Retrospective: Sonic Adventure 2

Were the Sonic Adventure games good? Throw that question out to the crowds of Twitter users and watch people fight over it, because it’s a contentious one. But that wasn’t always the case. This series had a famously rough transition from 2D to 3D, but I think a lot of the poor reputation of modern Sonic stems from the total disaster that was Sonic ’06 and from some of Sega’s less bad but still pretty bad blunders such as the endless slog of the nighttime sections of Sonic Unleashed and the entirety of Shadow the Hedgehog.

The Adventure games, on the other hand, went over pretty well at the time. The first two real Sonic games in 3D were far from perfect, with plenty of camera problems and glitches, but I remember liking them when I first played them on the Dreamcast, and I don’t think anyone really outright hated them or declared the series dead after playing them. A lot of fans agreed, and I do too, that they weren’t nearly as good as the original 2D games on the Genesis, but they weren’t considered a disgrace to the series or anything like that. Even when the Dreamcast died, these two games were at least well-regarded enough to live on as Gamecube ports with new features added. Yet now they do get quite a lot of hate, especially the first one, which I’ve even heard called one of the worst games ever made.

I’m not going to address here whether Sonic Adventure deserves that harsh assessment, though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. But I only own the Steam port of Sonic Adventure 2, so that’s the one I can write about without having to dig through hazy twenty year-old memories. I finally got around to playing this version of SA2, and I don’t feel that differently about it now than I did back when I played the Dreamcast original upon release in 2001: generally pretty all right but with some boneheaded gameplay decisions and clunky elements that make it a chore to get through sometimes.

But amazing dialogue

But you’re reading this to get specifics, so let’s get to them. SA2 opens with a nice cinematic-looking shot of Sonic being transported as a prisoner on a military helicopter for a crime he obviously didn’t commit, because he’s a good guy. So he jumps out of the helicopter and onto the streets of San Francisco using a broken-off piece of it as a skateboard (Sonic doesn’t take fall damage, so he’s fine.) It turns out that he’s a victim of mistaken identity, because the grandfather of Dr. Robotnik, now officially known in the West as Eggman, developed another anthropomorphic hedgehog as an experiment on an orbital base to be the ultimate lifeform.

When Eggman discovers this being called Shadow, he unleashes him to cause some chaos. And of course, since Shadow and Sonic are shaped in a vaguely similar way, everyone thinks it’s Sonic wreaking havoc instead. While Sonic runs from the military police, his friends Tails and Knuckles join up to help out, pairing off against Eggman, Shadow, and another new character named Rouge, an anthropomorphic bat lady and a government spy. But she’s also a treasure hunter who’s after the Master Emerald, which for some fucking reason isn’t on the Floating Island anymore.

Remember when Knuckles was the guardian of the Floating Island and sworn to keep this shiny rock on it, otherwise said island would fall into the ocean like in Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic Adventure 1? Well Knuckles doesn’t, because he never even brings that up. And this is the third time he’s lost the damn thing anyway. What are you doing, Knuckles?

And since Knuckles shatters the emerald on purpose to get it out of Eggman’s hands, he has to search for the missing pieces again while also helping out Sonic. Amy Rose is also around, though she sadly doesn’t get much to do this game other than pine after Sonic and get captured by the bad guys as usual. Other things that happen in the course of the game: Sonic and Tails meet the President of the United States, and Eggman blows up half of the Moon with a giant space laser.

More stuff happens in Sonic Adventure 2, but this is enough to see that the plot is pretty damn stupid. In places, it doesn’t even make sense. The mistaken identity part is already silly enough since Sonic and Shadow clearly look different even from far away, so why does everyone mistake Shadow for Sonic? I guess it’s because the game needs someone for you to fight/run away from in these stages. And it can’t just be Eggman now, because he’s also a playable character along with Shadow and Rouge in the second “Dark” storyline that runs parallel to the “Hero” one up until the final part of the game, when both teams have to work together to defeat a greater, more insane evil than even Eggman himself.

But does anyone care that much about the plot of a Sonic game? Some people do, and five years later the series tried a sort of serious RPGish plot with Sonic ’06, but that didn’t work at all and went over horribly. So maybe it’s better if the games don’t worry so much about plot. You can easily ignore the dumb plot, because the gameplay is the main thing.

Sonic Adventure 2 also trips up a bit there, however. The first Sonic Adventure, released in 1998/99, tried out a lot of different gameplay modes, a couple of which were famously clunky (namely Big the Cat’s fishing game that’s widely hated; people also complained about Amy’s sluggish platforming style, though I didn’t mind it as much.) Sonic was still the center of attention, however; his game was by far the longest out of the six, with many more stages to play through. SA2 cut down on the number of gameplay modes to just three: traditional fast platforming action with Sonic and Shadow, an exploration-based hunting mode with Knuckles and Rouge, and a third-person mech shooter with Tails and Eggman, each mode sharing equal game time. So when you’re playing SA2, you’re only running around classic Sonic-style for one third of the time.

