Review by Phange
"The blue blur that raced for graphics, ingenuity, and defied an empire"
Sonic the Hedgehog is, if not the most important, one of the most important figures of the gaming industry. Up until the point when the Genesis slammed it's iron fist on the NES, Mario the plumber was the definition of cool. Of course, cool in the 80's is obviously not cool now. The 90's were a transition period. It was a time where people realized the sad measly existence that they had created for themselves. The 90's introduced Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic was fast, blue, and he single handedly tore apart Nintendo's fun box. Sure, there were NES games that defied the stale genre, but Sega really pioneered cool. They still do with games like Jet Grind Radio and Sonic Adventure 2. Sega knew how to market their games to the crowd that yearned for games.... the teenagers. Whereas Nintendo focused blindly on the family based infrastructure, Sega aimed for the heart of the gaming market. Sonic, with his blazing fast attitude and wonderful graphics and animation, brought something that was at the time never imagined. Attitude.
Definitely a strong point in any Sonic game is it's graphics, and Sonic Advance is no exception. Sonic moves with a wireframe captured animation sequence that impresses. Also, the background graphics (especially in Angel Island Zone) look almost hand drawn. Little elements that the Sonic Team is famous for have been added to Sonic Advance to ensure the gamer's appreciation for the blue dude.
This game appropriates itself as an amalgamation of past and present, a pseudo Sonic of today. Sure, Sonic runs around side-scrolling and collects rings, but in reality this game is in great quantities a new creation. Sonic and his pals have abilities that weren't applied to the previous outings. For example, Sonic can now do an odd barrel-roll that can slide him under some short obstacles.
Of course Sonic Team intended to, while maintaining a Genesis ideal, utilize the Gameboy Advance's hardware. This becomes increasingly obvious in levels exhibiting the transparency effect. Also, the terrain is much more dynamic and diverse than the Genesis counterparts.
Probably the greatest downfall in the graphics isn't the game's fault. The Gameboy Advance is just not a comfortable system, and Sonic should ALWAYS be played on a big screen where your eyes don't have to strain to view the blue devil. This, along with the Gameboy's tendency to be dark makes for a frustrating experience. Of course, the game misses no points for this error, as it rests solely on Nintendo's incompetence when designing a dynamic screen.
Overall, the graphics as a whole are outstanding. The animation is light years ahead of the previous Sonics and the color is applied appropriately.
While most avid Sonic Fans could nail any Sonic tune off the top of their heads, Sonic's sound effects were never really that great. However, by leaving the ring effect the same and changing the other sounds, Sega has managed to pull together some great sound effects.
Probably the best example is the jump effect. While previous jumps have been annoyingly high pitched and whiny, the new jump effect has been lowered in tone and does not give the impression that Sonic is a cheesy cartoon. Another great sound innovation is the spin dash, which now has a dynamic charge effect in which the sound warps to symbolize the changing speed that Sonic is building.
Sonic's music has always been good. Anyone who has played Sonic could pick out most of the music. Sonic Advance presents a step back in music composition and a step forward in music quality. Whether you are an advocate of quality over composition or vise versa, the music will still be different to you. This game is best played with stereo headphones.(this applies to almost every Gameboy Advance game) The music, while nice in it's own right, isn't the hummable mixes that the previous versions had.
Of course, I won't leave out the remixed songs from previous Sonic games. These not only protrude in composition, but also in quality. The programmers purposely made the old compositions sound ''genesis'' style to appease veterans of the Sonic franchise. Sonic Team went overboard designing the sound synthesizer, but more attention needs to be made on the compositions as a whole.
Sonic has always been about speed. Whether you played Sonic because it was a high speed rollercoaster of a game or just to play something different, you would have to admit that Sonic is indeed original. By original I mean a break from the standard platform genre. Only Sonic and, perhaps, Rocket Knight (Sparkster to you SNES fans) have managed to go beyond the idea of a platform game. Sure, Mario World was entertaining and much longer than Sonic, but was it as fast or as entertaining in the long run?
Sonic Team tried to implement the Sonic 3 ''multi character, multi path'' feature in Sonic Advance, but it ultimately flops. Other than Sonic and Tails, the only thing the characters' abilities allow them to do is slow down the time it takes to reach the finish. Yeah, Sonic is gonna blaze through just about every level because hes fast, but Knuckles and Amy take forever to complete a level on the same path. Sonic Team tried, but they failed because the levels, in order to add an intensity not found in the older Sonic games, sacrificed the hidden route feature that made Sonic 3 and Knuckles such a revolutionary game.
The flaw in character implementation is mostly apparent with Amy, who is so utterly useless as a character its almost insulting. Other than the flawed character usage, Sonic has revamped everything that it has stood for. Sonic is faster, graphically more impressive, and much more varied. However, this presents yet another problem. The levels, while designed with good intention, aren't near the caliber that previous Sonic games reached. The levels are much shorter and much more simple. I remember spending at least 30 minutes in Sand Hill Zone solving the Sand Hill pyramid puzzle. Sonic Advance lacks any sort of level exploring qualities. Well, almost lacks any sort of level exploration.
One great (or terrible, depending on the player) addition to the game is the ''Chao Emerald Launch Pad'' (yes, its CHAO not CHAOS). Now you have a reason to search the terrain, because hidden in each act there is a launch pad that takes you to the special stage.... and I'll get to that in a little while. This feature presents something previous Sonic games lacked, a reason to find new routes. This feature saves Sonic from being just a thrill ride through a level.
The bad news is that the Special Stage stinks. It is basically an uninspired fall down a tube where your character does airboard tricks to receive rings. While this sounds good on paper, the execution is poorly done and lacks any sort of coherency. You are never sure if you are going to pick up the rings or have them just flow by you.
The Multiplayer in Sonic Advance is fantastic, ranging from single pak antics to a full fledged link to Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. All of the modes are similar, either involving finding rings or chao. Since Sonic Adventure 2: Battle implements what the Dreamcast had (the VMU Chao raising feature) on the GBA, the execution works even better than the Dreamcast. Now you can raise your Chao in the Tiny Chao Garden, which is an excellent diversion to the main game.
Overall the gameplay is solid, but the levels feel a tad rushed and way too short. The development of the game could have used a few more months to add more character specific qualities to individual levels.
Tiny Chao Garden
The Chao Garden is a totally different game from Sonic Advance. Much like Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, you can divert your hasty ways for a much calmer virtual pet simulator. Chaos are little blue creatures who respond to your treatment and food. While initially the garden is limited, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle allows you to introduce adult Chao and new toys by transferring them to the Gameboy cartridge. This feature is not only impressive, it is quite useful. By training your Chao on the Gameboy, you can compete in Chao Races for Sonic Emblems and other bonus features.
The Chao Garden is an incredibly addicting diversion, and the inclusion of it brings this game's rating up a point. Sonic Advance's Gamecube features are not only the first, but will probably be the best for a long time to come.
This game is a great package for Sonic enthusiasts, but overall it lacks something that the other Sonic games had. The levels and music feel more mainstream and standard than I remember. Other than that, this package is a must buy, and if you intend on buying Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, this game is the perfect companion.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/08/02, Updated 02/08/02
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