Sonic Advance 2dislikePEGI3 Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform OTHER Release 28th March 2003 2011 marks the 20th Anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog. And to celebrate, Retro Recall and Over-Reaction Command bring you the last 10 years of Sonic games, or as many as I can endure before Sonic's official birthday on the 23rd June 2011.

Over-Reaction Command - 2001 was quite a momentous year for Sonic. Two well-received, well-loved Sonic games had been released onto the market and Sonic's 10th anniversary passed without incident. Sadly, 2002 would be less forgiving to the series. Just a year after Sonic Advance hit store shelves, SEGA was planning to release another instalment to the Advance series. "Great", everyone thought. Fans were excited, I was excited. What was there to go wrong? Sonic Advance was everything we expected from Sonic but in a slightly different package. It had speed mixed with platforming, had interesting level design and exploration to be had. Imagine our surprise then, when we got... This.

Grinding, one third of what you do in this game.
Sonic Advance 2, much like a trick a later Sonic game pulls on you, doesn't start out with a visible story, Sonic is your only choice of character when you start out. Quickly, however, you realise that a 'story' does poke it's head out occasionally in the form of a slideshow presentation. Not sure why they bothered for the most part as the writing is comparably dry to the surface of the sun. Anyway, essentially, Dr.Eggman has rounded up a bunch of animals ready to be turned into robots and it just so happened that one of them was this new rabbit character; Cream--'s mother. That's basically it. So you go off to stop Eggman as usual and also save Cream's mother. Why did we need a story to explain this? In fairness, they at least tried to stay true to the usual Sonic storyline by having Eggman actually capture animals, but the game seems to pretend it actually has a more sophisticated storyline, one which requires boring you to death with small inanimate segments. Thankfully, these only occur during Sonic's first play-through and that's it. You unlock characters only by playing Sonic's story as well, making all other characters utterly pointless.

This whole character-unlock confusion doesn't really make much sense anyway. The game forces you to play as Sonic, the Sonic series' "normal" difficulty character... But almost immediately, you unlock Cream who is the game's "easy" difficulty character. Yeah, the game eases you into the game by making you unlock the easy mode by playing the normal mode... At least when that happened in Devil May Cry you had to suck pretty hard before the game shifted you into "easy mode". Gameplay in the game is quite radically different to that of the original Sonic Advance in many ways. The game has a far greater and frankly over-whelming focus on speed. And that's about it, really. The game doesn't care much for platforming any more, most stages are now filled with springs or strange gimmicks which replace or act just like springs but give greater height. Basically, you'll be spending most your time holding right on the d-pad while watching Sonic bounce around a lot. When the game feels it needs something to change up the pace, it throws you onto rails, where you're once again just holding the d-pad down to the right and observe as control is constantly taken away from you.

Sonic Advance 2
The game has 5 characters this time around, each character has had some sort of change implemented to their controls in some way. Most notably the use of "B" button moves which are completely useless. Sonic is pretty much just Sonic. Only this time around he now has the Homing Jump from the 3D Sonic games... Not sure why, the whole reason the Homing Jump was introduced was to ease hitting enemies in the 3D space. In the 2D plane, hitting enemies is pretty intuitive, you just land on them. A much harder feat when you add another dimension into the mix. Sonic's "B" button move is a rolling-kick move which successfully kills all momentum you have and achieves exactly what the Spindash does... Only no where near as useful. Mid-air the move makes Sonic do the Bounce-Jump which can clear certain ground-based obstacles like bridges, although which ones he can smash aren't always abundantly clear. Knuckles can still hover and climb up things, but since all stages are identical with perhaps one or two paths through the stage, individual character traits like Knuckles' wall-climb is pretty much redundant as is Tails/Cream's flying ability. Knuckle's "B" move is to punch stuff... Yes, it kills all momentum you have and yes, the mid-air "B" move is a inverted fiery-uppercut. Tails and Cream are essentially the same, they both fly by jumping and repeatedly mashing the jump button to gain height. Cream differs a slight bit by having Cheese with her, which will attack near by enemies when the "B" button is pressed. Also works mid-air. Tails, meanwhile, has a Knuckles-punch-like move which, yes, kills all momentum, no mid-air variation. Thus, all "B" moves apart from Cream's "Kill bosses from a distance" move are completely useless. Nice.

