Sonic Advance 3
Developer Dimps Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform Gameboy Advance Release 24th July 2004
- After Sonic Advance 2 in 2002, the Sonic Advance series seemed to be all wrapped up. Everyone felt the Gameboy Advance cooling down, a 'calm before the storm' moment for the video game industry in which everyone could tell new hardware was on it's way. With no news on a new Sonic Advance title and 2003 coming-and-going without even a trace of a third instalment to the Sonic Advance franchise and with Sonic Battle being released not long ago, many assumed the series dead. However, then, from a seemingly innocuous product listing on American video game retailer; GameStop, came the announcement of Sonic Advance 3. Within weeks the game was released to the public, without any prior announcement or even press publicity. Following the release, there was limited print advertisements for the game, but even then, the game just fell out of no-where.
Sonic sums up my feelings for this game.
Sonic Advance 3's main gimmick is based around the "partner" mechanic, a system in which you pick-and-chose what character formation you wish to take-up, mixing certain kinds of characters together formed specific unions in which powers would be most beneficial, these would have special names and character poses when selected. It's some-what reminiscent of Knuckles Chaotix, a game I mentioned in the Sonic Heroes review. However, there's lots of subtle references to older games in Sonic Advance 3, such special bonus rounds which you must destroy a certain number of enemies to get an extra life (which you'll need desperately in this game), but while in the normal game if you destroy an enemy, you are given a ring, here the enemy drops a seed and a flower sprouts from it, which is what happened to enemies in Sonic CD, a relatively obscure entry to the Sonic series on the Megadrive's Mega CD a hardware expansion which utilised CD-ROM technology.
Some advances were made since Sonic Advance 2, and by advances I mean "going back to a more Sonic Advance 1-style game". One being a semi-present plot. How can a plot be semi-present, you're probably asking... Well, simple. You open the game off by saying that Dr.Eggman is using the Chaos Emeralds to create Eggmanland... How is he using the Chaos Emeralds? Who knows. But somehow, he manages to break the world, literally. With bits of the world now isolated, Sonic and Tails are left to find their friends and restore the world back to how it once was. Of course, how they restore the world, how it got shattered and even the fact that the world was shattered are never touched upon
in the game. I had to look the plot up on Wikipedia to get that much. Other than that, Eggman rebuilt Emerl from Sonic Battle and after repainting him and adding go-faster something-or-others, he's now an annoyance which pops up every now and again and forms some part of a boss. What's the point of introducing the game with a storyline if you're just going to throw it out the window almost immediately. But I do appreciate how the game doesn't shove an obnoxious, ill-thought storyline down your throat. A reprieve which will be short lived as I progress further into the Sonic franchise. Of course, the game predictably ends with Gemerl (the re-created Emerl) going crazy and stealing the Chaos Emeralds in which Eggman and Sonic team up to take him down before he destroys the world. Yep, it's that
The partner system. Useless.
Once you get the literal 10 seconds of story out of the way, you're dumped into the main game and immediately you notice the first big change in Sonic Advance 3. Much like Sonic Adventure, the game operates around a 'hub', each stage-theme you visit has it's own hub-world where you can enter levels. The neat little thing about the hub world is that you can pick-and-chose what stages you want to complete. So you could complete Act 2 before Act 1 or Act 3 before Act 2. Not that this makes much difference, the game's difficulty gradually increases as you go through the acts in incremental order, so by doing Act 3 before Act 1, what you're doing is starting at the more difficult stages first. Not sure where the logic lies in this, but it's something
right? In this hub, you control your characters as you would in a normal stage. Only there's no enemies, no rings and no way to die. Instead you have little rings with numbers in them which are entrances to stages, touching one will start the stage you selected. There's also some pods such as the Bonus Pod which takes you to bonus rounds where you can get extra lives and the Boss Pod which takes you to the area's boss battle, which when you win; you move onto the next stage-theme. There's also the return of Special Stage springs, but we'll get to that in due time. Don't you worry.
