While in college, I worked at a record store that ultimately failed under the weight of its owner’s deficiencies. After closing up shop for the final time, the gentleman in question paid the balance of my wages, including a fair chunk of unused vacation time. As a perpetually broke and hungry student, the couple hundred bucks seemed an inexhaustible fortune.

However, on the advice of my then-girlfriend (now wife), I went right out and blew most of it on a Sega Genesis 2 system, bundled with Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

I’m old enough to have played the 2600 in its prime during my youth, and video games had been a big part of my childhood — at least, as big a part as they could be during the late 70s and early 80s. But the industry famously crashed, and years later when Nintendo revived it with the Nintendo Entertainment System, I had lost interest. Something to do with girls and cars and rock and roll, but somehow I can’t quite remember now.

At any rate, I had not played any video games in a number of years, and never especially felt that I was missing out. Then, it happened. A party at some friend’s house, a Super Nintendo upstairs, playing Street Fighter II. It all came back to me, and fast. The Genesis, which — yes, it’s true — I purchased thanks to its “edgier” image, came home shortly thereafter.

Sonic 2 Aquatic Ruins

When I think of first playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2, my initial recollection is of the game’s overwhelmingly colorful worlds. Bright, vivid, and of course, fast. The game was almost impossibly modern. Sonic, notoriously, wouldn’t just wait around for players. He’d get bored, and let you know it.

The twisting, intertwining paths of Sonic 2’s levels withstood an endless amount of exploration and replay, while remaining built for a degree of speed that bordered on the uncontrollable. I still consider Sonic 2’s level design to be among the best that 2D gaming has ever offered, right up there with Super Mario World. Plus, the music always makes me smile.

As you may well have guessed, I never stopped playing this time around. In no small way, I owe my love of games to Sonic 2. It inspired me to learn about the individuals who created it, luminaries such as Yuji Naka, Mark Cerny, and Naoto Oshima. It fueled larger curiosities about Japan and technology that remain to this day. And it lead to a voracious appetite for games media that ultimately landed me right here at Game Rant.

Sonic 2 Bonus Stage

Through the years, I’ve kept up with Sonic: the glorious, unequaled Sonic CD, the first Sonic Adventure, even the recent (and quite good) Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic Colors. I look forward, cautiously, to the upcoming Sonic Generations. Though Sonic has seen his share of missteps through the years (I am, for instance, no fan of Sonic the Hedgehog 4), his position as one of the truly iconic characters in all of gaming is forever insured, safe beyond all measure.

So happy 20th anniversary, Sonic, and thanks for all that you’ve meant to me through the years. May the next 20 be even better!

Readers, what is your favorite Sonic the Hedgehog memory? Which of the Sonic games is your favorite?

Follow me on Twitter @HakenGaken