Review: Sonic Adventure 2 (Xbox Live Arcade)

Review: Sonic Adventure 2 (Xbox Live Arcade)

by October 14, 2012

Are you a fan of Sonic Adventure 2? Good news…

If you ask me, Sonic Adventure 2 was the beginning of the end for 3D Sonic games. Whenever I hear somebody tell me that they think Sonic Adventure 2 is the best 3D Sonic game, I cannot help but muster a funny look. Don’t get me wrong: SA2 is, in certain areas, a vast improvement over the original Sonic Adventure – with generally tighter controls, a significant boost in graphical detail, and less fiddly collision detection problems. But it is also responsible for bringing about a number of bad habits that plagued this franchise for nearly half a decade following its release.

Sonic in Crazy Gadget

Okay, so they put Big the Cat back in – but where’s my green x-boxes?

The story of Sonic Adventure 2 is a complicated one; Sonic Team took special care leading up to its release to keep many of its story details a secret, and even through the normal course of the game, much of the game’s plot remains unclear – perhaps due to poor translation, poor writing, or a combination of the two. It’s the kind of plot where things just happen, and characters sometimes make decisions that don’t really make sense except to serve as an excuse to set up the next level – yet it is still preoccupied with trying to tell us this at-times-laughable “story” about an evil, bio-engineered talking hedgehog with magical time-warping powers who is hell-bent on getting revenge on the planet earth. In a way, though, that’s video games – the plot to any Super Mario is no less ridiculous when you break it down, but neither does it try as hard to make you care about its story as much as Sonic Adventure 2 does, where its lengthy cutscenes can make up close to a quarter of the game’s total play time.

The other 3/4ths of the game is, of course, spent playing through either “Hero Story” or “Dark Story”, which is an oddly Japanese way of saying good versus evil. Each story is split up between three playable characters broken up by class, bringing the total roster to six, in spite of complaints that Sonic Adventure‘s large number of characters was pushing its star performer too far out of the spotlight. To combat this, Sonic Team attempted to streamline each character’s role – and while noble in concept, it does not always work out so well in practice. Whereas Sonic’s levels in the original Sonic Adventure were serpentine, somewhat open areas that each felt noticeably unique, all of the “speed-class” levels in Sonic Adventure 2 are built from the same heavily-scripted, linear, single-lane tracks hovering over illogical bottomless pits, turning every stage in to a glorified re-skin of Speed Highway. Don’t get me wrong – Speed Highway might be one of the most iconic and fun levels from the original Sonic Adventure, but it leaves stages in Sonic Adventure 2 feeling a little lacking in diversity when you’re playing roughly the same type of level over and over and over again.

Shadow the Hedgehog in Sky Rail

Curiously, Sega has chosen to ONLY publish screenshots of Sonic/Shadow levels.

But the streamlining didn’t stop there: also simplified away was the ability to pick a specific character to play as, meaning as dictated by the story, you are now forced to play as characters besides Sonic, even if you didn’t want to. While that’s not so bad for shooting-class characters like Dr. Eggman and Tails, it becomes the primary stumbling point for Sonic Adventure 2 whenever you’re given control of Knuckles or Rouge and told to once again hunt for jewel shards. It’s here that SA2‘s rampant “streamlining” turns legitimately malicious, as no longer does the emerald radar alert the player to multiple nearby objects, as it did in the original Sonic Adventure. Instead, the jewel radar only reacts to one object at any given time, elevating the tedium in each level a considerable amount. It is not uncommon to spend upwards of 45 minutes in later hunting levels, constantly running around in circles trying to find the one place you have not yet looked – just so you can do it all over again two more times. Not fun. At all.

Nothing was done to improve the game, either. This is a straight-across port of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, with the only real enhancement coming from the resolution the game is running at (real 720p this time, instead of SA1‘s stretched and letterboxed 640×480). When you consider the additional options both Jet Set Radio and NiGHTS received, it’s a little disappointing to see just how totally basic this port actually is. As an example, there’s still an option to switch between Stereo and Mono sound, even though that’s been a function handled by your console’s dashboard for close to eight years now. Very little effort was made to make this feel more like a modern game, and given how often I ran in to trademark blunders like misfired homing attacks, I was really starting to miss some of the more simple mechanical improvements from recent games like Sonic Generations. Would it really be so hard to add homing attack crosshairs to this game? Improve the targeting? Anything? The only thing this version of Sonic Adventure 2 adopts from recent Sonic games is the addition of Omochao hints appearing during loading screens – but they’ve been so awkwardly shoe-horned in to the game that it ends up looking more sloppy and lazy than anything else, given most of them disappear before you can finish reading. Perhaps that’s for the best – a lot of them outright spoil things you won’t see until near the end of the game. At the very least, I did not notice any new graphics, sound or control problems in my time spent playing this version of Sonic Adventure 2, which is more than I can say for Jet Set Radio or NiGHTS. Everything you love and hate (or love to hate) about SA2 is present and accounted for: characters talking over each other in cutscenes, loud music that drowns out dialog, enemies that wait until the moment before you hit them to attack you, and a scripted camera that loves to show you the worst possible angle exactly when you don’t need it to – it’s all mostly here.

Chao Karate

Welp, time to put the controller down and take a nap.

Unless, of course, you want to play Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. Like the original Sonic Adventure, Sega has opted to chop out all of the Gamecube-exclusive content and sell it to you as a separate download. Here, the “Battle Mode” DLC contains some extra multiplayer skins, the molasses-slow “Chao Karate” minigame, and the ability to change your menu theme to feature a different narrator. It might actually be worth it if the game benefited from some kind of online component – but like the original Sonic Adventure 2, multiplayer is relegated exclusively to split-screen only, making the $3 optional download basically worthless. And for Chao fans, know that even though SA1 and SA2 keep separate save data exclusively for Chao Gardens, there is no way to share Chao between games – despite that being a feature of both the Gamecube and Dreamcast versions.

At the time, it was easy to forgive Sonic Adventure‘s more egregious problems because it was both a launch title for the Dreamcast and the first 3D Sonic game ever produced; but starting with Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Team did not react to complaints so much as they started to embrace them. What advancements it did make over its predecessor are outweighed by a lack of coherence and creativity, further marred by tedium and an intense focus on over-simplifying game concepts that were not very complicated to begin with. As a port, it manages to accomplish the bare minimum and is alright enough for that – if you are a fan of Sonic Adventure 2, you will find very little in this version has been changed for better or worse. As it became standard for Sonic games to follow, Sonic Adventure 2 is a roller coaster ride of highs and lows – when it’s good, it is really, really good. But when it’s bad, it might as well be the worst game in the world. A shame there’s not more highs.

Rating: 2½ out of 5

We could all stand to live and learn a little.