Review: Sonic Advance 2 (Game Boy Advance)

Platform: Game Boy Advance
Category: Platformer
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: SEGA
Release: Sept. 2003
The Down-Lo: Hands down the best Sonic title of the new millennium. Period.

I hate hardcore Sonic fanboys. Oh yes. I do.

“Wha? Oh come on, isn’t that the teapot calling the kettle black, Bebito? You’re totally a Sonic fanboy.”

WRONG. I’m a Sonic fan. Fanboys are completely different. Fanboys are infinitely more annoying. As a matter of fact, odds are you may have seen the little douche bags running around. They go on message boards throughout the web bitterly and proudly proclaiming their hatred of all things Sonic.

Yes. You read that right. Sonic fanboys actually hate more things about Sonic than those that wouldn’t want to bother with the franchise in the first place. Oh, they look just like the rest of the regular Sonic fans. They’ll have a cool looking Knuckles, Amy, or Shadow avatar. They’ll have links in their signatures to their favorite Sonic The Hedgehog fan sites. They’ll even be able to tell you every Sonic game ever created, in order, along with the names of all the Japanese voice actors for Sonic X. But the very second you ask them their opinion on the US translation of the aforementioned cartoon series or their opinion on the latest games in general, the facade comes down and they’ll start complaining as though their very existence is based off of trashing something they’ve revolved so much of their lives around. “FoxBox ruined the series,” this. Or “Yuji Naka sucks,” that. Oh, get a life, people.

And there’s no bigger whining motivation for the Sonic fanboy than 3D Sonic games. The Sonic Adventure series? These titles aren’t fond memories of sweet, sweet gaming jubilance. They’re the banes of their existence. They don’t think of the first time they saw that whale tear up the bridge as Sonic’s running for his dear life just inches ahead of him. They don’t think of the first time Sonic met Shadow and got completely owned by him. No, they think of the three seconds where the camera went screwy on them after Sonic walked through some random door. Or the time they couldn’t find that last Master Emerald shard as Knuckles. It’s “2D or DIE” for these sad, sad, so called gamers. And they make sure to spread their hatred throughout the land even if you don’t ask.

Now I’m not saying that they don’t have some points in this regard. We all know that the camera angles in Sonic Adventure titles get a little screwy here and there. And some of Knuckles’ diggin’ adventures can make many a gamer weary. But the sheer fun and dozens of other strengths of the titles easily overpower the annoyances. EASILY.

So that brings us to Sonic Advance 2. The sequel to the very decent Sonic Advance for the GBA. A 2D Sonic title. Well. Let’s not waste any time… This game is great. It’s the absolute best title to come along within the series in quite some time. Fast. Beautiful. And way too addictive. A true delight through and through. Fans of the series will unquestionably love it. But will the Sonic fanboys like it? Oh yes. Yes they will, believe it or not. There’s not a soul on Earth that would have a bad thing to say about this game as a whole unless they weren’t fans of platformers to begin with. This is the great unifyer. It brings the Sonic fanboys and the regular Sonic fans together under one joined portable gaming umbrella. SA2 is that good, people. Good enough to transcend blind hatred, annoying whining, and juvenile “it’s cool because everyone else does it too” bashings. That’s the true power of a good 2D Sonic. Thank God they’re still making them. Thank God there’s a system for them to thrive on.

No wonder why we love the GBA so much around here…



LET’S REVIEW

1. STORY:

Story. Hmm… While Sonic titles have never had bad plots per se’, this has rarely been the series’ strongest point. Not saying it should be. These games aren’t RPGs after all. They’re platformers. Besides the exception of love, spirituality, betrayal, intrigue, and drama found in the first Sonic Adventure, Sonic’s excursions have traditionally followed one basic formula, especially for the 2D outings. But just like the much revered Mario series, the plot for these games is so far fetched, out there and original that they just have to be loved. These are the classic stories of video games, people. The stories of how an Italian plumber from Brooklyn fell down a pipe drain into a magical Kingdom where he was forced to save a princess from dozens of angry mushrooms and a giant fire-breathing turtle. Or the story of spiked bracelet fighting toads from outer space with the ability to grow their appendages to mammoth sized proportions as they beat the living hell out of rats and various barnyard animals in the quest to take down a leather clad dominatrix queen tyrant. For the simple fact that they were the pioneers and created hilarity and wonderment in our imaginations as we first played them, they demand our respect in their purity today.

So what’s that basic blueprint for a Sonic title? A blue hedgehog of incredible speed and equally quick temperament consistently comes to the aid of his forest animal friends who’ve been enslaved as robot servants for the evil purposes of the world domination bent mad scientist, Dr. Ivo Robotnik (aka Dr. Eggman). Named Sonic, after his amazing super sonic speed, he fights a seeming never-ending fight against his robotics inclined adversary that spans the course of the majority of his young teenage life.

