Live and don’t learn, that’s me, because after having an absolutely miserable time with Sonic Adventure, I came right back for more with Sonic Adventure 2. While I’m sure both games were plenty entertaining in their own time (despite looking and playing worse than SM64, Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider, and dozens of other games that came years before), they’ve aged worse than cheap plastic surgery, leaving them both ugly, glitchy husks of tedious and mind-numbing gameplay.
One of my writing teachers had a rule, where if you’re angry or upset about something, you have to give it time for the emotions to fade so you can write about it objectively. Well, I’m saying screw that, I beat Sonic Adventure 2 less than an hour before I started writing this, and I’m sure as hell letting every ounce of vitriol seep through. Sonic Adventure 2 shares the same issue as its predecessor: for a Sonic the Hedgehog game, you spend a whole lot of time not playing as Sonic. This wouldn’t be a problem if the other characters had speed-based gameplay like Shadow, hell, I liked the Tails stages in Adventure because he was going fast, and I think I’d really enjoy a Knuckles or Rouge stage where the objective is to run to the end of the level.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. I said in Adventure that Tails was probably my favorite character to control, because his speed wasn’t as touchy as Sonic and he had 3D movement. Adventure 2 decided that instead of building on that, they’d put him in a mech. A mech that goes “EEEEEEEEE” whenever you press or hold the fire button. No, you didn’t give yourself tinnitus by blasting Escape from the City too loud, that’s an actual sound that someone recorded, someone else okayed, and someone else put in the game. His stages more akin to Gamma’s in the original Adventure, but he controls clunkier, you have to play him for longer, and his mech screeches in pain throughout the entire level.
Before you even get to the first Tails stage, though, you have to get through Knuckles. Now, you know Knuckles. You like Knuckles. His stages in the last game were dumb, but he has some pretty fun movement. Unfortunately, Sonic Team never fails to think of ways to make things worse, so instead of crippling his motion, they instead cripple his radar. Much like in the original, Knuckles has to find the pieces of the Master Emerald. Again. However, last time, his radar would detect whichever of the three shards were closest. Here, they go one at a time. You could be standing right on top of one of the pieces, and if that wasn’t the one the radar decided it wanted you to find, it wouldn’t detect it. It got to the point where I’d end up tearing up whole rooms just in case there was an emerald piece there, because I didn’t want to have to go back and look for it again.
Alright, you might be thinking, “well, Tails and Knuckles’s stages may be a drag, but at least Sonic’s are fun, right?” Well… not really. It’s not that they’re bad, a lot of them are just samey, because there’s not much Sonic can do. He runs… goes through loops… homing attacks his way across gaps… uses the light dash across gaps… swings a vine across gaps… uses grind rails… and take a look at all of those. Going through loops and grinding are basically autopilot, homing attacks are just mashing A to the proper rhythm, a light dash involves holding a button, and a vine just needs a single button tap to get on. I think this is why they make you play as all the other characters, because Sonic’s gameplay gets repetitious, but “auto-aim your way through mech stages” and “find the damn master emerald” are not the way to do it.
While I don’t particularly like the “Sonic vs. Mario” debate, just take a look. Mario has such a varied kit to work with: jump, triple jump, long jump, wall jump, wing cap, metal cap, cannons, hops, and this is just in Super Mario 64. Sonic’s movement kit was barely expanded since Adventue 2, and if SEGA had focused on that a bit more instead of thinking up a dozen and a half different locations where Emerald pieces could spawn, the game would be a lot more fun and varied without delving into radically different genres. Or they just could’ve let Tails and Knuckles have a few Sonic-style stages. That would’ve been a lot better than taking a break from speed to dig around for treasure for twenty minutes on end.
Time to talk about the story, I suppose. The game starts with Sonic being arrested and escaping from a police helicopter, and jumping straight into the first level (which I’m saving for later because it’s actually good). After fighting a robot, Sonic discovers Shadow the Hedgehog, and realizes that the police must’ve confused the two of them and arrested Sonic on Shadow’s misdeeds. This is fucking stupid, even if humans in this world can’t discern black from blue, they still look and sound different, but that’s far from the biggest plot hole here. Anyway, Shadow escapes, Sonic gets arrested, and both Amy and Tails go to break him out.
