Sonic Adventure 2 was my childhood go-to game. Back in the days of the Dreamcast I would always find myself replaying stages just to hear the lyrics to ‘City Escape’ once more (and believe me I know every single word even to this day) or grab a few extra emblems or even just to perfect one of my runs and achieve an A ranking. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but at the time it boasted the sort of mindless fun you wanted; running fast, shooting baddies and a story that at the time felt grand in scale.
Since then the series has always hit a backlash of criticism even riding up to present day with recent attempts like Sonic Colours and Generations receiving its share of negativity despite actually being great platformers. I haven’t played Sonic Adventure 2 since it’s Gamecube re-release, so the idea of getting the chance to play HD upgrade made me giddier than Sonic with a chilli-dog. Has time been kind the old hedgehog though?
Sonic Adventure is split into two separate stories – light which follows Sonic, Tails and Knuckles while dark lets you play as Dr. Eggman and newcomers Shadow the hedgehog and Rouge the bat. It’s an interesting mechanic and one that allows you to view the story from both a good guy viewpoint and a bad one. Despite featuring different characters in each, gameplay styles remain the same. For example, you have the expected speedy platforming stages with Sonic and Shadow, then you have the returning explore and search stages with Knuckles and Rogue from Sonic Adventure and finally you have the bizarre robot heavy shooting stages with Tails and Dr. Eggman. So what works and what doesn’t?
First off let me just say that the Sonic and Shadow stages have still nailed that classic Sonic feel. They are linear, fast paced and most importantly great fun to race through. From the opening City Escape stage right up to the finale out in space, each environment feels action packed and frantic without it ever becoming too much of a case of the game being played for you – a criticism from many Sonic games as of late. As is always the problem with something good though, you’re left wanting more. Unfortunately to get to these fantastic moments, you need to play through other sections of the game which don’t fare so well.
Tails and Eggman find it too much effort to use their own legs now, so have instead opted for a robotic set in order to take them around levels full to the brim with mechanical enemies and other obstacles to shoot. Using a simple control system, you have access to a laser that can also lock on to enemies and fire rockets as well as a hovering function for manoeuvring over gaps. While it doesn’t feel very Sonic at all, it can be strangely fun and thanks to a cool combo system you’ll find yourself returning to stages, trying to lock onto as many baddies as possible to rack up the most points. If there is one problem though it’s that certain levels can border on being too long taking upward of seven or eight minutes at times. Shooting stuff is fun, but only in small doses.
The third and final part of the single player experience are the Master Emerald stages that see Knuckles and newcomer Rouge the bat searching high and low for three items scattered about the environment. To give you a guide as to their whereabouts you’ll have a radar that flashes the closer you are to your desired prize, essentially resulting in a video game equivalent of “hotter, colder”. The biggest flaw with the searching stages is that the environments are simply far too big. Sure things start off okay with size not really becoming an issue, but later on when levels really open up, it becomes far too frustrating. I spent around twenty minutes on one level searching for the three emeralds and it got to the point where it just became flat out boring. Smaller levels and a much more useful tracking/guide system could have prevented this part of the game from falling flat.
There is a multiplayer feature for two players thrown in the game and surprisingly it isn’t that bad… for the most part. Again like the single player the standard Sonic levels steal the show and it’s just a shame there aren’t more available. The racing stages sees the two of you try to get to the finish first while collecting rings to unleash special moves. These can damage your team mate or freeze them altogether, becoming very chaotic especially in the closing moments. Sadly the shooting game doesn’t transfer so well to multiplayer becoming nothing more than a test to see who can spam the fire button fastest. The searching for emeralds stages fair a little better as environments are smaller and having an opponent certainly makes things feel more urgent. There are also Chao racing and battling which are okay, and the kart racing is at best a quick ten minute distraction and nothing more.
Many will remember the Chao Garden primarily for its time sucking nature and chances are you’ll find yourself getting heavily invested in feeding and training your little critter once more. Playing through this again makes you begin to miss its absence in later releases as it does end up adding a lot to the overall package.
The game is still full of weird bugs and problems that dampen the experience. These range from small things like a homing attack unexpectedly missing an enemy to harder to swallow events such as getting caught on the scenery or general strange behaviour that can lead to one or two unfair deaths. The camera work too is some of the worst in any game let alone a platformer. When the camera can keep up with the action, it works fine, however too often it gets snagged on a wall making it impossible to even see anything at all or moves to an odd position making what should be an easy to navigate leap much tougher. Sure it wasn’t expected that SEGA would fix this for a port, however now it’s even more painful especially in a day where camerawork has much improved in games.
The game offers little in terms of new content beside a quick video interview with Takashi Iizuka and Kazuyuki Hoshino. It’s okay but far too short. The idea of releasing ports with interview videos sounds like a great idea, however it seems SEGA haven’t fully realised the potential. Remember when Sonic Adventure 2 was only meant to feature Sonic, Knuckles and Dr. Eggman? Why not have videos explaining the changes? That would have been a great watch especially for a Sonic fan. Hopefully if we see this sort of thing in the future, we get more than a single five minute video.
The music in Sonic Adventure 2 has always been up for debate. While some see it as awful over the top cheesy rock with lame lyrics, others see it as catchy over the top rock that matches the style of the game perfectly. I’m in the latter group and “City Escape” and “Live and Learn” will and always shall remain some of my favourite video games tunes. Voice acting is truly awful and that is to be expected from a Sonic title. Thankfully you can skip just about every cut scene and jump right into the stages.
Visually Sonic’s world is bright and colourful with locations taking you from cities and jungles, right up to giant pyramids and outer space stations. The HD treatment actually doesn’t look too bad either.
Many of you have already likely decided if you want to return and take this nostalgic trip down hedgehog lane despite its numerous flaws. Bottom line is Sonic Adventure 2 isn’t a brilliant game and newcomers will likely see it that way too. For fans like myself though, it can still prove good fun. The Sonic and Shadow sections are still among my favourite 3D stages in a Sonic game to date and the Tails and Eggman sections can be strangely addictive too. Sure time has fractured my opinion on SEGA’s final Dreamcast released Sonic title, but I’m glad I got to escape from the city with the blue hedgehog one more time. Even if that escape has not been the smoothest one.