Review: Sonic Adventure 2: Battle (GCN)

Super Sonic or Super Chronic?

SEGA's attempt to have Sonic the Hedgehog transcend his 2D roots and venture into the realm of 3D didn't go nearly as smoothly as Nintendo's own Super Mario 64, despite Sonic Adventure being generally well received upon its release on the Dreamcast in 1999. It didn't take long for the cloud to lift from the judgement of players and critics alike and the camera issues, atrocious voice acting and various glitches that had been overlooked previously suddenly became more than just minor quirks. But as the old saying goes: "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again", and Sonic Team did indeed try again on the Dreamcast in 2001 with Sonic Adventure 2 before releasing an enhanced port on the GameCube the following year in the form of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.

Sonic Adventure 2's story is typical Sonic fare, although it tells its tale through two different perspectives. The Hero story follows Sonic, Tails and Knuckles as they attempt to thwart yet another of Dr Eggman's world domination schemes. Running parallel to that is the Dark story, in which Dr. Eggman and two new characters — Shadow the Hedgehog and Rouge the Bat — endeavour to see said evil scheme come to fruition. Both stories need to be played through to unlock the final story, in which both parties unite against a common foe, which is a shame because playing as one side and then the other uncovers severe inconsistencies in the plot. Events that occur in favour of either side often unfold the opposite way in the other. Granted, no one really plays a Sonic game for a deep, involving plotline, but without so many contradictions the idea of these stories intertwining would have been pretty cool.

Luckily the story by no means gets in the way of the gameplay, which doesn't change the formula laid down in Sonic Adventure but rather refines it. The goal is always to reach the end of the stage alive, with levels playing out in one of three ways. Sonic and Shadow's stages are fast-paced affairs in which you collect rings and defeat enemies in your goal to reach the end of the stage as quickly as possible. In Knuckles and Rouge's levels you're tasked with hunting down pieces of the Master Emerald, with a hot or cold mechanic guiding you to each piece. Lastly, Tails and Dr. Eggman's stages see each character piloting mechanised walkers armed with machine guns and lock-on missiles.

Regardless of which character you're playing, the camera often makes things difficult. Instead of upgrading the camera system to make use of the GameCube controller's C-stick, camera control is still limited to rotating it with the shoulder buttons, which can lead to more untimely deaths than is generally tolerable. However, when the camera does behave itself, around two thirds of Sonic Adventure 2's story mode is a lot of fun: the Sonic/Shadow stages all do a good job of adapting the series' trademark breakneck gameplay into a 3D space, introducing the grind mechanic that's become a staple in almost every Sonic game since. The Knuckles/Rouge segments are for the most part entertaining enough as you run, climb and glide around large wide-open areas, solving cryptic clues regarding the emerald pieces. Unfortunately, the Tails/Eggman levels are, for want of a better word, rubbish: the machine gun is beyond useless and each stage entails aiming at every enemy and destructible object while holding down the missile button until you reach the end. Boss fights of varying quality also crop up throughout the game, in addition to some utterly terrible sections in which Tails or Rouge must drive a car along a narrow highway and reach the end before the time runs out. To use the word "handling" here seems far too generous; needless to say, they don't control well at all, hampering any enjoyment these sections might have offered.

Once the Hero, Dark and Final stories are all polished off, players have a number of options available should they crave more. Going back to collect emblems, which are awarded for completing specific tasks within each level such as collecting a certain amount of rings or finishing a harder version of the level is somewhat enticing, as the reward for 100% collection is a re-imagined 3D version of Green Hill Zone. Chao Garden returns from Sonic Adventure, in which you raise the tiny creatures and enter them into contests and fights. At first this appears largely throwaway stuff as the game never really keeps you in the loop in regards to how your Chao are doing, but the introduction of Chaos Drives adds a subtle layer of difference, as does the ability to create Light or Dark Chao, effectively tripling the number of potential Chao. One neat enhancement over the Dreamcast version is the GBA connectivity: using the GBA link cable, you're able to transfer Chao to the Tiny Chao Garden in Sonic Advance, Sonic Advance 2 and Sonic Pinball Party and earn extra items, although you can download a simplified version of the garden if you don't own any of these games.

Capping off the extra modes is the two-player multiplayer component, which is the one area in which Sonic Adventure 2: Battle saw significant enhancements. The four gameplay styles from story mode make their appearance here along with their respective characters, with a handful of other familiar faces from the Sonic universe and extra levels too. Naturally the mech walker and racing levels are utterly abysmal, but competing against a friend in either of the other two modes is a great deal of fun, especially the emerald hunting stages. In multiplayer, the first player to collect two of three emerald shards wins, which makes for some tense moments when each player is in possession of a piece each and are frantically searching for the final one. Of course, there's also a lot to be said for the basic thrill that comes from speeding through a level at a lightning pace, and in Sonic Adventure 2: Battle that thrill is increased by the additional coolness of having Metal Sonic playable.

Multiplayer might have seen a wealth of extras added to it, but presentation-wise, the changes made to the original Dreamcast version are minimal. That's not to say that the game looks bad by any means — minor special effects upgrades have been added in certain levels and everything looks slightly sharper than before — but a major graphical overhaul this isn't, and Sonic Adventure 2: Battle's aesthetics remain unaltered in any drastic way. The same can thankfully be said of the game's music and unfortunately also of the diabolically bad voice acting. The only saving grace here is that you can switch the dialogue to Japanese and just read the subtitles instead if you're really that interested in the story, which is infinitely less irritating than listening to Tails' whining tones or Knuckles brooding like an emo kid at a poetry recital.

Conclusion

SEGA has often been accused of straying too far from what made Sonic the Hedgehog so endearing to fans, which is arguably one of the biggest criticisms of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. Luckily, enough of what makes up this remake is still entertaining and the enhancements and additions in multiplayer and Chao Garden should keep die-hard Sonic fans happy for a good, long while. That being the case, however, the still problematic camera, SEGA's insistence on giving characters voices and trying to shoehorn in as many different gameplay mechanics as possible all spoils proceedings somewhat. While Sonic Adventure 2: Battle is definitely worth playing, the absence of upgrades where they were really needed mean that if you've never been convinced by Sonic's 3D exploits, there's not a lot here that's going to appeal to you.