This is obviously a problem if you don’t like the other two-thirds of the game. You can’t even just play through Sonic and Shadow’s stages and ignore the others like you could in SA1, because instead of individual character routes, the story is told through two separate Hero and Dark routes that alternate stages between Sonic/Tails/Knuckles and Shadow/Eggman/Rouge. So you just have to suffer through those parts if you’re not interested in them.

Do you know the Pumpkin Hill song by heart? I fucking do

I don’t hate all the non-Sonic/Shadow parts of this game. The Knuckles and Rouge hunting levels get a lot of shit, but I don’t find them that bad. The scavenger hunt element of those stages work pretty well, and the three emerald shards or whatever other three objects you’re hunting for are placed in randomized locations that you need to find by using a sort of hot/cold radar system, so each run through of a stage plays a bit differently. The horrible camera controls can make it hard to dig around in tight areas as you’ll often have to do, but the camera in this game is always a pain in the ass anyway.

No, the sections of SA2 I really don’t care for are the mech stages. It was a fun novelty to play as the villain Eggman, and it makes sense that he’d be using a mech to get around, but Tails is now also stuck in a mech throughout the game, which means the player misses out on his unique flying ability that made playing as him in Sonic 3 & Knuckles so fun. I know Tails is supposed to be an engineer, so it’s not crazy that he’d be driving a mech around, but that still seemed pretty dumb to me. You can fly, so why not use that skill?

The greater problem here, though, is that these stages are just too slow and dull. I don’t see anything special about them. Though I do know people who really like them, so this seems like one of those “your mileage may vary” issues.

excitement

But the Sonic and Shadow stages are pretty fun. They’re still not as fun as the stages in the original Genesis games, partly because they’re far more linear. But I think the main appeal of these stages in the early 3D Sonic games is seeing how quickly you can make it to the goal. This game even implements a time/score-based ranking system from E to A (no F, I guess because if you reach the goal, you haven’t technically failed no matter how long it took you to get there) along with four extra challenges in each stage and bonuses for completing them successfully. If you’re a completionist, you can get a lot of replay value out of Sonic Adventure 2.

Some of that replay value is also provided by the Chao Garden, where you can raise some weird onion-headed blue creatures with any of the six playable characters, feed them animals to make them strong, run them in races, etc. I’m not into this kind of virtual pet stuff, but if you are, it’s worth checking out.

This is pretty much how you raise Chao as far as I know

The team that ported SA2 to Steam seems to have done a pretty decent job, because it mostly plays fine.* I do get some slowdown in a few parts of stages (mainly Sonic and Shadow’s visually busy jungle stages) but I’m not sure how much of that is me having a piece of shit PC that I can only run visual novels on. For the most part, this game plays how I remember it playing in 2001. All the good and bad elements of the game are still there: the camera is still garbage and the mech stages are still boring, but the Sonic/Shadow stages and some of the Knuckles/Rouge ones are still fun to play.

The soundtrack hasn’t been touched either, which is again both a good and a bad thing. I really like some of the music in SA2, especially Rouge’s smooth jazz lounge stuff and Shadow’s extra over the top angsty-sounding themes like “Supporting Me”. The Knuckles raps are still really bad, but then again they’re so bad that they’ve become jokes, especially the Pumpkin Hill theme — and in any case, it’s hard to imagine those Knuckles levels with any other BGM. If you’re a fan of Crush 40 and Jun Senoue’s guitar-playing then you’ll also really like Sonic’s character and stage themes. I’m not a big fan of the style, but “City Escape” is still catchy. Just try to get it out of your head when you’ve heard it once.

Hey Knuckles, when you’re done flailing around like a dumbass, let’s have a proper fight.

In the end, I still have mixed feelings about Sonic Adventure 2. It’s mostly fun to play, and even the mech sections aren’t horrible to get through aside from a couple of extremely overly long stages late in the game. On the other hand, I think it also represents a shift away from the old Sonic style that I grew up with as a kid and that I liked so much. The first Adventure also added new characters and a dumb plot, but it felt more in line with those older games somehow. With SA2, we’ve now got much more “adult” characters with the extra-edgy Shadow, who looks like he was designed to appeal to depressive loner kids (i.e. me) and Rouge, who looks like she was designed to appeal to furries on DeviantArt (i.e. not me, but I guess I get what they were going for if in fact they were going for that.) And the President is a character in the Sonic universe now for some reason. Sonic Heroes is where the series really lost me, and Sonic ’06 is where it gave me a giant middle finger, but in some ways SA2 feels like the beginning of that shift into unfamiliar territory.

