Sonic Adventure 2 – PlayStation 3
Platform: Sony PlayStation 3
Developer: Sonic Team USA
Release Date (NA): October 12th, 2012
Sonic Adventure 2 is a pretty divisive game nowadays, but back in 2001 and 2002 it blew everyone’s minds. At the time, there was nothing quite like it; while the previous game had introduced the idea of a game telling its story through several different stories and gameplay styles, few gamers, if any, had been able to play as both hero and villain in the same game outside of fighting games. Nowadays, though, the game gets a lot of flak from some people and a lot of worship as the best of the franchise from others. Let’s uncover the truth, shall we? Just how good or bad is this game?
From the start, you have the choice of playing through the Hero or Dark sides of the game’s story. On the Hero side, you recognize Sonic, Tails and Knuckles; on the Dark side, you recognize Dr. Eggman, but his companions are both new. There’s a black and red hedgehog, and a white-furred bat girl.
Sonic retains his fun-loving and cheery attitude from Sonic Adventure. Not a lot has changed here, but he was still establishing that he had a personality at all beyond “Gotta go fast.”
Tails is going forward with his own development from the previous game, becoming more self-confident and capable. Now that he’s been able to prove himself capable of stopping Dr. Eggman without Sonic’s help or guidance, he’s able to focus on his skills as an inventor and pilot. He doesn’t even manage to crash the Tornado, this time!
Knuckles honestly seems like an outsider to the plot; while everyone else is connected to it in some way, he’s genuinely just along for the ride while he tries to piece together the Master Emerald again. Some may point out that his breaking the Master Emerald so casually doomed Angel Island, but judging from the situation and location we first see him and his Dark counterpart Rouge at, it’s most likely that Rouge had already stolen the Master Emerald from the Island, and we’re seeing him confronting her on her way back.
Dr. Eggman is a lot more serious in this game, which is surprising considering that his last venture was trying to unleash a god of destruction upon the world so he could remake it in his own rotund, mustachioed image. His general attitude is less silly, and his plots take on a similarly grim tone later on.
The first of our newcomers is the grim counterpart to Sonic, Shadow the Hedgehog. He was locked up in a facility of G.U.N., a military and law enforcement agency that operates on a global scale, as part of the forbidden research of Dr. Eggman’s grandfather, Gerald Robotnik. When he’s released by the good Doctor, he promises him a wish to be granted through the use of the Space Colony ARK and its gigantic cannon, but his hazy memories have him set to destroy the world instead.
The second newcomer, Rouge the Bat, is introduced to us as an attempted thief of the Master Emerald, as stated above. The scene establishes her personality as a jewel-obsessed and slightly flirty woman, and she never really moves past that. A few levels later, it’s shown that she’s a double-agent working for the government, but even that doesn’t really bring anything new to her, and her jewel obsession is entirely genuine.
These are the six player characters of the game, and the game will follow one of the two teams for most of the story before cutting off; play through both, and you’ll unlock the final chapter of the game. While this trend was technically started by Sonic Adventure with its use of Super Sonic, Sonic Adventure 2 codified the implementation of a unified final chapter that would influence Sonic games for years to come.
The story starts with Dr. Eggman breaking into G.U.N.’s facility on Prison Island to find a top secret weapon supposedly hidden away along with his grandfather’s research. What he finds instead is Shadow, initially mistaking him for his arch-nemesis but quickly realizing his mistake.
Unfortunately for the Blue Blur, nobody else seems capable of recognizing the differences between him and Shadow outside of his own friends; even Amy mistakes Shadow for the object of her obsession briefly. This leads to Sonic having to escape G.U.N. at the start of the Hero story when he’s blamed and arrested for Shadow’s misdeeds.
This leads to Sonic finding Shadow after dealing with G.U.N.’s pursuit force, and from there Sonic is entangled in the plot for world domination/destruction, bringing Tails and Knuckles along for the ride.
Sonic Adventure 2’s gameplay comes in five different forms. Three of these make up the bulk of the game, and we’ll be referring to them as Speed, Hunter, and Mech styles. The fourth and fifth are primarily side-game material, those being the Chao Garden and the race kart mode. Only two of the game’s stages (one on each side) are kart levels, but it’s also a bonus mode.
Before we go into each style, there are a few things to say that apply to the three primary styles as a whole.
Each character has a set of upgrades to be found across their levels. While some characters have duplicates in comparison to their counterparts, some of these upgrades are unique. Some are required to progress in the game, and you’ll be forced into finding them in order to complete that level, while others are entirely optional. That said, you will want to find Knuckles’ Air Necklace if you want to complete the game. It’s possible without, but far too frustrating when you can just dive into the Aquatic Mine, find the necklace, and quit out.
