Review: Sonic Battle (Game Boy Advance)

Game: Sonic Battle
System: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Fighting (Non-Traditional
Developer: Sega / Sonic Team
Publisher: THQ
Released: 1/6/04

Much like Mario Party 5 was overlooked when Mario Kart DD was released last year, Sonic Battle is a game that currently lives under the shadow of a much bigger title, Sonic Heroes. Quite a few people probably aren’t aware of its existence quite yet, and are passing it up RIGHT NOW. Well, Sonic fans, it’s out! And it’s pretty fun.

This title takes another deviation from the normal platform formula and puts the Sonic cast into a multi-player fighting environment. Being the first Sonic fighter out for the home market, it’s going to be either hit or miss with the majority of the fans out there. So how does it fair here on the 411? Let’s take a look-see as we head into…


THE OFFICIAL 411GAMES REVIEW


STORY

It’s a game where Sonic characters beat the ever-loving crap out each other. So did this game really need a back-story to go along with it? Sega thought so, and in the process, crafted perhaps the greatest Sonic plot since Sonic Adventure. If there ever were a time when lightning was captured in a bottle regarding story, it would be here.

The star of this cart isn’t really Sonic this time around. Rather, it’s a brand new character introduced specifically for this game: Emerl. Emerl is a robot known as a “Gizoid”, another one of the mysterious works created by Professor Gerald Robotnik. Dr. Eggman finds it, feeds it a Chaos Emerald, and can’t get the dang thing to work. Eggman claims that he made several copies of the Gizoid already, so he unceremoniously dumps the robot on the beach.

Sonic happens upon Emerl coincidentally and revives it. The Gizoid requests that Sonic “show it his power”. And so, Sonic does. Because of this, Emerl develops a “link” with Sonic, and ends up following him around, only taking orders from him. He seems VERY incomplete, barely speaking, and when he does, only in broken languages. After examining the Gizoid with the help of Tails, they come to the conclusion that Emerl runs off the power of Chaos Emeralds. The more Emeralds he possesses, the more powerful and capable Emerl will become. At this point, EVERYONE wants a piece of Emerl. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Cream, Rouge, Shadow, Eggman…they all want access to the Gizoid for various reasons. Some want to help him discover his true identity and search for the Chaos Emeralds. Others want to destroy him.

Without going into too many spoilers, the story is broken into eight different chapters. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, each one traveling with Emerl for various reasons. What follows is the most incredible character development for any character in the Sonic universe I have ever seen. When Emerl is first discovered, he is very infantile, and cannot even perform the simplest of tasks. As he is introduced to more Chaos Emeralds, he experiences several stages of growth. One could compare it best to the development from infanthood to childhood, and eventually to manhood.

A great pro for the Story is that it takes place sometime after Sonic Heroes. It doesn’t say WHEN, either, so characters like Shadow retaining his memory seem more plausible. Plus, each character has a legitimate REASON to be part of the story! It’s not like Sega threw together all their favorite Sonic characters just to have them battle regardless of the plotlines. Everyone has a logical reason for being present in the game. Even the two hidden characters, who were thought to have been gone forever after Sonic Adventure.

Now the only reason that the story doesn’t get a perfect score is the fact that there is plenty of goofy things here. All characters live in houses. Knuckles isn’t guarding the Master Emerald. Many of the generic foes in the Story Mode are powered by shards of the Chaos Emeralds. That means Eggman purposely crushed them into pieces so he could power more robots. Something tells me that breaking one of the Chaos Emeralds would create havoc on its own, considering they contain large amounts of negative energy. I mean, if Chaos came out of the Master Emerald, than something even more sinister could be within a Chaos Emerald.

Near the beginning, it’s discovered that Emerl can copy various attacks of whomever he fights or witnesses fighting. In each chapter, you control either the chosen character or Emerl in a series of battles. Each battle you complete will net you some “Skill Points”, as well as a random technique card or two. The “technique cards” are the various moves that each character performs (such as Shadow’s run, Sonic’s kicks, Rouge’s punches, and Tail’s heal skill). Using the allotted skill points, you can customize Emerl’s move set from all the attacks he has assimilated. The good thing is that the move set you give him can be used in every mode in the game. The bad news is that the Skill Points eventually cap off at a certain number, not allowing you to give him all his best attacks. Luckily, you have the option of three different move sets, and switching between the three.

I really wish I could talk more about the Story Mode without spoiling it. I really, really, REALLY do. But if I say anything more, I’ll be giving away everything. I just can’t get over the fact that a game where the goal is to beat everyone up has such an in-depth story that makes you think. Kudos to Sonic Team here.

Story: 9/10


GRAPHICS

As said above, I didn’t do a lot of research on this game before it came out. I didn’t see any movies, didn’t look for previews, and saw less in-play screenshots than I have fingers. I wanted to be surprised, I guess. So when I played my first battle, my jaw hit the floor when I saw the playing field. I never knew such a thing was POSSIBLE on the GBA.

