Sonic Advance 2
Sonic Team gifted us with a great first outing for Sonic on the Gameboy Advance, but how would they improve on this for Sonic Advance 2? The one simple thing you need to know from the very beginning is that Sonic Advance 2 is fast. That’s it. Sonic Team have taken Sonic back to his roots, and created a game where the emphasis is on what makes sonic such a special hedgehog in the first place - speed. A slightly more in-depth storyline this time sees Dr Eggman (who else?) holding Sonic’s buddies captive and it is up to our spiky friend to save them. At first, only Sonic is available for selection but as you progress through the game Tails, Knuckles and the new character, Cream (with her Chao friend ‘Cheese') become playable.
The game kicks off in Leaf Forest Zone, a typical seaside resort but with interesting polygon shapes which sort of resemble trees. It won’t be long before you realise how Sonic Advance 2 enhances the speed factor better than any other Sonic title. Levels are clinically created so that you will fly from several ramps and end up grinding down a pole without you having any say in the matter. The second zone, ‘Hot Crater’ features about 6 loops in a row and even after that you will still be sliding rails and being cannoned off things before you even have a chance to think what you are doing. After a few seconds of running at maximum speed, every character will then go out of focus slightly and bolt even faster. Sonic Team have thought of every way to make this game as fast as possible. If you are slowing down slightly while once in the air, pressing the shoulder buttons allows for a signature move that usually sends the character rapidly spinning in the right direction. When you begin a zone a countdown sounds before a booster lets you get off to a quick start. Even water (my favourite aspect of the games) has mostly been booted out so as not to slow you down too much.
The boss battles are no exception from the main principal of Sonic Advance 2. Often too easy in the past, each showdown with Eggman usually required several well-timed jumps before he legged it. Now however, you’ll have to chase him, as each boss battle in Sonic Advance is moving. That’s right - not content with his passive, predictable attacks on Sonic, Eggman has decided to zoom away from the hedgehog while trying to batter him with giant hammers, bombs or lasers. This makes every boss battle very challenging, and you need to time your attacks even better as you run towards him while avoiding his weapons. It’s a first for a Sonic platformer, and hopefully won’t be the last as it really does improve the game and ties in with the theme of speed.
So what else is new in Sonic Advance 2? Cream the bunny is the latest hero to feature in the game, with Cheese, her fighting buddy. She is the ultimate character for rookies as pressing ‘B’ makes Cheese dart forward and kill an enemy for you, making boss battles particularly easy. Continuous tapping of the ‘A’ button also allows her to fly. She makes up for the absence of Sonic’s wannabe girlfriend, Amy, who was left out of this adventure although is available to unlock should you meet the game’s high demands for perfection. As in, to be able to play as Amy, you have to get every chaos emerald with every character. Which, in all honesty, is pretty stupid.
To even enter a special stage you need to grab 8 special rings that appear in each act, and that alone isn’t easy. Once you have done this, you enter the special stage where you run around jumping to grab rings and avoiding an irritating robot who is intent on making your special stage experience hell. Thankfully, he is pretty easy to stay away from and if you manage to nab enough rings the emerald is yours. However, failure to do so means you come out empty handed and annoyed that you have to collect those (sometimes near impossible to find) special rings all over again. Now, imagine doing that for each character. In gaming theory it’s understandable that by putting the effort in, you will reap the rewards.
However, the emerald challenge in Sonic Advance 2 will ruin you. If you are determined enough to spend ages working up a routine for both ring finding and the special stages thus completing each one with all four characters, then I guess you have properly completed the game and deserve…probably something better than a pink hedgehog with a hammer. But hey, the satisfaction is there and you play Sonic ‘cos you love it, so it’s no big deal. The zones are noticeably larger than those of the first Sonic GBA game, each packed with new types of enemies, traps and ways of letting you travel. I’m not talking about Eurostar, but rather the excellent grinding rails and boosters littered throughout each act. A couple of the most original zones appear in this game like the excellent ‘Music Plant’ which replaces the typical casino-like zone and ‘Sky Canyon’, a dastardly difficult level where one wrong turn sends Sonic and friends on a one way ticket to Splatsville.
However, the originality trails off at the end with ‘Techno Base’, a zone I personally find to be unbearable with it’s flashing background and invisible runways. After this, you’ll find yourself in space, with ‘Egg utopia’ where you’ll be defying gravity and grinding rails miles above Mobius. Unbelievable, yes, but it is still a really awesome experience. The graphics and controls are not far removed from its GBA predecessor, although due to new character moves the shoulder buttons become active. The graphics I always feel are brighter and sharper in Sonic Advance 2, and the music is typically fast and upbeat in keeping with the speed this game is played at.
So besides the main game, what else does Sonic Advance 2 have? Well, I just realised this game also features the oh-so-pointless Tiny Chao Garden. It’s back, and upon entering, a speech bubble appeared from my Chao’s mouth and claimed ‘Brush your teeth. Shiny! White!’ before then stating ‘My young, carefree days are gone…’ and with that you’ll wonder why you actually bothered venturing into the garden in the first place. If you really are interested in this feature, then you may like to know that by earning credit via the main game you can purchase foodstuffs to up the stats of your Chao, while also buying toys like rubber ducks and trumpets. You can also pull weeds, if you really want to. The Chao garden is multiplayer, in that you can trade your Chao with a friend. Unfortunately, the trade isn’t one-way and you will always be stuck with a Chao to cherish or disregard. If you have two sonic Advance 2 game paks, you can link up to race with a friend and race, which is always a fun, standard feature of the Sonic Advance games, as is the Time Attack mode which also features in this game.
There isn’t really a lot wrong with Sonic Advance 2. The main game is challenging, with the emerald quest near impossible unless you are willing to dedicate a lot of time to it. The Sonic formula has been improved with the aspect of speed, and the new style boss battles. It is rated ‘E’ for everyone, and regardless of how old you are you will be hard pressed not to have a good time playing Sonic Advance 2. 8/10
Review by Matthew Long © 2005 (firstname.lastname@example.org)