The trick again
Characters also have a new "R" button mechanic as well. Levels are full of little spring-pads which the character will shoot off-of, when mid-air from these you can press a direction and the "R" shoulder button together to perform a "trick", which other than giving you 100 score points also can give you an extra bit of height on jumps. It works slightly differently for each character, Tails, for instance travels in an arc when holding "right", where-as Sonic will travel horizontal for a small while before losing altitude. You can also destroy enemies with Sonic's kick-move, where as Tails can't with his tail-flail move. These moves become essential for getting to different parts of a level, but the ability to use these moves are literally just everywhere in a stage. They cover for grating merges of different tiers of a stage, when one path through the stage merges with another, it usually does so by dropping you into the lower path. To disguise this, they added spring-boards to make it seem like it's a smooth transition, or put holes in paths making you do tricks to get onto a more favourable and quicker path through the stage.

"But Chris, you dastardly handsome fellow", you're thinking, "You said there were 5 characters in the game. You only mentioned 4." I'm glad you thought that. Because now I get to moan about one of the most stupid ideas the game possesses. I said in my Sonic Advance review that they made finding Special Stages difficult, with you having to find a oddly placed Special Spring to get into it. Well, now in Sonic Advance 2, they've made it even worse. Scattered through-out a stage are "SP Rings" or "Special Rings". Find 7 in a stage and at the end, you're taken to the Special Stage. Only, they're damn well impossible to find. I have neither the patience nor the incentive to track down these SP Rings, and well... I haven't. I've owned Sonic Advance 2 for 9 years and I have never once found 7 SP Rings in any stage in the game. Never got into a Special Stage, let alone acquire a Chaos Emerald. Thankfully, however, I have the power of a Gameboy Advance Gameshark to solve this problem. And by using the "have all SP Rings" cheat, I can now play a Special Stage unimpeded. And oh boy, this is where things get stupid.

Driving like a car...
You enter the Special Stage to be greeted by a large, flat expanse of land with rings on it and informed to collect 300 rings before the time runs out to get a Chaos Emerald, collect 7 of them and you unlock the Super Sonic stage, a rather unfitting reward for the pain, the sheer pain this game puts you through. This Special Stage setup isn't that dissimilar from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which made you run over or around blue spheres to 'collect' them. Getting all of them netted you the Emerald, only you weren't timed. However more accurately, this Special Stage represents that of Sonic CD's special stages, where you're on a flat course trying to jump into very awkward-to-hit UFOs on a pretty narrow time-limit. Of course, the Sonic CD stages had a lot more depth, including water which drained your time if you run on it, springs and fans which can be used to dodge water and pitfalls like spikes which trip you up. In Sonic Advance 2, the only obstacle the game throws your way is the evil sentient dustbin; Zero -- from Sonic Adventure -- which follows you around and tries to make you lose rings. You can of course, just jump into him before he touches you and he'll come off worse. The game is kind enough to give you an arrow showing the general direction of Zero at all times as well as it changes colour depending how close he is to you. There's also these odd pads dotted around which, some throw you into the air, some act as dash-pads to propel to forward.

The idea of the Special Stage is to run into strings of rings quickly, doing so builds up the ring multiplier you get. If you spend enough time with the game, you can easily get 999 rings racked up on the early Special Stages, but when you start out, the game is merciless. Your character moves around like they're on atypical video game ice or like a car. They slip around, you press a direction and about a second later, they actually start turning in that direction. Something which isn't at all easy to get used to, especially if you're more used to the responsive controls of say, Sonic 3 or even the previous Sonic Advance game albeit it was a completely different Special Stage setup. So trying to hit the rings you want is an effort all in itself, let alone ring boxes which give you 5 rings instead of just 1. In order to move, you need to hold the up-button, which is unusual for a Sonic special stage to allow you how you want to run, you can just tap on the up-button to not accelerate to the character's top-speed, but doing so pretty much means you're not going to get the ring multipliers you require to beat even the early stages in the game. So you have a clear choice, go flat-out and miss rings because your character is as responsive as a cat is to a block of tofu or go slow, still as unresponsive but actually get rings... But not enough rings to get the Emerald.

