Given the opportunity to take on a game that everybody already reviewed when I was still in grade school, I thought I’d take advantage of these unique circumstances to try out a new review style, separating my write-up into easily identifiable sections for quick referencing. It’s rough, but fill me in on your opinions about this debut reviews approach in the comment section.
Receiving the downloadable HD spit shine two years after the original experienced the same thing, this Dreamcast-turned-Gamecube rerelease known as Sonic Adventure 2 is a sequel in number only, sharing little more than a few gameplay mechanics with the first installment. Unlike Sonic’s first Adventure, the follow-up ditches the explorable hub world for a linear mission-based structure consisting of two separate storylines from the opposing perspectives of Team Sonic (“Hero”) and Team Robotnik (“Dark”). Three characters with distinct playstyles are featured in each, with every subsequent stage assigned for the speedy action-platforming Sonic or Shadow, guns-a-blazin’ mechanized mayhem from Tails or Doctor Robotnik, or sandbox item hunting sections with Knuckles or Rouge. Additionally, a common conclusion unlocks after completing both Hero and Dark paths to provide collective narrative closure.
An Oh-So-Appropriate Presentation
Like the 3DS’s Ocarina of Time 3D before it, pretty and polished Sonic Adventure 2 is a prime example of how to properly reintroduce an older classic to the modern market. That is, make it appear exactly as everyone remembers it. Blocky textures betray its age as no new Sonic outing, yet this old girl is still quite the looker. Stylistic visuals hold up better than attempted realism, plain and simple, and Adventure 2′s cartoony aesthetic is no exception, proving the point further with its liberal use of vibrant colors while wisely keeping away from the current generation’s favored browns and grays. The soundtrack, presented as true ’90s incarnate, supplements the scene with a character-specific mix of catchy high-energy beach tunes and smooth head-bobbin’ hip hop. A textbook definition of “feel good” music, and I still find it fantastic over a decade after its initial Dreamcast debut.
When Gameplay Gets It Right
Stars shining in the Sonic Adventure 2 universe occasionally align to bless the experience with a perfect progression to the third dimension of gameplay, and the experience becomes a superb spectacle of beautiful bliss with a sense of speed to rival the Burnout series. Sonic’s fast-paced escapades flow with the utmost finesse. Seamlessly stringing together an extended collection of rail grinds and launching through the air afterward to annihilate a robotic baddie before homing straight to a spring without missing a beat brings with it an unparalleled feeling of absolute accomplishment. The same can be said for the close companions to Sega’s icon as well. Madly firing at anything that moves as Tails commands his mech suit is a pure power trip, and there’s just something especially satisfying about discovering a hidden gem in record time during a Knuckles treasure hunt.
When Gameplay Gets It Wrong
What isn’t right is inevitably wrong, and Sonic Adventure 2 unfortunately stutters more often than it succeeds in the engrossing gameplay department. Issues initiate with the infantile camera control, a feature more confused than within titles that paved the way into 3D space. As if the developers were afraid of relinquishing full freedom to the player, the camera is constantly directing your attention along the linear level with every turn. While not an inherent misstep, the limitations become frustrating as you’re actually encouraged to explore the environments to boost mission scores and discover everything hidden just out of sight. What’s worse, manual camera capabilities never escape basic horizontal movement, a restriction that is extra infuriating when playing as Knuckles with his emphasis on traversing locations with an immense range in elevation.
Perplexing design implementations extend to the other characters, too. One problem in particular is born of the bizarre insistence on slowing Sonic’s progress, disregarding the essential fact that speed is undeniably his best aspect. Robots will drop down a split second ahead of you for no other reason than to interrupt what could’ve been an enjoyable stride. They’re rarely lethal, yet beyond bothersome.
Even when setting all of these listed criticisms aside, the platforming design comes up as the core of my complaints. Similar to the impact of those annoying automatons, you will not die more than a handful of times from direct confrontations with Eggman’s minions. Rather, the slightest existence of imprecision will send you soaring into an endless abyss to account for nearly every death. I can appreciate demands for perfection, but too many falls felt unfair. With my doomed plunges being the results of inexact controls and not sloppy controller inputs, this issue is a recipe for old-school rage quitting in the worst of ways.
The Scatterbrained Story
Sonic Adventure 2 doesn’t even reward you with an exciting tale for surviving through its messy mechanics. Told through brief cutscenes that book-end the action, the story involves Robotnik releasing a secret military weapon named Shadow, the black-and-red doppelganger to our beloved Blue Blur. In a classic case of mistaken identity, the military is on a manhunt for Sonic, suspecting him to be the perpetrator of Shadow’s dirty deeds.
Oh, and Eggman happens to get his hands on a planet-obliterating Death Star-esque space laser, with which he then proceeds to threaten the entire world population. It’s insane, and beats the repeated stolen princess charade any day. And yet, despite the potential promise of a well-executed ridiculous idea, the story’s presentation is blatantly boring. Cutscenes consist of cringe-worthy dialogue from static characters standing still, and excitement is left out of these encounters entirely.
The Dark Half
A side-by-side storyline seen through the eyes of the enemy seems like a novel concept on the surface, though the other half of Sonic Adventure 2 is almost identical to the first. Dark characters are carbon copies of the Hero counterparts with straight-up skins acting as failed attempts to cover up unchanged gameplay. You will discover the same upgrades after fighting the same enemies in areas with the same themes, and even come across bosses beaten beforehand during the Hero campaign. This repetition is unacceptable, and the concept of padding content for artificial length was never more clear than it is here.
City Escape is Sonic Adventure 2′s signature musical track, and I’ve known every lyric to it for a full half of my life. However, even this complete set of nostalgia reserves for the series couldn’t keep my smile from sinking after only a few short missions. Though particularly pleasing on the eyes and ears, the necessary elements are too unwieldy to make this a worthy revisit for anyone but the most devoted Sonic fans or those interested in witnessing an antiquated step toward modern 3D gameplay. A throwaway story, poor platforming, and awful camera controls cripple an experience already hindered by repeated filler content. There’s a fun experience hiding here, to be sure, but you’ll be fighting the mechanics too often to actually enjoy it.
Review Platform: PlayStation 3