Boss fights are, for the most part, a joke. I remember them being harder as a child, but barely any effort is really required to win. Most of these boss fights will be against the counterpart character to whoever you’re playing.
Lastly, the camera is horrible. You can only move it left or right, and only if the game doesn’t want to impose a forced angle. This causes more or less problems depending on the character you’re playing. Speed characters won’t care most of the time, Mech characters will find it a little annoying, but it’ll be a big frustration for Hunters.
Speed style gameplay is the shared domain of Sonic and Shadow, and it plays mostly like Sonic Adventure’s Sonic levels did. They’re passable, and one or two are even fun enough to play a few times, but there’s nothing that really sets them apart in terms of quality from other Sonic games. You run through a linear level, with most of the multiple paths of exploration from the 2-D Sonics snipped away, attack enemies with a homing tackle, and you make sure you don’t run out of rings.
Hunter style gameplay, belonging to Knuckles and Rouge, is another reused style from Sonic Adventure; this time, predictably, it’s Knuckles’ own. Unfortunately, things have gotten worse on the whole. While using hints instead of Tikal’s glowing orb flying in the direction of the shard is an improvement, the tips themselves are often either too vague or painfully blunt. Hints only ever point to the leftmost unfound shard on your radar, and your radar only lights up for that shard even if you’re standing next to another one. If you absolutely can’t find a shard, kill your character; when you respawn, the remaining shards are relocated, but you keep the ones you already found. The style really shines in its last moments, during the Hunter-relevant parts of the Final story; instead of hunting emerald shards, you have to explore the stage and solve puzzles to get to the end point.
Mech style gameplay is yet another reused style, but it was picked out for Dr. Eggman first. With Tails’ inclusion being an afterthought, it makes sense that the style is based on one of Eggman’s inventions, E-102 Gamma. The problem here is that all challenge has been taken out of the levels; E-102 had to contend with a time limit on his levels, using auto-lock shooting to extend his time and get to the stage’s boss. Dr. Eggman and Tails have no such limit, and with auto-lock shooting and the same linearity as the Speed levels, the Mech stages take next to no thought to win most of the time.
To access the Chao Garden, you have to find one of the numerous Chao Keys placed in each stage. Beat the stage, and you’re taken to the Chao Garden; after that, you can access it with that character any time through the Stage Select. The Chao Garden is surprisingly complex, leagues above the version in Sonic Adventure, and an entire review could be written on it alone.
Lastly, there’s the Kart levels. These are, hands down, the worst levels in the game. Rouge and Tails are driving the worst-handling cars in the world, and you have to skid out of control in order to make most of the turns. Rely on this too much, though, and you’ll go careening off the road. It’s a delicate balance, and it could’ve been done a lot better. Luckily, you’re only forced to do it twice.
Sonic Adventure 2’s presentation is probably the best thing it brings to the table in the modern day. The graphics are, for the most part, passable; one has to consider the hardware in this. The Dreamcast was meant to compete with the Nintendo 64, but Sonic Adventure 2 falls somewhere between Playstation and Playstation 2 standards of graphics. The PlayStation 3 release doesn’t change anything in this regard, aside from including some of the GameCube release’s changes.
Musically, Sonic Adventure 2 is outstanding even today. Many of its tracks, whether popularized on their own merits or by way of the fandom, have become iconic tunes. In particular, Crush 40’s debut song, “Live and Learn,” was stuck in heads for days after putting the controller down.
The overall mood of the game is primarily serious, with the occasional and usually out-of-the-blue comedic moment to try and keep things from getting too grim. Unfortunately, they only serve to break the player’s immersion with a sudden dose of bad comedy most of the time.
The worst point of the presentation is likely the voice work. While there’s a generally acceptable quality, some lines come across forced or too hammy for their own good, or just generally poorly delivered. The game, along with its predecessor, has provided some of the most memetic lines of the franchise, though, so there is that. Perhaps one could say it has a cheesy charm to it at times.
All in all, Sonic Adventure 2 is not the best game in the series, not by a long shot. It’s not even the best 3-D game. I can see why people would enshrine this game in their minds, with hit-and-miss follow-ups like Sonic Heroes or utter bombs like Sonic ’06, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that the games we loved in the past had no flaws. Get the game if you really, really want that nostalgia trip, or if you find something here that calls to you despite the flaws. Otherwise, save up for something better or spend your $10 somewhere else.
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