Sonic Advance Preview

Find out how Sonic and company fare on the Game Boy Advance.

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As Sega extends its franchises to multiple platforms, its swiftest and most recognizable property is poised for a race on to all of Nintendo's systems. Releasing roughly in tandem with the GameCube's Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, Sonic Advance is the blue blur's first handheld appearance since the NeoGeo Pocket Color's excellent Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure. Developed by Sonic Team and published by THQ, Sonic Advance is shaping up to offer a return to Sonic's classic 2D days with some twists to keep things fresh.

Sonic goes portable.
Sonic goes portable.

If you approach Sonic Advance expecting to find a remixed version of the NGPC game, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Sonic Advance is a completely new 2D adventure that, once again, finds Sonic on a mission to retrieve the Chaos emeralds from Dr. Robotnik. (You'd think after 10 years of this happening someone would lock the things up or something.) As in his later 16-bit adventures, Sonic will get a little help from his friends. Longtime sidekick Tails, partner/rival Knuckles, and obsessed groupie Amy Rose are all on hand to help out. Every character's sprite reflects his or her most current incarnation seen in the Sonic Adventure games on the Dreamcast and GameCube. The detailed sprites feature a generous amount of animation for their movement and their idling actions. The animation goes a long way toward conveying the characters' individual personalities, which calls to mind the classic Sonic titles.

Amy a cute, but obsessed, kind of girl.
Amy a cute, but obsessed, kind of girl.

The various levels you'll work your way through will also give rise to some déjà vu in veteran Sonic players. The detail is on par with that of Sonic's 16-bit efforts, and it comes across fairly well on the GBA's screen, albeit a bit dark. You'll find the traditional Casino Zone featuring the neon lights and pinball-style bumpers, a Factory Zone with all manner of mechanical contraptions to both help and hinder your progress, a Snow Zone with piles of snow that cause you to lose speed, and a Beach Zone with palm tress inhabited by grenade-throwing monkeys. The music for the levels is retro enough to be familiar, but the arrangements are different enough to keep them from sounding stale.

As far as gameplay goes, Sonic Advance is rock-solid. You'll go through zones that are broken up into two to three acts, with the last act ending with a boss fight. The tried and true game mechanics of the series, such as high-speed dashing, well-timed jumps, and skidding to a halt, are joined by some new elements. Each character has his or her own unique abilities, some of which should be familiar to most vets. Sonic will have momentary invincibility during a jump, Tails will be able to fly for short distances, Knuckles will be able to glide for brief periods, and Amy will use her hammer to attack. The control is simple--you'll move with the D-pad, jump with the A button, and attack with the B button. It all works well, although you'll find it's no longer very smart to blaze through levels at high speeds, as you'll invariably be nailed by a wickedly placed enemy.

Knuckles gets his game on.
Knuckles gets his game on.

In addition to the game's single-player story mode, you'll find three other modes to explore in Sonic Advance. Versus mode lets you race against a friend via a link cable. Time attack will challenge you to race through levels in a set amount of time. Finally, the game's tiny chao garden will allow you to raise a chao for use in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the GameCube. You'll also be able to use the GameCube's GBA link cable to import a chao from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle so you can tend to it on your GBA. The feature takes the place of the chao-raising functionality provided by the Dreamcast VMU, and it's a pretty cool improvement.

Sonic Advance is shaping up to be a sweet platform offering for the Game Boy Advance. With its detailed graphics, slick animation, solid gameplay, and tie-in with the GameCube Sonic game, the game has a lot to offer. Sonic fans will want to look for it when it hits stores this February.

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