The bulk of the game is somewhat
similar to Sonic Advance 2, somewhat
similar to Sonic Advance 1. It's almost like the game's regressed a bit, but not too much. There's something funny about how the game controls, though. It's something I noticed quite quickly. Momentum seems to be gained exponentially, rather than linearly. If that was too concise an answer for you, allow me to elaborate. In prior Sonic Advance titles, when you held down a direction to run, you would slowly go from jog to run in a predictable manner. It's almost the same as how the old Megadrive Sonic games used to work, so if you ever played a Megadrive Sonic game, you could very easily pick up the Sonic Advance titles. But in Sonic Advance 3, this changes. A character will pick up speed almost unpredictably. Often leading to awkward moments where you over-shoot small platforms because the game picks up too much momentum by your short press on the controls. Similarly, if you are aware of the momentum issue and you lay off sooner than normal, you sometimes will fall short of the platform. And there's no real remedy for the problem, regardless to how long I played the game, I couldn't adjust myself to this new, weird momentum gaining mechanic. Maybe it's just me, but the fundamental controls of the game have been crippled due to this change... And we haven't even started on the even more bizarre stuff yet.
Isn't a Sonic review without innuendo.
But before we start moaning about more physics, let's look at the "partner" system. Basically, the game makes you chose a character to play as and a 'tag-along' character. This character basically acts like Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Sonic the Hedgehog 3, where he'll follow behind you and occasionally collect rings or hit enemies. Only certain aspects of your playable character changes depending on who your partner is. For example, if you're Sonic and you have Tails as your partner, you can perform Sonic Advance 2-style tricks by pressing the R-Shoulder button and optionally a direction as you do so. These can be useful to reach ledges, however the game's not setup to expect the user to have this ability unlike Sonic Advance 2 which accommodates the feature and so, it's relatively useless apart from destroying the occasional enemy. Where as if Sonic has Knuckles as his partner, he can no longer do tricks, but can perform the Bounce Attack by holding down on the D-pad and pressing the B button, you also have an upward attack by holding up on the D-pad and pressing B. Again, this is mostly useless. You also have the ability to hold down the R-Shoulder button to call your AI partner to your arms, from here you can perform various moves, such as if you're holding Tails and jump, you can hover down towards the ground by holding on to Tails as he flies, or if you have Knuckles in-hand on the ground, you can throw Knuckles at special walls to break them, creating mini-shortcuts.
The partner system is mostly rather useless, though. It takes a good few seconds for the AI partner to appear in your hands, by the time you've called them the opportunity to use the move you wanted to has generally passed you by. There's some useful techniques you can gain from certain pairings, such as Sonic and Cream which gives Sonic a homing-jump attack. But they're not necessary, at all. You could play the game and not once touch the R-Button, or the B button for that fact. Perhaps this was the point. It did seem like Dimps had listened to the large mass of complaints levied against Sonic Advance 2 and actually introduced choice. You could
take advantage of the partner system or you could not. The partner system does seem to have slowed the pace of the game down since Sonic Advance 2 as well, however the game still seems rather unbalanced towards speed, what with the unusual momentum acquisition and platforming suffers as a result. It's a hard one to guess just what Dimps were thinking. Especially for a company that thought Sonic Advance 2's Special Stage and Special Stage entry procedure was a good idea.
Here's me about to be killed by moving platforms... No, really.
As mentioned just, the game is a lot slower and a lot better paced than it's predecessor. While Sonic Advance 2 was all about speed regardless of the cost, Sonic Advance 3 is more slower, more methodical. And by methodical I mean "will put holes in the floor to deliberately trick or trap you into revisiting an earlier part of the game and you have to re-tread your path to get back to where you were". The game does this an awful lot. Often there's some sort of theme-specific gimmick, like a rocket which propels you upward for a short period, then there's another rocket just by it, but it gives you literally no time to think about which direction you have to go, so often you just make a decision to go one way or another. My dumb luck led me to pick the wrong direction most the time, dooming me to almost endlessly looping the same part of the stage. The game then mercilessly puts you a good 30 seconds back in the stage, which might not sound a lot, but for a 4 minute stage it's pretty damning and frustrating, especially if you fail a second time. This frustration, however, is the very basis of Sonic Advance 3. It is just an irritating game for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that being on any moving platform is almost nearly a death sentence. I'm not sure what's wrong with moving scenery in the game, but most the time it's there to punish your inexperience with the game by crushing you, most the time without you even realising the danger until the split-second before it happens. And even when the game isn't trying to trap you, being just close to a ledge or ceiling while the platform moves up or down can sometimes inexplicably kill you.