Meanwhile, Rouge the Bat has decided that the Master Emerald is hers for some reason, and tries to take it from Knuckles. While they’re arguing, Eggman tries to take it, but Knuckles breaks it while he’s carrying it away, spreading the shards in such a way that they fall neatly in trios into several different levels. Apparently Angel Island doesn’t exist anymore, because the Emerald wasn’t being protected there and there was no mention of it falling into the Earth.
Tails escapes Prison Island with Amy, and Sonic runs off to find Shadow. When they meet, Shadow claims to be the Ultimate Life Form, so naturally Sonic defeats him quickly and easily. Then he has to escape from the island before Eggman blows it up, so both Sonic and Shadow retreat back to the city.
After a bit, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy meet back up, and from an abandoned space colony, Eggman broadcasts his plan to take over the world. In a show of power, he blows up half the moon with a gigantic laser and demands the surrender of humanity. Apparently, the laser was capable of accurately aiming all the way from low-Earth orbit to the moon… and it all vaporized, there was no falling rocks… and the moon’s orbit wasn’t disturbed… and the tidal forces weren’t disturbed… and I’m pretty sure you can see the moon intact in later games…
Moving on, the characters break into Eggman’s secret base in the desert, Sonic has one of the only fun boss fights in the game, and they get to the space colony ARK. Tails discovers that Eggman’s using the power of the chaos emeralds to power the laser, so he makes a fake chaos emerald to nullify the power of the real emeralds, causing the laser to self-destruct when fired. After dicking around in the space station for a while, Eggman finds Amy, kidnaps her, and makes Sonic come get her.
At this point, SEGA realized that Sonic’s levels are getting a little dull, so they decide to fuck with the gravity a bit. Because he’s in space, certain platforms have certain gravitational pulls. This alters your controls, so instead of blasting your way through space (which would actually be FUN), you’re tiptoeing around, being extra cautious that the slightest wrong movement won’t send you careening into the darkness and force you to start all over. Knuckles’s space stage is actually a little more fun here, as much of a waste of time as it is.
Sonic makes it to Amy and Eggman, and offers to exchange the Chaos Emerald for Amy. Eggman correctly guesses that he’s bluffing, and sends both Sonic and the Emerald in an escape pod set to self destruct. Despite the chaos emerald being a fake made by Tails, Sonic uses Chaos Control to get back to the ARK. If Tails can make chaos emeralds capable of using Chaos Control, why the fuck do they ever have to find Emeralds again?? Why doesn’t Tails just whip up a couple emeralds whenever Eggman starts an evil plan and just use those to defeat him? Hell, if Sonic can use Chaos Control with the fake emerald, why not travel a few weeks back and stop Eggman before this even started?
You know what, maybe the emerald didn’t work and he just escaped through a gaping plot hole. Yeah, let’s go with that. So the plot hole brings him over to Knuckles— wait. If they’re going to use a fake Chaos Emerald to reverse the powers of the real Chaos Emerald, why go through the trouble of making them when they could just use a Master Emerald piece? The Master Emerald exists to nullify the power of the Emeralds! Knuckles has been carrying them around the entire game! For fuck’s sake, Sonic Team, did you spend longer than a week on ANY PART of this?
Anyway, Knuckles fights Rouge, saves her life, she insults him a bit because likeable characters are overrated, and gives him the Emerald Pieces back anyway. Once he has the Master Emerald restored, it vanishes from the game entirely now that Knuckles doesn’t have any more macguffins to find, and he meets up with Sonic. The laser’s set to fire, and Sonic realizes that the only way to save the world is to run along the grind rails outside the ARK and throw the fake emerald into the cannon.
Shadow, misanthrope supreme that he is, decides he wants humanity to die, and tries to stop Sonic. This is the final boss of the first route, and it’s kind of a crapshoot. A lot of the time, my homing attack wouldn’t work and I’d just fall off the edge of the arena, and when I beat him, I just locked him into a combo that for some reason he wasn’t able to escape just by spamming homing attacks.
