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.