Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've got on their minds. Today, Stuart pleads with the powers that be to get a certain trilogy on Nintendo Switch Online...
Game Boy Advance is coming to Switch Online! Maybe! Almost certainly, anyway! Hopefully. Ahem.
Look, it’s not confirmed, but it’s as good as, which was enough to prompt me to write a diatribe imploring Sega and Nintendo to work out their age-old differences and bring back a nearly-forgotten series of Sonic classics. A renaissance era for 2D Sonic fans. Yes, I am of course talking about the venerable Sonic Advance series. Three games, one tangentially-related fighting RPG thing (Sonic Battle) and some pinball (Sonic Pinball Party).
Those last two don’t figure much into this, though that’s not to say they have nothing to offer – Sonic Battle has a shockingly emotional story for a Sonic game, and Pinball Party is a genuinely good time. It’s the mainline games, though, that I desire most – Sonic Advance, Sonic Advance 2 and… er… (checks Wikipedia) Sonic Advance 3. I mean, come on! They haven’t been re-released — besides an appearance on the Japanese Wii U eShop — since their original bows on GBA cartridge back in 2001, 2002 and 2004 respectively. Yes, I can feel some hardcore Sonic fan poking me in the back about the 2003 N-Gage version of the original game, Sonic N. I know, buddy. Believe me, I’m obsessed too.
Anyway, the games would be a perfect candidate for the rumoured Switch Online service and I pray to the various gaming gods that it happens. While the Sonic Advance series isn’t perfect, I do think it’s a bit brilliant and I’d like to take some time to explain exactly why each of the games are specifically worth your time, effort and energy.
Sonic Advance kicked things off with the first 2D Sonic game since Sonic & Knuckles back in 1994. Wait, no, that isn’t strictly true – the brilliant Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure for Neo Geo Pocket Color hit that ill-fated system in late 1999. Alright, it’s the first 'high-profile' 2D Sonic game and the first Sonic game on a Nintendo system (alongside Sonic Adventure 2: Battle which launched the same day, December 20th 2001). This was seismic at the time, a true “snowball in Hell” moment for gaming.
But that’s not the point; the point, dear reader, is one that must be expressed as eloquently as possible: Sonic Advance slaps. My friends, this is one heck of a game; it’s not a match for the Mega Drive classics but it’s closer than anyone would dare to admit. The ability to play as Tails and Knuckles with their familiar skills make things feel even more vintage. Best of all, you can now play as Amy Rose with her Piko Piko Hammer, fresh from Sonic Adventure. It’s more than just a novelty inclusion – she transforms the game, making it far more difficult and forcing you to approach it much more cautiously. She can’t spin dash and isn’t invulnerable when jumping – but a brace of new hammer-based moves go some way toward making up for that.
The sequel came next year, creatively titled Sonic Advance 2, and is most notable for introducing the disgustingly-named Cream the Rabbit, the latest of Sonic’s pals and a defacto “easy mode” for an already pretty easy game. Her ability to throw her little Chao companion – the also disgustingly-named Cheese – at enemies from almost anywhere on screen made her a cute little death machine.
There’s also a new, and highly divisive, focus on speed. You know the common (and inaccurate) criticism of classic Sonic that it’s simply “hold right to win”? Well, Sonic Advance 2 is probably the closest the series ever came to making that little bon mot a reality. Of course, it isn’t hold right to win, but you are encouraged to go faster than ever before with a prevalence of speed-boost pads, simplified grinding mechanics and the new ability to gain a burst of additional speed when running for an unbroken few seconds. Even the boss battles see you chasing down Robotnik as he accelerates away from you in his latest mecha monstrosity, taking potshots.
It’s difficult to truly love Sonic Advance 2, but if you do fall for its charms, it’ll be your favourite one. The music and visuals are fantastic stuff and – for better or worse – this is probably the hardest Sonic game to get all seven Chaos Emeralds in. You’ll need to, though, to unlock everything. You’ve got to get all Emeralds with each of the four other characters in order to play as Amy, who unfortunately isn’t really worth the effort as she’s been made way less interesting than she was in the original Sonic Advance. Boo! Hiss!
Moving on, then, to Sonic Advance 3, a game so strange that when its ROM file leaked ahead of release, a lot of people assumed it was a fake fan-effort of some sort. See, there’s a lot about Advance 3 that’s a little bit… off. The physics feel like they’ve been tweaked and the game feels a touch weightless at times. It’s also bizarre how the entire pacey structure of the first two titles has been overhauled with a weird, almost labyrinthine hub area that has you exploring empty, uninteresting enemy-free spaces in order to locate the “Act Rings” that lead to each zone; which also now have three acts apiece instead of two, with a fourth boss act found separately in the hub.
So far, so odd, but it’s still a pretty great time. The major new mechanic is team-up moves; at the start of the game you pick two characters from the same cast of five as the previous game, then send them out into the world. This is cool in the way that you can simply leave Sonic behind while, say, Knuckles and Cream go out on the adventure. Since many of the team-up moves (used by holding the 'R' button) are based around propelling you into the air, the levels have an increased verticality and frankly feel absolutely vast. Finding the hidden Chao in each act, then, is a significant challenge to undertake, though it’s more fun than gathering the special rings in Advance 2.
It almost goes without saying that the music here rules; the final zone “Chaos Angel” is ridiculously epic and foreboding at times. The story is sort of an all-over-the-place follow-up to Sonic Battle – ignore it. Treat it as the 21 2D Sonic levels that it is and you’ll be hard pressed not to enjoy yourself.
So again, Nintendo – Sega – whoever – I implore you to make this series available once again, and the Nintendo Switch Online service is the perfect opportunity. In fact, it would be best for everyone if you (Nintendo, I'm talking to you) would simply do as I say at all times.