Once the laser’s blown up and the Earth is saved, you unlock the dark route, allowing you to play as Shadow, Eggman, and Rouge. They’re exactly the same as Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Eggman still has stages you can auto-aim your way through, Rouge still has the awful treasure hunt stages, and Shadow’s are alright. The dark route starts with Eggman breaking into a secret military facility to revive his grandfather’s project: The Ultimate Lifeform, better known as Shadow the Hedgehog. Shadow and Eggman team up to activate the ARK’s laser to take over the world, along with Rouge for some reason. Most of this route takes place before the hero route, but eventually lines up with Eggman and Tails battling, along with Shadow and Sonic a bit later on.
I’m not going to go in as much detail on the dark route, mostly because I already covered a lot of it, but I will stop to complain about one of Rouge’s levels. Eggman has Rouge break into a military facility to steal the Chaos Emeralds. As usual, the Emeralds are in random locations, and the radar only detects one at a time. This time, though, you’re on a five minute timer. Apparently, Sonic Team either expects you to be some savant at finding these things, or grind out the level enough times that you know exactly where each emerald might spawn, map out a route finding all potential locations, and just get lucky. All these levels suck, but this is by far the worst.
I touched on this during the Adventure review, but having to refight bosses in one route as the designated loser is just stupid. During the Rouge and Knuckles fight, Knuckles is supposed to win, but you have to defeat him as Rouge anyway, even though the following cutscene still shows Knuckles winning. This happens with every boss throughout the route. Tails and Eggman fight twice, Sonic and Shadow fight twice, and Tails and Sonic win twice each, but Eggman and Shadow still have to win in their respective routes. It’s hard to get excited about a battle that you know you’ll lose no matter what, especially when the game doesn’t treat it any differently.
Speaking of refighting bosses, the one recycled fight that actually makes sense is the Golem Eggman built for Sonic to fight. This was the actually decent fight I mentioned earlier, where you have to run around to avoid his attacks, then platform up his back to hit him. Eggman’s battle with him is just kinda lame, though, all you have to do is mash fire until he runs out of health.
Shadow’s final stage is similar to Sonic’s final stage, racing across the outside of the ARK to get to the cannon. Both stages, final rush and final chase… suck. They take place over bottomless pits, and have a heavy reliance on grind rails for Sonic and these weird rotating platforms for Shadow. A lot of the time, Sonic just wouldn’t latch on to a grind rail, and I’d just fall to my death. At one point, I tried to homing attack onto a rail that went up a wall, missed the platform, and clipped through the wall entirely, again proving that Sonic Team’s QA department is around less than my father.
Meanwhile, Shadow’s stage is built around rotating platforms that have their own gravity and spin you around while you stand on them. The angular momentum here is wonky, and while my jumps went the right way more often and not, I was constantly stressed I was playing. Throughout both stages I was going way slower and more careful than I should’ve had to, because the last thing I wanted was to fall off and have to play the whole stage over again… and that’s really not good. Here’s the thing: platformers are rewarding to play because you die a few times, trying to figure out what the right path through the level is, what the right jumps are, and mastering them on the way to the level. In Final Rush/Chase, though, it’s pretty obvious what you have to do, the problem comes with actually doing it with the crapshoot that accompanies successfully hitting grind rails, some of the worst enemies in the game, and possibly the most abysmal camera I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with. You could argue that there’s some shortcuts and skips to find, but considering I get four tries before I have to start the level all over, and waiting through grind rails is so ridiculously boring I’d recommend putting on a movie in the background to entertain you, there’s no way in hell I’m going to risk anything that might kill me. When your player’s scared of dying because they so desperately don’t want to play your level again, you’ve done a bad fucking job.
He fights Sonic again, which is essentially the same fight as the one at the end of the hero story except Sonic has a different special attack, which I didn’t even get to see because every fight either ended with me glitching off the edge of just locking him with a homing attack over and over, and the dark story is done. This unlocks the last story, where they discover that destroying the eclipse cannon just destabilized the ARK and sent it on a collision course with Earth (the moon’s still fine, though), and they have to stop it.
Tails, Eggman, Rouge, Knuckles, and Sonic race around the ARK, but Shadow doesn’t give a shit because he still hates people. Amy gives him a whole “no, people are good” speech, unlocking a memory of a girl named Maria giving him the same speech before the ARK was closed and Shadow was hidden away. He changes his mind and goes to help the others, which is a good choice on his end, because they’ve managed to awaken the Biolizard, Shadow’s final boss.
