Gamestyle Archive intro: well, this is an old Game Boy Advance review from Chris Parker dating from around March 2002. Sonic and his Sega pals are now like a rampaging virus across all formats. Reading this review again it brings back memories of the bizarre nature of his early Nintendo appearance and the general outrage from some quarters. Classic gameplay though.
The only other thing about this review is it comes from an old GBA excel file confirming it was the 18th review for that format on Gamestyle. The punctuation contained various error messages due to this file so I’ve hopefully cleared up all of those making the text a pleasure to follow in this archived version.
Writer: Chris Parker
Published: March 2002
Some things are meant to happen. The leaves fall from the trees every autumn, a cinema always waters down their soft drinks, and the BBC always resurrect Only Fools and Horses every Christmas for the final airing. These things are meant to happen. Life wouldn’t be as good, or the same without these little things happening in a way that makes everyone sit back and feel jolly happy that the world is indeed how it should be.
Sonic on a Nintendo console does not follow this sentiment in any kind of way. At first anyway; you see, there is something altogether eerie about seeing his blue spikes, scarlet trainers and trademarked V-sign salute on a machine emblazoned with Nintendo logos. It doesn’t feel right. Until that is, you start to play; Stories have never been the Sonic games’ strong points, and this is certainly still the case in the latest instalment. Just to fill you all in; Robotnik wants some chaos emeralds, Sonic and co have to stop him otherwise the whole world will go up in pixels. Ok, so its hardly likely to win any awards for story telling genius, but at least it sets the somewhat familiar scene without using half of the cartridge for cut scenes. A welcome change in this day and age.
The game itself is structured almost exactly like the Mega Drive and Game Gear Sonic games with their being two acts to every setting; the second act being the one with the boss showdown at the end. Of course there are various pseudo 3D bonus segments to be found throughout the acts, encouraging you to stop pressing right on the d-pad and do a bit of exploring in order to find them. All told though, these parts aren’t particularly endearing, and while not hindering the rate of play; they certainly don’t add as much as the bonus segments seen in the 16 bit versions. The acts themselves though are absolutely brilliant. Their design is perfect for any type of play. Want to blast through like an amphetamine-guzzling cheetah? No sooner said than done; why not grind some rails skateboard style, and loop the loop a few times whilst you’re at it? Slow paced jumping and collecting your thing? Sonic Advance may be less accommodating for this style of play, but it is still possible.
Of course brilliant design is one thing, the holy grail of games in this modern age is whether or not their graphics jump out from the screen, and slap us in the face with a large lump of proverbial low fat spreadable cheese or not. Sonic Advance may at first appear to be in the same graphical bracket as the third rate platformers that so frequent this platform, but upon closer inspection the graphics are truly some of the best drawn, rendered and animated on any handheld game so far. The flora and fauna of Sonic’s world is positively bouncing, with flowers spinning their petals in time to the music, water cascading over jagged cliffs and clouds floating their fluffy way through the sky; Sonic Advance’s surroundings are a true delight to the retinas.
Sonic and the other playable characters (Knuckles, Amy and Tails) are also brilliantly rendered. Each one is far more cartoony and in keeping with the feel of the game than the Mega Drive versions of their characters, and although the new look Sonic with his self imposed street cred may not appear at first to be as loveable as the original, within time he certainly fits right in. The game itself also plays magnificently. Each character has a certain set of individual moves, ranging from Sonic’s flash (don’t get any ideas) to Amy’s hammer smash. Control of each of these characters is precise and for the most part responsive, although every now and then the d-pad is prone to not responding brilliantly unless you truly hammer it down with your thumb: usually when the action gets corona damagingly fast.
Acoustically Sonic Advance is a thing to behold. When the Sonic games originally surfaced in the early nineties naff synth rock was considered rather;with it, and over the years Sonic Team haven’t really seen fit to change it. More power to them. It works brilliantly with Sonic games, and to hear reworked catchy ditties from the time when the Gulf War was grabbing the headlines and Blur dominated the charts, certainly rawks. The sound effects are also spot on with each leap, spin and punch nicely accommodated for with a variety of bings, bongs and thwocks. Superb.
As said earlier, the game is structurally almost the same as the MD versions. Almost you see, because what differentiates this from those earlier versions is the inclusion of a level select and auto save. This means that lives won from popping various television screens found in the levels is pointless and the challenge found in the previous Sonic 2D outings is somewhat lost. A shame, but with the frustration and instant death properties of some level sections it is often a welcome addition. But that minor frustration is a problem. The playable characters and backgrounds may be meticulously rendered, but the enemies are a poorly done bunch of goons. Gone are the larger than life enemies of the series past, now there are the poorly animated and oddly placed obscure clowns and other such mechanical monstrosities. Their placement in levels is often ludicrous and unfair; and the odd one nearly always pops up in a point in a level where you are inevitably going to knock into them.
I challenge anyone or anything now to create a greater sense of annoyance and anger than that created by speeding through a level at enormous speeds, dashing through loops, jumping on trampolines and then finally pegging it through the final length of the level; a grind-able spiral, and onto the home stretch with a not too shabby 253 rings in tow; when suddenly out of nowhere a fucking metal wriggly thing blends its brown way out of the tree trunk it was lurking in front of and then; diiiiiiiiiing! Sonic leaps up with a surprised grin on his erinaceous and all 253 of your rigorously collected rings go bouncing across the screen. I’m not normally one for swear words, but often the GameStyle games room, or even the bus for that matter, in a heavy bout of Sonic Advance, is turned blue with the kind of expletives usually reserved for muggers and Tony Blair. This happens far too many times and isn’t down to the inept skills of the player but rather the enemies; chameleon qualities and the fact that sometimes the game is running just too fast for you to do anything about it.
The small GBA screen often doesn’t help either. If there is one down side to the game, then this is it. There you go, we’ve said, we’ve had therapy about it and now we’ve moved on. But does Sonic offer much in the way of lifespan? The single player may not last too long if you hammer your way through it, but its certainly one of those games that begs to be played again and again; if not to simply sample some of your favourite segments for old times sake. There are a few other modes of play thrown in, such as a VS mode where you can race through the levels head to head or hunt for chaos, and it does support one cart play; which whilst limited, is still rather entertaining stuff.
And in the end that’s probably the best way to sum Sonic Advance up. Rather entertaining stuff. Whilst flawed in some areas, it is none the less the best platformer available for Nintendo’s handheld, at least until that plump plumber’s second Advanced outing gets released over here. And it really does feel like it was always meant to be.
Gamestyle Score 8/10