#10: Sonic Advance (GBA)
Feel free to think of this entry as a placeholder for the entire "Sonic Advance" trilogy, because they are all pretty similar. I think the first one is the best of the bunch, though, so that's why it's given the dubious honor of #10.
Sonic Advance accomplishes rather well what it set out to do: replicating the old school Sonic gameplay while updating the overall look. That said, they're not as tight or as imaginative as the original games, but they definitely surpass the slippery and awkward attempts at portable Sonic goodness that were the Game Gear titles.
Sonic Advance does feature four characters, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, but the stages are all generally the same between them. Sonic's version of Neo Green Hill doesn't stand out from Amy's rendition. Even so, the characters are diverse enough to provide variety between them, but it's nothing along the lines of, say, Sonic & Knuckles. This is disappointing because it could have really given it a leg up amongst its older brethren.
However, for what we got, we should be thankful. Dimps clearly put time and effort into developing a new generation of 2-D Sonic games, if not many inventive ideas. If the Genesis Sonic games aren't available, these are very capable of providing you a solid Sonic experience.
What!? The original game at only #9!? The one that started it all!? How could I!?
...Well, I simply feel this game is the weakest of the original tetralogy of Genesis Sonic games. Is it the lack of the Spin Dash? The empty feeling that pervades my stomach from a missing Tails? A color scheme drowned in shades of brown, grey, dark green? The fact that this was the only Sonic game in the Genesis collection I didn't own back when the Genesis was relevant? Probably a mixture of those reasons, but nonetheless, this is the one I find myself the least excited to go back and play.
If I can say anything, this is the purest of the original games. Gimmicks and alternate characters will not get in the way of the simple joy of running through stages at a speed only Blast Processing could push. On the flip side, there are few bells and whistles to be found, and it's a bare-bones experience compared to its sequels. Even so, it is a classic, and a fine game in its own right. But I think Sega outdid itself with the improvements and added features they added in subsequent titles.
As previously mentioned, Sonic & Knuckles had what Sonic Advance should have had. There are only two characters available (by normal means, a.k.a. the main menu), and they are the game's titular heroes, Sonic and Knuckles. While Sonic Advance had simply differing characters dropped into the same stages, Sonic & Knuckles featured two different characters traversing their own stages.
But this wasn't the only intriguing feature that Sonic & Knuckles had to offer. Utilizing the powerful alien artifact known to us mortals as "Lock-On Technology", Sonic & Knuckles could "lock-on" to Sonic 2 and 3 and allow Knuckles and his cool abilities to cross over to those games and be a playable character. Tails can also cross over to Sonic & Knuckles to complete the holy trinity of the classic Sonic mythos. There are other, more minor benefits "Lock-On Technology" gave us gamers, but nothing else that's worth much of a mention.
And speaking of not worth much of a mention, I'd like to bring up that Sonic & Knuckles is the second-weakest of the Genesis tetralogy, with its gimmicky boss fights and more obnoxious enemies. Thus, it's really no better than the original Sonic, but its extra features give it the edge over its predecessor.
Sonic Heroes is a, er... divisive entry in the Sonic franchise. Either you hate it or herald it, but I find myself more in the second camp.
I think the "team" mechanic is a fun one, and the developers gave it enough weight without having it dominate the overall experience. This game is also a middle ground between Sonic Advance and Sonic & Knuckles in the "multiple characters sharing the same stages" system. There are four teams with rather similar abilities, which are put into the same stages. However, the differences between them are noticeable and plentiful. Team Sonic's stages are the most basic and have a middle level in difficulty. Team Dark must face stages similar to Team Sonic's, but with an emphasis in upped difficulty. Team Rose has the opposite approach, featuring shorter and easier stages. Finally, Team Chaotix is the most unique of the four. Instead of getting to the end of the stage, the team must accomplish specific objectives, such as collecting hermit crabs strewn across the environment. To fully complete the game, however, you must complete all of the teams' stories and fighting off one of the coolest final bosses in Sonic's history.
The main downfall of Sonic Heroes is the unwieldy physics engine, which alone will cause quite a few deaths and quite a bit of frustration. Also, almost none of the common enemies can be felled in one hit, as they now carry health bars. This will lead to more frustration as it will take much longer to dispatch even Egg Pawns, wasting time instead of increasing difficulty. That said, the game is a blast, frustrations aside. But it's not the shining example of 3-D Sonic done right.