The Biolizard was the prototype of the Ultimate Life Form that eventually became Shadow, and… eh. The fight’s alright, parts of it are fun, parts of it are unfair, and the pacing just feels weird. It suffers from the same issue pretty much every Sonic boss does, which I might address in another article because this is getting a bit long for a review and the issue pertains to the entire series, not just Adventure 2. Anyway, Shadow beats the Biolizard, and tries to use Chaos Control to make it disappear.
Instead, it merges with the ARK and becomes the final boss. This fight… is… awesome. It’s also really short. It took me two minutes, which wasn’t enough time for the song to loop once, or even get to my favorite part for that matter. No exaggeration, the Biolizard took me ten times longer than the actual final boss. Regardless, it’s really cool. Sonic and Shadow go Super Sonic/Super Shadow, and fly around in space attacking the ARK-Lizard fusion while he shoots lasers and missiles at you. This should’ve been in Generations.
Before I move on to some stuff I actually liked, I want to say one last thing. The sound design in this game is absolutely miserable. I already mentioned the “EEEEEEEEE” issue, but every sound effect is way too loud and completely drowns out the music. Hitting something, picking up something, getting hit by something, walking near anything that makes noise, Omochao, interacting with something, or doing most actions makes far too much noise, and there’s no volume slider to be found. On top of that, the audio in the cutscenes is mixed terribly. Characters talk over each other, their dialogue is not only desynced with their mouths, but also with what’s actually happening, and sometimes gets drowned out by other noise.
Speaking of the cutscenes, they look horrible. I could compare it to any number of better-looking games that came out the same year, but instead, let’s compare it to the original Adventure. The original’s cutscenes were terrible, but in a funny way. As horrifying as seeing Sonic and friends’ faces bubble and vibrate as they talk, at least it was amusing to watch. In this game, they’re just outright ugly.
Back on audio design, while I was trying to enjoy the Pumpkin Hill theme over Omochao’s incessant whirring and wishing I was playing any other game, I came to realize something. There are two reasons to play a Sonic game: to go fast and to listen to the killer soundtrack. Because of poor game design and poor level design, Adventure 2 doesn’t let you do either. However, if you get a copy of the soundtrack and a game like Riff Racer, you can do both. Riff Racer is a better Sonic game than Sonic Adventure 2.
Finally, after 3,000 words of whining, let’s talk about the good stuff. Don’t worry, there’s not much left to go. Escape from the City is possibly one of the greatest opening level themes ever, and the City Escape level is actually fun. There’s an unmatched sense of speed, excitement, and adventure that the rest of the game sadly doesn’t live up to. It’s a fantastic first level nonetheless, starting with you skating down a hill on a board ripped from a helicopter, and racing through the city with Crush 40 pumping pure speed and freedom into your ears.
This brings me to the other good part, the soundtrack. As usual, the music is consistently incredible, blending a variety of themes to correspond to each character. Sonic’s songs are upbeat and exciting, Shadow’s are darker and have a lot of electronic parts, Knuckles’s are mostly rap, and so on. More love and care went into the soundtrack than any other part of the game, and it’s a goddamn shame the rest of the game is too loud to drown it out. Now, let’s get this wrapped up so I can plug the soundtrack into Riff Racer and actually have some goddamn fun today.
Sonic Adventure 2 is a poorly cobbled together piece of crap with a story that has more holes than the Flat Earth Society’s FAQ page, absolutely atrocious sound design, inherently flawed level design with worse execution, lackluster controls, and a soundtrack that deserves much better. Despite Sonic Team’s best attempts, though… I just can’t hate it. I don’t hate it. I hate playing it, yes, but hate the game? No. It’s got heart, a personality that makes it leagues better than generic phone-ins like Call of Duty and other bland, lifeless cash grabs.
Ultimately, I think that’s what keeps me coming back. I already mentioned liking Generations and thinking Colors is decent, but I keep hopping around the series trying to find any game where the experience of actually playing it matches its heart. This game deserves better gameplay, more coherent stories, a better look. For now, though, I’ll be taking a break from the series, and I’ll come back with Heroes in a month or so. Maybe that’ll be the one. Maybe.
Max is a student at Rutgers who likes writing fantasy and playing video games such as Zelda, Mario, Undertale, Earthbound, and Stardew Valley.