He played the #@% out of the DC version, but that didn’t stop him from revisiting it on the ‘Cube! Sonic Adventure 2 Battle is a controversial game; come see where it stands in TYP’s book!
Last summer I hacked away at Sonic Adventure 2, so I was pretty familiar with the game when I popped the rental into my system. I actually bought my Dreamcast primarily for Sonic Adventure and its likely sequel—little did I know only the first would be exclusive. So what is Sonic Adventure 2 Battle like? Besides the added Battle features, slightly updated graphics, faster load times and a few VERY minor level changes/updates...the game is just the same.
When talking about the overall setup, the titles are almost identical. The main game is split into Hero and Dark stories, each with its own side of the story. Once a level is cleared in Story Mode it is available on the Stage Select screen, where players try their hands at four subsequent missions in each level. Players are rewarded for completing various tasks throughout the game (usually missions) with Emblems—getting them all is a LOT of work. An A-E letter grade rating performance is also given for each mission based on time or point total, though getting all A-ranks for a character amounts to one Emblem. There are three main game modes: Action (Sonic/Shadow), Shooting (Tails/Robotnik) and Hunting (Knuckles/Rouge). Almost everyone will agree that Sonic & Shadow provide the most fun, though the other two modes get just as much game time...which makes virtually everybody discontented. The hedgehogs provide faster-paced gameplay based on running and jump-attacking and are what most Sonic fans expect from the series. The long, varied levels are full of loops, jumps and other retro Sonic situations along with some nice twists. Hunting levels require lots of patience, as Knuckles and Rouge must track down emerald shards via a beeping radar. Unfortunately, the radar only targets one emerald at a time (unlike in Sonic Adventure), often times making the free-roaming levels long and tedious with lots of back-tracking. I hate the treasure hunting, mostly because A-Ranks involve playing a level over and over until a lucky distribution comes up. Fortunately the hunting isn’t quite as bad in Battle thanks to one very welcomed change: when right next to an emerald shard a “!” will now appear, obliterating the frantic moments of aimless digging or wandering near the treasure. Others despised Tails and Robotnik (fine, Eggman) instead, though the improved control should alleviate these complaints. The mechanical walkers feature a lock-on device—the more you successfully target and hit with one onslaught the more bonus points you receive. Gamers will need to learn when to go for more points and when to just shoot. There is a delicate balance, and being efficient is key to racking up the points. I believe many will enjoy one of the slower-paced modes of play, though one who loves both will be quite the rarity. It’s not all fun, but Sonic Adventure 2’s featured gameplay has more positives than negatives.
The graphics are polished, but they are only slightly better than the Dreamcast version. What was impressive on the DC is still respectable on the GameCube, but it hardly pushes the system. Textures range from poor to remarkable and there is some pop-up, but honestly both seem subtly improved over the Dreamcast version, which wasn’t bad to begin with. Sonic Team was lazy at times...the (poorly rendered) FMV sequences are exactly the same, right down to the dated non-Battle SA2 logo, and the programming obviously changed very little during the translation. But despite its DC background, Sonic Team’s game has somehow made the same models brighter and more polished. The biggest graphical improvement is the framerate. While usually a 60 fps monster, the original did stutter at times—especially in multiplayer. This has been completely obliterated on the GameCube and makes a multiplayer game MUCH more enjoyable. It is a port, and the graphics show it, but Sonic isn’t too bad thanks to an excellent job the first time around.
As mentioned earlier, controls are somewhat tighter, and unlike the DC version, gamers will only suffer control-related deaths in one or two normal levels (unlike in the DC version). This could partially be due to my previous experience with the game, but the response and object detection is definitely tighter. Though they may have fixed one or two camera problems I didn’t notice, the camera system is still horrible. Sluggish and buggy, the camera will often get stuck behind a wall or give you a detestable angle only amended by great skill with the L and R triggers. Fortunately, the Action and Shooting stages have a mostly linear design which only causes great issues when trying to backtrack or speed through a level (for A ranks). Any player will become frustrated with the camera in the hunting levels due to a more open environment. Knux and Rouge will often run or glide in circles unless the player counteracts the camera movement with the control stick, L/R triggers or both. Even those who like hunting for shards may end up hating the levels because of the repulsive camera. By forcing one set of camera instructions upon three very different types of gameplay Sonic Team ended up with a huge mess.
