Our first peek into the three GBA Sonic platformer games is Sonic Advance, released early 2002, which sees the return of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy Rose in all their sidescrolling glory. Indeed, those planning to buy a gameboy advance did not intend to see the super-speed blue hedgehog with SEGA stamped to his forehead darting about their screen, but for better rather than worse, Nintendo and Sega now work together in creating great games for the Gamecube, Gameboy Advance, and the new Nintendo DS.
The story in Sonic Advance is instantly recognisable if you played the previous Sonic games on your Sega Megadrive. Dr Robotnik, or rather, ‘Dr Eggman’ as he is now known, wants to take over the world (Mobius) and to do this he is trying to nab all the chaos emeralds for himself, with Sonic and pals out to stop him by getting through various zones filled with metal beasties of Eggman’s creation. Similar to most Sonic games, the first zone ‘Neo Greenhill Zone’ is the typical seaside paradise in which Eggman has ruined with Badniks who are all our to cause serious pain to our spiky friend. As you progress through the zones, beating the boss at the end, (which is usually Eggman in one of his inventions) you will need to collect the chaos emeralds for yourself, which are available in a special stage via a secret spring which is hidden in one of two acts in each zone. Once in the special stage, you will find your character falling through a tube of sorts on a snowboard. In order to nab the emerald at the end for yourself, you will need to collect the rings which come at you through the tube, avoiding the nasty spiked balls.
Naturally, the stages get increasingly difficult, and it may take a lot of practice and knowledge of the stage itself before you get your hands on the emerald. Although the game can be completed in an hour, collecting the chaos emeralds in order to finish the game properly will take you a good while and provide a tough challenge. I’m sure that most Sonic fans will agree that it is the zones that really make a game a sinner or a winner. There is no contest between a zone where you are stuck inside some sort of warehouse and a zone in which you are plunging into icy waters with glaciers in the background.
So what does Sonic Advance have to offer? Well, there’s the typical casino zone which isn’t unsimilar to the Casino Night zone of Sonic 2, but features a nice backdrop of trees and a lake while the mundane Secret Base zone has similarities to the giant Metropolis Zone of old. But it’s Ice Mountain zone where things really heat up, and the beautiful graphics which the Gameboy Advance has the ability to display are shown. Snow drives in your face as you slide and plunge through this snowbound zone, as glaciers, ice caps and forested mountains loom in the background. Afterwards you’ll need to explore ancient ruins of Angel Island Zone before finally confronting Eggman in his rocket ship as he ascends into space.
Through each zone you will need to collect rings, power ups such as the shield while trashing Eggman’s robots which all have an animal trapped inside them. Each zone has the usual traps that see you helplessly freefalling into a group of spikes. Unfortunately, the boss at the end of each zone is not particularly hard to beat and can usually be taken apart with a few well-timed jumps, but that’s always been part of the Sonic charm. Each zone features the usual tingly tunes that are similar to all Sonic games, but are not as memorable as the classics of Sonic 2 on the Sega Megadrive. The different characters add slight variation to the game, but in reality it usually just dictates how easy it is to complete the game. Amy Rose, with her hammer and without the ability to somersault is for the more advanced player while Knuckles provides probably the easiest and most enjoyable experience as he can punch, glide, swim and climb, making him a great choice for those less familiar with the game.
The controls couldn’t be simpler, the D-pad allows you to run while A provides jump/fly/spin actions. Unlike previous Sonic games, pressing B with each character pulls off a signature move, Tails now swipes with his, err tails, and sonic spins into a slide. It’s just a better way of dealing with enemies who have nasty sharp things on their backs. Understandably, you wouldn’t fancy somersaulting onto that if you were Sonic. Other modes include Time Attack in which you simply try to get through your selected zone as fast as possible, or a two player mode where you can compete against each other. Also, there is the ‘Tiny Chao Garden’ in which I still can’t figure out the purpose. You are given a cute Chao to play with, feed, and buy toys for. You can do this by earning credits through the main game. You can rub his head and his happiness meter will increase! You can also connect your gameboy advance with others to swap chao! So now you can pat somebody elses’ chao on the head.
Your GBA can however, link to Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the Gamecube for extra unlockable goodness. It seems like Sega have played it safe with a very good, solid platformer for Sonic’s return into the limelight. It is a very simple game, and with only 6 full zones it won’t take long for you to speed through. But the added emerald challenge will take you a while and you will find yourself often picking the game up just to race through a couple of zones just for the fun of it.
Review by Matthew Long © 2005 (firstname.lastname@example.org)