And the reward for getting all 7 chaos emeralds, an easy boss which doesn't really do anything. Nice.
For your troubles the game rewards you, once you've found all 7 Chaos Emeralds with a single character, the ability to play the final boss of the game, something so foul and evil that it requires all 7 Chaos Emeralds to fell. It's... A robot shaped like a prawn which you just hit back Eggman's rockets to him and he explodes in no time at all. And this is what gets me, you play through the game, get all 7 of these stupidly hidden SP rings in each stage, you bring them all to the end of the stage, do a tedious Special Stage which if you fail, you have to go find all those 7 SP rings all over just to try again and THIS is your reward? Not cool. Not cool in the slightest. You don't even get Super Sonic in normal stages like you did in Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 to counter-balance the agony the Special Stages put you through. Instead, you get the easiest boss in the entire game and an ending slideshow complete with credits. And if you felt you were cheated by that, the game then urges you to get all the Chaos Emeralds with all characters and for that you unlock Amy Rose. Yeah, she's back. Although at least this time around she's not completely useless, she can now actually roll when jumping and spindash, and use her hammer to do a running-high-jump. And just to add insult to injury, you can then collect all 7 Chaos Emeralds with Amy and get... Absolutely nothing in return. What sadomasochist though this was a good idea? What insane nut-job actually spent hours of their life getting all the Chaos Emeralds?

I've talked about the final boss, but what about the not-so-final boss? Like, all the other bosses in the game. Well, all but one take place on forever-looping running stages where the boss will fire stuff at you and you've got to hit the boss in a specific place enough times to make it blow up. In fairness, these bosses are a nice change from the norm and have some well-thought through gimmicks. For instance, one boss is a multi-tiered car with spinning discs complete with spikes which come out and shoot stuff at you. To reach the boss, you must jump on the spinning discs and jump onto the boss. Another has the boss mid-air, you must hit it's tail-like platform and it sends you flying up to hit him. They can be entirely frustrating though, if you mistime a jump you can find yourself constantly getting hit by the boss. And sometimes the boss is extremely cheap, one boss mid-to-late on in the game can kill you instantly, one shot by one-hand-clapping you to death. This same boss can do a double-whammy on you as well. If you get hit by the hand of this boss and then the laser it fires off shortly after, you're dead. One-hit kills in Sonic games shouldn't exist, not when you're on the last hit of the boss, anyway.

Oh and you unlock her. Although she has improved since Sonic Advance.
As with Sonic Advance, the game looks pretty enough. Nothing really clashes with one-another, you have a clear understanding of what's around you at a glance, which is essential for a game moving at high-speed. Animations are all nice a smooth, building on what Sonic Advance brought to the table. Can hardly find a complaint with how the game looks. Perhaps the Techno Base stage could have done with tuning down the almost seizure-inducing background animation, mostly because things do clash there, but it's easy to over-look. The game's soundtrack is much improved over the original Advance's repertoire of generic, bland sounding music. The soundtrack this time around does a good job of encouraging speed through-out, for better or for worse (definitely worse when finding those bloody SP Rings, I can tell you).

Overall then, Sonic Advance 2 is a half-decent title. But it's not a Sonic title. Sonic was about speed, but not at the cost of platforming, not at the cost of coherent level design which didn't just mean a sum total of 2 paths through the stage, needless bottomless pits and an endless supply of aggravation when looking for a means to enter a Special Stage. Character specific traits like Tails' ability to fly or Knuckles' ability to climb walls have been completely made null-and-void by lazy stage design facilitated by a rushed design process just to get the sequel to Sonic Advance out a year after the original. And this is only the start of the declining quality of the Sonic series. It only gets worse from here-on-in. And oh yes, does it get worse...
Over-complicated for what it needed to be. Infact, it didn't need to exist.
An overwhelming focus on speed over anything else. Not joking when I say you do nothing but hold right.
Not bad at all, still in the same style as Sonic Advance which is nothing bad at-all.
Much improved over Sonic Advance, not as bland sounding. Does a good job to re-enforce the speed-based gameplay, even if that is a bad design choice.
2 Hours
Each character can blow through his/her story in about 2 hours. If you go for all Chaos Emeralds you're looking at... Well, forever, basically.