Game Description: The blazing blue hedgehog finally runs to the GBA in an adventure that sticks close to the side-scrolling Genesis games of long ago. While playing as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy, you'll collect Chaos Emeralds to thwart yet another evil Dr. Robotnik scheme. As expected, the game will feature plenty of speed dashes and looping levels that might show new gamers how Sonic became so popular in the first place. The four-player multiplayer option includes such levels as Chaos Emerald hunt and battle mode. There will also be some unspecified multiplayer competitive modes.
To the new generation of young gamers, playing a Sonic The Hedgehog title on a Nintendo platform might not seem like anything that extraordinary, for it just represents another side-scrolling title. Yet, for anyone having owned a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis and still retaining a bit of knowledge of the early nineties’ console war, such a thing would have been unthinkable even two years ago. It should come as no surprise to learn that there was no love lost between Nintendo and Sega during the Genesis/SNES era, seeing as how they were the two leaders, and rivals, of the home console business. This could easily be understood in Sega’s publicity, in which the company appeared to enjoy hitting its main competition below the belt. A recurring theme in such publicity was the exploitation of the SNES’ inability to support games in which, for lack of better technical terms, the action was too fast even for the human eye to adequately follow. Of course the title usually, if not always, displayed during such commercials would be a Sonic The Hedgehog game with Sonic running across the screen at an incredibly fast velocity. This was a double slap in Nintendo’s face for two reasons. First, it was telling them that they could not produce anything that would demonstrate as much speed as one of the blue hedgehog’s games due to their own limitations. Second, Sonic was Sega’s official mascot and hence, something the Big N could never hope to get their hands on. However as fate would have it, after having moved onto the doomed Saturn and failed Dreamcast, Sonic is now just another employee working on the neighbor’s cubic turf. To push the irony even further, his first title on the Game Boy Advance, Sonic Advance, which brings Sonic back to his 2D roots, proves to be a worthy continuation of the franchise in its side-scrolling form.
The background story presented here is nothing to go crazy over, but then again Sonic Advance doesn’t need to hide behind an overly complicated plot since its gameplay can easily support the title by itself without any extra “fluff”. Simply put, Dr. Robotnik (I’ll never get used to calling him Dr. Eggman) has devised yet another plan to turn all of Sonic’s animal friends into his own personal robotic slaves. Since the hedgehog simply cannot allow this to happen, he embarks on an adventure to put an end to the insane doctor’s schemes and free all of his buddies who have already been trapped inside machines.
In this title, Tails, Knuckles and Amy, who are all integral to the franchise, are all playable characters, each sporting his or her special attributes. Tails can use his twin tails to propel himself in the air and temporarily fly while Knuckles can glide in the air and climb walls. This was a smart move on behalf of the creators for it positively increases the replay value by adding enough variety to each character to avoid having the player feel as if he were being forced into replaying again. Yet, while I understand the use of Tails and Knuckles, who have both been present since the Genesis days and are each quite fun to play with, I question the addition of Amy, whose usefulness in this game is at a minimum. She barely dashes and can’t roll up into a ball to gain speed, which makes her even more vulnerable than the rest of the cast. Her weapon, an oversized mallet, is often hard to draw and mostly in the way, which is ironic considering Amy is completely useless and defenseless without it. The fact that all seven chao emeralds must be collected and all four characters must finish the game in order to view the extra ending means that whether players like it or not, they must play through Sonic Advance with Amy. This makes her a character many will get to know, but few will appreciate.
At its core, Sonic Advance is still a side-scrolling title. The only difference with other games of the sort, such as Mario titles, is that there always appear to be an alternate route. Falling down rarely means dropping into a hole in this game for instead, this usually reveals another direction in which to finish the level. Another heading might also be revealed if Sonic jumps high enough. Hence, most levels in this game could be described as sort of mono-directional labyrinths. Whether or not this is a positive aspect depends entirely on the person playing. I believe the saying “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it” can very well sum up my opinion in this area. In fact, those having played past Sonic titles will be on familiar ground here. Newcomers, on the other hand, might feel a bit lost considering the vast areas they can explore.
