Fast-paced, challenging and fun. This is definitely an improvement over the first Sonic Advance.
The story, like the first Advance game, is simple and I am thankful for that. It's the standard case of Eggman trying to conquer the world again, only this time he's also gone as far as to kidnap Sonic's friends. It's also fair to note that this game featured the introduction of Cream the Rabbit, a cute little rabbit with the ability to fly. She sure sounds like someone we know, but it doesn't matter.
So let's get right into the best part of this game – the gameplay. You find yourself once again platforming through various stages as one of four (okay, five, but the fifth character isn't unlocked until all the Chaos Emeralds are collected) characters. You start off with only Sonic available, but as you play through the game with him you will unlock the other characters – Cream, Tails and Knuckles. The problem with the first game exists still – the repetition of the levels with the four characters. Thankfully, they do have their minor differences in gameplay so it isn't all that bad. Sonic just speeds through the levels as he has always done, Tails can fly briefly and Knuckles can glide and climb, like in the first game. As for Cream, she too can fly briefly, but she can also send her chao Cheese to do all of her dirty work for her, making her the easiest character to play as.
What really makes this game better than the first Advance game is its sense of speed. This game just feels so much faster than Sonic Advance, and seems to stick to the traditional 'speed through the levels' formula. Sonic Advance was good, but it didn't feel as fast as this game does. If you go fast enough, the characters seem to just boost, which serves to add to that sense of speed.
The boss battles also add to this sense of speed and are incredibly unique – you are moving the entire time. It's a case of consistently moving to the right, running after Eggman's wacky creations. These boss battles can be challenging partially because of this, but I don't mind them as I do accept a good challenge every now and then, though I'm certain other people won't like them as much because of how tricky and annoying some of them can be.
One thing that's different about this game from the first Advance is its difficulty. Sonic Advance 2 is easily more difficult than the first one, but never to the extent that it becomes frustrating. It challenges you nicely, but not in a nasty way which makes you want to throw your handheld across the room, which only serves to make this game even better.
As in the first game, there's also a time attack mode and pretty good multiplayer, enabling you to link up to your friend's Game Boy Advances and race them. The Tiny Chao Garden also makes a return, enabling you to raise the cute little creatures some more, play a couple of mini-games and upload or download Chao to or from Sonic Adventure DX.
The game looks just as good as the first Sonic Advance title, if not better. The character sprites look pretty good, fitting the neo Sonic style well. The levels look great and colourful with interesting, well-detailed backgrounds. The music is also pretty snazzy, though not quite as upbeat as some later Sonic titles, such as Sonic Rush, it still fits the levels well.
Overall, I have no difficulty in saying that Sonic Advance 2 is one of my favourite 2D Sonic titles, and one of my favourite handheld Sonic titles. It's challenging, it's fun and it's got that sense of speed which keeps me hooked. I definitely recommend people who like platformers to give this one a try. It's brilliant.