Sonic Battle is coming to the US in just a little while...but how does it play?
First off, let me dig out my flame-retardant gear and say that I was not that big a fan of Sonic Adventure. I enjoyed the Sonic levels and feel that Sonic Team did a pretty decent job of translating the Sonic experience into 3D, but the rest of the game fell short of enjoyable and I never played very far into the other characters’ quests. Even at that, by biggest turn off stemmed from the fact that I was brought up on the Genesis Sonic games when if you weren’t able to fly along in a blue blur, then you just weren’t very good at the game. Although Sonic Adventure had some nice moments, I just never felt that I was going fast enough, and even when I was, all it seemed to require was holding up on the analog stick and hitting a few dash pads. Combined with the near sleep-inducing gameplay of the likes of Amy and Big the Cat’s quests, I found little to enjoy after earning A Ranks on all of Sonics’ levels.
Enter Sonic Adventure 2 for the Dreamcast: it seemed to correct nearly everything I found lacking in the original. Removal of the free-roaming ‘quest’ format made for smoother story progression. Gameplay style has been reduced to the fundamental three types of speeding, hunting and shooting. The hunting and shooting levels were given purpose within the story, as throughout the development of the storyline different obstacles came up requiring the talents of different characters. So even while I didn’t enjoy hunting for Master Emerald shards as much as racing along as Sonic, I felt that I had a reason to do so within the story rather than just for the sake of progressing to the next Sonic level.
And best of all, SA2 is much more about speed than it predecessor, and skill combined with speed, at that. While Sonic naturally blasts automatically through loops and bungee cords, there is much more involved in controlling Sonic in the areas between. Avoiding and attacking enemies, hitting dash pads that aren’t simply laid out directly in front of you, grinding (and grinding effectively) and otherwise racing at high speeds in directions that aren’t invariably related only to pressing ‘up’ on the stick all require a measure of control not available in the original SA, while still managing to maintain a greater feeling of speed.
I find it impossible to think of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle without comparing it to Sonic Adventure 2 for the Dreamcast. They are very similar, and anyone who’s played the DC version will be immediately familiar. They have the same Story Mode split into Hero and Dark sections, as well as a Stage Select where you can replay any level you’ve unlocked with any of five different objectives. The gameplay is divided into three types which three respective characters for each Hero and Dark. Usual Sonic-style racing/platforming is tackled by Sonic or his Dark counterpart, Shadow. Item hunting/exploring is left to Knuckles the Echidna and Rouge the Bat. Tails and Dr. Eggman ride atop bipedal mecha and shoot and platform their way through a variety of areas. Additionally, both Tails and Rouge have a kart driving level.
Stage Select mode remains the same with five different missions to replay for each level unlocked. For all levels, although different in their characters and specific objectives, the usual Story Mode objective, Collect 100 Rings, Find the Lost Chao, clear the level in a set time, and Clear Hard Mode levels are all available.
The most important question, though, is does SA2Battle merit buying, especially if you’ve already played the Dreamcast version? Personally, I sure think so, but those with slimmer wallets may want to consider carefully. I feel the inclusion of additional Battle modes, advanced Chao raising (and fighting!), visual improvements and better control justifies its purchase price. Though not without its faults, the improved experience of SA2 Battle on the Gamecube just feels more like what Sonic Team was striving after all along.
Regarding battle modes, it’s very similar to SA2 but with a few new additions. Frankly, I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, and while I’m basing my opinions here mainly on the single player aspects of this game, it would be remiss of me not to discuss the Battle in Battle. The main modes are Action Race, Treasure Hunt, Shooting Battle, Chao Race, Chao Karate and Kart Race. Each of Action Race, Treasure Hunt and Shooting Battle has eight full levels, as well as two mini-stages, divided into four Levels. I must also note that for every mode, Levels 1 and 4 have a space where an additional level could appear (one for a possible third mini stage, and one for a full level).
Action race can be run with Sonic, Shadow, Amy or Metal Sonic. Level 1 contains two mini stages, Downtown Race and Grind Race. Downtown race is a downhill snowboard-only race though an area similar to the start of City Escape, only longer and covered in snow. Grind Race is a grinding race above and then into what must be Pyramid Cave, and while it does have a few short running sections and looks quite sweet flying by, it just doesn’t take much skill to navigate. The full levels include City Escape, Metal Harbor, White Jungle, Green Forest, Sky Rail, Radical Highway, Final Rush and Final Chase.
Treasure Hunt features Knuckles, Rouge, Tikal and Chaos Zero. The two mini stages are Pool Quest (a limited area within Aquatic Mine) and Planet Quest (confined to the spherical planetoid in Mad Space). Dry Lagoon, Egg Quarters, Security Hall, Wild Canyon, Pumpkin Hill, Meteor Herd, Death Chamber and Mad Space are all playable areas.
Shooting Battle has Tails, Dr. Eggman, and the Chao and Dark Chao Walkers battling for victory. Deck Race and Pyramid Race are the two mini stages, and are competitions to see who can reach the goal first by navigating over obstacles and through enemies common to the Story Mode shooting levels (Weapons Bed and Sand Ocean, respectively). Otherwise, for straight battling, the available areas are Weapons Bed, Iron Gate, Hidden Base, Mission Street, Sand Ocean, Cosmic Wall, Eternal Engine and Lost Colony.
