As those of you who either read our Sonic Week feature or have half a brain know, Sonic the Hedgehog is a gaming icon of epic proportions, nearly equalling the popularity of Mario and surpassing that of Crash Bandicoot. For Sonic's 10th birthday, Sonic Team decided to grace us with the follow-up to the world's best-selling Dreamcast game, Sonic Adventure. Well, Sonic Adventure 2 is upon us, and it has been heralded by many as the best platformer available on the Dreamcast.
The Chao World is a magical place!
If I told you that the Dreamcast could run a game with several million polygons per second, gorgeous lighting effects, ultra-high resolution textures, all locked in at 60 frames per second you probably wouldn't believe me. Well, once again Sonic Team has worked their magic and wowed the pants off us. When the first Sonic Adventure came out it was a sight for sore eyes, especially after years of staring at the blocky graphics of the PlayStation and the blurry graphics of the Nintendo 64. You can bet that I was impressed by the Sonic Adventure 2 demo packed in with Phantasy Star Online, but it was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to graphical splendor you'll be treated to in the full retail version. The environments are works of art, dazzling the eyes, but always remaining fuctional in terms of gameplay. The complexity of the architecture in Sonic's Egyptian stage, for example, is astounding. The textures are all very large and detailed, which is important in the painting of the game's many environments. All in all, you'd be hard pressed to find a game that looks much better on the Dreamcast, or any other console for that matter.
One trademark of Sonic the Hedgehog which has remained true throughout the past ten years is the simplicity of its gameplay. Complex moves like the spin dash, bounce, light dash, Chaos warp, homing missiles, digging, grinding, and punching are all handled with simple combinations of the A and B buttons. Certain moves are cued by onscreen warnings, much like those seen in the Nintendo 64 game, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. This makes the game very easy to pick up and play; any novice can learn to control the character. Yet, even the most hardcore gamer will find him/herself breaking a sweat on occasion trying to solve some of the more difficult platforming puzzles. The moves are well implemented and using them becomes second nature after a short while. Similarly, using power-ups is very easy, even with the three different styles of play present in SA2. You see, the game features six characters who share three general gameplay types. Sonic and Shadow have their hyper speed gameplay with grinds and inverted loops, which require split-second reflexes to properly navigate. Tails and Dr. Eggman (previously known as Dr. Robotnik) both move around in small mechs. In their stages, players are required to pump loads of lead into as many enemies as possible. The final gameplay style is featured in the stages of Knuckles and Rouge. The two must scour stages searching for treasure while solving puzzles and doing a lot of jumping. Some may have complaints about the different gameplay styles, but in my opinion, they are all entertaining and, as such, triple the amount of depth in the gameplay. And if these levels weren't enough, there are plenty of mini-games to keep you busy as well; gamers will be able to race go-karts, raise Chao, and even race them. Each level features four different missions to beat, each one tougher than the last. In addition, two players can compete in all three gameplay styles and race karts or Chaos against one another. Quite a package, no?
As Knuckles, it's your job to find the shards of emerald scattered across the level.
In general, SA2 is a very sonically pleasing game. (Yes, the pun was intended) The music, while not as good as what was first in its prequel, is still good and each track really captures the proper atmosphere for the level. For example, Sonic's levels feature 80's-styled, racing guitar solos, while during Knuckles' stages hip-hop is the norm. If nothing else, it's impressive to hear the artists work references to the game into the music. Listen to the Pumpkin Hill theme, and you'll know what I mean. The sound effects may not be the best we've ever heard, but if you're like me, then you enjoy hearing that all-too familiar "ching" sound that accompanies the pick-up of a ring. It's the classic Sonic stuff we've been hearing for years, and you'd have been disappointed if it wasn't. So don't worry...
In the original Sonic Adventure, one section of the game that many players enjoyed was the Chao sequence. For those not in the know, a Chao is a form of A-life (artificial life) that Sonic and the gang can care for throughout the game. They are also the cutest little bastards you've ever seen. Sonic Team expanded the Chao sequences perfectly to fit into the Hero/Dark motif found in the game. Raising a Chao is essentially a the same as raising a virtual pet. The way you treat your Chao will affect their maturing process. Pet them and treat them gently and they'll be angels. Beat them, throw them, or forget to feed them and they'll become evil. You can pick up small animals and Chaos drives in the gameplay levels and use them to help your Chao mature. For example, you could breed your Chao with bats and birds make him learn to fly, or with squirrels and lions to make him a great runner. The addition of this rather involving mini-game adds quite a bit of depth to the gameplay. Also, if you'd prefer to not be bothered with a virtual pet mini-game, then you can simply avoid the Chao key in the action levels which triggers your entrance into Chao World.