After the collapse of Sega's Dreamcast and the failure of SNK's Neo Geo Pocket Color, I feared I'd never go on another 2-Dimensional Sonic quest again. But here we are, not even four months into 2002 and we have not only a brand new Sonic game, but also the best Sonic game in years.
Instead of bringing us a rehash of what has already been, Sega manages to craft a new quest in a short amount of time. It's amazing that after half a dozen 2D games, Sonic still has places left to visit. The game may starts in on the sunny beach, but it doesn't stay mellow for long. Through ruins, icy wilderness, and post-apocalyptic cities you'll race your way to a rather conventional conclusion, a final showdown with Robotnik in Space.
Unlike Sonic Pocket Adventure (released a few years back for the short lived Neo Geo Pocket Color) Sonic Advance completely overhauls the graphics, providing quite a surprise to any non suspecting fan. Sonic himself has been given dozens of cute animations, as well, as brand new moves to help make your way through the level. Sonic has never looked better, even standard moves have been redone, and the game controls like a dream, never flailing wildly out of control.
The levels themselves look sharp, too. Each of the stages is littered with hundreds of moving objects in the background, bringing life to Sonic's world. There is a lot of attention to detail, which is even more impressive when you consider the relatively short amount of time it took to program this game.
Each of the first six levels is broken up into two stages, and the seventh is one extremely short round. None of the bosses are very difficult, and the game doesn't actually become challenging until the sixth stage. In fact, if there's one problem I have with the difficulty in this game, it's how quickly it goes from a walk through to a frustrating event.
The game also falters a bit when it comes to any real depth in the levels themselves. As you whip past the beaches, ruins, and ice caps at breakneck speed, you'll notice that few offer anything more than a handful of non-linear paths, and only one or two secrets. In this respect the game resembles the first Sonic the Hedgehog title, a step backwards in level design.
Sonic Advance is also a tad short. I was able to complete the game in a matter of hours. Granted it is nothing more than a 2D side scrolling platformer, but I can't help but feel the game is over too quickly. Nintendo's recent Super Mario Advance 2, in comparison, featured a quest that was at least four times longer, even if it was a remake.
Thankfully when you're done beating the game with Sonic, you still have the challenge of beating all seven levels with a number of other characters. Miles "Tails" Prower, the youngest member of the Sonic Troupe, is able to fly about the screen with the greatest of ease, namely to make up for his slow speeds. Knuckles may not be able to fly, but he can float to ledges and climb up to areas Sonic is unable to reach. And Amy Rose is, well, literally the most frustrating character, and is only recommended to masochists.
Each of these characters is also playable in a rather funky four-player game. You can race through each level to see who is the best gamer, and you might be surprised that Sonic doesn't always have the upper hand. This feature isn't perfect, and leaves a lot to the imagination, but as multiplayer GameBoy Advance games go it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Gamers who own Sonic Adventure 2: Battle for the GameCube are in luck, as Sonic Advance features a rather interesting mini game that interfaces quite well with the action on your television. In this Virtual Pet-style mini game, you raise your Chao from just a child to a full grown learned being. Improving their swimming skills, flying skills, and even their running speed, each improvement will lend itself well to you winning when battling your friends Chao's.
If you have the time to spend mastering Tiny Chao Garden you might get some fun out of this option, however, it's one of those mini games that requires more work than the enjoyment you take from it. And if you don't have a friend who is also trying to raise one of these little creatures, you might as well forget about it. This is one solo experience you can do without.
If there's one thing Sega knows, it's how to get the most out of a Sonic game. And while Sonic Advance is far from perfect, at least it's not a remake of a decade old title. This gives me great hope that there is still a future for 2D platformers, and as long as I can go to sleep knowing that I should be able to wake up in a good mood.
(Editor's Note: This review is one of the few things salvaged from GamePen, a now-defunct gaming website that was created and hosted by UGO.com. Unfortunately all of the reviews from that era are gone, but I was able to piece this one back together.)
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!