Save the world from the machinations of a mad scientist and his pet space gun.
PC Release: November 19, 2012
By Ian Coppock
Our two-part examination of the Sonic the Hedgehog series continues with Sonic Adventure 2. Though core fans of the series will probably scoff at my decision to skip the original 2D Sonic games, the Sonic Adventure games were the first ones I ever played. Additionally, both games represent a fulcrum between the original games and the 3D installments to follow. Sonic Adventure 2 is a quality game, but it’s also the last quality game that the series put out.
Like the original Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 bucks the series’ 2D origins in favor of 3D levels. The game was originally released in 2001 for the DreamCast console, and only ported to PC in the last few years. A multiplayer expansion called Sonic Adventure 2: Battle was released shortly thereafter, as a swan song for the DreamCast.
Taking place sometime after Sonic Adventure, the game starts off with Dr. Eggman, Sonic’s portly and poorly named adversary, breaking into a remote military base. Eggman, expecting to find a weapon, ends up freeing a black hedgehog named Shadow from cryogenic suspension. In return for his freedom, Shadow agrees to help Dr. Eggman take over the world.
Shadow begins robbing banks in pursuit of the Chaos Emeralds, seven magical gems that no one can seem to keep track of. Because the humans of Sonic’s world are apparently colorblind, Sonic is mistaken for the robber and arrested by the military.
Shadow and Eggman move the bulk of their operations to the ARK, an abandoned space station founded by Eggman’s late grandfather decades ago. Aboard the station is a giant space gun that, once powered with all seven Chaos Emeralds, can blow up the planet. Sonic breaks out of jail, catches wind of this nefarious plot, and sets out with his friends in yet another showdown with the maniacal scientist.
Sonic Adventure 2 makes a few changes to its predecessor’s formula. The game does away with the open-world hubs in favor of linear sets of missions. Additionally, the characters’ story arcs are compiled into two competing stories, Hero and Dark, that show off the two factions’ sides of the same narrative. I’ll admit that it’s a smoother way to compile the characters’ stories, but the hub worlds were part of what made Sonic Adventure so fun, and I was sad to see them go.
Sonic Adventure 2 divides its six characters into three mission archetypes. Sonic and Shadow’s levels are the same linear racetracks and 3D platforming we saw in the last game, with even more nauseating camera angles. Knuckles gets his open-worldy levels back, along with Rouge, a treasure-hunting bat who signs on with Eggman. Finally, Tails’ levels see him blowing shit up all over the place in a robot walker, as do Dr. Eggman’s, who for the first time in the series is a playable character.
As with the last game, you have to complete all of the characters’ stories to unlock the final mission. Though there’s no hub world to tie it all together, the Hero and Dark story arcs arrange their characters sequentially for variety’s sake. Completing each one is just a matter of hitting one campaign level after another.
The levels themselves further refine Sonic Adventure’s decent design. Speedway levels are packed with more variety in terrain, like platforming and grinding along on rails. Knuckles’ and Rouge’s treasure-hunting levels are bigger than ever, with lots of nooks and crannies to search for those emerald fragments. Tails’ and Eggman’s levels are chaotic arrangements of explodable stuff, meant for a slow and heavy approach to combat.
Sonic Adventure 2‘s visuals also received a decent upgrade from the last game. Character models in this game are much better rendered, and the environments pop with as much color and variety as in Sonic Adventure. Sonic Adventure‘s god-awful lip syncing and character animations receive badly needed upgrades too.
Though all of this level design and visuals business is well and good, it doesn’t disguise a few new flaws from inadvertently popping up. Most of the levels in Sonic Adventure 2 are short, like a few minutes. The treasure hunting ones can take longer but most of the speedway and mech levels can be finished with flying colors immediately. Most of Sonic Adventure‘s levels were longer and sometimes transcended 2-3 different regions. These ones are right quick.
Sonic Adventure 2 also suffers from the same goddamn camera issues that plagued its predecessor. The camera in this game will fight you; it goes into its own angles and pivots at the most inconvenient times. The game attempts to do a fixed-camera thing for certain areas, like when you’re taking elevators, but you move through the game so quickly that the camera is swerving back into position just as rapidly as it went out.
Luckily, controls are much more manageable, and you can easily respond before your character careens into a skybox. The PC version of Sonic Adventure 2 does not have any controller support, making the bad cameras even more of a crucial issue, but you can get used to them with some practice.
Sonic Adventure 2‘s excellent if short level design makes it a fun little game. The controls are more responsive and there’s even more to look at. But what of the narrative? In Sonic Adventure we saw a laughably enjoyable journey to save the world, complete with corny dialogue.
This time around, the dialogue is no better written. It’s the same cheesy sentiments and awkwardly worded sentences. But, they are better delivered by the voice actors than last time around. Rather than flatly or over-excitedly stating the dialogue, the performances delivered feel more natural. The game’s rocking soundtrack is better too, with more refined musicianship instead of concussion-inducing power chords.
The core story itself has some interesting concepts, but you might have noticed from my tagline up top that the narrative differs from Sonic Adventure’s very little. Just like in the last game, Dr. Eggman is on a quest to take over the world using an ancient entity that requires the seven chaos emeralds. True, this time it’s a giant space gun instead of a giant watery croctopus monster, but it’s the same damn storyline. It’s just dressed up with different parts.
And, yet again, Sonic is racing against Eggman to collect the emeralds before Eggman does. Knuckles is, yet again, trying to find the pieces of the eighth and largest Master Emerald. Tails is, once again, operating advanced machinery in Sonic’s shadow. I will admit that getting to play as the bad guys is a nice change of pace, but that’s about the only change of pace to be found in Sonic Adventure 2‘s narrative structure.
Like the last game, though, Sonic Adventure 2 is a good choice for playing something that requires minimal brain cells. You can beat the whole thing in a day or two and will probably be a little bit happier for it; just don’t try to grind on rails in real life. The Chao Garden returns from the last game bigger and better as well, so you can kill time between levels raising the little creatures with items you find.
If you’re looking for a new platformer with some lovably bad Japanese-to-American dialogue and decent level design, you should pick this up when it’s on sale. The story is nothing special, but the level design and big bright levels are immensely entertaining.
The bittersweet part of this review is that this was the last quality Sonic the Hedgehog game to be released, all the way back in 2001. Though 2010’s Sonic Colors was reportedly pretty entertaining, subsequent follow-ups to Sonic Adventure 2 were just… meh. And I should know; when I was younger, dumber, and owned a GameCube, I spent who knows how much time playing additional Sonic games.
Sonic Heroes, released in 2003, was a fun but shallow game in which four teams of characters competed through the exact. Same. Levels. Shadow the Hedgehog introduced gunplay and teen angst to the series with laughable results, and Sega’s attempted reboot of the series with Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is rated as one of the worst video games ever made. Sega has since flung Sonic into weird spinoffs involving everything from customer service to medieval knights. With the Blue Blur’s 25th anniversary coming up soon, hopefully he can find his footing again.
And now, an Art as Games special: “Ode to the Retarded Cat” dedicated to my favorite Serbian, Nikola Muckajev:
There once lived a cat named Big.
He was dumber than a rotten fig.
He lost his pet frog,
Proved himself a fish hog,
And rowed home on a broken-down rig.
You can buy Sonic Adventure 2 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.