Sonic Advance is a huge game despite it’s small nature. It is not only Sonic’s first 2D adventure post SEGA’s departure of making consoles but one of the very first Sonic games to grace a Nintendo console. With high expectations, SEGA got Sonic Team & Dimps to produce a new 2D Sonic for the Game Boy Advance.
With this new hardware at the time, can SEGA prove that the GBA can handle a little blast processing?
Sonic and friends discover Eggman causing trouble and to stop him, Sonic goes on a new adventure to take the good doctor out. Very simple set-up and while it’s not nearly as interesting as say, Sonic 3’s story, the basic plot is decent enough to push the player along. Character interactions between Sonic & his friends are solid and maintain the personalities established in the Sonic Adventure games. Story isn’t really the focus here but with a simple premise, a new adventure can unfold for Sonic and company.
The Design & Gameplay
In many ways, Sonic Advance feels like a proper number Sonic title; the characters control the same as they did during the Genesis games. Sonic still spin dashes and has the insta-shield, Tails can fly with his tails, Knuckles can climb walls and glide. But each character has a extra B attack, allowing them to preform abilities seen in the Adventure games such as Sonic’s Somersault or Knuckles punching. Sonic can also can on rails, fitting considering this released after Sonic Adventure 2 (where the move was introduced). Core gameplay for the main cast feels like a strong blend between the Adventure moveset/abilities and the basic moves everyone had since Sonic 2/Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Amy makes her playable character debut with Advance, offering a new gameplay style but still feels close to the Genesis gameplay. Amy is fast like Sonic but she can’t roll or spin-jump; she can compensate for this by being able to swing her hammer when in the air (pressing B). Amy can also slam her hammer on springs to get higher distances. This results in Amy being quite fun thanks to her different controls & gameplay making levels unique to her, despite them being the same level design being used for Sonic/Tails/Knuckles.
The level designs are interesting, as they try to capture what the Genesis games accomplished. You have momentum-physics implemented and rolling is still a viable tool for gaining speed, with each level using those elements quite well. Platforming feels like a larger focus and in some ways, it makes levels feel a bit like Sonic 1. But they are quite fun and I had a blast running though them all.
There is also some connectivity with the GameCube Sonic games, having a mini Chao Garden via Tiny Chao Garden (where you can transfer your Sonic Adventure/Sonic Adventure 2 Chao to the game). Nice little extra for people who love the Chao Garden. This adds a nice side-distraction that you can play around with when you want to do something more than just play through the main stages again.
Boss fights are enjoyable and toward the end of the game, fans of the classic series will see two iconic (but easy) bosses that will make you grow a little smile. My only issue with Sonic Advance regarding gameplay is that the game suffers from minor level design issues, as there are quite a few bottomless pits. This makes some levels feel difficult for the wrong reasons. Thankfully, they aren’t common enough to become a major issue.
But we cannot talk about Sonic games without mentioning the special stage! Characters sky dive using a snowboard to collect rings and preform tricks. They are in 3D (where you move left/right/up/down/ect) and while tricky at first, they are enjoyable. Feeling different from past specials stages, they are refreshing to the series. You can discover them by finding special springs within the main acts.
To unlock the secret final boss, you need to get every Chaos Emerald. That is fine but my issue is that you cannot play as a super form for any of the playable characters. This is annoying, as past 2D Sonic games on the Genesis had that be your reward for going out of your way to get all the Emeralds. While that isn’t a major problem for Sonic Advance, it is annoying when prior games allowed you to play in super form.
Sonic Advance feels like Genesis Sonic game through and through. Just happens to be on a portable system is all, and that is this games greatest strength for both gameplay & level design. They are strong enough to stand next to zones from past games and to say that shows the skill of the teams at Sonic Team & Dimps during the games release period.
Visuals are an evolution of what was accomplished on the Genesis. Sonic and friends sport newer designs seen since Sonic Adventure but they look so expressive here. Detailed sprite animations, strong sprite work and the zones looking alive; the visuals are some of the GBA’s best.
Music in this game is also strong, as it pushes the GBA sound chip quite far, producing high quality Sonic tracks. From the light hearted and calming beats of Neo Green Hill Zone to more atmospheric tracks of Egg Rocket. It has a nice blend of music that both adds to the games presentation and being quite catchy to listen to outside of the main game. Dimps sound team also was able to remix a few tracks from Sonic 1 in Sonic Advance, and they sound really strong. The overall sound design and quality is impressive for the Game Boy Advance hardware.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Sonic Advance feels like a proper entree in the long running Sonic series. It takes everything past console and portable Sonic 2D titles accomplished and while not perfecting them, utilizes elements from those games to produce one of the GBA’s best 2D platformers. Containing strong level design, impressive production values and fun gameplay that feels like a Genesis Sonic title; Sonic Advance is one of the stronger games in the Sonic franchise. Highly recommend this to any fan of 2D platformers.