And that’s everything in a nutshell. Simple right? Actually the Sonic series has a far deeper narrative history than many people realize. The games taken as a collective put together quite the epic tale concerning the lives of Sonic and his numerous friends in their “fight against the machine”. And SEGA appears to have taken great care to keep inconsistencies and contradictions from showing up in the series, at least within the main games. Wonder why Sonic didn’t turn into Super Sonic after gaining all the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 1? It’s because there were only six known Emeralds at the time, and it wasn’t until Sonic 2 did he find all seven and finally tap into their full power. Why was Knuckles forever cursed to guard the Master Emerald and fight Sonic so feverishly over it in Sonic 3 & Knuckles? Play Sonic Adventure and find out the history of his people and how it relates to the protection of a world devastating power. It all links together infinitely. When SEGA decides to produce a Sonic game they have a wealth of back story to grab from and it all depends on how much they want to use for their current title of choice. And that’s what decides the story quality in this series. How deep they decide to go.

In that respect Sonic Advance 2‘s story, while passable, doesn’t add or take too much from the series history of games. And again nor does it need to honestly, because as we noted already the core concept works. They’re a step ahead of the game from the get go. However, we’re going to judge this title based off others within the series lineage. And in that respect it just barely makes the grade.

To nobody’s surprise, Dr. Eggman is up to his old tricks of kidnapping animals and turning them into robots so he can yet again usher in his new world order. Ahh, but this time he’s also gotten hold of Knuckles, Tails and a young girl rabbit named Cream, a new character to the universe. So of course, as Sonic it’s up to you to rescue them. Progressing through the game, you’ll meet Eggman at various junctures and you’ll have a chance to rescues your friends in distress. Defeat him, and you’re treated to little cut scenes for the purposes of moving the story along and also informing that you’ve unlocked the rescued character for gameplay. These cut scenes are short, well illustrated, and mildly funny tapping into Sonic in-jokes that die-hards will enjoy. But other than some “family” issues raised from the newly introduced Cream, the story is pretty tame and nearly non-existent compared to its predecessors.

What little that is there, is ok. For a Sonic game it’s nothing incredible. Not exactly disappointingly shallow, but not what this series is shown to be capable of. Adequate.

Story rating: 6/10

2. GRAPHICS:

Nice. Nothing mind-blowing comes shining off your GBA. But it’s very well done. Good ole’ 2D side scrolling sprite-filled goodness. Fills my heart with warmth and nostalgia back from the days of “blast processing”. Vibrant and way, way fast.

The character sprites while a bit simple looking are very well animated. Watching Sonic and pals do everything from grinding down railings to mid-air acrobatics to boasting victory poses is a pleasure to behold. No more waiting to see the fan favorite “Impatient” animations anymore, either. Press UP, and instead of looking up Sonic will stretch his legs while gearing up for your next command. Cream will pull out some ice cream and lick it taunting her pet Chao, Cheese. And Knucles will start practice sparring; even killing an enemy if one happens to run into his fists.

Yes, the camera will have trouble keeping up with Sonic at times when our boy kicks it into 5th gear, but it doesn’t last longer than a second and rather than detract from gameplay like in Sonic’s 3D adventures, it’s actually pretty cool to see him blaze off like that to the point of your screen struggling to keep him in view. Especially because you won’t see any traces of slowdown. Not one solitary ounce. And that’s amazing considering how ridiculously fast SA2 is. Even the Genesis titles suffered from some slowdown here and there. But not here. Pure speed through and through.

If there are any substantial complaints, it’s that enemy design is a bit simpler than usual. But outside of the bosses, Sonic enemies haven’t exactly been the masterpieces of the gaming world in the past to begin with.

So overall. Good. Good enough to bring a big, wide nostalgic smile to your 2D lovin’ faces.

Graphics rating (for a Game Boy Advance game): 7/10

3. SOUND:

Even now the delightful, techno upbeat soundtrack resonates inside my minds ear. I love this game’s music. From title screen, to options menu, to the main game itself, it’s all superb. Not to mention creatively linked to the game’s stages. One zone is even comprised entirely of horns, keyboards, and musical notes that’ll add to the game’s background music as you come in contact with them. Coolness.


It’s just like Candyland. Except there’s music. And it’s completely different.

Best of all there’s plenty of tunes to hear. Each zone has 2 stages a piece with the second stage having a remixed version of the first stage’s music, in contrast to simply replaying the same tune over again. Nice variety and again, they’re all great.

