Sonic: Advanced

We return to the excellent GBA trilogy of Sonic titles!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/29/2015 09:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

Sonic Advance felt utterly surreal the first time I ever played it. I grew up a Nintendo kid, but my cousin and a couple of my uncles were Sega people. I didn’t often get to play Genesis, but when I did, Sonic the Hedgehog was almost certainly being plugged in at some point during my visit. The Blue Blur is a big part of my video game memories growing up, but I was in the minority when it came to having love for both Mario and Sonic. The schoolyard wars that would erupt over the Sega versus Nintendo debate were all-too real, after all. Time passed, and Sega eventually fizzled out of the console arms race, but nothing could have prepared fans for when word hit that Nintendo and Sega would actually be putting out games together. When Sonic Advance finally arrived on Game Boy Advance in 2002, little could be done to reconcile the oddity of seeing the Sega logo on the screen of a Nintendo handheld.

My first Sonic GBA title was actually Sonic Advance 2, to be totally accurate. I was close to graduating high school and had bought the game at a K-Mart where the (who I was then convinced was) love of my life was working. I don’t know why I hadn’t bought the first game, but the green box of the second one was calling out to me, and I plunked down twenty or thirty bucks to take it home. I was used to Sonic on Genesis. Not just the gameplay, but the sounds, the graphics, the rhythm of Sonic’s run. Sonic Advance 2 felt like what I had played before, but it was different. Different, but yet still very, very fun. I’d enjoyed Sonic Adventure 2 on GameCube, but Sonic’s foray into 3D lacked the punch that his 2D games had. Sonic Advance 2 knew how to throw a punch, a jab, a kick to a kidney. It was the real deal.

Sonic Advance Screenshot

Then, in a twist of fate that shocks me to this day, Sega went ahead and gave the world a trilogy of these excellent games. That’s right– Sega got Sonic right three times in a row! I eventually got all three, and came to hold them in as high of esteem as the original trio on Genesis. Sega worked with developer Dimps to create the Sonic Advance titles, a move that perhaps saved the games from the woes that have plagued so many of the in-house efforts starring the titular hedgehog in the time since the demise of Dreamcast. There are no gimmicks in the Sonic Advance series. No transformations, no strange insertions of random gameplay elements, just blistering speed with Sonic and his friends and allies. The emphasis is on blazing through corkscrews and half-pipes, but the games have a solid balance between that and finding new paths through stages, as well as some excellent boss fights across the whole trilogy.

Speaking of Sonic’s buddies, the Sonic Advance games are a reminder of how fun it can be letting loose with characters like Knuckles and Tails without having to dig in the ground or pilot some wobbly hunk of junk robot. Sonic’s core companions, Tails, Amy, and Knuckles, are all he needs, and no, Sega, they don’t have to be wrapped in athletic tape or part of some awful racing minigame to make an appearance. It’s a blast in all three Sonic Advance titles to switch from character to character. Though each does have his or her own unique move (like Knuckles’ gliding, for instance), the focus never changes from anything other than running and beating down baddies. I’m all for a variety of gameplay experiences when it’s called for, but sometimes the basic thrill of a character swap can be enough.

Sonic Advance Screenshot

Admittedly, I know that I have a soft spot for Sonic; I’ve gone to bat for the character and the series before, after all. What I’ve never done, however, is try to dismiss the gurgling, hissing stinkers that Sega has foisted on fans under the misnomer of being Sonic games. They’re real, they suck, and they’re a big part of the reason that Sonic’s respectability continues to dwindle. But as I’ve said before, when a Sonic game gets it right, there needs to be recognition. The Sonic Advance trilogy worked and still works because of one key ingredient: restraint. As I pointed out, these three games shamelessly threw players into traditional Sonic 2D platforming action and little else. I don’t entirely understand what motivates Sega to stuff Sonic games with extraneous gameplay and content. To this day, when I go back to Sonic Adventure 2 I only replay the Sonic and Shadow stages. Everything else is fluff. I play Sonic for speed, graphics, music, and bonking enemies, nothing more or less.

Sadly, Sega chooses to waste countless hours manufacturing ludicrously self-indulgent cinema scenes, overwrought narratives, play mechanics that completely disjoint the ebb and flow of the parts of its games that the company gets right, and so on. Frankly, it comes across as almost self-sabotaging. How a gem like the Sonic Advance series could thrice make its way through Sega’s halls without at least a grainy cinema scene or Big the Cat fishing RPG attached is something of a modern day miracle. There isn’t any word on the games heading to Wii U’s Virtual Console any time soon, but perhaps if fans can start buzzing about the titles again on social media, maybe Sega will get the ball rolling. Sonic Boom! left quite the sickly mound of mess on the ground when it skidded into stores this past Winter, particularly the Wii U version, so where Sega goes next with the franchise and games is a bit of a mystery. It’s almost pointless to belabor the same points; Sonic can be saved if Sega stops screwing around and gives us more titles like these. I owe someone a chili dog if it actually happens.

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