Sega's navy-blue hero is returning in Sonic Adventure 2, a game that could mark the last appearance of Sonic and friends on a Sega console. Sega's prized Sonic Team is developing the game, and Yuji Naka, one of the founding fathers of the Sonic series, is overseeing the project. We recently received a demo build of the game and were able to take most of the playable characters for a stroll through the build's levels.
While solid details regarding the game's storyline are still scarce, the demo build did let us play as six different characters and treated us to a few quick cutscenes between some levels. The build we played was a collection of levels that were tied together with a placeholder menu, and it didn't accurately reflect the flow or story of the game. Still, we were able to see almost all the game's first few stages, and it appears that the game has you play as different characters in alternating order as you progress through the stages. The game not only allowed us to play with such Sonic mainstays as Sonic himself, Tails, and Knuckles, but it also allowed us to play as Dr. Robotnic, Shadow, and Rogue. Sonic and the hero cast look and play pretty much the same as they did in the last game, but the playing as the evil characters is entirely new to the series. The evil characters are essentially clones of the good characters, and they play amazingly similarly to each other. Shadow, the evil-looking purple-and-red version of Sonic, plays exactly like the blue machine, and he skates his way through the levels on his slick hoverskates. Dr. Robotnic plays the same as Tails--both characters trod through levels in large bipedal mechanical walkers, shooting down enemies with fairly powerful homing missiles. And Rogue plays similarly to Knuckles--both characters can punch things, climb walls, burrow into walls or the ground, and even glide through the air. It's unclear exactly why you play as both groups of characters, but judging from the brief cutscenes in the game, it appears that both sides are working to achieve the same goal but have different motivations.
Sonic Team has claimed that the game will be more action-oriented than its predecessor, doing away with the adventure stages and RPG-like feel of the last game. What's left is simply a linear series of action stages sewn together in classic Sonic fashion. A cutscene will likely explain exactly what's going on in the story, then it's up to you to complete the action stage to progress through the game. With the exception of Tails and Robotnic, the gameplay of Sonic Adventure 2 is almost identical to that of the first game. Sonic does have a few new tricks in his bag, the most obvious of these being the new railslide move. Apparently Sonic has taken up freestyle walking, and he wears shoes with a grooved plastic plate in the soles that allow him to slide up and down rails. In the preview build, we not only see Sonic sliding down the stairway rails, but we also see Shadow sliding down the cables of a huge suspension bridge. To help promote this new move, Sega has enlisted the sponsorship of Soap, the primary manufacturer of freestyle walking shoes. The Soap logo can be seen on all sorts of objects in the game, from ad posters on the walls to a huge blimp. Another obvious difference between the gameplay of Sonic Adventure 2 and that of the last game is the fact that the levels seem less focused on the "run and watch" gameplay that was prominently used in the last game. While Sonic Adventure 2 certainly has segments where you simply hold a direction button and watch as your character hits boost pads and does amazing stunts from dramatic camera angles, these segments seem smaller and less frequent.
Sonic Adventure 2 probably takes the Dreamcast's graphics as far as they'll go. The game simply looks stunning, and the environments are amazingly detailed. The game takes place in a varied assortment of levels, and each level has its own graphical look and feel. Sonic's first level looks a lot like San Francisco, Shadow's first level takes place on a series of highways at night, and Dr. Robotnic's only level takes him through a flaming desert fortress complete with pitfalls and hazards. Not only do the levels have a lot going on in the foreground, but the backgrounds are also living, breathing environments, and the colors are very beautiful. The game flies along at a quick frame rate, and it never seems to slow down, with the exception of the in multiplayer modes. The sound in the preview version seemed a bit off, and the cutscenes were a bit confusing. The sound effects seem like your standard Sonic fare, and the voice talent from the last Sonic Adventure game returns for this one. The soundtrack is full of wailing guitars and Japanese glam-rock, and it really doesn't help turn up the intensity of the game.
The preview version did feature a quick multiplayer game, and it allowed us to choose which characters we wanted to square off against each other. The multiplayer game is divided into three different games, and which game you play depends on which characters you pick. Sonic and Shadow simply race each other through one of their own levels, Robotnic and Tails square off in a top-down arena battle between their robotic walkers, and Knuckles and Rouge appear to have a race to see who can find certain chaos emeralds first. Of the three minigames, the best is probably the battle between Tails and Robotnic. While playing a two-player race with Sonic and Shadow is fun, the game drops several frames of animation and the frame rate suffers considerably in this mode. Hopefully Sonic Team will be able to maintain the game's frame rate and animation set in this mode in the final game.
Still, even in this preview build, it's pretty easy to see that Sonic Adventure 2 will be one of the last great games for the Dreamcast. Sonic Adventure 2 should provide fans of the series with more of what they like, returning to the roots of the series to make a game just as action-orientated as the first Sonic game, with all the graphical polish of the Dreamcast to boot. Sonic Adventure 2 is due out on June 19, only four days before Sonic's 10-year anniversary.