Sonic Advance 2 (GBA)
Almost there.
By Christian Nutt | Mar. 31, 2003

The Lowdown: A vibrant and exciting Sonic adventure shackled by a few lame ideas.
Pros: Gorgeous graphics; excellent level design; new moves.
Cons: Bad boss battles; poor pacing; corny Cream character.

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Platform:  Game Boy Advance
Game Type:  Action / Platform
Developer:  Sonic Team
Publisher:  THQ
ESRB: Everyone

Full Game Information
Labtec earbuds offer privacy, portability, comfort & great sound for your GBA.
The first Sonic Advance, despite its popularity and general acclaim, was something of a Sonic-by-numbers pantomime that showed us very little we'd never seen before. It was more than competent, but less than it could have been -- and it's obvious that Sonic Team wanted more from its sequel. They got it, but perhaps Sonic Advance 2 swings a bit too hard in the opposite direction from time to time.

Level design has taken a real boost in Sonic Advance 2; the game's areas are so intricate and well-designed -- with multiple paths to explore and plenty of nooks and crannies to get lost in, they're just fabulous in general. The Sonic series, of course, has always been about speed. Speed and beautiful graphics, and you'll get both of them here. But what people don't always notice is that you need incredibly talented people to build levels that Sonic can rocket around so effortlessly, and that's where this game really shines.

Of course, the visuals are another place. With the GBA being home to lots of Super Nintendo remakes and a host of graphically staid original titles -- Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire is a famous example -- there's something very invigorating about a game that gives the system such a graphical workout. While the last SA was a rehash of old Sonic games' visual themes, this game features all-new ideas and some of them are just stunning, really showcasing not only the GBA's power but also proving once again that well-crafted 2D games look very gorgeous.

In another attempt to kick the Sonic series back into high gear, a new move has been added to his repertoire, the vaguely-named "trick," which resides on the R button. Basically a trick is a double jump or powered dash, and it changes up the game's mechanics just enough to freshen them without damaging the core Sonic experience. If you want to explore every facet of the levels in the game, you have to keep your finger on R and your eyes peeled, because you only have a split second to make some of the "trick" jumps, but it's rewarding. I was having serious problems clearing Sky Canyon, one of game's more difficult levels, until I found an entirely new pathway -- all thanks to the new trick move.

Though it's subtle, the trick and the way the designers tackle the level-building process because of it makes the game much less passive than Sonic has been in the past. I showed this game to an acquaintance of mine and he remarked with that old canard -- that Sonic isn't as good as Mario because all you have to do is hold right. I think he missed the point -- and the relative merits of the Sonic series. Sonic Advance 2 will grab your attention with its visual beauty, keep you focused thanks to clever level design, and keep you interested with its variety.

Being a latter-day Sonic adventure, there's a multiplicity of characters to choose from. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles appear, of course. New to the lineup is Cream, a dopey-looking rabbit with a killer Chao under her command. The problem, as usual, is that the characters all feel a little samey going through the levels. Your big reward for beating it with everyone and getting all the emeralds is Amy, who as my friend so aptly put it -- "no one likes. Not even Sonic!" She's better in this one, but only because she plays more like Sonic now.

The biggest problem with Sonic Advance 2 is pacing. Taking a step backwards from the first GBA Sonic, you must defeat both levels and the boss in one shot if you want to get to the next zone -- so if you die on a boss, you have not one but two levels to do over again. This is just pointlessly irritating, and makes little sense on a handheld system since you're much more likely to get interrupted during gameplay. I was forced to abandon progress more than once, and that's just not cool.

All the Flickies flock to Cream.
The boss battles have been totally revamped; I appreciate the effort, because bosses haven't really been a strong suit of the 2D Sonic series, but what the designers did this time around isn't fun -- the battles are typically tedious, annoying, and sometimes overly hard. For some reason you're always fighting them while running, making it hard to time jumps or even sometimes reach the boss. They also usually take a large number of hits and a lot of time to beat, just generally draining the fun out of the whole boss encounter experience. And if you die, as mentioned, it's back to square one for that area. Not pretty, not fun.

Sonic Advance 2 is a solid adventure with some niggling flaws. It's unquestionably a game that fans of high-speed action will want to add to their libraries, and it looks vibrant even on the new, slightly washed-out GBA SP. I turned to the game several times to check up on some facts while writing this review, and every time I was taken with it, I wanted to play it, I wanted to look at it. But it's sometimes frustrating and its boss battles are totally irritating. If you're easily stymied by difficult games, you might want to give it a miss.

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Essential Links Reviewer System Specifications
Game Boy Advance, Labtec� Earbuds.

System Requirements
Game Boy Advance.

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