It pains me quite a bit to relegate Sonic 2 to a respectable but ultimately unimpressive #6 rank. This was the game my mother played while pregnant with me. This was my first game, one that I played before I could even talk or begin to understand what I was doing. This was the reason "Sega" was one of the first words I ever spoke, due in no small part to the catchy jingle that preceded every time I played it.
So why #6? Because five other games are better than it, of course! Well, obvious reason aside, it's because it's just not the pinnacle of 2-D Sonic games, and it doesn't exceed a select few of the 3-D titles. The more creative stages and the addition of Tails and the Spin Dash technique catapult this game ahead of the original, but I still feel it's obsolete compared to its sequels. This is simply the plight of a franchise's evolution: the games you used to love just can't stand alongside its later brethren.
But I do want to make another mention of the creativity of Sonic 2's myriad stages. It features the largest quantity of stages in the tetralogy (I've said "tetralogy a lot in this Top 10 list, haven't I?), and each one of them is unique in its own way. Even thematically similar stages, such as the urban Chemical Plant and Metropolis, are different enough in unique mechanics to set themselves apart as unique, separate entities. There's even a vehicle segment via Sky Chase, where Sonic dogfights his way to Robotnik's Flying Fortress with the Tails' "Tornado" airplane.
Maybe this will turn off quite a few people considering how, er... divisive the entire 3-D Sonic collection is as a whole. However, I very much enjoyed the earlier efforts at 3-D Sonic games, and the original one is no exception.
In many ways, Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 are quite similar. This is why they sit back-to-back on this list, and this is why you either hate them both or herald them both. But Adventure 2 barely edges out its predecessor, and I whether or not I'll think it's the better of the two a year from now, or even a week from now, is a mystery. But right here, right now... Adventure 2 is the better game.
Sonic Adventure has Adventure Fields, better mini-games, a better story, and a wider variety of stages. It also has Big the Cat, so...
No, I really don't intend to fill volumes with the rant I could spew forth regarding that abomination of a character and gameplay style, but I'll save you the frothing fury.
Needless to say, if this game beat out three out of four of the original Genesis games, I feel that alone is a testament to how much I enjoyed it. That said, it's not hard to see why there's loathing for these particular entries. All I can say is, play both of these games if you can (probably the GameCube ports, as they feature a few nice improvements). Then again, what Sonic fan hasn't played these two games?
Sonic Adventure 2 took three of the gameplay styles found in the first Sonic Adventure (Sonic's "regular" segments, Knuckles' searching segments, and Gamma's shooting segments), and ran with them. Featuring two separate stories, one that stars the aforementioned holy trinity of classic Sonic mythos, and a trio of villainous scoundrels seeking to oppose them.
I feel the improvements Sonic Adventure 2 made outweigh the elements that were worsened or removed altogether. Adventure Fields are gone, but the game is just fine without them. The story is worse in my opinion, but it wasn't a masterpiece by any means. There's no Big the Cat, not that anyone's complaining, and the Chao Garden has been expanded to the point that it would overshadow other mini-games anyway.
The only real gripes I have with the game are twofold. One, the radar found in Sonic Adventure's Knuckles stages has been made less accurate and more frustrating. Two, the stages lack diversity compared to Sonic Adventure. Sure, that game featured only eleven stages, they ranged from volcanic mountain ranges to picturesque beaches, and contained a subset of unique environments. In Sonic Adventure 2, on the other hand, the stage most likely takes place in a city, government facility, desert, jungle, pyramid, or space station. At least the stages within this limited range of environments are fun and engaging.
This is it: what I consider the best iteration in the Genesis tetralogy (last time, I promise). Before this, Sonic stages were relatively simple affairs. The name of the stage would pop up, and the stage would begin. You'd complete it, eventually face Dr. Robotnik, and you'd end up in a completely different environment, with no rhyme or reason, and no semblance of a cohesive journey.
Sonic 3 changed all that. What a difference a few short scripted scenes and segments can make in improving a game's overall feel. Adding Knuckles the Echidna, who is now a very popular character among Sonic fans, to the mix helped out as well. Knuckles provided a foil for Sonic that became his own character, and continues to stand out on his own merit.
The way stages were handled in the Sonic series were also drastically changed for the better. In Sonic 2, for example, Emerald Hill Act 1 didn't look much different from Act 2. In Sonic 3, Angel Island goes from a paradisaical jungle to a burning spiral into madness after just one small "cutscene" and a mini-boss fight (another welcome addition to the series). Larger levels, more power-ups, an improved multiplayer mode, and a save function round out the package of one of the finest 2-D Sonic games ever crafted. However, it is not the best of the bunch...
