Sonic Adventure 2 review
Are you old enough to remember when 2D sprite design made up almost all video games released? What about a time when Sega wasn't just another game developer? A time when Mario and Sonic emerged as bitter rivals in the console wars of the time. Sega's blue spiky mascot Sonic aimed to tear up the zones with super speed and brought about a range of 2D side-scrolling platformers. You weren't cool if you didn't blast through the stages at full speed.
Sonic Adventure 2: Battle is one of the 3D generation of Sonic titles to appear. It generally looks the part. Much like his rival, the world of Sonic is vibrant and colourful. The game boasts some rather distinctive bold designs that are very easy on the eye and really do mark the fantasy mood of the series. Even the more mechanical side of the set pieces avoid the usual muddy dullness you might have expected and come off looking very nice.
The different levels are stunning as well and varied. One level has you speeding through a vast city, then you might drop into a desert ruin and even blast through a space station. The texture work is excellent and the sheer scope and craftsmanship really brings these environments to life. The animation in this title is also very smooth and the framerate keeps going at a good pace even when things get hectic and you're hurtling along at 120 mph.
The background music used is good too. There is a healthy collection of music tracks - much of which seems to focus around rock style music - that gives the game a sense of energy. Sound effects work in there well and some of classic sounds the older generation of gamers will appreciate.
Voice acting is quite horrible though. For some reason the team decided to go for the pre-teen approach, but I find them irritating and ill-suited for the roles of anthropomorphic heroes. Eggman is about the only one I find decent, and the rest do not fit well.
The story is also shallow and confusing. There's an attempt to take itself seriously with a genetically engineered bio-weapon in the image of Sonic (kinda) and the army having all dastardly plans and all that. However, this facade quickly falls apart when the army apparently mistakes Sonic for their own weapon, despite the fact that Sonic and Shadow look nothing alike outside of both being hedgehogs.
Afterwards I lost all sense of direction, and ultimately I was just going from one level to another with only a vague idea of which side I was on.
The core single player gives you the option of playing as either the hero side (giving you Sonic, Tails and Knuckles) or the dark side (handing you Shadow, Eggman and Rogue). This offers a sense of perspective from both sides of the conflict, which amounts to playing through some levels as two characters and hitting upon some unique levels to each side. The character setup also means you get three different game styles delivered. While this was probably intended to provide variety it actually ends up making the whole thing disjointed and some parts simply do not work well.
Let's start with the good stuff, which are the Sonic and Shadow stages. These are the kinds of levels the Sonic series is known for. The typical progression of these stages sees Sonic or Shadow hurtling along at breakneck speeds along twisting layouts while dodging various hazards. It's what the 2D Sonic games were good at, and generally the transition to 3D works fairly well here. The stages here are mostly linear in design, with only the odd moment where you might find an offshoot. For most games this would be a problem, but not here. When speed is your game then you don't have the time for exploration, so this setup lets you burn ahead without worrying about getting lost and keeps the action streamlined.
There are times where the action feels almost scripted, like you'll hit a boost panel and will be launched across a series of loops, swings and half-pipe dashes that would take literal effort to fail at, therefore removing an element of reaction testing the 2D games would always bombard you with. Thankfully these aren't too apparent and so here you get the real taste of Sonic gaming - high speed action where you have to react quickly to what lies ahead.
Levels are littered with a fair few hazards as well. Pitfalls can be common, especially in the later areas. In addition to the more basic platform jumping you might find yourself leaping across moving platforms, bouncing off enemies in a chain jump combo or grinding across rails leaping nimbly from one to the next to avoid a swift exit. Jumping is pretty responsive and the homing attack helps for the bounce tests so this works nicely. The camera can be a royal pain in the butt here but thankfully the action is often going in the right direction so it doesn't pose that big an issue in these levels.
You'll also run across a variety of enemy bots to attack or dodge as needed (given the nature of the game it's often easier to just run past them). Their designs are pretty bland compared to older Sonic titles but they do serve their purpose. Bosses are more interesting, whether you're fighting off army attack drones or even having Sonic and Shadow face off against each other. Rings form your health, where you drop all the rings you have if hit but can regrab them in a short period before they vanish.
At this point it sounds like a roaring success, and honestly if the whole game had basically consisted of just these Sonic and Shadow stages then awesome. Unfortunately that's not the case, and here is where we start to see the more notable flaws.
Tails and Eggman jump into half-body mechs for their levels to give the player a taste of third person shooter. The result is OK but so obviously half-assed. The most notable thing here is the drastic change in speed. While Sonic and Shadow are all about blazing through their environments, Tails and Eggman prefer to almost crawl through their levels. It's not the level design that causes this either. It's just that neither one moves at a decent pace, so you can't dash through even if you wanted to try it.