The game also has a whole bunch of stage gimmicks which aren't intuitive to use. Rockets and springs are fairly predictable beasts, you know where you're going when you ride one. What's more unpredictable is where you'll end up off, say, a Ferris wheel, which you may expect -- especially with the slow speed of the Ferris wheel -- that you would just jump normally off the wheel from which you cling. Instead, your character shoots off pretty much 90-degrees perpendicular from where you were. Then there's these odd spring-like gimmicks which you mount and they throw you backwards in an arc, however unlike normal springs, you lose a lot of control over your character... But as you may have guessed from the odd momentum gaining, you gain more distance moving forwards than you do backwards, so if for instance, the game forces you to use one of these springs to continue and throws you over moving platforms. If you use any sort of platforming common sense, you would move left or right to actually land on the platform, right? Well, good luck with that. If you hold forward, you die. If you hold back, you die. If you do nothing, good chance you will die anyway. Did anyone actually, you know, play this game before they shoved it out the door to see if the game worked as intended?
Oh damn it...
It gets even worse, though. You have these like compression-springs which you weight down with your character, when it reaches the bottom, it'll reset. What you have to do is press the A button just before the bottom to get maximum height. These are annoying
. Often when you press the A button, your character jumps rather than interacts with the gimmick. Then you have these circular moving wheels which seem to have a gravity attached to them, you become attracted to them. Now, if you've played Sonic the Hedgehog 1, a game which came out 13 years prior
to Sonic Advance 3, you'd think that by holding down would cause your character to roll into a ball and you gain momentum as you spin around. Wrong.
Instead, holding down does nothing, and much like the rest of the physics in this game, if you jump off, you go flying in some unusual direction and the odd momentum gaining will pretty much send you into a bottomless pit. What? You thought bottomless pits were gone? Oh, ho, ho no. They're back, with vengeance.
Level design is quite competent to begin with, however as the game drags out, bottomless pits and confusing stage paths are laid out before you. While the game initially resembles something more of Sonic Advance, the game quickly regresses into Sonic Advance 2 territory with speed put above all else. Platforming was inevitably going to take a back-seat, what with the abysmal physics and awful momentum acquisition. I know I'm flogging a dead horse with this momentum thing, but it's what brings the whole game crashing down. Bottomless pits are waiting at every moment which you have nothing but a split second to react, if there aren't pits to kill you, there's inconveniently placed moving obstacles ready to crush you. As a direct result, you never want to do what the game really expects from you; to go fast. I was perfectly able to call exactly when I would die, however, sometimes completely unable to see what new and interesting way in which the game would kill me in. There's random deaths, usually either on a moving platform or some gimmick would kill me somehow
. The game's glitchy as all hell, something the game's not shy on hiding from you. The game also has some directional flow issues. Since the game loves dropping you into previously visited areas so you have to loop around again and hope you don't suck
like the last time, there's literally arrows everywhere
. The game doesn't really have any other way of directing you, since it's all so bland and uninspired.
Good is the game over now? No? Oh...
At the end of each stage, you reach a ring which you must jump up to collect. Despite the fact it rotates through each type of 'rank' you get, from bronze to gold, touching one isn't like Super Mario Bros. 3 in which you're given a card from the rotating selection block, instead it ranks you on time. Why a signpost couldn't have been used to show this, or just use a signpost and then give a letter afterwards, ala Sonic Adventure 2 or Sonic Heroes, I'll never know. Either way, it's all based upon time. As far as I'm aware, there's no reason to get all gold medals other than bragging rights. And I seriously couldn't care less about completion in a game I really want to be done with before I lose my sanity replaying the same boss for the fifth time after having to sit through two-thirds the opening introduction because the Game Over screen essentially resets the whole game and they wont let you skip the "SEGA" and "Sonic Team" logos. To hell with that noise. The game's reliance on rating you on time rather than, you know, score also reinforces the fact that originally, the plan was to just remake Sonic Advance 2 but someone had a good idea near the twilight of the game's development to change things up a little.
