Review by Coach C
Sonic's Come a Long Way...
Sonic Advance received a great deal of hype when it came out. Hailed as a return to the roots of Sonic the Hedgehog, equated to Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (what about Sonic & Knuckles, then?), it was poised to return the Sonic series to it's former glory, which had been faded by the somewhat lackluster "Adventure" series. Being an avid fan of the blue blur, I was only too eager to purchase and play through the game, almost as soon as it came out. I've found that yes, Sonic has come a long way from those 16-bit years on Sega Genesis...
A long way *down*.
Let's proceed to the review, shall we?
The typical response to Sonic Advance's story handicaps is that old-school Sonic platformers aren't SUPPOSED to have a storyline. Certainly this was what the "Sonicteam" members who created this game were thinking. I think this assumption is way off base, however. The classic Sonic series had what one might call Minimalist Story-telling. There was an all-encompassing storyline that branched from Sonic 2 all the way to the end of Sonic & Knuckles. True, the details of this plot were not given in the way of long cutscenes and badly scripted dialogue as in the "Adventure" games, which is why I suppose many people fail to notice them. But there was a solid, continuing, purposeful storyline seamlessly and non-disruptively integrated into the gameplay of the classic Sonic games.
In Sonic Advance, there is NO story. You are simply launched into the first level, left to assume that "Robotnik is at it again". There is no natural progression, no motivation to continue. Just a random assortment of zones. Oh well, despite this, the game's story is STILL far better than the brain-dead "plot" of Sonic Heroes, so I'll give it SOME points.
I wasn't too pleased with the sound in this game. My main gripe is with the music. It's not as huge a departure from the classic Sonic tunes as some of the other recent Sonic games, and the music for the Ice zone is actually quite nice. But generally, the music sounds bland, uninspired, occasionally annoying... and often as if it's being played by some sort of tinny harmonica. I know that GBA limitations probably contributed to some of that, but it's still quite unpleasant.
I feel overly negative in saying this, but even the sound effects have gone downhill to an extent! The curl-into-a-ball/spindash sounds seem very whiny, and the spring noises used in EVERY Sonic game (even the 3-D ones) are switched with weird, un-spring like new ones, for reasons beyond my comprehension...
The gameplay... oh boy, where to begin. The first level was probably the most original thanks to the beach and forest elements, but half of it was just another Green Hill Zone imitation. I won't bother summing up the rest of the zones, but be sure that I would have used the word "imitation" several more times. The zones usually felt like poor substitutes for older levels, with maybe one or two exceptions. There wasn't really any innovation in terms of level design, actually... whenever there was, it was often a useless gimmick that literally contributed nothing. *cough*RAILS*cough*
Then, there are the actual characters. You can choose from Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and even the new form of Amy Rose. Sounds great, huh? Unfortunately, the way you go through levels barely changes with what character you select. The novelty of playing through a zone with so many different characters wears off quickly when their abilities contribute so little. Speaking of abilities, everybody gets new special abilities from the Sonic Adventure series! Trust me when I say that these abilities contribute NOTHING WHATSOEVER to the game. With the exception of Amy, who is geared to completely rely on them, you can go through the game without using the new abilities ONCE and not even notice it. Sure, having a melee attack as Tails and Knuckles can make things a little easier in certain situations (even though a jump is just as useful)... but what's with Sonic's ability? He does some kind of cumbersome cartwheel that can harm enemies, but also leaves you vulnerable. It's a weaker technique than simply hitting down on the directional pad while walking and rolling into a ball. What was Sonicteam thinking when they put this in?
Next, we have the Special Stages. Perhaps the worst attempt at a 3-D effect I've ever seen. I gave up even trying to get the Chaos Emeralds in these ridiculous stages.
Finally, we have the Chao Garden. In this sub-game, you can take care of a Chao by buying it food with the rings you obtained during normal gameplay. To what ends? I have no idea. I guess so that you can link to Sonic Adventure 2 and transfer your Chao into 3-D, but why bother? If anything it seems harder to raise Chaos in this manner than just training them on your Gamecube. But my real gripe with the Chao Garden is that once you enter it, the only way to exit is by shutting your game off and turning it back on. WHOOPS! YOU FORGOT SOMETHING, GUYS!
On a more positive note... I like how the last zone opened. Going up against the first boss from Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 was a great idea, and setting each battle to their respective game's boss music was a nice touch. I was disappointed at the lack of Sonic 3's first boss, though. What gives? Robotnik's fireball machine would have fit in perfectly there, and would have topped the whole idea off. Oh well, I still enjoyed it.
Can somebody explain to me why the Gameboy Advance version of Sonic looks uglier than the 16-bit version?! Sonic characters used to be the subjects of heavy shading, creating an almost 3-D effect, and some of the best-looking Genesis games around. The new sprites barely employ shading at all. I guess most of the graphics are decent in their own right, but I'm really curious about what brought about this disappointing change.
Well, you do have four different characters to choose from, so if you can stand the game enough to replay it you'll have ample opportunities to do so. But as I mentioned earlier, the different characters don't add as much weight as they could have. Plus, playing through the game as Amy is just torture.
If you're a Sonic veteran, expecting another "real" Sonic game at last - forget it. You're not going to find it here. If you're a new fan, you'll probably have some fun with it, but you'd do much better to get your hands on the older games... because Sonic Advance can't hold a candle to them.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
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