You can fire off a machine gun or lock-on to numerous targets and blast them all at once. Aiming can be a little tricky but the lock-on is quite generous so it ends up becoming a middleground compromise. Needless to say though that if you're looking for a shooting experience that relies on precise aiming skills to succeed this won't be for you.
There tend to be more enemies in place here to produce attacking runs on your little mech, though this is not as awesome as it may sound. It's not as if enemies are particularly competent. The danger in the Sonic/Shadow stages was avoiding enemies while dashing at high speeds and leaping nimbly across platforms. These stages mostly ditch those elements, and so being able to blast these at range while going slow means these are more point targets rather than actual threats. There is indeed some satisfaction for blasting them all apart, and boss battles are satisfying even in these mechs, but the appeal doesn't last as long.
Sonic Team do try to inject more danger with level hazards, which typically involves more platform jumping over dangerous stuff, but this also doesn't work quite so well. Under you get the hover upgrade then trying to get your hunk of junk to demonstrate any element of grace in the air is asking the impossible, and it makes jumps too awkward for their own good. Even with hovering nothing really approaches the same level of leaping about that the Sonic and Shadow stages give you.
Ultimately those stages are at least bearable, but the real killer is yet to come. Knuckles and Rogue. Now, I have fond memories of playing as Knuckles in the old Megadrive Sonic games, as he basically offered the same fast paced platforming as the hedgehog but with some cool extras like gliding. Here he, and the female addition Rogue, have been handed the worst gameplay segments of the title. Scavenger hunting.
The gist of these segments is that there are three jewels to locate in a big 3D environment. These objects are usually buried, but you have assistance in the form of a audio radar that alters its sound as you get close to one. The whole idea is to find all three jewels to progress. What this translates into is the most boring experience ever and a complete waste of these character's talents.
First of all, finding the jewels can be a total nightmare. The radar is not all that helpful in determining the precise location when when it's beeping at you like crazy, and it leads to a lot of aimless wandering and digging hoping that the next spot will be the one you want. The openness of the stages oddly works against the design here, making the trek about all the more painful.
It's not as if the levels are even interesting. The setups are complex in structure but generally lacking in hazards. Some water here, some pitfalls there but not enough to be truely interesting. It's not the rollercoaster ride of the Sonic/Shadow stages, and you're not picking off point targets en masse like in the Tails/Eggman stages. It's just really boring.
The camera is at its worst here. Unlike the other game types you often find yourself having to backtrack at times, but the camera is set up to look in specific directions in specific areas. The game does offer camera controls, but the camera snaps back to its original angle the moment you start moving again, which begs the question as to why they put in the controls in the first place. It makes exploration a nightmare. What, did Super Mario 64 not happen for Sonic Team?
There are a lot of stages in all, and each stage can be replayed with alternate objectives (like getting 100 rings or finishing in a set time). Replay value is not as great as that though, as I found that the only stages I returned to with any frequency with the Sonic and Shadow stages. If only the whole game were just them.
In an attempt to offer even more there are some extras to look into. The Chao Garden is basically a kind of pet sim. Eggs hatch into little Chao, which can be played with and fed items earned during single player missions to get them to grow and increase stats. After much nuturing (and I mean a lot of it) you can pit them against other Chao in mini-games, like racing or fighting. You can also purchase extra items and eggs for the Garden.
There's a lot of scope of raising the Chao, with many ways to boost them and the games are pretty interesting to enter your pets into. Generally it's 'one of those things' where if you're not into the idea then it still won't appeal even when it involves Sega mascots, but otherwise there is a lot to it well worth exploring.
You can also take part in multiplayer battles, whether you're duking it out in actual combat, racing opponents or *snigger* treasure hunting. This aspect is hurt by there only being the option for 2 players but it does offer some fun distraction away from the single player while it lasts (certain game mode not withstanding).
Once again we do have some good variety in the modes offered, and most of them are pretty good. Level design can be a bit iffy in some of them (like the racing almost requires memorization of the tracks to avoid crashing headlong into every barrier) but there's enough here to provide some decent entertainment.
There's comes a point where a game tries to do too much to offer variety, and SA2:B is the perfect example of that. It's ironic the the part the appeals the most is an evolution of what has come before, and that's really what Sonic Team should have focused on. The Sonic/Shadow stages are exactly what these games are supposed to be about, but by jamming in the mediocre mech stages and the awful scavenger hunting the single player quest loses a lot of appeal. The extra stuff offers some decent entertainment and there is some fun here, but ultimately the flaws are quite noticable so it's a question of whether you're willing to work past the boring parts to hit the good stuff. I reckon it is worth the effort.
About the author
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