Sonic Advance 3
With Sonic Advance we were gifted a fun platformer not far removed from its Sega Megadrive predecessors. Sonic Advance 2 saw us hurtling round eight consecutive loops at 1000mph. Obviously, speed was the basis of this excellent new Sonic Game. It must have been difficult for Sonic Team to think how they could reanimate Sonic in a new and exciting way that differs from his previous outings. But think they did, and Sonic Advance 3 is the most impressive Sonic title on the GBA.
Here’s why… Sonic Advance 3 is not like any other Sonic platformer. In fact, the game mechanics could not be any more different from his previous outings. No, you don’t get to play as Eggman (I cannot imagine he could run very fast anyway), but rather you get to take on Eggman with a comrade by your side. You play the whole adventure through as a twosome. It may echo memories of Sonic Advance 2 when Tails entered into the game as an irritating little runt, who fumbled after you with little more purpose than flying the plane towards the end of the game. Sonic Advance 3 is not like that, really. You can play as any one character with another, out of the selection of five (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Cream, Amy) and each one changes the in-game abilities of the character you are controlling. For example, when Knuckles is paired with his fighting buddy Sonic, he loses his ability to glide in favour of a flying headbutt. With Amy, he cannot summersault, instead jumping straight into the air. Cream loses her flying ability with Tails and instead uses balloons to drop slowly to the ground.
Each character changes depending on what partner is helping them out, and it’s up to you to see what moves they develop and what uses they have. Similar to every character, holding ‘L’ down results in the other powering you up to either speed forward or jump into the air. You will use them, but if you have a speed booster rather than a jumper, it’s always viable to find another way around. Which is similar to most moves the characters have or gain. The controls are similar to those seen in previous games, but with the added need for shoulder buttons to pull off signature moves. They don’t really affect the way you play the game and most of the time aren’t really necessary. But they are there, and Sonic advance 3 is better and more fun because of them. That’s the first major difference, and here’s the second….
Where previous Sonic games had acts and zones following onto each other, Sonic Advance 3 does not. Sure, you need to complete the first zone to move onto the next, but it is different through a new system where each zone has its own ‘safe zone’ as I call it. This harmless place has the three act rings in it, clearly marked with their number. They also house two mini game portals, a boss room portal, and a spring that leads you to the special stage. Oh, and a portal that leads you to another room where you can change characters, view your chao collection and the option to change zones. This sounds confusing, and at first it is. In fact, I’m at odds trying to explain it.
The mini games allow you to earn more extra lives, which are really not needed as you will see, but it is still a fun element of the game. The boss room can only be entered once you have conquered each act of said zone. The special spring can only be unlocked after capturing the chao scattered through each zone acts and then finding a special key that will grant you access to the stage. The ‘safe area’ really houses different gameplay options, and a big ring at the start takes you to a room where you can also decide what characters and levels to play. I guess it’s kind of simple once you see it on your pixelriffic GBA screen. The game itself is tough and levels are much bigger than those of Sonic Advance 1 and 2, and there is the perfect balance between land and water.
The boss battles aren’t on the move as before, but still provide a good challenge. The zones look beautiful, but the graphics aren’t far removed from Sonic Advance 2. However they are still sharp and clear. Zones vary from the now-typical ice level (Twinkle Snow) to the awesome ‘Ocean Base’. The typical casino level has been replaced by ‘Toy Kingdom’, and the usual first seaside paradise level is gone in favour of Route 99, which involves scaling heights within a city environment. Also, the last level does not involve chasing Eggman into space. Instead you explore ancient ruins with an extremely apocalyptic backdrop. It looks absolutely incredible. The tedious ‘techno’ level (Cyber Track) however has still been rammed in here however, and ought to harbour a seizure warning every time you play it. In all, these are the best levels to grace a GBA platformer.
A possible game flaw however is the way you are not aware why you are under the ocean one minute to be sliding around mountains the next, and there appears to be no linear sequence to the levels. It really doesn’t matter though. All you need to know is that Eggman’s ass needs kicking and you will scale heaven and Mobius to do it. The Special stages are easier to gain access to than before. You need to find chao scattered across each zone acts. Once these are all found, a special key appears within the zone so that you can open up the special stage. Each chao you find is saved within the game data so won’t have to be found again. The special stage itself consists of your character on a surfboard collecting rings and avoiding spiked balls. As always, these are tough and it’s obvious Eggman does not want to give those emeralds up easily.
Music is also an improvement on last time, and actually ties in brilliantly with the type of zone you are playing. Sonic Advance 3 needs to be played, so it can really be understood as the brilliant game that it is. Surely though it must be getting harder for sonic Team to reinvent the hedgehog in each outing and think of new ways to play the game. With a Sonic title confirmed for the Nintendo DS, could this be the end of Sonic platformers? We really hope not.
Review by Matthew Long © 2005 (firstname.lastname@example.org)