But does it really matter that much? Sonic the Hedgehog as a whole has had plenty of ups and downs, and even though I’ve been mostly out of the loop with the Sonic series for the last two decades, I’ll probably always have a soft spot for it. I certainly will for Sonic Adventure 2, which in my view counts as one of those ups. At the very least, this game is certainly not the disaster some critics paint it as. I guess that’s not the most enthusiastic endorsement I could give the game, but I’d say it’s still worth trying out, even with its problems. 𒀭

 

* This isn’t the case for the ports of Sonic Adventure, however. The Gamecube port Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut was supposed to be an upgrade, but it actually downgraded some of the graphics and added new glitches that weren’t present in the Dreamcast original. The PC version is even worse in this regard, taking the Gamecube version and compounding these problems, and unfortunately the SA offered on Steam is based on that one, making it a port of a shitty port of another shitty port. Thankfully, fans have created patches to fix many of these issues, doing far more for the game than Sega ever bothered to. For a comprehensive rundown of the port issue, see a video overview here (made by Cybershell, an excellent YouTube video maker who recently reappeared for the second time after years of hibernation) or go straight to the source to get all the details.

As far as SA2 goes, I also played it on both the Dreamcast and the Gamecube, and I don’t remember so many differences between the two versions aside from a few bits of added content like multiplayer battle mode, but I could be wrong about that. It’s been a long time, after all. I should also mention that the extra Gamecube content is offered on Steam as DLC. I didn’t buy it, but it’s only a few dollars as of this writing.

25 thoughts on “Retrospective: Sonic Adventure 2

  1. Sonic Adventure 2 is a game I love, but hooooooooooo boy does it have problems. Looking at all of the pitfalls in the game I’d tend to view it unfavourably against its contemporaries (at the time), but I still enjoyed it for what it was and enjoy replaying it every few years for some nostalgic goodness.

    Generally speaking, my biggest issue with the whole game is the same issue I have with every Sonic game – sound mixing. Why the hell are the sound effects always so effin’ loud compared to the music? Say what you will about the music, but I really enjoy a lot of music from throughout Sonic’s history and it always bugs me when I collect a ring and the sound bite played is so loud that it almost entirely cancels out the background music. This is even worse in SA2 as those mech levels constantly have that screeching noise that plays while you’re locking onto enemies and the radar noise is during the treasure stages can be pretty intrusive as well.

    In reading this I think it is about time that I should probably do another replay of the game.

    • You bring up a great point that I totally passed over. Maybe it just folded into my general annoyance with the mech stages and some parts of the hunting ones, but those sounds are absolutely irritating and distracting.

      But yeah, I agree — I like it but I cannot deny the problems SA2 has. It was a nice nostalgia trip for me, too, even the rough parts.

  2. Sonic Adventure 2 was the game that introduced me to the series, and I still think it’s the best 3D game in the series. A lot of people are down on it because the 3D games are not as regarded as the early 2D ones, and rightly so, but it really is a creative game that manages to incorporate its various play styles well – certainly more so than the original Sonic Adventure, which was horribly unfocused. I may have to play it again before I can form a good opinion, but I would, at the very least, give it an honorable mention.

    • I honestly can’t think of a 3D Sonic game I’ve played that I liked more than this one. I remember Colors and Generations being pretty decent, but those were more 2D/3D hybrid games than pure 3D.

      This is a bit unrelated, but I’m also still a little pissed about the misleading title of Sonic 3D Blast. 2D isometric is not 3D, but even if it technically counted as 3D, it wouldn’t be a good game.

  3. Sonic Adventure 2 is a game that I enjoyed as a kid. The art was excellent especially in the Egypt stages, the music was nice and the voice acting was pretty decent for its time. It even got its own anime port in the form of Sonic X, of which I’ve seen in both Japanese original and English abomination! But you do bring up at times the gameplay parts for the mecha / exploration parts can be finnicky, and even strenuous as well – I felt the same. One thing I remember was that Sonic’s Crazy Gadget level was so darn frustrating I had to rely on a game guide to save me. That’s the first time I discovered those things, and were it not for this I would have just given up on the game entirely. Shadow’s was pretty hard too. Also would have been nice, like you said, to have non-mech stages for Tails, considering he is one of my favorite Sonic characters.

    All in all, this game certainly knows the way. Well, sort of.

    • Oh yeah, Crazy Gadget was weird with all those gravity-bending parts and those “don’t touch the slime-covered floor or you’ll die” areas. That will certainly slow you down a bit.

