Review by Denouement

"Slow it down just a notch baby"

Before the advent of the Dreamcast's Sonic Adventure, it seemed as if the Sonic franchise had almost dropped off the earth. Certainly, it's status as Sega's marketable mascot was under question, and the Sega brand itself had also suffered a long dry spell between the Genesis and the Dreamcast. Comparative failures like the Saturn and the 32X had brought the brand under deep scrutiny. For the debut of the Dreamcast console to advance with impressive results, Sega needed a new franchise title from their lucky blue hedgehog to drive sales.

The Sonic Team delivered, and provided for the console's launch a title that really showed the impressive capabilities of the powerful new generation of console. Sonic had always been about speed, and Sonic Adventure had blistering speed and intense action that few previous titles could approach.

For this title, the nefarious Dr. Eggman (Dr. Robotnik) has a new cohort. Shadow is Sonic's answer to Bizzaro Superman, a black palette-swapped match of our beloved hero twisted to a dark cause. These baddies have captured an old space station, and apparently someone forgot to pack the giant planet annihilating laser weapon when they left this station on vacation, because Eggman, Shadow, and a nasty bat named Rouge have acquired this powerful machine. For now, the trio is sticking with the default evil plan of threatening to destroy the world.

Surely you can guess who's going to be called in to stop them? If you guessed the Ghostbusters, you were incorrect, for while it's never wrong to call the Ghostbusters, Sonic just seems to be a better fit for this job. The first Sonic Adventure had six storylines; this title has just two. You can follow either the bad guys -- Eggman, Shadow, and Rouge -- or the righteous trio of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. The plot isn't quite as deep or interesting as that of Sonic Adventure, and the resolution of the two plotlines is not especially effective. One of the coolest things about the first game was the way in which six storyline coalesced into one, and that element is not as well done in this game.

The two teams line up quite nicely in terms of abilities: Sonic vs. Shadow, Eggman vs. Tails, and Knuckles vs. Rouge. Thus there are three different modes of gameplay, and any given level will be very similar whether you are playing as Dark or Hero. The Knuckles and Rouge levels are clearly the weak side of Sonic Adventure 2; in these stages, you'll be wandering around looking for three pieces of the Master Emerald. It's certainly not difficult, because there is essentially no risk to your characters, and you have a radar at the bottom of your screen to alert you when you're close to a piece of the gem. It does require some tedious slogging back and forth to uncover the pieces in the designated order. I know it's difficult to come up with gameplay that suits Knuckles's fairly pacifist abilities, but surely this puffed up Easter Egg hunt is not the best Sonic Team could do.

The Tails/Eggman stages aren't bad, but seem strangely out of place somehow. Each pilots a mech-warrior suit of some kind. You basically follow a single winding path, jumping over obstacles and shooting enemies. None of these levels is especially difficult, nor does any push itself out from this simple description. Like the Knuckles stages, this often has the feeling of drudgery, but in the end shooting enemies is volumes more fun that digging up gems. The only real difficulty of these levels is that they're slow -- a surprising problem to see in a Sonic game, but nevertheless, it's there.

Sonic and Shadow are clearly the most interesting characters in Sonic Adventure 2, a marvelously diametrical duo in a relationship that practically seethes with conflict. Their stages are also the obvious highlight of the game. If anything, the speed has been amped up from the first incarnation. The levels whiz by ever faster, and these courses are much more difficult than the first game's. The turns seem to grow tighter and tighter, and the jumps more precipitous. As you fly through the air on a jump your gut tells that that you’re going to crash into the ground; Sonic merely lands lightly and starts accelerating once again. There’s no slowdown, and the controls are so fluid you feel like you’re in the game, leaning from side to side as you hold a turn, or grind along a rail -- grinding Tony Hawk-style is one of Sonic’s new abilities and it’s shared by his alter ego. Navigating Sonic's stages is the most difficult part of the game but also the most enjoyable and no matter your reaction to the Hunting and Shooting stages, it’s worth beating them just to enjoy Sonic and Shadow. For those who want an even greater challenge, there's a collection sidequest to pick up all 180 Sonic Emblems, and getting to a few of these requires you to gather insane speed for very precise jumps.

A pretty boring two-player game has been added to the title, but it’s really just a rehash of the main game’s levels matching up Hero and Dark competitively. This multiplayer won’t attract you for more than an hour. The weird Chao raising minigame returns and is a lot more complicated and deep than it was in Sonic Adventure. If you didn't long ago throw away your Tamagotchi pet-raising toy (remember when they used to sell for hundreds of dollars?), then this will probably be your bag; you raise a little bug-like creature for racing. You’ll be responsible for all the essentials: feeding, education, and so on. Depending on how you treat them, they will follow either the Hero or Dark path. The Chao game doesn’t really go anywhere after winning a few fairly simple races, but it will provide a diversion for those who like it. It’s also compatible with the VMU. Even there, at the very least, it certainly has better graphics than the Tamagotchi!

As far as the rest of the game’s visuals, they are just as bright and flashy as you’d expect from a leading Dreamcast title. Although each character only has a few levels, they don’t seem repetitive at all, and take us to some nice settings like forests and urban-looking regions. Sonic’s spin looks as fur-flying as ever, and the new guy Shadow looks badass in his black and red color scheme. The only problem is the camera on the Knuckles gem-finding stages, which can sometimes stick you behind a giant mushroom or tree. Yet in the overall scheme of the game this seems a minor complaint when presented with the amazing speed of the racing.

For those racing stages we get variations on the classic Sonic musical theme: aggressive, light, speedy music, filled with sliding glissandos and rapid scales. This is well-established as great accompaniment for the high-powered speed of these stages. The other two gameplay styles warrant some more original music, and the Sonic Team seems to have chosen to go in a hip-hop direction. It seems out of place at first, but perhaps that’s just because I’m not used to hearing this genre from a video game, because it actually fits quite well. There’s a lot of voice acting in this game as well; needing so few voices, Sega has cast them pretty well I feel, and it sounds much like the first game really. I’m not sure the fairly corny plot needed this much dialogue and development, but I think Sonic Team took this story more seriously than I did. Certainly the development of the Shadow vs. Sonic duality suggests that they were interested in adding some dramatic flair to the game; despite the coolness of Sonic’s evil twin, I don’t think they quite succeeded.

The racing portions of this game are so good that they tend to relegate the other stages to a mere footnote in discussion, and that’s fortunate for Sega. Fans of the Sonic series are guaranteed to enjoy this title and will remember its concentrated adrenaline fondly. For the uninitiated, this is still among the best platformers on the Dreamcast, and the improvements over the first game outweigh the failures. Unfortunately, neither Sonic Adventure nor Sonic Adventure 2 were able to achieve their goal of raising the Dreamcast to prominence. Perhaps the brightest light in the dismal story of the Dreamcast’s failure is that more fans will enjoy the stunning action of the Sonic series as it makes the jump to multiplatform.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/08/03, Updated 07/08/03

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