Much like the game’s theme of Hero and Dark, the audio has both good and bad sides. The English vocals are done horribly: characters talk over one another unnaturally, and with the exception of Eggman, the voices are notably uninspired (and unbearable in Rouge’s case). Sonic Team shouldn’t worry about consistency in the future and should just drop those actors, but for now we should be thankful for the Japanese mode. Similarly, tunes are a mixed bag. Some songs (mostly Knuckles’ rap) will get on your nerves and make you groan, but Sonic, Tails and Robotnik have some catchy tunes that help balance the scale. The other two characters’ songs tend to just “exist” and don’t do much for the game either way. There are a handful of extra melodies for the added Battle features, but none are really worth noting. The audio seemed of better fidelity on the GameCube, but since I’m no audiophile I can’t be sure. As with all Sonic games, the sound effects aren’t amazing but are very fitting. Jun Senoue and his buddies have a lot of potential, but there are just some music genres they should stay away from!
There is one part of Sonic Adventure 2 that Sonic Team should just give up on: Kart Racing. I am well aware of the “Sonic Drift” games, but when you have a Hedgehog that can run as fast as a limo on a highway and other characters that can keep up fairly well... the concept is absurd. More like a shoddy arcade game, the Kart Racing consists of crummy “digital” controls and cheap AI. Worst of all, the Hero and Dark stories each have a kart level to complete, and three Emblems are hidden in the standard Kart Racing mini-game, forcing those seeking 180 Emblems to master the horrible gameplay. There is a two-player mode, but with plenty of better racing games out on GameCube, GBA, N64 and elsewhere, playing more than necessary would be crazy. Leave mascot kart racing to Nintendo and work on a new Sonic R (with Sonic-type levels), Sega!
The added content, like improved VS and Chao features are great. I loved 2-player mode in the DC version but was upset at how few levels were playable. This isn’t the case in SA2B: as far as I can tell, each mode of play features 8 “real” levels (some to be unlocked) from both the Hero and Dark sides and two new, shorter ones. The layout has room for two more levels, which (if they exist) are probably unlocked through A-ranks. Though some would have liked even more levels, this has proven to be enough for a good time. I’ll admit my friends and I played more Smash Bros. than 2P Battle during the rental, but Sonic is still great for short amounts of time. The “added characters” were actually unlockable in the DC version but were mostly for looks—this time the characters are significantly different in practice. A character’s acceleration, top speed and attacks are all major issues, and you’ll have to play to really learn who you like. And like I said before, there is now no slowdown to detract from the 2P experience, one thing any DC veteran will notice.
In addition to the Battle aspects, the Chao are more lovable than ever. With so much polish, raising your Chao proves to be a very addictive distraction (once you master the camera angles again). An initially neutral Chao can become Hero or Dark, depending on whose company it likes, and its appearance and stats (finally visible in-game) are dependent on what animals you give it and what nuts you feed it. And though the GBA is no more than a fancy VMU, the Chao transfer between SA2B and Sonic Advance is a fun little feature that is much more user-friendly than its DC counterpart. If you don’t own the GBA game, you can still download the Tiny Chao Garden into an unarmed GBA (though you’ll have to be careful about batteries)! Starting off with a decent Chao in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle (thanks to the GBA) makes things much more fun while buying items on the Black Market with rings makes improving your Chao a little less inconvenient. Chao can perform in races for toys and Emblems while the new Chao Karate is a fun little spoof on the fighting genre. Players’ Chaos can be pitted against each other (imported from GBAs or a 2nd memory card), but such competition is mostly passive and is nothing more than numbers. But it’s an extra to begin with, so there is no loss. Many will find the Chao garden to be the most compelling part of SA2B, while others will find it to be just an amusing and cute addition.
Many people like to downplay or outright ignore Sonic’s exploratory nature, claiming he is all about speed...with the possible exception of the very first Sonic, that is a ridiculous statement. It’s hardly executed perfectly, but the non-Sonic gameplay brings out this sense of exploration, as do the extra missions (such as Find the Chao and Hard Mode). Trying to earn every Emblem will be a long and tedious challenge, but those who just want to play through the game will not need so much patience. The game isn’t perfect, and even those like me who adore the game will get frustrated at times, but I honestly welcome the variety. There was more that could have been tweaked , but I agree that it was time for Sonic Team USA to move on. Gamers who have played the previous version of SA2 and love the stuff SA2B improves on with a passion should buy the game right away. Other veterans should rent it, but only if they are interested in the new features. Those who never played Sonic Adventure 2 (and don’t mind non-Sonic gameplay) should really consider forking over the money during this dry season, though you might want to do some more research first.