Of course I’m talking about the 2.5D environments you fight in. The characters you control are 2-D, but you’re fighting on three-dimensional playing field. Many of the stages contain various walls, pits, and other obstacles you can smash your opponents into. And these environments/obstacles are rendered VERY well for a handheld game. Probably the best use of 3D I’ve seen on the GBA thus far. There might be an issue occasionally when going behind some of these objects, as you can’t see your fighters very well. Luckily, tapping the L-Trigger twice will flip the camera 180 Degrees, and give you a clear view of what’s going on! (Imagine that. A camera in a Sonic game that doesn’t work against you!)

As far as the actual fighters go, you can tell that some of the sprites have been lifted and modified from the past Sonic Advance games. This isn’t a bad thing, however, as the characters contain plenty of new animations to go with their older ones, and they all flow together well. Plus, there are 5 characters who have never appeared on the GBA before, and they look extremely well done as well. Up to four of these fighters can be on screen at one time, and there is no slowdown to speak of. None. That is impressive.

Going back to the Story Mode for a quick second, you’ll also be able to see a few-dozen character portraits as you travel from area to area in the RPG-like setting. There’s no real animation between them, but they look absolutely beautiful.

Graphics: 9/10


Here’s Emerl. Turn him into a god-like character. We DARE you!


SOUND

This Sonic game has a lot of firsts for it already. It’s the first Sonic “fighter” for the GBA. It contains the first Advance appearances of certain Adventure characters. And it is also the first time on a handheld that the characters can speak. Yes, Sonic Team included voice clips to go along with the action. Nothing real elaborate, just a few exclamations, grunts, groans, and victory cries. But unlike the constant barrage of sound you get with console Sonic titles, they are far from annoying. (Well, most of them anyway. There are only so many times you can hear Tails and Cream die.) The clips are also used during the conversation sequences in Story Mode, and also include a few more to boot. Again, they’re used sparingly, but help to keep your attention while reading the various character encounters.

As far as the music goes…eh. It’s nothing bad, but it’s nothing great, either. The music fits the tone of the stages, but there are really no songs that stick in my mind. I guess I was spoiled by the music from Sonic Advance 2 and Sonic Pinball Party.

Sound: 7/10


CONTROLS

You’ll be happy to know that GBA Sonic titles have very responsive controls, much more so than the 3D on the home consoles. Sonic Battle is no exception here. In fact, it’s quite nice to see controls in a Sonic game actually WORK in a 3D-like environment.

In fact, battling is very easy to learn. The control pad allows you to run in all directions around the playing field. Double-tapping it will let you dash for quick escapes. The A button is your jump button, allowing you to perform aerial attacks, air dashes, and giving you access to high places. B is your main attack button. By pressing it repeatedly, you’ll execute three normal attacks, and follow up with a heavy attack that knocks your opponent away. You can also skip straight to the heavy attack with Foward+B, and knock them straight up in the air with Back+B.

The L-Trigger serves as your defensive button. Tapping it will let you guard, while holding it allows you to regenerate health. It also charges a power bar above your health as well. Just remember that when you restore health, you’re left completely defenseless. Also, as stated above, double-tapping turns the camera around.

The R-Trigger allows you to perform one of six special moves. Six moves assigned to one button? Has Sega gone out of their minds here? Well, not really. In fact, they’ve developed a great way to implement special moves here. Before each round, you’ll be able to pick from three types of attacks: Projectile, Body, and Mine. Projectiles allow you (what else) throw projectiles at your enemies. Body attacks are reserved for stuff like Spin Dashes and other signature special moves we’ve seen from the past. Then there are the mines. Choosing this will allow you to set up bombs in the ground or in the air. If your character runs over it, they’ll take damage. Anyway, you’ll select one move to Ground usage, one move to Aerial usage, and the last to guard against. So for example, you decide to have air projectiles and ground body attacks. You’ll be able to auto-guard against ALL mine attacks. You’ll take no damage!

With simple controls, and a creative rock-paper-scissors type special move system, the mechanics are very easy to learn and master. Heck, you probably won’t even need half the stuff listed here to defeat the computer characters, but we’ll get to that later.

Control: 8/10


A mule-kick to the testicles? Shadow’s gotta be hurting after that…


REPLAY VALUE

This game is made for two-to-four player support. In fact, the game thrives on it. It has all the addicting qualities of Super Smash Brothers Melee, while keeping a distinctive flair all its own. The catch is that every player needs a game pack to play, which complicates matters a bit. However, if you’re able to get a game going with some friends, there is a HUGE chance that you’ll keep playing until the batteries dies out.