Stages are also littered with Chao, the small blue Tamagotchi-like mechanic from Sonic Adventure. Collecting them seems rather pointless to start out, there's usually 9 in each stage-theme. Their purpose becomes a bit more sinister after you start reading some of the tutorials which the game presents on the hub-world in the form of robotic Chao-like creatures: Omochao. Turns out, dear reader, that the Chao are this game's replacement to the SP Rings from Sonic Advance 2. You collect the Chao in order to enter a Special Stage. Seeing that their whole "collect 7 special rings within a stage" didn't work out as they intended, they decided to change up the route to make it slightly easier
but still equally annoying mechanic of collecting accumulative Chao. These Chao are hidden away off the beat-and-track between the 3 acts of each theme. Collecting them all isn't an end to your torment, though. Once you've found all the Chao, you need to enter into a stage and then find a key within the stage. After you've found the key, you then exit the stage and hunt down a Special Stage spring in the hub world, which unlocks it and enables you to enter the Special Stage. Look, it's progress. Not like collecting 50 rings and hitting a checkpoint or collecting 50 rings before the end of the stage... Or just finding a giant ring within a stage. You know, convenience. And the kicker? For Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 where it was easier to enter the Special Stage you got an actual, tangible reward for you finding and collecting the Chaos Emeralds: Super Sonic. In Sonic Advance 1 through 3? You get dick. Well, actually, you get the ending of the game. It's almost like the game's punishing you for going out of your way to go through this asinine nonsense.
Special Stages... Being good? What has the world come to...
Special Stages are by far the most enjoyable of any Special Stage in the Sonic Advance lineage. You're travelling on a plane and rings move toward the screen. Think Sonic Advance only now ring distance is easier to judge, the controls aren't as stiff and you know what? They're fun. I know, crazy, right? To kick it off, there's an awesome tune that plays the entire time. I really can't say much more than that about it. It's honestly, hands-down the best part of the game. The strange thing about it though, is that since all players share the same progress and Emeralds, you'll only ever need to complete the stage once. Compare this to Sonic Advance 2 in which you needed to get 4 different sets of Chaos Emeralds to get the unlockable character and you could even get all the Emeralds with Amy as well. And those Special Stages sucked hard. But again, this at least builds on criticism I pointed out in my Sonic Advance and Sonic Advance 2 reviews so... I can't really complain. Either way, this is the silver lining in this entire mess.
The Boss Pod
I don't want to dwell on bosses too much considering they are the cheapest, weakest excuse for averaging difficulty I've ever bared witness to. There's two examples I want to moan about and get them out of the way. First, Toy Kindgom. Toy Kingdom's boss is a cheap, weak boss which if you're hit by it, you go flying backwards, Castlevania style into the pit either side of the boss. Touching any part of the flat edged
box hurts you, you can only hit Eggman's little bubble thing on the side of the boss to cause damage. As you hit the boss, he slides backwards and of course, thanks to video game logic, when the box is impossibly keeping a level pegging over the precipice of the stage; he takes an additional hit to slide him completely off. That aside, the worst thing about this boss is the fact that Gemerl will fly out like a bomb and attempt to land on you. The game tricks you into a false sense of security by having an arrow indicating where he will land, however it doesn't really indicate when he's locked on and going to strike other than stopping dead. Meaning you've got to move about, meaning he'll most likely strike you just when you don't need it near the edge of the arena. Got me so many times that way. Another boss which deserves nothing but scorn is the Twinkle Snow boss which is a bunch of small platforms which when you land on, start to fall away. The idea is that you hit the boss with the falling platforms. However the whole thing is completely frustrated by the momentum problem as well as the fact that the boss will throw a spiked ball at you. Did I mention the entire stage scrolls vertically? Well, yeah, it does and that comes around to bite you in the arse. See, if you get hit by that spiked ball, you're dead. The damage throw-back is enough to always see you fly off the platform and end up at the bottom of the screen, killing you instantly. Cheap.
Let's just not talk about the Super Sonic boss battle you worked yourself for... "Nonaggression" is by far the stupidest name for a boss I've ever heard.
Whoo! If only I didn't feel crippling tedium through this process!
