Sonic Adventure 2 is a pretty good game. The original Sonic Adventure was overflowing with ideas and constantly vying to be on the cutting edge of its era, but it spread itself thin and ended up being seen as an awkward product of its time. By contrast Sonic Adventure 2 is a noticeably tighter game, with a more singular and solid focus that brings everything into a more complete experience. It’s a similarly bumpy ride to the original, but it manages to hit a lot more highs along the way.
By the way I played the HD version on PSN, not the original Dreamcast version. Never touched the Battle content and technical differences aren’t a big factor in my impressions so it makes no difference. Just pointing it out because some people take this stuff very *ahem* personally.
What endeared me to Sonic Adventure 2 almost immediately is the streamlining of bouncing from level to level. If you read what I said about the original Sonic Adventure you would know I wasn’t a fan of the overworld. I found it complicated to navigate at times but also sparse as far as actual things to do. Sonic Adventure 2 ditches this by taking you from level to level immediately while also offering a stage select map in the menu. This lets you get into the action a lot quicker with far less lulls.
Speaking of which, the action is a lot more fine-tuned. Right from the get-go you’re launched in with Sonic jumping from a helicopter and surfing his way down the hills of the bustling cityscape, all to the tune of the awesomely goofy and upbeat ‘Escape From The City’. The opening City Escape Zone is immediately one of the most engaging experiences in any Sonic game, encapsulating both in design and presentation the pure visceral thrill of, well, going fast. Sonic’s manuevering in general is also tighter, and the design of his levels is meatier and more succintly built around speed and a smooth ebb-and-flow of momentum (ditto the Shadow stages). The original games’ E-102 Gamma shooting stages are re-tooled around Tails and Eggman, ditching the time limit for a health bar and making targeting faster and smoother for more rapid pacing. Knuckles’ stages are a little more puzzle oriented and shared with Rouge The Bat, offering something a little more mellow while still being slick and fast. By trimming the fat and nailing the game down to three fully realised play styles it becomes a lot more enjoyable and coherent. On top of all that it offers even more great visual highlights with its brief cinematic cutaways.
But it’s not all smooth sailing. Knuckles and Rouge stages suffer from occassionally being too cryptic with clues, and Tails and Eggman stages turn into a bit of a monotonous slog as you quickly reach the depths of its mechanics. And while design clarity and camera issues aren’t as prevalent as the original they do come up in the Sonic and Shadow stages. The most obvious clarity problem is the repeated mistake of putting multiple functions on one button, which can be incredibly agitating when you attempt a light dash but end up sommersaulting off a cliff. The railing segments of Sonic and Shadow levels are generally fun but jumping from rail to rail can be incredibly slippery. Not to mention, the camera sometimes doesn’t show obstacles ahead which almost guarantees death the very first playthrough of certain stages. When these issues compound with the trickier Sonic and Shadow stages you end up feeling cheated out of almost every life you lose, most frustrating of all in the topsy-turvy Crazy Gadget Zone. It makes the challenge of later levels feel unearned, leaving a sour taste in your mouth through a large portion of the final stretch.
I also have a bone to pick with the grading system. In principle it’s a very good thing to encourage players to become better at clearing levels, especially in a series like Sonic where the key is not only being able to pick up speed but having the proficieny to maintain it. Where Sonic Adventure 2 goes wrong is in the scaling, making even a paltry C grade its own challenge. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not especially good at video games, but when I persist through a level in a platformer and make it to the end after a million tries I get an incredible sense of achievement. Now imagine how crappy it is when I’m given a big fat E grade and told through Sonic’s smug voiceover that I totally sucked. I had a lot of fun with Sonic Adventure 2, but getting D and E grade after trying my hardest was pretty draining. It didn’t make me want to get better, it made me feel as if I would never get better. A game’s difficulty should never make you feel that way, period. No matter how difficult the game is it should always leave the player wanting to improve. I did get better as the game went on, but only in spite of the grading system.
With all that going on sometimes you need to take a breather from the main game, and thank goodness it has an answer to that with the Chao Garden. I didn’t really go to the Chao Garden much in the original Sonic Adventure. It was a bit out of the way in the overworld, but by having it in betweeen levels in Sonic Adventure 2 I felt a lot more eager to dive in. Two things you should know about me: I love cute stuff and I love roleplaying in games. It’s why I love Pokémon, and it’s why I love the Chao Garden. Having a break from the main game to get lost in the nuances of breeding and stats and forming a connection with my little Chao buddies through having them win races was honestly one of the most exciting and endearing experiences of the entire game. It’s something worth getting lost in for hours, and it brings a density that makes the game feel holistic.
Like its predecessor Sonic Adventure 2 contains its own corny original songs, albeit a more genuinely appealing selection. Special praise goes to the aforementioned ‘Escape From The City’ and the seriously catchy and tonally on-point themes for Knuckles and Rouge levels. Some stage themes are less remarkable, sporting only the most ordinary of instrumental guitar riffs, but on the whole there’s a lot of tracks to love. There’s also a marked improvement on voice acting but it’s still relatively hollow, with the added issue of characters talking over each others’ lines. The underlying story itself isn’t anything to write home about, especially with ridiculous lines like “Sayonara, Shadow…”, but it carries a lot more substance with the hero side and dark side offering two unique perspectives that complement and illuminate one another in a larger narrative. Overall there’s some very noticeable quirks in the presentation, but Sonic Adventure 2 holds together fairly well as a package.
Sonic Adventure 2 propels the ideas of the original game forward, smoothing it out into a more immediately satisfying playthrough but also carrying a lot more content worth coming back to. And to that end I do plan on coming back to Sonic Adventure 2. When I do I might lose my patience a few times, I might be taken out of it by shoddy cutscenes, I might have to take a few trips to the Chao Garden to calm my nerves. But I’ll probably be having fun, and that’s worth something.
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