Easily one of the favorite games of my childhood, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was certainly a huge step above the first game, with more levels, Sonic's spindash move, the addition of Super Sonic (meaning collecting the chaos emeralds actually had a legitimate purpose
this time around), and fast-paced, exciting gameplay that 18 years later still manages to be fun and challenging.
One thing that people's mileage really seems to vary on is the addition of Tails. Having replayed the game a day ago, I have to say Tails was both a help and a nuisance at times. I've always liked Tails as a character, but I have to admit I can see why people don't like him in this game. During the bonus stages he both saved me a couple times by collecting rings, and cost me a few more times by getting hit and losing them. I ended up not being able to get all seven emeralds by the end of the game because he couldn't last through the final special stage without losing all his rings. I've managed it in the past of course, but this was just extremely frustrating. If you have someone to play along with I can see him being very useful, but that person will have to be able to tolerate being left behind an awful lot. Otherwise, his AI is just completely moronic.
I also found the final boss to be needlessly Nintendo Hard
, having to do it as a One Hit Point Wonder
without rings. None of the other stages in the game were terribly difficult to me, though. Nothing like Labyrinth Zone from the first game at least.
In all, I think that, while it's better than the first Sonic game, Sonic 3 And Knuckles really takes everything that was bad about this game and fixes it, while improving on what was good about it (of note, Tails goes from being a nuisance to being Crazy Awesome). If you have Sonic & Knuckles, playing Sonic 2 as Knuckles can be quite fun and is well worth a try. The special stages are easier (they ask you to collect fewer rings), but be prepared for an extra hard final boss because Knuckles doesnt jump high.
In all, I'd give the game a 7/10. It was certainly awesome for it's time, and despite the improvements made in Sonic 3, it still ages fairly well.