Sonic Adventure was regarded as a good, if flawed, game when it came out on the Dreamcast; it was never going to be heralded as perfect but it managed to remain an air of respectability. Sonic Adventure 2, on the other hand, is a game that took away the best parts of Sonic Adventure and then used the remaining components. Badly. It’s drowning in terrible choices that leave almost every part of what is undoubtedly a technically better game, as a much worse experience overall.
It’s telling that this, the latest in the line of classic Sega games to receive a HD re-release, is actually one of the least competent reissues so far. That’s not to say it’s bad as a re-issue of the original game. It’s just not as good as those that have come before, little more than a re-skin with a bonus video section you unlock via gameplay. Graphically the game has been upscaled well, but little else comes away as having been improved.
It’s important to look at the first Sonic Adventure for comparison, since much of what Sega and Sonic Team did with the original Adventure influenced Adventure 2.
The first Sonic Adventure had a bit more of an expanded idea of narrative, multiple characters and diverse play styles. People seemed to like the variation in gameplay, and more expansive story (for a Sonic game anyway). It seemed only reasonable for Sega to try and give the fans more of what they liked.
The key difference between the first title and its sequel is freedom. Unlike the multi-story structure of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 forces you to play as every character in the story to see the end. During the first game you unlocked Knuckles, for example, and his gameplay was a fresh, well thought out mechanic that didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s was your choice to play his, or any of the subsequent characters, stories. He even had a well written story worth playing through. He became a well rounded out character.
In Sonic Adventure 2, each part of the game has been handed to people who seemingly had no understanding of why the individual sections of Sonic Adventure worked. The hero side story (the game splits the story into two divergent narrative paths) starts with a good and well paced Sonic stage and then is interrupted by a terribly paced and badly designed Knuckles stage.
The story for whatever side you play flops between good to ok stages; bad to awful stages and the absolutely horrible, make you want to blow your own brain out stages.
The mix of characters only helps to worsen the sense of schizophrenic game design. The worst offenders here are chiefly Rouge; a horribly unlikeable bat character who plays like a terrible take on Knuckles. But other, more established characters, also suffer here. For some reason Tails is forced to stay inside his biplane for the whole game (despite having a history of being able to run as fast as Sonic and fly unaided), while the aforementioned Knuckles partakes in awful treasure hunt stages.
These were tightly designed with well thought out item placement in the first game. Three emerald parts would be hunted using a radar as Knuckles glided about the air and used his claws to cling to surfaces or dig in the ground. Their return in Sonic Adventure 2 is a massively sprawling mess. Levels go from multi-level under and over ground areas, to mazes of tight knit corridors. Knuckle’s ( and Rouge’s ) glide ability is a hindrance here as it often sends the camera into a panic and you end up flying into the unknown. Some objects are hidden in insanely obscure locations and the tip dispensing TV’s often vomit out little more than obscure gibberish. Some of these treasure hunt stages can take up to 30 minutes to complete and that’s if you do well or avoid death. Die during the stage and the emerald locations reset to totally new positions in the landscape.
The story and game have strong points, Sonic’s speed stages on the whole stand up well as both very entertaining and well designed, although it’s actually his new rival character Shadow the Hedgehog who is the games strongest point here. Shadow’s stages tend to be far better designed and more thrilling to partake in and the character is not mired down by the needless additions to his abilities.
It’s a shame so many people came to dislike the character of Shadow over the course of later titles (mostly due to Sega’s sudden inability to grasp just quite how to handle their new creation). His narrative, while slightly stereotypical, actually shows some of the strongest and most interesting writing in any of the Sonic games that came before or indeed since. That’s not exactly a challenge we must admit, but his journey from arrogant and vengeful soul to self sacrificing hero turns into one of the games strengths. One that was later ruined by Sonic Team’s insistence in reviving the character as a clone / robot / robo-clone / alien weapon, or whatever else was flavour of the month.
Another surprise strength here is the addition of Doctor Robotnik (or as he’s known officially from this game onwards, Dr.Eggman) as a playable character. His shooting stages are enjoyable to participate in and make perfect sense in the grand scheme of things. Where Tails’ levels are clunky and badly paced, Eggman’s are much more rhythmic, his upgrades actually applying an extra level of power to the experience, and his insane cackles and hoots bringing a sense of real character and fun.
So while the game is often competently crafted , it’s just not designed very well. Most every character has one or more stages that show little to no thought towards the way they play. In this version the camera is actually made worse by the use of the right stick. The natural tendency to reposition the camera is at odds with the movement of the games scripted camera, causing the view to move about erratically and wildly. This seems an issue with a few of the Dreamcast game ports, but is all the worse when applied to a fast paced game like this.
Some times you’ll find enemies being able to attack you through walls of rooms you don’t have access to. Other times you’ll just be given an arbitrary camera angle that completely obscures an easily avoidable trap.
Not only are the main stages a confused mess there is also the odd, inescapable, kart racing sections of the main story. These are literally the single worst examples of car or kart based sections in any game ever produced. Every moment you spend as Tails or Rouge behind the wheels of their Bat car and Car-Plane-Thing (why not just fly the damn thing!) is excruciating and leaves you wondering why you’re still playing. Worse still, Sonic Team thought it an interesting enough feature that once you complete both the kart based sections you unlock more terrible kart racing “fun” as a mini game featuring all the other characters, in solo or two player. Take it from us, it’s a mode you’ll never want to touch.
Talking of minigames, the charming Chao characters return in more expanded artificial life sim. Once again you’re able to feed, name and take care of your Chao, eventually entering them into races. This is the one aspect of the game that’s actually improved upon over the first, with different characters effecting the personalities and look of each Chao based on the time they spend with it, and how they treat them. If all else fails you can make it appear as though Dr.Robotik is having “relations” with a tree. If that floats your boat that is… you sicko!
As you might have gathered by now Sonic Adventure 2 ends up as a train wreck of a game. It has fleeting moments of brilliance, some nice secrets tucked away and an interesting attempt at a real narrative, but it’s filled with so many terrible choices and poor design decisions that it’s just not a game we can recommend.