As a matter of fact, even as I write this and reminisce over it now, I long to hear some of the tunes that filled my ear with such glee. Normally that means I’d want to buy the game’s soundtrack. And if there was one, I almost would to tell the truth, if it didn’t sound a little too gay blasting from my car’s speakers. In retrospect, these tunes fit so intuitively with the game itself that they probably shouldn’t be separated. That should say something though, as I’ve mentioned in the past that the only soundtrack I’ve even considered buying for a game up till now was Shining of The Holy Ark on the Sega Saturn.

Of course all the dings, rings, bells and whistles that are customarily linked to Sonic games are present to round out a sharp audio presentation. Quality stuff. Not at all a surprise considering the series.

Sound rating: 8/10

4. CONTROL:

*drool*

Aw yeah, baby. That’s the stuff. This is why 2D Sonics are always held up as the vanguard of the series. You’ll have Sonic and crew running through loops, running up walls, running on water, running down walls, running on ceilings, running in zero gravity, and running anywhere there’s a possible way to get running. It’s so insane and cool to watch that it just boggles the mind. I didn’t think it was possible to take a concept as straightforward as running, put so many slants on it, and still have it all work this well, for so many games, without seeming monotonous. But it does. And best of all? No awkward 3D camera angles to slow the foray of speed down.

Smooth. Simple. And for the first time ever, an actual learning curve. This game’s controls are not only better than most 2D platformers, but also better than any other Sonic title previous. They’ve taken the basic bread and butter recipe of running, jumping, and spinning using only the directional pad and one basic action button, and vamped it up with tons of extra moves and abilities that work without corrupting the foundation of gameplay.

Wanna kill an enemy? Curl up into a ball and jump at them. Wanna kill an enemy with style? Use the B button to perform your character specific attacks. Sonic skids. Knuckles hits you off with a two piece. Tails swipes the tails. And Cream has the Chao Attack. Even sweeter is that everyone has running variants to these moves for badnik killing on the go. Sure it’s nothing we haven’t seen before (aside from Cream), but it just works so well. Easy. Intuitive. Effortless.

But by far, the grandest innovation to gameplay here are the Mid-Air Trick Actions. If you’re launched off a ramp or bounced from a spring you can use the R button to execute different mid air acrobatics depending on the key combinations you input. Whether it’s springing upward to gain extra height, rapidly changing your direction to avoid obstacles ahead or awkward landings, or spinning yourself into a tornado to kill enemies in your direct line of path, rather than detract from what works, these moves add a new depth to gameplay making previous Sonic titles seem deprived without it. It’s finally giving the player the ability to do the cool gymnastic moves that we’ve seen Sonic and crew do in cut scenes and movies but could never emulate in game form until now. Best of all, each character has their own set of “R” Tricks to pull off, each with their trademarked style, so that characters are no longer just carbon copies of each other with an ability to fly here and a climbing ability there.

If I could find a flaw somewhere, I would tell you. Honestly. There are none. Intuitive, fast controls, mixed with a deeper “tricking” system than this series has ever seen. The controls are beyond excellent, reaching into that rare range of perfection.

Control Rating: 10/10

5. REPLAYABILITY:

Let’s see. We’ve got four playable characters. Sonic. Knuckles. Tails. And Cream. Each character has their own unique attributes and special abilities, juicing up the replay value and making the game worth playing through once with each one of them. Whether it’s to reach areas you may not have seen before or just because it’s blasted fun in general. Right there, you’ve played thru the game four times in four different ways. Coolest of all is Cream and her ass-kicking Chao sidekick, Cheese. I take back everything I’ve ever said about Cream being lame. Nothing beats sending off a flying smurf-looking enslaved minion to kill enemies for you by simply pointing your finger at them. NOTHING.

Then after that, you’ll want to play it again collecting the chaos emeralds, especially for Sonic. Because we all know what happens when you collect all of the chaos emeralds for Sonic in a Sonic game. That’s right. SUPER MOTHER-F#@$&%G SONIC! And it’s here that you’ll get to play thru the game’s REAL ending. Sweetness.

Then after that, once beating the game and getting all chaos emeralds with all four characters, you’ll finally unlock the secret fifth playable character, Amy, and you’ll get to play thru the entire blasted thing again as her.

Then after that, you’ve got the Multiplayer modes! Hook up several GBAs together via linkcable and enjoy some multiplayer competition with up to 4 friends. Coolest of all, even though there are more options available for hookups where everyone has their own gamepak, you only need to have one gamepak to play for up to 4 people! Yes! More GBA carts need to be like that.