Additionally, you can also Kart Race as any one of the six main characters on three different stretches of track. I am not too fond of the kart racing modes; the kart control is loose and unresponsive, and generally gives the feel of either sliding on Jell-o or hovering just above mud. If it weren’t for the inclusion of kart racing objectives with Story and Stage Select mode, I never would have obtained any measure of skill at driving and been better for it. It simply isn’t a selling point when considering the multiplayer aspects of SA2 Battle.
However, the multiplayer Chao racing and karate games, while not a great deal of fun unless you have two comparably skilled chao, stem from a source of great joy in SA2 Battle. The chao raising system is fantastic, and I found myself time and again distracted from trying to get A Ranks by the care and raising of my many chao. I didn’t really get into chao raising with Sonic Adventure, but the addition of Hero and Dark chao, different gardens for each, racing and karate events, and advanced permutations in the evolution cycle really drew me in.
The racing events remain the same as SA2 on the DC, but Chao Karate is a new twist. Each of your chao’s abilities translates into a new ability with regards to fighting (ie: Swim becomes Defense, Fly becomes Stealth, etc.), and you can buy ‘armor’ items from the Black Market such as watermelon rinds, empty cans or wool hats to give your chao an edge. Each chao has a zeal meter which depletes over time or with every failed (dodged) attack, and when it hits zero you have to mash the A Button to replenish it or you chao will start to cry and lose the match. Also, getting knocked out of the ring or just having your health meter beat down will also cause your chao to lose. There are three tournaments of five opponents each, and I really had a feeling of accomplishment after raising my chao enough to beat the final opponent in the Super Tournament.
What’s even cooler is if you have the GBA version of Sonic Advance and a link cable, you can transfer you chao into the Tiny Garden and raise them there, petting and playing games with them, buying eggs and weeding the garden. While it’s not as deep as the gardens and events on the GameCube, it’s a lot of fun to be able to take your chao to work or school with you, and I’ve found that chao raised both in the Battle gardens and the GBA Tiny gardens evolve slightly faster and are generally easier to please.
But, the multiplayer and chao raising aspects aren’t what have really sold me on Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for the Gamecube. Naturally, the gameplay and design is solid, as it was on the Dreamcast. However, the two things that really make me happy to have played SA2 Battle are as icing on the cake that is the Sonic experience. The control and graphics to be had on the Gamecube are above and beyond what Sonic Team accomplished on the Dreamcast.
SA2 Battle simply feels and controls better than its predecessors. The control is still loose, as seems to be characteristic of Sonic’s 3D forays, but it is less so than ever before. Overall responsiveness has been increased, as it feels that there is much less dead space in the analog sensitivity now than the DC version, and Sonic and company can be more subtly and easily manipulated. It just feels to right to blaze around as Sonic using the GameCube controller, and much better than the muddy looseness found on the DC, which is a good thing given the more active control needed to excel at SA2 Battle.
The visuals, too, are fantastic. SA2 on the Dreamcast was pretty, and while SA2 Battle isn’t leaps and bounds over the DC version, the differences are highly noticeable. The textures are much sharper and brighter, and the whole picture has a more polished and smooth look. There isn’t a great difference in visible framerate, but SA2 Battle never stutters, not even a little bit, even when drawing slightly farther into the distance than the DC version does. At first glance, the cleaner textures are most easily noticed, as trying to distinguish draw distance tends to take back seat to ripping through halfpipes. But coupled together, the cleaner, more detailed (in depth) visuals and responsive controls make Battle a greater joy than I found on the Dreamcast.
It must be mentioned though, that while there are noticeable improvements over SA2 in SA2 Battle when using an S-video cable, should you have a progressive scan capable television then you are in for the treat of a lifetime. Battle over component cables on a good 480p scan set is breathtaking, easily one of the best looking GameCube progressive scan titles yet. Also, running in true 16x9 wide aspect, Battle attains the true definition of the Sonic experience, moving really fast with bright, flashy effects and a feeling of openness and freedom. If you have the means, this alone makes SA2 Battle worth buying, regardless of how many hours you’ve put in on the DC version.
However, Battle is not without fault. The greatest drawback that plagued Sonic Adventure was not corrected in either of its sequel(s). The camera system is awful. Granted, it works well at certain times when Sonic is burning through a curve or loop, but otherwise it tracks poorly and tends to get ‘stranded’ in confined areas, sometimes blocking your view completely. This is less of a problem during Sonic or Shadow levels, but it becomes downright criminal when hunting as Knuckles or Rouge. What’s worse, Sonic Team removed the ability to look about freely by using the direction pad, and only the left and right shoulder trigger camera rotation controls remain. I had hoped that the camera system would be refined and the direction pad look feature would be implemented again in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, but it has not.
Also, as has become seemingly trademark with recent Sonic games, the English voice acting is horrible! I mean, SA was pretty bad, but oh, man does SA2 suck! Fortunately you have the option of changing the spoken dialogue to Japanese, with English subtitles.
My conclusion is this: Sonic Adventure 2 Battle is a spectacular game filled with replay value and bonuses, although its specific additions over Sonic Adventure 2 for the Dreamcast may not be reason enough for everybody to buy it. The multiplayer features are fun, but not that drastic an enhancement. Strong fans of SA2’s multiplayer mode may find value in the enjoyment of new levels, but the joy of SA2 Battle lies not in the multiplayer as one would expect from the title. The enhanced single player experience, while not perfect and still suffering from the flaws of its predecessor, is superb in its brilliant appearance and refined control. Raising chao, earning A Ranks, and otherwise appreciating a fine homage to the Sonic of old will keep a new player gaming for weeks, but one already experienced in SA2 would be wise to think hard about purchase, unless they are Sonic fans or can simply afford it without hardship.