Review by Kobold Warrior
"What's blue, blazin’ fast and extremely dangerous? Poppa Smurf strapped to SCUD missile of course!"
Sega was desperate. Their competitor, Nintendo, was raking in the dough with sales of their powerful Super Nintendo Entertainment System, largely due to a certain charismatic, red overall-wearing plumber. Sega knew that in order to successfully compete with the Big N they needed an enigmatic mascot of their own. Looking to create an edgier character than Nintendo’s family-oriented koopa stomper, Sega assigned in-house artists Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima to the daunting task of creating Mario’s rival. After much deliberation and a few set backs, Sonic the Hedgehog was finally born. His hip attitude and blazing speed made him an instant success and from that point on he has remained the second most recognizable videogame character of all time.
Sonic’s games on the Genesis were pure 2D platforming goodness, with an excellent combination of action, exploration and challenge. As the years passed and sprites transformed into polygons, Sonic inevitably found himself striking out into the third dimension. But, there was a problem - these 3D outings failed to capture the excellent gameplay balance found in the earlier iterations of the hedgehog’s franchise. Thankfully, with the release of Nintendo’s SNES-like handheld system the GameBoy Advance, Sonic has been given a chance to get back to his classic 2D roots. Aptly titled Sonic Advance, this new GBA Sonic title captures all the magic that made those early Genesis games so fun, and also adds some new features that help strengthen the already high quality gameplay.
If you are familiar with any of the blue hedgehog’s games on the Sega Genesis, then you know what the basic gameplay element is - speed. Strewn liberally throughout each of the game’s twelve levels are plenty of ramps, loops, long straight-aways and corkscrews that are meant to accentuate Sonic’s ability to go extremely fast. It’s still a kick in the pants throwing caution to the wind and scorching through the levels at maximum velocity. The tiny GBA screen can make it a bit difficult keeping track of your surroundings while blazing along, but the back lighting of the SP and GameCube GBA Player both help alleviate this issue.
Though speed is still the main draw of the game, Sonic Advance puts more emphasis on exploration than any of the past Genesis iterations did. Hidden within each level is the entrance to a special bonus world where you can find one of the many Chaos Emeralds. Collect all the elusive emeralds and you’ll get to unlock the game’s best ending. It’s nice to see the developers over at Sonic Team give us a reason to scour the levels, as opposed to blasting straight through without ever looking back.
The game’s stages are quite large and adequately varied, with themes ranging from the classic Green Hill and Casino Paradise Zones to some more unique underwater and nighttime environments (complete with nifty transparent searchlights). Along with being fairly lengthy, most of the levels are also quite tall, with the upper areas taking some real inventiveness on the gamer’s part to access. Tubes, waterslides, pulleys, springs, pinball flippers and plenty of other methods are not only invaluable for reaching those hard to reach places, but also keep the gameplay feeling fresh all the way through the game.
One of the best features of Sonic Advance is the option to play as multiple characters. Besides Sonic, you can choose Knuckles the Echidna, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower or Amy Rose. Obviously, Sonic is the fastest of the bunch and can zip through levels in no time flat. Knuckles has the ability to glide through the air and climb up sheer cliff walls, as well as a powerful Dragon Punch-like uppercut that can make quick work of most enemies. Tails can use both of his bushy tails as propellers for flight or as weapons when swung at baddies. Amy is the slowest of the group, but she carries a mean mallet that can be used to deliver swift justice to any Badnik looking to get in her way. The good variation in abilities exhibited by the playable characters makes the main quest worth completing several times over.
And it’s a good thing too, because the main story mode can be finished in just under two hours. This is easily the game’s biggest drawback. Fortunately, there are some multiplayer modes that can be accessed if you have multiple link cables and friends with GameBoy Advance systems. If you only have one copy of Sonic Advance you can play a game where you and up to three friends try to gather the most rings. This is enjoyable, but you can only play on one map so it can get dull after only a few rounds. Things open up a bit if everyone has a cartridge, because you can play Race (first to the finish) or Chao Hunt (capture the lost chao) on any previously unlocked level.
There is even the option to take care of your own personal chao via the Tiny Chao Garden game mode. Pet, feed and clean up after your virtual pet and it will gradually gain levels. Rings that have been collected in the main quest mode (or earned in one of two very simplistic mini-games) are used to buy food and other chao related items. What’s the point of doing this you ask? Simple. If you have GameCube/GBA connector you can upload your chao into Sonic Adventure 2 Battle’s Chao Race mode. Yeah, it’s a little on the gimmicky side, but it does add some to the game’s lifespan.
Visually, Sonic Advance is impressive. The sprite animations are all very detailed for all the main characters and little nuances abound, such as Sonic’s patented finger waggle and Knuckles’ side-to-side neck crack. The character sprites scale and rotate remarkably well when zipping through corkscrews and loop-de-loops and not so much as a hint of slowdown is ever experienced no matter how much is happening on screen. The environments themselves are all meticulously modeled down to the last pixel and feature vibrant colors that grab your eye. Some nice parallax scrolling is shown off in most of the levels and backgrounds all feature some sort of activity, whether it is flashing neon lights or glimmering ice. Not very many 2D side-scrollers on the GBA look prettier and Sonic Advance is certainly the best looking 2D Sonic game around.
The audio work in the game is very similar to what we heard in Sonic 1-3 a decade ago on the Genesis. The classic ring collection chime sounds as good as ever, as do all the other general sound effects. I do wish more voice samples were used (done by better actors than those that handled the voice duties in Sonic Adventure), as I feel that would help better flesh out the character’s personalities. The music of past Sonic titles has always been fantastic and the tunes in Sonic Advance are no different. Whether it’s the relaxing melody found in Ice Mountain Zone or the catchy, upbeat percussions of Neo Green Hill Zone, the soundtrack always complements the on-screen action remarkably well. Sonic veterans will be happy to know that the classic invincibility jingle is brought back and helps add to that old school, nostalgic feel.
All in all, Sonic Advance is a fabulous game that successfully delivers some of the most enjoyable 2D gameplay on the GameBoy Advance. The mixture of blazing speed and platforming elements makes it even more entertaining then the blue hedgehog’s past Genesis offerings, but the game’s short quest mode is a big letdown. The chao raising and link-up multiplayer modes are valiant attempts at bolstering the game’s lasting appeal, but what’s really needed is a longer single player quest mode. If you are getting tired of Nintendo’s constant milking of old SNES Mario rehashes, then you will probably be ecstatic to actually be getting an all-new Sonic game for the GBA. So is it worthy of your hard-earned cash despite the short single player? Absolutely. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the best Sonic game to be released in the past eight years…would you?
Gameplay: 9 – Classic 2D Sonic goodness. The ability to pick multiple characters adds much to the excellent gameplay found in Sonic’s old school Genesis efforts.
Visuals: 9 – Sprites are extremely detailed and levels feature some great parallax scrolling. One of the better looking games on the GBA.
Sound: 8 – Well done overall, but I’d like to some more voice work done for the main characters.
Music: 9 – The synthesized background tunes are kickin’. Gotta love that classic invincibility jingle.
Lasting Appeal: 6 – This is where the game stumbles. The single player can be completed in less than two hours. The link-up multi and chao mini-game are a bit too gimmicky to add much to the replay value. It’s a good thing you can play through as multiple characters or this score would be significantly lower.
Personal Tilt: 9 – I dig Sonic. He’s fast, hip and full of attitude. It’s great to see him get back to his 2D roots.
Final Score: 8.2 (rounded down to 8 for GameFAQs)
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/11/03
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