Then after THAT, get some sleep for God’s sake. You’ve been playing for over 20 hours. And when you wake up you’ll still have to play Time Attack for both Zones and the Bosses.

Insane list of things to do and complete here. I’m still unlocking everything weeks after first turning the machine on.

Replayability rating: 8/10

6. BALANCE:

It’s no secret. Sonic games are notoriously easy. And the tradition doesn’t stop here. You’d have to be under the age of 5 or be completely inept in gaming skills to have any sort of trouble blazing through SA2 or any Sonic game for that matter. Enemies? Simple. Platforming? Academic. Bosses? Laughable.

But. Be warned gamers. In every Sonic title there lies a curse. An unspeakable horror, that leaps out at you when you least expect it. The “Demon Spawned Boss From Hell”. In Sonic 1 it was the Labyrinth Zone underwater boss battle with Eggman. In Sonic Adventure it’s the evil spinning camera pond battle of excruciating demise with Chaos 04. And in Sonic Advance 2 it’s Robotnik’s spinning wheel o’ death. The cheapest, most frustrating, boss battle ever recorded in history. Even if you have rings on you, the bastard can still kill you in one hit. There’s no maybe about it. You WILL die. Over and over and over and over… And the worst part is you have to fight him TWICE. It’s a shock to the system if you’re not prepared for it. Thus I’m warning you all now as a public service announcement for my good deed of the decade. BEWARE THE WHEEL O’ DEATH.

Ok. So we have an incredibly easy game, along with one boss battle in the middle that will force you to profusely pull out your pubic hairs in frustration. Pfft. Yeah. That sounds REAL balanced. But in all truthfulness, it’s not that bad. The game does progress from insanely easy, to very easy, to just plain easy, to normal but kinda easy, to this is sort of challenging but oh wait no, it’s still easy difficulties. And other aspects such as gameplay consistency and level diversity are done quite well. Nowhere near something that I’d call bad. Just not anything to be enamored with.

Balance rating: 6/10

7. ORIGINALITY:

Hmm. How many 2D Sonic excursions are there across all platforms? Alex Williams and I were listing them a while back. Something like 15? 20? Bah. Whatever the case. This blueprint has been around for quite a while now. Run. Collect rings. Spin. Dry, rinse, and repeat. But yet there are at least a few innovations here, R Tricks and the extensive multiplayer aspects being among them. Ok no, not really. I can’t back that up. Those don’t count. I’m totally stretching here. Candidly, it’s the same old formula. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing because the formula works. But we’d be fooling ourselves if we said this was a new experience.

Can’t penalize it TOO much though. After all, this IS the innovator of said formula. It’s not like we’re playing a rip-off of a Sonic game. We’re actually playing a Sonic game. And honestly, how many original 2D platformers in effect came out in 2003? Not many, that’s for sure. I can count them all on one hand. Perhaps in 1994 these games were a dime a dozen. But today? Please. This is the Playstation era, kids. We can’t have no stinkin’ 2D. :p

Originality rating: 5/10

8. ADDICTIVENESS:

Sonic games are like bad sex. Or so I’ve heard seeing as I’ve never experienced such a thing. ;) You see there’s no foreplay. There’s no build up. There’s no desserts, handcuffs, or furrie outfits involved. It’s just BOOM. Sonic’s off and running at break neck speed down the side of buildings, grinding down expressways, and exploding through walls. The climax comes right away. BAM. Instant gratification. And of course, there’s only so much of that any human being can stand all at once (I don’t want to hear one word Lucard… not ONE WORD) before your body explodes from exhaustion. Unless you’re some kind of juiced up, super lubricated android (sex machine perhaps?), you’re going to need a break after a while to recharge them batteries. But just like sex, bad or not, you wish you had the ability to outlast the eventual explosion of inconceivable pleasure with all the speculated finesse and stamina due a super amalgam of Tommy Lee and Sting.

And that’s exactly how you’ll feel playing SA2. Sure. You’re going to want to keep playing through rush after mind-bending rush, but it gets to be a bit much and you’ll no doubt need some well-timed breaks to recover. As an unsaid rule, despite my feverish want otherwise, I’m only able to make it through 5 to 6 levels of Sonic at a time before my mind-warped psyche needs to focus elsewhere. Think about it, guys. The only time you’re NOT thinking about sex is immediately after having it, when all the rest of the things that matter in life come flooding to mind after you’re no longer hornily obsessed with getting some. You’d be staring up at the ceiling afterward and thinking, “Hmmm. Ya know, those moldings could really use some repainting.” Or, “Man, it sure has been a while since I’ve cleaned out the gutters.” Things no sane sex crazed human being would entertain unless they were just satiated.

