Sonic makes his first appearance on the Game Boy Advance, and it’s about flippin’ time! Everybody’s been waiting… anticipating this release since Nintendo’s handheld launched. And now, I can finally tell you how it plays. People might think that a return to 2D platforming isn’t a great idea for Sonic – especially once you account for how good Sonic Adventure 2 is. Well, don’t even think about comparing the two, as they are meant to work together – on GBA and GameCube!
Platform: Game Boy Advance | Developer: Dimps
JP Release: 22 Dec 2001 | US Release: 4 Feb 2002 | EU Release: 23 Mar 2002
Once you turn that Game Boy Advance on, however, you quickly realise that this isn’t the same as the old 2D Sonic games on Mega Drive. Sure, the heart and soul of the 16-Bit era is still there in the programming, but with the GBA being a 32-Bit system you’d think Dimps would use the extra power to their advantage.
Well, fret no more about that. As soon as you start playing the game, your jaw will drop. The gameplay is identical to previous Sonic games, but this can only be a good thing – many people want a new platform Sonic adventure with that classic quality ‘Sonic Team feel’ to it.
But crucially, the game doesn’t feel dated in any way. Playing Sonic Advance actually brings all those Mega Drive memories back, yet still hits you with a fresh new experience; it’s a different feeling to the one you get when playing Sonic Adventure 2. This may be down to the sudden realisation that you’re playing a full-blown Sonic game on a tiny handheld, which has the graphical quality of a cross between a Mega Drive and Sega Saturn.
The game offers five options at the start. ‘Game Start’ lets you play the normal game as one of four characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles or Amy. Each have their own special attributes and characteristics. Pressing the A Button will make your character jump (obviously), and pressing it again in mid-air will have a different effect (except for Amy). Sonic does his famous Insta-Shield, Tails flies and Knuckles glides. Knuckles can also climb up walls.
B Button is your attack move, and pressing it multiple times in quick succession will make your character do a flashy combo. And, of course, there’s the Spin Dash, only available to Sonic, Tails and Knuckles (Amy performs a Hammer Flip using the same button combination).
You’ll be hard pushed to complete each level, as the character animations are excellently designed and are almost mesmerising. No joke; all the animations you see will make you thank God you were born, let alone thankful that you bought the game. Completing Act 1 of a Zone will make your character do a cool little pose while running (Sonic will flash the ‘peace’ sign, Tails will wave, etc). It’s really neat, and sometimes it’s worth watching someone else play just to admire the developer’s handiwork here.
Of course, at the end of Act 2 of every Zone is the boss battle. Yes, Dr. Eggman makes an appearance here, in different guises, as you’d expect. With each Zone, the boss fight gets considerably harder, so you have to stay on your feet.
Another throwback to the classic 2D games are the Chaos Emerald hunts that take place during Sonic Advance. Everyone should know about these gems by now but for those of you new to the Sonic scene (hey, there’s gotta be some Nintendo fans out there who don’t know), Chaos Emeralds are powerful objects that contain ultimate power. If all seven emeralds are collected, then the holder can either cause peace or chaos. Three guesses which way Eggman’s swinging on that one.
So how do you get the Chaos Emeralds this time? Well, the Special Stages that contain them are littered around each level; you should look for an odd-looking spring, hidden somewhere in a Zone. Jump on that and you’ll be taken up, onto an airboard, and down a bottomless tube run to play for an emerald. The rules are similar to the Special Stages in Sonic 2; collect a certain amount of rings during each phase to pass before getting the emerald at the end of phase three.
Sonic Advance’s Special Stages are much harder this time around, though. Because you’re on an airboard falling down, it’s difficult to tell where exactly the rings will appear, and you have to have pin-point accuracy to actually collect them. Pressing the A Button will make your character perform a spin, which may be used to help in gathering rings arranged in a pattern. Collect all seven Chaos Emeralds and you’ll get… a surprise. I don’t even need to tell you what it is. Any Super Sonic fan should be pleased, though…
Outside of the main game, the Versus mode is a pure joy to behold! Get a mate of three, each with a copy of Sonic Advance, and link up for two multi-player modes: a straight race to the end of any completed level; or a Chao Hunt in one of four exclusive multi-player maps. In Chao Hunt, whoever is holding the hidden Chao for the longest time wins, but players can attack you and steal the Chao from you.
If only one of you has the game, then you can still link up for a solo-pak exclusive multi-player mode, where up to four players collect as many rings (or steal as many rings from others) as possible within the time limit. The final game mode on the main menu of Sonic Advance, however, is something rather special indeed.
‘Tiny Chao Garden’ is a special little adventure where you start off with a Chao Egg and hatch it, raising the critter inside all by yourself. Pressing the A Button selects and performs actions – you can pet the Chao, for example, and it will love you back (if it is in the mood, that is). On the right hand side of the main screen you can see your Chao’s name, its age (in generation terms, whether a child or adult) and its key stats that will be familiar to anyone who’s used the Chao Gardens in Sonic Adventure 2.
You can pep up your Chao by buying food and items at the Tiny Chao Garden shop. You need rings to buy any of the assortments of fruit and musical instruments on offer, though, which you can earn by playing the main Sonic adventure or by playing one of the two Chao Garden mini-games available. There’s a memory game and a match-up game, that you play with Chao, which can win you rings if you play well. You’ll need to collect a lot of rings for that trumpet, though.
As your Chao grows up it will begin to talk to you, much like in the VMU micro-game Chao Adventure only it makes a bit more sense (well, not a lot, but still). Tiny Chao Garden is a nice little addition, and when Sonic Adventure 2 Battle comes out you can use Sonic Advance as a replacement for a VMU – so you can train your current Chao now, bring it into the 3D world on SA2 Battle, or vice versa.
While this game is a breath of fresh air to play, there are a few dents in the armour of this otherwise excellent must-buy. Firstly, the sprite rotation is quite flashy when you zip through a loop-de-loop, but it does look a tad ‘bitty’ in places – although it’s hardly noticeable once you get into the game.
The real problem is one that’s as traditional in classic Sonic games as the platforming – it’s just too damn easy. You’ll whizz through this game if you are experienced (don’t expect mercy on the last Special Stage though)… but maybe when Sonic Adventure 2 Battle arrives on the Gamecube, it will provide Sonic Advance with a little more longevity due to the Chao Garden connectivity.
Still, however easy it is, you’re still going to want to replay it again and again, just for that high-speed platforming fix that only Sonic can provide. And that, in my eyes, is a winning formula. Sonic Advance – the best 2D outing I have seen. Get it if you have a Game Boy Advance.