#2: Sonic CD (SCD)
I never owned a Sega CD back in the day, so I wasn't able to play this little gem until, ironically enough, I picked up Sonic Gems Collection. And amongst all of the stock genre spin-offs and Tails-centric Game Gear titles, this game was most definitely the crown gem of that gem collection. I'm also proud to say this game is the crown gem of Sonic's classic 2-D career. That's a pretty big statement considering that 2-D career is often regarded as Sonic's heyday and golden era.
Sonic CD took the added capabilities the Sega CD system offered, and it ran with it. Slick anime cutscenes, complicated, layered scenery, and a rocking soundtrack all contribute to the best presentation that the Sonic classics have to offer. It also added another maneuver in Sonic's rather streamlined repertoire: the Super Peel-Out, a risky but rewarding state that can speed Sonic through many a situation, but it's burdened with a lack of defensive ability.
The game's developers could have taken this icing on the cake and simply left the metaphorical cake half-baked. But Sega upped the ante with a time-travel mechanic that added another layer of fun and gameplay to an already finely-tuned system. Scattered throughout the expansive stages are post signs that resemble the checkpoints found in previous games, but are labeled "Past" or "Future". After running past them, Sonic will be able to leap to another time period by, taking a page from "Back to the Future", maintaining a ludicrous speed.
These time periods function as different versions of each stage, with transformed presentation and music for each period. These allow each act, which were already complex, to be two acts in one, for both of the first two acts in a zone! This is a brilliant mechanic that elevates this game above so many others in the franchise, and hasn't been replicated since. I haven't even explained the Good Future/Bad Future mechanic that affects how each third act in a zone works, but I think I've made my point regardless.
The time travel system alone places Sonic CD above its other 2-D peers, but the enhanced presentation certainly didn't hurt either. It also was the debut of both Amy and Metal Sonic, two characters that the series would not be the same without. But the Sonic franchise hasn't been about characters or story; instead, it relies on its fun gameplay. And Sonic CD has this in spades.
This game was made as a love letter to the Sonic fanbase, both apologizing to us for years of disappointment, and rewarding us with one of the finest Sonic games of all time. It's so good that I feel it's the best, and that's a rare statement in a world of tired franchises riding on the decrepit backs of dead horses.
This game succeeds on every level. It's easy to see the dividing point in the Sonic franchise: when the series went 3-D with Sonic Adventure. Some loved them, others reviled them. This game sought to bring these warring factions together, and I think it did this perfectly.
Starring both the Sonic we know today and the pudgier, shorter one from yesteryear, Sonic Generations synthesizes the classic 2-D gameplay series veterans missed and the finest iteration of the series' 3-D gameplay system. Stages from the highlights of Sonic history (and Sonic '06) abound, with classic nods and modern touches around every corner taken at breakneck speeds. Some of the franchise's best moments are relived, along with some great boss fights. Topping it off is the best presentation and an incredible, all-encompassing soundtrack that will remind every Sonic fan of some nostalgic memory they've had with the series.
Even those who weren't fans of the series were converted with this game. This gem was such a success because it knew what to focus on: speedy, tight gameplay. Whether you sped through Green Hill in a new way or Seaside Hill in a way you wished it always should've been, there were good times to be had by all. You enjoyed it even if you couldn't tell Green Hill from Seaside Hill.
This game also handles common occurrences in the series as well as they ever have been. There are plenty of colorful characters, but they're kept to the background where they belong, and Sonic is the unequivocal focus of the game. There are side-missions, but they are completely skippable and feature unique environments built for their specific challenges. They do present more content for those who seek it, and it's decent content at that.
The only flaw I see with this game is how short it is. It's definitely goes by fast, and not just because of the main character's trademark pace. But it's one heck of a ride, and the best ride a Sonic game has ever given me and so many other fans.
Agree with my opinions? Tell me about it in the Top 10 board! Disagree with my opinions? Tell me about it in the Top 10 board! Never played these games? What's wrong with you!? If you haven't even touched the Sonic franchise, there's no better time than now. An Xbox 360 or PS3 can play the Genesis tetralogy (yep, I lied) via Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, the Adventure titles and Sonic CD via their digital releases, and obviously, Sonic Generations via its original release. Feel free to hunt down the other games too. Even if you think little of the series due to its several missteps, I can assure you these ten games are worth your time.
List by _Matt_Engarde_ (06/13/2013)
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