Review by Mottman

"I expected a home run in Sonic's return to 2-dimensional platforming...and got an infield single."

I remember the hype when Sonic Advance was in the works. The legendary two-dimensional game format starring that spiny blue hedgehog that catapulted the Sega Genesis into its greatest moments of truly standing toe-to-toe with perennial undisputed champ Nintendo was going to be renewed through the Game Boy Advance, and all you could think was, Sega's going to hit a home run on this breakthrough game, the first Sonic game on a Game Boy system and one of the first on any Nintendo system. If you were like me, you bought this game expecting a five-star restaurant masterpiece...and ended up with oatmeal. It's solid, it's good for you, but there's absolutely nothing ground-breaking about it. That's the feeling I got after I played Sonic Advance; it just didn't match the hype.

The storyline is pretty much the same skeleton plot that's in every Sonic game: Dr. Eggman (or The Artist Formerly Known As Dr. Robotnik) has some sinister plot to take over the world and steal the all-powerful Chaos Emeralds, and Sonic and friends must stop him. Move along folks, keep moving, nothing more to see here...

The cast of playable characters has expanded from the previous 2-D Sonic platformers, however. The playable cast has expanded to four, where previously it was three (and that was only when you combined Sonic and Knuckles and Sonic 3). You can play as Sonic (natch) Tails, Knuckles, or longtime Sonic stalker Amy Rose.

Sonic fans may say what they like about Amy, and it does rather smack of an effort to pull in some female gamers by having a playable female character (and what's wrong with that, anyways?) but I do find it rather strange that the ''cute'' character Amy is the hardest to play as. While Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles come intact with the Spin Jump and the Sonic Spin Dash (patent pending) in their arsenal, Amy cannot spin jump or spin dash. Her jump is non-spinning, which leaves her open to mid-air attack, giving her a DISTINCT disadvantage over the others. She can pull out some Hammer moves in midair (this dainty-looking pink hedgehog who can't even spin can whip out a hammer twice her size and pound baddies in a flash...suuuuure) but even with the hammer moves she is the hardest character to use. This strikes me as rather counter-productive for Sega's purposes, since Amy's looks make me think she was included to draw in the younger, ''beginners'' crowd, not to provide an advanced challenge of beating the Sonic levels without spinning. This game and its level layout seems naturally designed for spinning, so to include a character who cannot spin seems rather strange.

But I digress: Tails still has his flying mode, Knuckles still his wall climb and gliding...and each character has a few new moves in their arsenal. Sonic can grind rails and slide, Tails can attack nearby foes with his tails (gee, betcha never would have guessed THAT) and Knuckles can punch nearby foes with...gasp!...his fists. These new moves on one hand are nice additions and make the gameplay more intriguing and interesting...but I wonder if something hasn't been lost, the simplicity of gameplay that made Sonic so great in the early nineties with that ''only need one button to play'' control where all you had to do was jump and spin dash to get around. I'm a little torn on the increasing gimmickry in the player's moves and control in the Sonic series. Even so, it won't take long to get the hang of MOST of these extra moves (though a few of the ''press Down and B'' type moves aren't great enough to bother trying to pull off too often).

The levels are bright, colorful...and totally lacking in originality. ''Casino Paradise?'' ''Neo Green Hill????'' Haven't we seen these about 50 times already?!?! Not that the graphics are bad, they are quite nice and show off the still-relatively new Game Boy Advance's potential nicely, but there's not much originality in the level design ideas. If you're new to the Sonic series, however, this will matter jack squat to you, and you can appreciate the nice detail and coloring of these levels. Level layout for the most part is typically Sonic (but in this case that's a good thing) as there are plenty of routes to explore and it would take several tries in each zone to reach every part of the level.

Speaking of exploration, one thing you have to look for in certain levels are ''Special Springs.'' These springs are always in out-of-the-way locations, hence the need for some serious exploring. There are seven in all in the game, and when you find one, you are transported (or I guess ''flung,'' since it is a big spring) to a bonus level in which you go boarding down a huge pipe trying to collect a preset amount of rings before you hit bottom. You have to perform mid-air tricks to get enough rings in some areas. You get enough, you get a Chaos Emerald. Sound fun? It's not, not in my opinion anyways. This is a mostly frustrating bonus stage. Maybe it's just me, but Sonic game bonus stages seem to be getting worse over time. I still love the little rotating maze in the original Genesis game, and the pseudo 3-D obstacle courses in Sonic CD more than more modern incarnations of the Sonic series staple ''get the Chaos Emeralds in the Bonus Stage'' levels. By the way, I won't give away too many spoilers, but the ending changes depending on whether or not you get the Chaos Emeralds. However, I can't help but feel that the added ending doesn't justify the frustration involved in playing those danged bonus stages.

Sound in this game is mostly nondescript. I hate to start beating a now-comatose horse, but the Genesis Sonic games had memorable tunes. The music in Sonic Advance, while not bad by any means, doesn't distinguish itself. The only music I like and find even remotely unique is ''Ice Mountain,'' because of its different style. This is not bad music for a portable system, though. The game's sound effects are typical of the series in that they are superior. We still after over ten years get that game ''ding!'' when we collect a ring, and that very same jumping sound, and it almost amazes me how they can keep the sound virtually the same on so many different game systems.

Will this game keep you coming back for more? depends on how badly you want that ''special'' ending, and whether or not you want to see if you can beat the game with all characters. I come back to it every now and then, but it doesn't grab me like its predecessors, or even Sonic Advance 2 for that matter now that it is also out and in my GBA collection of goodies.

In short, it seems like this game came into being with a lot of pomp and circumstance...and struck a sour note somewhere along the way. Sonic Advance is not a bad game by any means; it should provide many hours of good solid platforming fun, especially for newcomers into the Sonic world who either weren't of the vid-game playing age in the 16-bit heyday, or who grew up clinging to their Nintendos and Super Nintendos with an iron grip. So with that in mind, this game isn't truly bad at all; it just crumbled under the strain of its own hype. We Sonic veterans expected a triumphant return to 2-D glory and what we received was a solid but ultimately unspectacular game. Add it to your GBA library...but try to either also include Sonic Advance 2, or find a way to get your hands on a Genesis version of Sonic if you want to REALLY see what made this mascot Sega's little hedgehog that could, as Rocky Balboa would say, ''go the distance'' with a plumber.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/15/03, Updated 07/15/03

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