The reason I used the word “labyrinth” in particular is due to the fact that players must also find an item called a “Chao Emerald” in addition to locating the exit itself. When all of these emeralds are collected, the game’s extra ending is unlocked. One problem arises in collecting these gems however. In order to acquire an emerald, players must successfully complete a special stage, a level that can only be described as a hazard for anybody who happens to be epileptic. Here, Sonic must collect the most rings possible while skydiving on a surfboard in some kind of multi-colored vortex. The tricky part is to gain enough rings in order to earn the emerald, which is a task not easily mastered. In fact, the only problems I’ve had regarding the controls in this game have arisen in this area. Sonic is hard to control and a bit slow to respond to various changes in direction, which significantly increases the difficulty present in this level and the frustration players, who strive to complete the game in its entirety, might feel after having been denied the item.
Of the extra features included in Sonic Advance can be found the “Chao Garden”. Here, players can train and take care of Chaos, little blue beings recognizable to anyone having played either Sonic Adventure games. This just happens to be another one of those virtual pet programs just like the tamagotchi, which means players have to attend to their Chao’s needs all while watching it do nothing other than move around the screen. Now to anyone playing Sonic Advance to guide Sonic through fast-paced levels, this is about as exciting as lying outside on the lawn and watching the grass grow.
This game managed to do something its 3D counterparts never could: catch my interest and hold on to it. I spent a lot of time simply looking around each level, experimenting with each character and attempting to find the various chao emeralds. Overall, Sonic Advance is a fun title that does a good job of bringing the little blue hedgehog back in the 2D world. It’s good to know that, with a soon to be released collection on GameCube and a sequel in the works, this won’t be 2D Sonic’s last adventure.
Back in the heady days of the 16-bit console wars, the Sonic games were the only ones that made me waver slightly in my steadfast support of Nintendo. I reveled in every chance I got to visit one of my Genesis-owning friends and experience the gaudy loops and insane speeds of the Sonic series. Eventually, I even broke down and bought a used Genesis just to play Sonic games.
Now that the fog of war has lifted and Sonic is firmly in the Nintendo camp, I play Sonic Advance and wonder what the heck I was thinking.
Jon is right in saying that Sonic Advance brings the series back to its 2D roots, but something seems different this time around. All the familiar elements are there: the loops, the speed, Dr. Robotnik. Yet all these elements don't seem to click as well they used to.
At first, I thought that I was just jaded in my old age; that the same game design that compelled me when I was 10 didn't have the same appeal at 20. But a quick replay of some original Sonic proved this was not the case. I still loved the feeling of racing through the loops of the Genesis originals. So what changed?
The answer is: a lot of little things. The clever level design and delicate balancing of the original series has been replaced in Sonic Advance with a messy collection of levels that have the faade of a Sonic game, but don't play nearly as smoothly. Playing the levels with Tails or Knuckles only compounds this feeling; their special abilities make completing most levels ridiculously easy. It's as if the designers made levels for Sonic, then threw in the other characters as an afterthought.
Call me old fashioned, but I don't believe Sonic games should have strict time limits. Sonic games should not have Tamagotchi-style mini-games. Sonic games should not have characters that can't run fast and have a special attack button. These little things change the feel of the game, almost imperceptibly at first, but snowballing later on to create a game that just doesn't feel like it belongs in the series.
THQ captured the surface elements of the series without really capturing the essence of the games; the Sega magic that made the series the secret envy of every Super Nintendo owner. As Jon said, new gamers won't care much about this, but those who remember the joy the original series brought will be longing for the olden days.
Not only is there no inappropriate material to be found here, but I would recommend Sonic Advance to parents as a title that is sure to entertain young children as much as older gamers.
Fans of 2D Sonic games will be pleased with this title. It stays true to everything that made the Genesis line so famous.
Multiplayer game fans will be happy to learn that this title offers various mini-games where two to four players can compete, such as a race across a level or some sort of hunt with the first gathering the most items being declared winner. The number of game paks required will vary depending on the mini-game chosen.