Developed by Dimps and co-published by THQ, is this even a Sonic game? Check out TYP’s review to find out how well Sega and Nintendo work together.
There was only one gaming character I loved that wasn’t home to a Nintendo system: Sonic. My best friend had a Genesis, and it’s a safe bet I played Sonic 2, 3, and Sonic & Knuckles more than the owner himself...I was always the one to conquer the games. I loved my Game Gear and bought my Dreamcast for Sonic Adventure alone. Through Sonic I had learned to love Sega, and I am very happy to see them working with Nintendo. And what better way to start it off (overlooking Chu Chu Rocket) than a classic Sonic game!
Though “created by Sonic Team,” it was really “developed by Dimps,” founded by the same folks behind the excellent Sonic Pocket Adventure on NGPC. And the folks at Dimps continue to prove themselves worthy of the Sonic franchise by producing another polished title. Sonic Advance plays just like a Genesis title with a few changes and upgraded visuals. Thanks to the GBA, a multitude of rings can now explode from an injured hero on the small screen. But that’s just the start. Sonic Advance uses the Mode 7 scaling and rotation quite elegantly, tilting characters when going up hills and scaling them during the Special Stages. Characters look flawless and are carbon copies of the anime-style artwork we’ve seen so recently on boxes, in manuals and online. Each character has plenty of animation and style, and even though these motions are in three-frame sets they still look great. Backgrounds and enemies aren’t quite as impressive, though they are definitely well done. Backgrounds do look a little grainy when color gradients were intended (the Special Stages being the biggest culprit), but this is easily overlooked. The pseudo-3D Special Stage graphics will require some adjustment on the player’s part, as distances and position are hard to determine at first, but it isn’t too bad. Overall the game features excellent detail and a visual vibrancy that rivals Super Mario World.
Graphics certainly help the experience, but gameplay is the downfall with most GBA titles. Fortunately, Dimps has used the Genesis games as models in almost every way, so no Sonic fan should be too disappointed. Controls are just as impressive with Genesis-quality response for old moves and an equally smooth feel with the new moves borrowed from the Sonic Adventure games. Gamers may find one or two very subtle nuances distracting (such as now going through Robotnik’s machine after it is damaged), but controlling Sonic, Tails or Knuckles feels very retro in the best way. There is a fourth playable character, Amy, who many will consider the worst of the bunch, though I would use the word challenging. Using her Piko Piko hammer a la Sonic Adventure, Amy keeps things at a slower pace as players time their attacks and run to gain speed (as opposed to the others’ Spin Dash move). Sonic retains his charm with blazing speeds combined with his unique sense of exploration. Multiple paths run throughout the Acts (levels), some more rewarding than others, and finding the elusive special stages will require persistence and skill. The gameplay is high above the industry average, but I do have issues (some of which others will be indifferent to). Unlike in Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, each character has the same paths in the same levels, taking away the opportunity for more variety and sometimes making a character (usually Amy) feel out of place. Sonic Advance also feels a little too much like the games with which it is compared. Those of you who know your stuff will remember that Sonic Pocket Adventure was designed as a compilation of Sonic’s best Zones with new level designs, and it was applauded by most as a great move. Unfortunately, the guys at Dimps seem to have gotten in a rut and have created Zones that should feel different...but don’t. The designers obviously had trouble thinking up new themes, as each can be likened to something from a previous game. The obstacles and enemies seem to have a similar pattern: anyone who has played Sonic 2 and (more importantly) Sonic 3 will find next to nothing new or remarkable in this game, save for the new level designs. Of course this doesn’t make the game less amusing, but it certainly doesn’t contribute to the cause. Speaking of level design, I found the Acts to be slightly inferior to those found on the Genesis. It is a subtle aspect I cannot really explain, but like those found on Game Gear games, the levels feel slightly more random and less fluid overall. This could just be a product of the portable games never getting as much of the master designer’s attention as console games, but it is true nonetheless. Please don’t think I hate the levels in this game; they are great, but it is next to impossible for a game like this to live up to those made in a time when the most brilliant minds were at work in the 2D medium. Perhaps this is why we aren’t seeing a new 2D Mario game.... With only 7 zones, this Sonic game is a little on the short side, but it is great fun while it lasts. Players will want to try again with a different character and struggle to get all seven Chaos Emeralds.
But Sonic Advance isn’t just about running around on your own and playing the difficult Special Stages over and over. Dimps and Sonic Team have created a very complete package that should impress all. The most prominent extra is the multiplayer modes, which come in three varieties. And though I haven’t played them yet on Sonic Advance, I can guarantee they will not disappoint. The quaint one-cart multiplayer mode involves a scramble for the most rings before time runs out while attacking others to steal their rings. The muli-game pak VS modes are more interesting. “Race” is the ideal that Sonic Team envisioned with Sonic 2 for the Genesis: up to four players can race through every level-based Act that has been unlocked on at least one of the carts. The “Chao Hunt” takes place in exclusive Acts with Chao scattered about. For the Multi-Pak modes, each character has his or her own trademark moves from the single player game. Unfortunately no character can be used by more than one person, which means bad news for whoever gets stuck with Amy in Race mode! One nice feature in the multi-pak games is the option of Teams. Characters on the same team can interact and help each other: Sonic shoots a partner forward, Tails can carry someone as he flies, Knuckles can carry someone on his back and Amy can use her hammer like a spring. If you want a break from the main game and are alone, the Tiny Chao Garden is a great way to pass the time. Just like in the Sonic Adventure games, the Chao are small, cute pets you can feed, pet and play simple games with. Much like a fancy digi-pet, the whole interface is quite simple and effective. By feeding and playing with your Chao you can raise its statistics. You can buy various nuts to raise certain attributes with rings. Rings can be won in the two mini-games (one of which I have yet to figure out) or in the one-player game by completing an Act with rings. In this way raising your Chao gives a new reason to playing the one-player game, which I think is pretty cool. The garden should be the same as the version downloaded from Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, though having the info stored in a cart has obvious benefits. The SA-SA2:B interactivity should add a little to the already-engaging Chao garden, and raising your Chao on the GBA first should save some time and effort on the console. The Chao garden seems to be capable of holding one Chao and one egg. Other features include a Time Attack with listings for each character, a Sound Test, difficulty settings and a simple VS stats page. On a side note, it appears that THQ hasn’t altered the pak in any notable fashion: the THQ logo is not found in the game. It even features Japanese and lists Sega of Europe on the credits, which is good news for importers: this highly suggests that any “version” of Sonic Advance will work with any other Sonic Advance pak and any region of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. Thank you, THQ and Sega.
Even after over 10 years Sonic is still a pleasure to play, and younger mainstream gamers will finally get a chance to play Sonic old school. It isn’t perfect, nor is it the best Sonic game in the franchise’s history, but it is a very solid platformer that deserves a spot in your GBA case, especially if you have SA2:B or a friend who owns a GBA.