As for the single player modes, outside of Story Mode, there’s a Challenge Mode that lets you go through pre-selected courses for each character. Better you do in each course, the more points you get. The more points you get, the better letter grade you’ll receive. (C, B, A, and S grades) There are three challenges for each character, but I find that the difficulty of each is relatively the same. It’s kind of a turn-off, especially when they are SUPPOSED to be progressively harder.

Also included are unlockable mini-games as you progress through the Story Mode chapters. There are five mini-games total, although only one can be played alone. The others you’ll need two or more players for. However, the single-player mini-game included is a variation of the classic Minesweeper! The only difference is the fact that Knuckles digs the holes and places Chao as the markers. A very nice secret.

Other than that, you can always replay the Story Chapters and gain new skills for Emerl. There are over 200 individual skills to fill your collection with, so you’ll most likely be playing the story chapters for a while. But considering you don’t get anything special for collecting all the moves, you’ll pretty much stop once you get a move set you’re comfortable with.

Replay Value: 7/10


BALANCE

Okay, as much as I love the story, as much as I love the battle mechanics, as much as I LOVE the environments you fight in…what the FUCK happened to a balanced computer A.I.?

The computer-controlled fighters you go up against are VERY easy to kill once you figure out their patterns. In fact, you don’t even need to use the B button at ALL! You just need to pick the special move they are weak against, and smack them with it over and over again until they die! On the next life, however, they’ll come back auto-guarding against the VERY MOVE that you killed them with! That means they’re SMART! Can’t get them now! And you can’t…if it wasn’t for the fact that you have a completely DIFFERENT special move that use on them repeatedly that they CAN’T block against! Lather, rinse, repeat, and there’s your typical match against the computer in a nutshell. Well, at least when its one on one.

When you’re going up against two or more fighters, the strategy described above can only go so far. Adding more people in the mix means more fight outcomes, and more than one type of auto-guarding computer character. So you’ll need a more varied strategy to beat multiple people. But be forewarned. If they catch you in an attack, you might as well kiss your current life goodbye. The characters will take turns blasting your ass across the playing field and back.

So matches can either be child’s play if done right, or a nightmare if you leave yourself vulnerable. Either way, the game does a poor job of providing a challenge 80% of the time, while the other 20 percent, you’ll be wondering if you can even MOVE without dying. Learning curve? What learning curve?

Balance: 2/10


Here he comes to save the DAAAAAAAAAYY…


ORIGINALITY

The four-player mascot smashfest genre first began with Super Smash Brothers, and was later expanded upon with held from games like Powerstone and TV Fighters Dream Mix. So while original for Sega characters, the concept isn’t too terribly original on the whole.

What IS original is the way the gameplay is executed. The fact that you’re limited to only two of your six special moves allows you to create several strategies to work with. Not only that, but Sega has decided to give VERY unique move sets to each of the characters. Shadow is finally distancing himself from Sonic by displaying a more power-based technique. Rouge can hover in the air for extended periods of time. (In fact, she NEVER comes down!) Tails relies more on gadgets than attacks he previously possessed. Plus other little odds and ends that come about here and there. So there IS originality, just not all that much.

Originality: 6/10


ADDICTIVENESS

The game’s story does suck you in for the time it takes to play it. But you probably didn’t buy the game for it’s story, no matter how great it ends up being in the end. You bought it for the knockdown, smashmouth fighting engine. However, when I think about it, I haven’t played it that much since I beat the story mode. And I haven’t had much of a desire to pick it up again. Whatever hold the game had on my was seemingly lifted after a while. You’ll likely get the most enjoyment if you’re able to play multi-player. Other than that, the game doesn’t have the same drawing power that others have.

Addictiveness: 6/10


Thank the powers that be he said Chaos Emerald


APPEAL FACTOR

Why, oh why did this game have to come out at the same time that Sonic Heroes did? It’s received NO television promotion, and very little (if any) adds on the Internet for it. Let’s face it: Sonic Heroes was the darling for that week. Sonic Battle was treated as the leftovers.

However, Sonic fans will appreciate finally having a rock-em, sock-em Sonic fighter to call their own on a home system. The fan base will eat it up, much like I have.

Appeal Factor: 6/10


MISCELLANEOUS

It’s very hard when a game like this one comes out. A game where there’s so much potential, and yet it comes crashing down when it’s put into practice. The single-player mode is okay, but this thing is meant for multiplayer. Unfortunately, with the multiplayer fighting requiring more than one game pack, the opportunities for fighting become that much more scarce. If (somehow) the game were designed to have a fighting mode with ONE game pack, this game would have been infinitely better. But we are without such luck, and we’re just going to have to deal with it.

Miscellaneous: 7/10


I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little robot, too!


THE SCORES

Story: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 7/10
Control: 8/10
Replay Value: 7/10
Balance: 2/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 6/10
TOTAL: 65/100