Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-04-13 17:30:12
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Axed Content
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sega Genesis), the wildly popular sequel to the original Sonic the Hedgehog game, wasn't a short game by contemporary standards by any means. While you can speed-run through the game in under an hour, most players would take much longer to get through it, and I myself remember getting stuck on levels such as 'Chemical Plant Zone' for days. That might have had something to do with the fact that I was about five years old at the time, but back in the 90s I never considered Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to be lacking in stages, even when comparing it to the unified length of Sonic 3 and Knuckles a couple of years later.
But Sonic 2 has received continued interest because it was supposed to be longer. Quite a bit longer, in fact. In addition to the existing stages, there were supposed to be several extra zones, many of which have since been pieced together by conscientious fans. Of these levels, a zone called 'Hidden Palace Zone' was the nearest to being finished; it was demonstrated by Sega at various shows and on tours prior to the game's release and screenshots of it were featured in magazines previewing the title. When the game eventually came out, 'Hidden Palace Zone' was nowhere to be seen, fascinating fans who wanted to get their hands on the game. Going into the coding of the game reveals that the stage still exists, although it is a buggy, glitched-out mess with no discernible features. This suggests that the level wasn't just left unused and inaccessible through regular means in the coding of Sonic 2, but that it was actively destroyed despite having been in a playable form at some point in development, leaving almost nothing of the level left.
This is unfortunate, as 'Hidden Palace Zone' looked to be a really interesting level, complete with its own music that can be accessed in the Sonic 2 sound test room. Another removed level was 'Wood Zone', and in the Sonic 2 beta this zone was also partially finished, complete with unique graphics and colour palettes. In the retail version of the game the zone is completely removed. 'Dust Hill Zone' was supposed to have some form of time travel mechanic between desert and ice landscapes, and while evidence suggests that it later became 'Mystic Cave Zone', the time concept behind the level remained unused in Sonic 2. Finally, levels called 'Neo Green Hill Zone' and 'Genocide City Zone' showed up in coding, and stages connected to 'Dust Hill' under the names 'Winter Zone' and 'Rock Zone' showed up in developer concept art. This all hints at a lot of content that was ultimately scrapped.
The reason for the stages being removed appears to be one of time: Sonic Team were on a tight deadline to get the game out, and so many levels were unable to be finished in time. Rumours suggest that the levels were to be added at a later date via a cartridge slot mechanic similar to that seen in Sonic 3 and Knuckles, but Sonic Team ultimately started work on Sonic the Hedgehog 3 instead, leaving many of these lost levels to fall into development limbo, never to see the light of day. While fans have since pieced these levels together based on existing remaining code and what they would have imagined the levels to have looked like, it is disappointing that so many potentially interesting areas were removed from the game in order to get it out on the designated release date.
The ideas were not entirely axed, however. Some concepts and themes were later used in levels in other Sonic games. 'Dust Hill Zone' could have been the inspiration for 'Ice Cap Zone' and 'Sandopolis Zone', and the name 'Hidden Palace Zone' was later used for a zone in Sonic and Knuckles. So while these levels were lost, many of them were, at least, not forgotten. It has always been fascinating to me to see what has been removed from games during the development process, in order to see how things differ in the final product to what was originally thought up during the creation period. Some games are almost entirely worked out from the very start, leaving little to be lost, while others feature elements that are scrapped because they aren't as good as the rest of the finished product or become incompatible as development goes on. In the case of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, however, time constraints, rather than a lack of quality, appear to have been the main qualifier in why these levels never truly saw the light of day. With that being the case, it is a terrible shame, as when a game doesn't reach its full potential simply because the developers can't make the game fast enough, it raises all sorts of possibilities about what may have been.
Sonic 2 was a good game and a classic Sega title, but one that could have been better had it been given the time it needed to flourish. While players can arguably get their extended Sonic adventure with the synergy between Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles and the cartridge lock-on mechanic, it will always be a mystery how some of these lost levels in Sonic 2 would have played out in the game had they been made. It makes you wonder how much content may have been axed from other video games due to development deadlines.