a bit of culture with your bodacious hedgehog and his way-cool fox pal, Tails.

And bookending the fun, at the end of each episode is your 90s cartoon classic, the PSA. This segment, called Sonic Says (sorry, ‘Sonic Sez’ – 90s attitude remember) now looks infinitely more surreal than ever. Sonic, voiced by Jaleel White (yes, he did do that) telling you to be wary of smoking or to watch out for any strangers feeling you up, well, it’s nice that they put that stuff in there, but you better believe it became ripe fodder for a zillion funny YouTube videos years later.

But while we’re on about the voice acting, that brings me on to the cartoon’s best part: Robotnik’s voice actor, a sadly departed Long John Baldry. Even his name is legendary – it immediately suggest a swashbuckling brigand, moreso a Hell’s Angel than a plundering pirate. A genuine legend who had a million incredible stories to tell, mostly involving Smiths and Wessons, who finally found a place in life providing voice work in children’s cartoons.

He seemed to approach the role of Robotnik like the egg man was a Shakespearean villain with a particular penchant for ham, the larger the better. A stupefying mix of Yosemite Sam and Brian Blessed, even a twinge of Fred Elliot perhaps. Long John’s portrayal of Robotnik suits the ridiculousness of AoStH beautifully, and he’s got to be one of the greatest cartoon villains ever set to paper. Not quite Skeletor tier, but the next level down. And the way he dramatically rolls his Rs is one of the most electrifying moves in cartoon entertainment.

I should mention as well, there were a few subsequent cartoons including this really wild one called Sonic Underground. That one featured Sonic’s flourescent siblings who played music and were vaguely French. The second best Sonic cartoon after the Adventures of Long John Baldry was probably the one simply called Sonic the Hedgehog. This one was your classic Saturday morning cartoon, so we Sonic wags tended to call it Sonic SatAM. It had characters from the Archie comics, including furry delights Sally Acorn and Bunnie Rabbot, plus its own pretty great theme song.

Not forgetting Sonic X, the anime iteration that might have had a chance at success until the creators crowbarred a whiny human kid into it, and then let it get smacked around the room by 4Kids censorship. Anyway, it all contributed to the Sonicmania of the early 90s, which reached fever pitch alongside Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s release on Sega Mega Drive, or Sega Exodus or whatever it’s called in the States. 

Having been tantalised by the original Sonic the Hedgehog, gamers were gumming for more Sonic with a heap of improvements. Sega were hard at work on achieving just that it, and they duly delivered in November 1992. So proud were they of their oeuvre du ‘edge-og that they even christened the release day as Sonic 2s Day (because it was a Tuesday, get it?)

Well, talk about bigger and better: 20 large levels across 11 different locales, each Zone with two Acts each. Better music, more variety, more enemies, more imaginative bosses. The option to play as Sonic’s new buddy Tails, great for replay value. There’s even a two-player mode where players race to the end, a little bit squashed and hard to make out, but good for a laugh until you hit the item that swaps your position with your rival. Then it becomes a friendship destroyer – excellent. Then you’ve got the ability to turn into Super Saiyan Sonic and blast through the 1-Player levels, and once you’ve found the Level Select and the Debug Mode, then you can really go to town.

I need to confess though, I’ve only recently beaten the game after all this time. I was easily able to get to the very end, and the game certainly does get a bit tougher as you go on – the mantises and starfish robot thingys in the Metropolis Zone will have you grinding your teeth into a flat marble surface. But it’s the last boss where you’ve really had it. You’ve got a metal Sonic (not the Metal Sonic) to get through, who’ll probably claim a few of your lives before he becomes child’s play. Then it’s onto Robotnik’s humongous mech, a boss bigger than anything else you’ve seen up until now. Did I mention that you don’t get a single Ring to keep you safe?

It’s one hit kills, and you can beg the screen all you like but it ain’t gonna tell you what parts of the final boss you can hit and what parts will shoot Sonic bolt upright in that classic pose before we see him bounce off the screen, wide-eyed, another life gone and teetering perilously closer to that Game Over. No save files or passwords here, amigo, you gotta get to the end on your own merit and hope that Robotnik falls this time, with no mistakes.

Get the job done though, and you’ve earned yourself one of the nicest little endings to a game from the early 90s, although I hope you got all of the Chaos Emeralds during your endeavour. If you haven’t, then guess what? Robotnik wins, and that means he’ll hit you with one of this trademark evil laughs. And as you may have guessed by now, Long John Baldry, God rest him, did a laugh so wonderfully evil that you couldn’t help but smile along with him.

24 April 2020

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