The problem is that you don't. While Sonic's fame is built almost entirely on his speed, Sonic 2 is rarely just about running. For every minute you spend dashing across the screen, there's five more where you'll find yourself trying to make it past obstacles designed specifically to slow you down. To be fair, many of these obstacles are well designed and often require genuine skill to overcome. Others, however, seem like they were made simply to frustrate. Several levels have prominent water traps that are absolute misery to get out of, while a later casino-themed zone is filled with so many flippers and springboards that a single misstep is all it takes to send you careening haphazardly around the level. Simply put, while most of the levels are a joy to play through, there are prominent sections that bring both your momentum and the fun to a grinding halt.
These frustrating sections are only made worse by controls that I found to be surprisingly inadequate. For the most part, the basic movement controls are fine. They aren't as tight as something like the original Ninja Gaiden (one of my personal favorites), but there's also some logic to the way Sonic movies. Sonic might be "the fastest thing alive" but he can't start or stop on a dime. He needs time to build up momentum before he can move at top speed. Stopping similarly requires a second to put on the brakes. Learning to deal with this wasn't really much of an issue for me. It just took a minute or two of practice.
Sonic's jumping meanwhile, was harder to acclimate to. I never really felt like I had adequate control of Sonic once he was in mid-air. He just feels too sluggish and inaccurate for some of the precision platforming the game occasionally required. There were times, for instance, where I'd fail to do something as simple as jumping onto a platform directly above me because it started to change position and I couldn't make the slight shift in trajectory needed to make the landing. And while that might not sound like a big deal, it certainly felt like one when missing meant falling into a pool of water that will drown you if you can't get jump your way out of it fast enough.
There were a few other things I took issue with. The visuals, while colorful and attractive, could sometimes be a bit too busy. The developers seemed to have an especial love of parallax scrolling which, impressive as it was for that era, was quite distracting for me at times. I also have to say that I was less than impressed with the game's collectibles: the Chaos Emeralds. I appreciated, of course, that the game put a collectible in there for players interested in going the extra mile to explore each zone. Unfortunately, the mini-game for acquiring them is the definition of tedium and repetition. There are only so many times that I can run down the same faux 3D track collecting power rings.
If any of this sounds like I'm being hard on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, you can rest assured that I still do think it's a good game. That said, I'd definitely lump it together with those titles that you really had to play back in its native time period to fully enjoy. When I was kid, it looked like the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. As an adult though, I was constantly struck by how much it made me wish I was playing other platformers that, in my opinion, have held up better. That's obviously not a condemnation of the game, but it's also not a ringing endorsement either.
Next week I'm going to spend a bit of time discussing some of the side products that led to my early 90s obsession with Sonic.