If you had spoken to a Sega fan just five years ago and said that Sonic would appear on a Nintendo console in 2002, you would have been laughed out of the room. But times have changed, and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for the GameCube is a perfect illustration of that fact. Originally released for the Dreamcast last year, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle is the first foray into 3D for Sega's mascot on a non-Sega console. And while it has its moments, its lack of refinement makes playing it a disjointed and frustrating experience.
The primary single-player mode in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle allows you to choose from two different quests: hero and dark. If you choose the hero quest, you'll play as Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails while trying to stop the sinister Dr. Eggman from taking over the world. In the dark quest, you'll play as a batgirl named Rouge, Dr. Eggman, or the dark form of Sonic, Shadow. The game consists of three primary gameplay types, and each type is represented equally throughout the game. Sonic and Shadow reprise the blistering speed levels from the first Sonic Adventure game, Tails and Dr. Eggman pilot mechs in simplistic shooting levels, and Knuckles and Rouge take part in scavenger hunts for lost Chaos emeralds. Normally, gameplay variety is a positive aspect of a game's design, but in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, this isn't the case. Sonic and Shadow's levels--though somewhat noninteractive--preserve the Sonic theme by offering visceral roller coaster rides through psychedelic landscapes. These levels provide a great deal of excitement, but they account for far less than half of the game. The rest of the game consists of frustrating scavenger hunts and shooting levels that can be completed by merely mashing the shoot button and performing rudimentary platform jumps. Compared with the eye-blistering Sonic and Shadow levels, the scavenger hunts and shooting levels are so simple that the youngest child would have no problem completing them if it weren't for the game's biggest flaw--an inoperable camera.
Now that games have been in full 3D for well over five years, it's rare that you'll find a game with as poor a camera as the one found in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. It fights you all the way. While it's not much of a problem while playing the linear Sonic or Shadow levels, any attempt at straying off course or examining portions of the levels besides what's directly in front of you results in frustration. The camera will get stuck behind walls, become lodged inside structures, or swing wildly with no warning. Needless to say, this can cause serious problems when attempting to find the hidden Chaos emeralds with Knuckles or Rouge, and it's often the cause of death while piloting the mechs as Dr. Eggman or Tails.
The new additions to Sonic Adventure 2 Battle when compared with the Dreamcast version of the game are the multiplayer modes. You can race, fight, shoot, and treasure hunt against friends, but each gameplay type is fairly shallow with just a few options to choose from. Older players will tire of their simplicity rather quickly. Raising small creatures called chao is another aspect of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle that has received an added twist. You can still feed them animals and attribute upgrades that you find hidden in the game's adventure levels, but they can now also be transported to the Game Boy Advance, where they can be trained further. If you have Sonic Advance for the Game Boy Advance and a cable to link the two platforms, you can save your chao and keep them on the handheld for easy access. Even if you don't have the handheld version of Sonic, a training minigame can be loaded into the GBA's RAM and played until you're ready to transfer the creatures back into the GameCube. It's a neat feature and the first of its kind in the US, but the training aspects are so simple that they will captivate only the young. After your chao have been trained, you can enter them in races or karate competitions, but the outcome is basically decided by your chao's attributes, and there's little in the way of interactivity. While Sonic Adventure 2 Battle's gameplay has a nice variety, the implementation is lacking and there's not enough of the high-speed gameplay Sonic games are known for. The tedious collecting and shooting levels are made more frustrating by the game's uncooperative camera, and it's a shame that Sega's latest Sonic game has very little to do with the blue hedgehog.
Sonic Adventure 2 is the pinnacle of graphical achievement on the Dreamcast, but the game has been ported to the GameCube with few improvements. The texture clarity has been bumped up a bit, and the frame rates are pegged at 60fps, but that's where the improvements end. Even so, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle is predominantly a nice looking game. Some of the levels are quite stunning and feature enviable texture work. The themes used for each stage transcend the stereotypical ice, fire, and water levels found in other games in its genre. Special effects such as reflections, real-time lighting, and particle effects are sparse and rarely seen, but the game's extremely clean look compensates for it. The animation is adequate--though nothing special--and the facial animations have not been reworked to match the English dialogue. It would have been nice if Sega had taken the time to rebuild the character models or add some polygons to the sometimes simplistic landscapes, but as far as ports from one console to another go, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle is a good one where graphics are concerned. If it weren't for the stingy and sometimes worthless camera, the graphical score would be higher.
Sonic Adventure 2 Battle's sound is the game's weakest aspect. The migraine-inducing J-pop that permeates the game is awful unless you enjoy constantly hearing phrases like, "I'm gonna follow my rainbow." Sometimes the music changes for characters like Knuckles, where hip-hop influenced breaks are utilized, but the loops are so short that the tracks become repetitive rather quickly. Even worse than the music used in the game is the voice acting. Of particular note is Knuckles, whose deadpan voice makes him seem disinterested in the game's events. Even if the voice acting were good, the horrible script would ensure that it lost its impact. Perhaps some things were lost in the translation, but the story is so disjointed and pointless that cutscenes are met with reluctance instead of anticipation.
Sonic's transition from one dimension to the next has been a rocky one, and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle fails to recapture the franchise's magic. The gameplay features an adequate amount of variety but is betrayed by a poor camera, the multiplayer modes lack depth, and the chao training aspect using the Game Boy Advance is little more than a novelty. The game lacks the final coat of polish that makes good games great, and it offers very little for the older game player to enjoy beyond a four-day rental. Kids will enjoy Sonic Adventure 2 Battle due to its simplicity, but even they will be confused by the poor camera implementation. Hopefully Sega will take a hard look at the franchise before beginning work on the next installment and realize that a game with Sonic's name on it should be dominated by the blue hedgehog and his trademark gameplay instead of other bit players in his universe.