You'll also feel the cheapness even more in Sonic Advance 3 because of one simple and fundamental change to the game. There's no score. While in just about any Sonic game, you acquire extra lives organically either through collecting 100 rings or getting a certain score, usually from time bonuses. Well, Sonic Advance 3 makes it a lot harder. Ignoring the fact that you'll most likely get hit constantly by spikes placed in just that one spot you want to land on off-screen, somewhat because the game has bottomless pits everywhere and you'll die before you reach 100 rings, your only real income for extra lives is doing Bonus Pod rounds to get extra lives. This makes the game far more tedious. I question why games like Sonic keep lives around into this day-and-age, especially since the game just dumps you back to the start of the stage you failed on. There's no real consequence for losing all your lives. Even your score, which you could say was your real prize in Sonic Advance 2 isn't there any more, so why even have lives? It's an arbitrary and pointless remnant of the arcade era and most likely only stuck around so they can squeeze precious extra minutes of play-time out of the game.
The game's soundtrack is a complicated issue to comment on as well. The game shares some similarities with Sonic Battle, a game which I am rather displeased with in the soundtrack department. Thankfully, Sonic Advance 3 has a decent enough soundtrack. Some songs are odd in tone, some are rather jumbled and seem to have an odd tempo to them, I'm mostly thinking of Toy Kingdom, for a world that's essentially a happy-go-lucky giant amusement part complete with spinning teacups that have panda faces, it's quite interesting that the tune on the hub for the world seems rather sinister, a very low-key score persists through-out. I believe it's the second act of Toy Kingdom which also has this weird variable tempo thing going on in which the whole track speeds up then slows down again at seemingly random points. Why one tempo wasn't sufficient for a single track, I'll never know but it's out of place and incredibly distracting. Other than that, the Special Stage music is the stand-out track of the game, not that Route 99 doesn't have a pretty solid soundtrack going for it either.
Rails. Always with the rails.
Visually, the game is pretty much like every other Sonic Advance title. It has smooth, fluid and a great array of animations. Sadly, some look rather out of place, especially the dumbfounded look characters give as they're sucked into a Bonus or Boss Pod. Sometimes animations can be a little too
long, though. When a boss explodes, you'll sit around for a good 5 to 10 seconds waiting for him to slowly move off-screen so you can collect the end-of-stage star-ring and go to a new theme. There's also some problems with just how bland
the game looks now. While Sonic Advance and Sonic Advance 2 had charm, unfortunately, that same charm was recycled for Sonic Advance 3. While Seaside Hill or Route 99 offers a somewhat unique environment for the Advance series, the tired old clichéd Ice, Robotic base and even the weird-and-wonderful type of stage as seen in Sonic Advance 2's Music Plant stage is recycled and mixed with the typical carnival/casino stage cliché. It just seems like there was zero creative motive left for the guys behind this game. They even recycled the seizure-inducing electronics-themed stage from Sonic Advance 2 here as well. Only this time, rather than having swirling backgrounds on a dark foreground, everything's much lighter. Innovation!
Ultimately then, Sonic Advance 3 had some ambition. It wanted to atone for the faults of Sonic Advance 2 and in many ways it did. In many ways it did not and just messed up things which were pretty solid in Sonic Advance 2 rather than fixing other core issues. The controls are unpredictable, stage gimmicks constantly mess up, the game's cheap and unfair, stages are too large and sprawling for them to be memorable and the whole thing feels like it's dragging it's heels with a useless partner system in a desperate attempt to make it look like Dimps didn't just remake Sonic Advance 2 by trying to distract you with some shiny bells-and-whistles and some slower paced stages at the start of the game. But that's it, the Gameboy Advance Sonic games are done. Finished. Kaput. Oh, man. I don't think I could have taken another... Another... Wait. What's this? Sonic Genesis? Oh fu-
Points for not having the story slap me in the face through the game. But why did the game even need a story, especially one which they introduce then throw away almost immediately.
What the hell did they do. Controls are all out of whack in more ways than one. Ruins the whole game, not to mention cheap bosses, cheap stage design and a lack of imagination through the entire game. Let's not even mention the stage gimmicks.
It looks nice, no two ways about it. There's some great care and attention gone into the game and it shows. Shame this is a common theme in the Sonic series. Looks nice, plays crap.
A much improved sountrack over Sonic Battle, to say the least. There's some tunes which don't really fit the bill, but other than that, the game's soundtrack is great.
2.5 HoursPer character team-up. And since all progress is shared, you can get through the game in a single sitting. I couldn't, since I rage quit after a few choice boss encounters. Also not including Chao and Emerald collection. To hell with that.