There are admittedly some factors that must be taken into account when reviewing Sonic Adventure 2. Originally released for the Dreamcast back in 2001, it has since made it’s way to the Gamecube, and now to Xbox Live Arcade and PSN. And like many games which are trying to find new life on modern storefronts, one must acknowledge the age and the time a game was made in. But even so, I cannot in good conscience recommend Sonic Adventure 2. At all.
The game presents the story of Sonic and his friends as they try to, yet again, disrupt the actions of the evil Dr. Eggman. This time around, both sides of the story are told, with two different campaigns revolving around the heroes and the villains. You may recognize some of these characters, mainly Shadow the Hedgehog, as they have been used in countless games since Sonic Adventure 2’s release.
The tale it tries to weave is one of emeralds, robots, and high speed chases with presidential limos. All of this wackiness would be fine, but there’s absolutely no justification for any of it. Things just happen. Plot points could simply be thrown aside as meaningless surface layer fluff, but the game spends an exorbitant amount of time telling you things that make no sense, and showing events that should hold importance, but have never even been hinted at. Characters are thrown in at random for single scenes and never heard from again, and even recurring characters never grow beyond spewing one-liners. It’s rare to find a game that dedicates so much time to saying so little. Mix this with a comically atrocious attempt at lip syncing and spasmodic character animations, and cut-scenes come off as a five year old’s fever dream. It doesn’t help that the vast majority of the dialogue is cringe-worthy on a level I didn’t think possible.
And one may make the argument that this story is meant for kids, that it’s not supposed to be analyzed this way. But to this I say bullshit. Good children’s entertainment doesn’t treat its audience as mindless vessels that will suck up any and all garbage. Even if this is a story for children, it’s still a bad story.
As for the actual gameplay, Sonic Adventure 2 can be a nightmare. Each character has their own type of level. Tails has a mech suit, Knuckles searches for gems, and Sonic has the style of stage we’re familiar with in modern 3D Sonic games. Villains then mimic these mechanics, with each hero having an antagonist that, for the most part, plays the same. The main problem is, none of these gameplay elements really go beyond a simple gimmick. The worst offender are the Knuckles/Rouge levels. In these, players must search for three items, and the only tool your given is a detector which beeps when near one of the desired objects. But you can only track one gem at a time, and the only clues given are abstract, often vague to the point of meaninglessness, text messages found on computer screens scattered around the level.
It’s archaic, and when viewed with modern sensibilities, unforgivable. I despised each mission that required me to do this, because it was at no point engaging or fun. That was one third of the game which I absolutely loathed. This spreads over into the other characters as well. Mechanics for each are facile and tedious. They have two or three basic actions players repeat ad nauseam. “Power-ups” are littered throughout the campaign, but they don’t add anything, they just let you perform the same actions on different objects. And this tedium works against the game’s attempt at longevity, as the designers obviously meant for players to re-play each level for the sake of score.
Movement itself is also frustrating beyond belief. There’s a momentum to character movement that makes platforming unnecessarily difficult. Granted, when playing as Sonic, I can understand the implementation, but in all of the other levels, it just makes movement inaccurate. Characters also tend to move along surfaces as if they were covered in ice, probably in an attempt to exaggerate the sense speed, but this just makes movement that much more difficult. All of these factors, combined with a general floatiness to the jumping, make platforming feel unsatisfying.
But the real enemy of Sonic Adventure 2 is the camera. As a game developed for a system with one analogue stick, I understand why it’s authoritative with perspective. It was made in the early days of camera control, but this doesn’t change the fact that the camera perspective is forced to a single view the majority of the time. Slight control is given, but it almost always reverts back to a default position, completely eliminating any benefit camera control gives. Gaps and enemies are constantly hidden from your line of sight, making most failures feel cheap and undeserved. At no point did I ever die and think to myself it was my fault. I never knew why I died, it was just the luck of that attempt. The only strategy for doing well in any level is simple repetitive memorization of each twist and turn.
If Sonic Adventure 2 has one saving grace, it’s the updated visuals. When compared to the original Dreamcast version, it does look noticeably better. Environments still look dated, but everything has a much more crisp appearance. But the game is still full of cringe inducing pop-rock the Sonic series has become notorious for over the past decade. There is a certain absurd attraction to the nonsensical lyrics, but this charm wears off quickly after the first few listens. Although, I will give the soundtrack one nod of approval. There are a few legitimately sick jazz tracks to be found in the depths of this atrocity.
Even for the $9.99 base price, I can’t recommend Sonic Adventure 2. The only attraction this game can have is nostalgic. And if this is the case, do yourself a favor, and just dig out your old Dreamcast. The game has aged like a pack a day smoker who eats nothing but fast food. It’s just sad.
Sonic Adventure 2 was developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega. An XBLA copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.