But really how long does that silliness last? What, maybe 5 minutes tops before you’re yet again ready to ride the mechanical bull of happiness? Exactly. And not long after you’ve just experienced the blast of playing Sonic Advance 2 are you yet again picking up your GBA desperate for more, in similar fashion.

So is it addictive? Oh absolutely. It’s addictive, all right. Addictive in shorter spurts, yes. But bloody addictive nonetheless.

Addictiveness rating: 8/10

9. APPEAL FACTOR:

Thirty bucks for the best Sonic title since Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

That’s it. That’s all I need to say. That should say it all right there. BUY THIS GAME NOW. I’m going to continue on for the rest of the casual gamers who know nothing about some infernal contraption known as 2D platforming, but as for the rest of you “real” gamers, and you know who I’m talking to… yes, YOU. Turn off your computer, run, don’t walk to the nearest vehicle, and ignore the elderly, stop signs and small pets on your way towards threatening your local game store retailer with pediatric anal penetration if they don’t have in stock and sell you a copy of Sonic Advance 2 RIGHT NOW. Because you understand the meaning behind those words I uttered in that sentence above. You understand the sweet juices of gaming nectar that await you upon sliding this cart into your GBA. As a matter of fact. You’re no longer even reading this review, are you? You’ve already left. Either to buy the thing or to unwrap and finally play the copy you received for whatever pagan holiday you celebrated this past holiday season. Good day to you.

Ok. Now. As for the rest of you. It’s 2D Sonic, people. It’s the epitome of what the entire series represents. It’s the Mario humbling, at one point better known than Mickey Mouse, fast as all hell blue hedgehog with an attitude rivaling Porte Rican chicks on their periods, in his natural element, being played the way he was MEANT to be played. No one complains about 2D Sonic titles that don’t contain the words Spinball in them. No one. No one except the blind, retarded, and hopelessly lame nitpickers who’ll find something to complain about even upon getting their dream game; i.e. the hardcore. But even the hardcore fanboys are happy, here. The casual players are happy, here. Those in between are happy, here. And me? I’m very happy.

How this wouldn’t appeal to anyone who has picked up a Genesis or SNES controller sometime within his or her gaming lives is beyond me. THIS is what the rush of playing a Sonic game was all about in the first place. Not fighting camera angles or mind numbing scavenger hunts or fishing. But about collecting near illegal quantities of gold rings and running seizure inducingly fast through beautiful side scrolling levels like you’re the roadrunner hopped up on 50grams of Coke, Speed, and Steroids.

Classic gameplay. Astounding name brand recognition. Uniting fan appeal. You want this game even if you don’t know you want this game.

Appeal Factor rating: 9/10

10. MISCELLANEOUS:

The extras in this game are in part why the Replayability score is so high. Unlocking the Sound Test function in the Options menu. Unlocking Time Attack. Unlocking Amy. Unlocking the Chao Garden. The bonus levels. Tons of garbage rammed in here.

Especially cool are the bonus stages. The bonus stages in this series have always been among the most fun throughout platformer-land and that practice continues here. The quasi-3D bonus levels are not only a blast to play, but also of course very rewarding. You DO want those Chaos Emeralds after all.


Raising Chaos ain’t easy. They like to bounce n’ stuff…

And once you unlock the Tiny Chao Garden after beating the game, you’re opened up to a whole new world. Here you can raise cute little Hershey Kisses headed virtual pets called Chao. And you’ll have access to playing addictive little mini-games with them as well as transferring them via linkcable to the Nintendo GameCube version of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. There’s a ton of work that goes into Chao nurturing that will literally keep you busy for weeks. If you’ve never experienced it before, believe me when I say that this is a game within itself. It’s truthfully having a second completely original game hidden inside here. Just one more reason for you to BUY THIS GAME.

Miscellaneous rating: 8/10

Short Attention Span Summary
What else do I need to say here people? This is a no brainer. Sure it’s nothing new. But that’s just the point. There’s a reason why Sonic Advance 3 has been green lighted without a second thought. There’s a reason why the Sonic Advance titles are among the cash cows of Sega’s itinerary. It’s because they’re GOOD. Very, very, very good. It’s 2D Sonic, the way you remembered only better. Recommended for everyone from the platforming junkie to the casual gamers. And yes, even the fanboys. All will love it and should flock to this game like Whitney Houston flocking to her crack dealer. I know of very few retail outlets that rent GBA games, thus forget about test driving and just go out and buy it. It’s right next to Mega Man Zero 2, as among the best 2D platformers released in all of 2003. And it’s hands down the best Sonic game of the new millennium. Period.