      I’ve never seen Sonic X, so I didn’t know it was based on SA2. The only animated Sonic stuff I saw were some of the American productions in the 90s that went off of the Archie comics — those were totally different from the games. I remember wondering where all these extra characters were I wasn’t seeing in Sonic 2 and 3&K and all that.

      • Actually I’ve never seen the Sonic cartoons in North America, I do know the SatAM one is very good though and loosely follows the plot of the games – just like Sonic X sorta does 😀 I get why they needed to add more characters though, otherwise the story would be kinda dull!

      • Yeah, I remember that one, sort of took the setting of the Genesis games and made filled it out I think. I guess a show with just Sonic and Tails beating the hell out of Robotnik over and over might get old.

        I also remember seeing a few episodes of Sonic Underground as a kid and thinking “what the hell is this?!” That show just did its own thing entirely separate from all the games and other material.

  4. I love Sonic the Hedgehog as a wider franchise, But if I’m really honest with myself, there are only really two not bad 3D Sonic games. And as much as I have nostalgia for Adventure, it’s aged horribly.

    • I don’t feel SA2 has suffered that badly, but from what I remember of the first Adventure and some parts of the unmodded Steam version, that one has certainly aged poorly. Almost all my nostalgia for Sonic is connected to the Genesis games, though, so I get what you’re saying there. For me the series peaked in 1994.

      • Yeah. The series is always better in 2D. Honestly, a lot of the GBA and DS games are the highlights post S3&K. Although Sonic Mania is most certainly the best game in the franchise since that game. I adore it.

      • I feel the same about Mania, yeah. Levels, physics, visual, music, that one did everything right. I don’t have much experience with 2D Sonic on handhelds, but I did play some of Sonic Advance and Rush and remember liking them pretty well. They might be worth checking out again.

  5. I don’t find the ports of the Adventure games to Steam to be bad, but just more lazy than anything. Doesn’t make the game worse for me personally, and fortunately there are the modders out there who are doing god’s work on the ports.

    If there’s one thing that I don’t really like about SA2 (aside from the mech stages, I also didn’t really like them) is that the treasure hunting stages now only allows you to focus on one emerald piece at a time. In Sonic Adventure the radar would just bleep whenever you were close to one of the three, but now you have to focus on one at a time which is an unnecessary restriction in my opinion. It doesn’t make the stages harder; just more tiresome. And those PCs that give hints are an absolute waste.

    Otherwise I enjoyed the game, not as much as Sonic Adventure 1 but definitely a game I’m willing to revisit in due time.

    • God bless those modders, they do all that work just for the love of the game.

      And I didn’t even remember this, but you’ve jogged my memory now — Knuckles’ stages in SA1 were a lot quicker because of that, weren’t they? I know you can come across emerald pieces out of pure luck without the radar in SA2, but the stages are huge in some cases so the chances of that happening are low. As for those PCs, I never even bothered with them. The most worthless hints imaginable unless you’ve already played the stage a few dozen times and know the locations through rote memorization.

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  7. Haven’t played, but I remember watching videos of this game. The Sonic and Shadow stages really do seem high quality, like they hit that level of speed and momentum that most of the 3d Sonic games had so much trouble with, and they’ve got a lot of fun things going on. I wasn’t too sure about the Knuckles and Rouge ones. The treasure hunting seemed painful just in video form, I always thought they’d be even worse to actually play.

    Also, when did Knuckles get associated with really out-of-place rapping? That seems like an odd character trait for them to have picked up.

    • Yeah, the Sonic/Shadow stages definitely hit a nice balance with the speed, and there weren’t too many annoying gimmicks in them either. Regarding the hunting levels, I think they can certainly be annoying, but I don’t find them that bad aside from the ones in the very late game (Rouge’s Mad Space honestly does piss me off.) The more reasonable ones work for me as a sort of time challenge too.

      I have no idea why Knuckles got associated with weird out of place rapping. It started with his SA1 theme where they were trying to do very different themes for each character, so maybe they threw a dart labeled “rap” at a board and hit Knuckles’ face.

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  9. IDK. I thought Sonic 06 was beautiful. And I also liked the stories of Sonic Unleashed and Shadow The Hedgehog. But perhaps I’m biased… However, I don’t see how I could hate something that emotionally moves me to the point where I cry. (Like Sonic 06.) Please don’t hate me.

    • Not at all! We just have different opinions, nothing wrong with that. To be fair to modern Sonic, I think some of the 3D games have gotten a worse reputation than they deserve. There were also things I liked about Sonic Unleashed (mainly the daytime sections, which I had no problem with) and even with Sonic ’06 I could kind of see what they were going for — I just didn’t feel they succeeded, and I found a lot of the gameplay to be extremely frustrating and not fun. But again, that’s just how I felt about these games, so I won’t tell other people they’re wrong for liking them.

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