Sonic returns for more handheld action, bringing with him one of the fastest, most entertaining games in the series.
At first glance, Sonic Advance 2 looks to be more of the same - but it's all too soon that you learn of the innovations this title brings to the table. The first one you'll notice is the speed - Sonic Advance 2 is the fastest Gameboy Advance Sonic title ever. After running top speed for long enough, your character bursts off in a Sonic Boom to an all-new level of speed previously unseen - and they'll need it. Sonic Advance 2 contains some of the largest levels in Sonic history, and to get through them in a timely fashion, you're going to need all the speed in the world.
Another new addition is the trick system. As you are sprung around these levels, you have an opportunity to do a trick - after coming off of a spring or a ramp, hold a direction on the D-Pad and press L or R to have your character do a trick in that direction. In addition to a nice score bonus, tricks give you added height, more speed, or powerful downward strikes, and soon, it will become second nature to be tricking around levels at incredible speeds.
As typical with each new Sonic title, the character roster has also gotten a boost. When you start out, initially only Sonic is available for play - but as you face boss encounters, you unlock more characters. Most you know - Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles make return appearances, and a newcomer joins the race - Cream, a six year old Rabbit girl with her pet Chao, Cheese. Cream's role is unique - she was primarily designed to make the game easier for younger players. She can spin, and she flies similarly to Tails - but her real difference lies in Cheese. By pressing the B button at any time, she commands Cheese to attack any nearby enemies, including bosses.
But that is not to say the game is without faults. The additional speed means it becomes increasingly difficult to see where you're going - often times, especially in later levels, the game sends you flying into spikes, an enemy, or a bottomless pit, with little or no time to react. This gets especially frustrating as most of the hits you take in this game aren't your fault - the game forces you to memorize the levels if you want to make a "perfect run".
Another stumbling point is boss encounters. For anyone who has played Sonic & Knuckles on the Sega Genesis (or in one of the port collections) - imagine the Mushroom Hill Zone Act 2 Boss. Every boss in Sonic Advance 2 is that sort of, "Rolling Boss". You're constantly in motion, and must accelerate up to the boss to hit him, all the while avoiding his attacks. This is fun the first few times, but, like the level design, bosses become cheap and difficult; with constant streams of attacks that get progressively harder to dodge. And, if that wasn't annoying enough - before you fight the final boss, the designers pull the cheap trick of forcing you to re-fight all the bosses in the game without stopping.
And finally, one of the most frustrating aspects of this game is the Special Stages. In Sonic Advance, the entrances to Special Stages were cumbersome to find, but in Sonic Advance 2, things just get ludicrous. Littered around levels are 7 "SP Rings". To access the Special Stages, you must find and collect all 7 SP Rings - and this is easier said than done, whereas Tails, Knuckles, and Cream pretty much have free reign to explore the stages as they please, Sonic isn't so lucky - certain areas are designed specifically so Sonic cannot backtrack without restarting the stage all over from scratch. This often means you must know the one "perfect route" through the stage as Sonic if you hope to find and collect all the Chaos Emeralds - and you will want to. As with playable characters, most of the extras in the game are locked off until you start beating bosses and collecting emeralds; even extras that should have been unlocked from the start of the game, such as the Tiny Chao Garden and the Sound Test.
Overall, what we're looking at here is a Sonic game that balances out the good with the bad. The problems it has are frustrating, but most of them are easy to look past when the game itself is just so fun to play.