Sonic Adventure 2 – Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360
The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has been through both good and bad times. Fans of the series will often loudly disparage newer entries in the series or sing the praises of an older game lost to time. Sonic Adventure 2 is over a decade old, having released in 2001 for the Sega Dreamcast, and it is a game that many Sonic fans (including yours truly) have a strong sense of nostalgia over. The game was so popular that after the Dreamcast’s death, it was ported over to the Nintendo GameCube with extra features under the title Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. Luckily for us, there is a new iteration of this game for Xbox Live Arcade.
Sonic Adventure 2 has two parallel campaigns which unfold a truly insane story through a coherent narrative peppered with quirky events, such as dramatic flashbacks, trips to outer space, government secret agents, plans for world domination, fake Master Emeralds, being framed for dastardly crimes, and quests for revenge. The player will never be confused as to what’s happening, but they may find the tone and content of the story to be a bit silly. The cast is another example of the game’s lighthearted nature. Sonic the Hedgehog has a dark clone named Shadow the Hedgehog suffers from amnesia, has a distaste for all of humanity, and a thirst for revenge. Rouge the Bat is an insidious secret agent searching for shards of the master emerald in a leather corset and a full face of makeup. Dr. Robotnik has a devious plan which includes blowing up the moon to curse all of humanity for their disrespect. Don’t be daunted by the ‘2’: This game requires no knowledge of the previous Sonic Adventure.
The campaigns are divided into Hero and Dark. The Hero team includes Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, while the Dark team has Shadow, Dr. Robotnik, and Rouge. Each character has a gameplay counterpart: Sonic and Shadow both engage in highspeed running and platforming that will remind you of the old 2D classics; Tails and Dr. Robotnik both navigate the levels in gigantic mechs; and Rouge and Knuckles both fly around looking for Emerald shards.
Despite the HD update, the graphics for the game have not aged well. Models look blocky and ancient. The game doesn’t particularly suffer as a result of this, as long as the player maintains realistic expectations. All necessary information is communicated to the player through the HUD and level design, which means that the gameplay doesn’t suffer as a result of the decade-old graphics.
Other parts of the game have not transitioned well at all. The camera issues which plagued the original release and were a major complaint back in 2001 have not been fixed, leading to annoying deaths and angles which obscure gameplay. When making important jumps as Shadow on a big city bridge, I found myself tumbling to my death instead of leaping to the necessary platform. These camera angles get in the way of you fully enjoying the experience. What could have been a fun level becomes a frustrating and obnoxious exercise in patience as you fight against the camera’s odd angles and bugginess.
Level design is straightforward and simple, meaning that the player will never get lost and will keep moving forward, but the way is fraught with challenges to add the spice of difficulty. The missions vary widely depending on which pair of characters you decide to play. Those who decide on the titular character and his Dark equivalent won’t be disappointed; Sonic and Shadow prove why the game is such a beloved classic. The breakneck pace of these sections are satisfying and recall the classic 2D Sonic games. Alternatively, Tails and Robotnik have missions which involve destroying everything in your path with explosives; this proves to be relaxing and fun but not particularly stimulating. Unlike with the other characters, the missions which feature Rogue the Bat and Knuckles the Echidna suffer from a lack of direction. The goal is to find a number of emerald shards as opposed to reaching a destination, and there are very few clues to know whether you’re hot or cold. I spent a large period of these levels running against the walls of the stage waiting for the exclamation mark showing proximity to a shard as opposed to exploring a path or feeling a definitive sense of progress.
Boss fights are equally vexing as it is another element which could have been tweaked during the port. A boss fight is either over before you even realize what is happening, or becomes a tedious repetition of one special move over and over for five minutes. Unlike the famous Nintendo three-strikes rule, Sonic Adventure 2‘s boss fights have arbitrary rules of engagement. Boss fights rarely worked as a climax to a strong streak of gameplay; instead, they led to spamming a few mechanics for long periods of time or the boss crumbling in seconds, with no indication of health or progress.
Fortunately, other parts of this game are just as fantastic as I remember them. The first amongst these is the music. The Sonic Adventure 2 soundtrack is a divisive issue: Either you think it’s horrible and grating to the ears, or cheesy, hilarious, and so bad it wraps back around to becoming amazing. I am in the latter camp. Players will be treated to the rock riffs of “City Escape” or the infamous “Knuckles Rap” during gameplay. The soundtrack keeps a consistent tone which shows that the game isn’t taking itself too seriously and delights the player with a sense of fun and adventure. Hearing these old favourites never failed to bring a smile to my face.
While there are a couple of other mini-games like racing or boss fight replays, the real gem of Sonic Adventure 2 is the Chao Gardens. The Chao Garden is like Pokémon or Tamagotchis: You control several little tear-shaped creatures named Chao. Take them to kindergarten to learn more about their basic stats and abilities, then start evolving them. You can make a Chao a heavenly little ambassador of goodness or a tiny demon ready to wreak havoc on everyone around it. The Chao Garden could be sold as a $10 game by itself and it would enjoy a healthy fanbase because this gameplay mode is just oodles of fun. Once you’ve found unlockable elements in the single player campaign, you can evolve your Chao in new ways. There’s a startling depth in the sheer complexity of Chao raising – there are dozens of ways to make a Chao with the elements and skills you want, and online guides have been written that cover every single contingency. When you have your Chao how you like it, you can send it off to race other Chao or (if you pay $3.00 for the Battle DLC) engage in local competitive karate matches. It’s a shame that you can’t challenge your other friends on Xbox Live, however – your Chao garden remains available only to you.
The key to enjoying Sonic Adventure 2 is to temper your expectations and remember the game that you fell in love with back in 2001. If you’ve never played this game, it’s certainly worth checking out to see a look at the legacy of Sonic 3D platforming and enjoy a classic platformer. While it’s unfortunate that this release didn’t get more time and attention to address the original camera issues and boss fights, the sheer joy of the gameplay manages to overcome these mistakes and shine as a fantastic adrenaline rush of a game. It’s worth the $10 – especially for the Chao Gardens.
Sonic Adventure 2 receives a 4.25/5.00
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