Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: March 9, 2003
Buy 'SONIC ADVANCE 2': Game Boy Advance
When Sonic Advance was released on the GBA about one year ago, it was something of a milestone; it marked Sonic’s first 2D appearance on Nintendo’s hardware, and hell wasn’t even freezing over. But while that game was plenty fun on its own merits and helped to reintroduce Sonic on a 2D platform, it was a little derivative of past Sonic games, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Genesis console in particular. Sonic Team, not a development company to rest on its laurels, realized that if a sequel to the game were to be made (as if there were any doubt, right?), changes were in order. Most notable of the implemented changes in Sonic Advance 2 is the lack of linear, small-ish levels that permeated the original GBA title. Instead, SA2 is brimming with vast environments, multiple paths and characters to choose from, and intuitively designed levels that keep the action moving at light-speed while maintaining an entirely cohesive platforming experience.
Sonic Advance 2 takes everything that was great from the previous 2D games and throws them into a blender with the setting on puree, and the end result is something akin to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on speed. All the trademark environmental additions – like winding corkscrew platforms, aerial launching pads, and secret areas – that legions of fans have come to expect from the series are all presented here in fine form. Where the previous games would focus quite a bit on relatively plodding exploration areas, this game is like one fast-paced, adrenaline-inducing ride from beginning to end. Even the boss battles are staged while running at full blast.
Another notable difference from the previous games is the fact that bonus areas can no longer be reached by simply collecting and finishing the level with the requisite amount of rings and jumping through a portal at the end of a stage. This time around, the only way to access the bonus rounds is to collect seven special rings that are cleverly hidden in every stage. This tends to make for quite a bit of increased lasting appeal for those who can’t stand to finish a game without experiencing every bit of potential gaming goodness the title has to offer. I’m not going to say collecting every special ring, and in turn the chaos emerald, is a necessary task to really enjoy the game, but I will say this; it’s the only way you’ll be able to unlock the sound test, boss time-attack mode, fifth playable character, and final extra level. Not too shabby of an incentive, eh?
Although it must be said that even though Sonic Advance 2 features five playable characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, and newcomer Cream & Cheese) they all basically feel the same control-wise. Each has his/her own unique ability that helps to change up the method in which you’ll tackle each level to a certain degree, but don’t expect day and night differences in gameplay relative to each character because that’s just not the case here.
While players are no longer expected to navigate confusing areas in search for the key of progression, Sonic Advance 2 does emphasize multiple path navigation. You don’t have to follow a specific path in any given level since there are usually two or three ways to get from point A to point B. This is a great addition since you can play through the same level multiple times and get a different experience from it each time. You’ll also get into the habit of memorizing the best route through a level since the rewards of choosing a relatively difficult path often pay off in dividends.
Even without spending extra time unlocking every possible goody, you’ll still have a tough time beating the game. The levels can often be flown through in a matter of minutes (with a few annoying exceptions), but the bosses at the end of each two-stage zone are forces with which to be reckoned. As previously mentioned, you’ll be on the run during these sequences and as such, need to successively catch up with the boss while avoiding its infernal contraptions to target its weak spot. Once you bounce off its weak spot and deliver some damage, you’ll be sent back to the left-most side of the screen and need to catch up again while avoiding obstacles in order to inflict more damage. This process is usually pretty drawn-out, and messing up more than a couple times will inevitably result in a disappointing Game Over screen, at which point you’ll have to fly through the previous two levels and confront the boss all over again. Whether this strict method of progression is justified is not mine to decide, but having to endure the same two levels again and again just because I’m having difficulty with the boss seems pretty unfair.
Visually, Sonic Advance 2 looks polished and fluid. The graphics have definitely received some extra attention since the last game, and the animation sports tons of new character frames that really bring each furry personality to life. Environments are vast and colorful and filled with lots of items, power-ups, enemies, and obstacles, making for entertaining diversions on a consistent basis. Each zone in the game is drenched with completely original motifs, as opposed to the first GBA game, which borrowed heavily from past games. Some of the zones are particularly impressive, to the point where many deaths will be attributed to loss of focus due to taking in the wonderful scenery. The blinding pace at which the game moves makes it easy to miss the various graphical subtleties which abound in every stage.
The sound is nothing spectacular, nothing that hasn’t already been played to the hilt in previous outings, anyway. But the music is appropriate to the mood of the game, and each zone comes with its own uniquely styled soundtrack. Sound effects are business as usual; the sound of Sonic winding up for a spin dash or the sound of springing high into the air from a launch pad are exact replicas of the previous games. There are a few voice samples here and there that help to set Sonic Advance 2 apart from the crowd, but if you enjoyed the aural presentation of the original game then it’s safe to say that you’ll like what this game has to offer in the sound department.
Overall, Sonic Advance 2 is just a really fast and fun side-scrolling experience that’ll keep you playing to the end thanks to its addictive straightforward nature, multiple playable characters, satisfying unlockable goodies, and entertaining multiplayer modes (both single and dual game-pak modes are featured). Fans of the platforming genre and Sonic alike would do well to pick up this game.