Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t a franchise that has exactly aged like fine wine. For the past decade or so, Sonic Team has had a difficult time really determining who he actually is. His games (and characterization) have changed so much over the last few years that it is difficult to count. He’s been a werewolf with Mr. Fantastic limbs, a hoverboard racer, a swordsman, and even just him, all of which missed the point of Sonic – speed. You can trace this pattern back to the then-lauded Sonic Adventure series. While Mario had been dominating the 3D platforming spectrum for years, Sonic skipped the Sega Saturn, with Sonic Adventure launching the Dreamcast in the late 90s. It was met with critical acclaim, and a sequel was soon pushed. Sonic Adventure 2 brought unique gameplay, a new story in Shadow the Hedgehog, and a nostalgic soundtrack. But does this remake do the game justice? Well…somewhat.
We have to get something out of the way – the whole series in general is a very divisive franchise to begin with – people love and hate 2D and 3D representations of the franchise, and the Adventure series is the pinnacle of this divisiveness. As it stands, as a remake, this port of Sonic Adventure 2 is a good port. While it doesn’t exactly look stunning, the graphics are serviceable. However, the gameplay is not. Camerawork in platformers is crucial to a successful game, something that precursors like Mario did somewhat well. Sonic…didn’t. The camera is so floaty and wonky that you’ll never see Sonic doing the coolness he’s built to do when you’re not in a glorified cutscene. It’s the same problem we’ve had with Sonic games for the past decade, and they didn’t opt to change it up that much in this re-release. Another thing they glossed over is the awful voice acting. I don’t know who decided Tails had to sound like a toddler, or that Sonic had to sound like an edgy 12 year old, but they’ve stuck to those tropes for years, too.
Playing as the hedgehogs are still as fun as ever, albeit with a very troublesome camera. gameplay is still all about the speed, and is still very flashy. The classic grinding gameplay is also still fun, and as a staple of platformers, it works. There are a slew of other characters, though, and not being hedgehogs, they had to have different gameplay in some form. Tails is in a giant robot suit for some reason, and it’s the clunkiest piece of garbage I’ve had to run a level through. Knuckles, while not as bad, doesn’t have a standout trait in his body. He can glide (because that’s what echidnas do, I guess) and dig dirt, so his levels are built accordingly. And they suck.
The boss fights are also pretty lackluster across the board. They can go from simply spamming the lock-on jump to a confusing weakpoint that really doesn’t make sense. They’re never as interesting as simply traversing the level, making them more of a chore than a reward to fight. At some point you just get tired of messing around with Eggman (Dr. Robotnik for the old folks among us) in his robot suit, especially when you’ve already done it time and time again. In addition, there are additions to the game like a racing mode and a barebones rush mode. You probably won’t have a lot of fun with the kart racing aspect, especially since we’ve seen better kart racers from Sega in the past few years, and a rush mode is completely useless when the bosses aren’t fun to fight in any capacity.
As far as narrative, there are two story modes that star Sonic and Shadow. Shadow’s story is a little interesting at first, until you realize he’s basically a stereotypical anime trope, common among the franchise (for god’s sake, both hedgehogs can turn into a Super Saiyan from Dragon Ball Z). The fact that this is one of Sonic’s most endearing enemies/friends is a testament to how off the rails the franchise has gone. Confined to this game, the narrative isn’t terrible, it just leads to a bunch of nonsense later on. It doesn’t change how nonsensical Shadow’s character arc is in the first place, but it certainly was serviceable at a time when the Sonic franchise was going in a million directions.
This really is a game you’ll have to have serious nostalgia for to get more than a little bit of enjoyment out of. The soundtrack is there, so don’t worry – you’ll still be rolling around at the speed of sound, and the aesthetic isn’t terrible. But jumpy gameplay, confusing bosses, horrible controls, and voice acting that makes you want to rage. For $10, you’ll get your money’s worth if you loved this game when you were a kid. For the rest of us, we’ll keep rebuying collections upon collections on Sonic 1-Knuckles until Sega gets the message.
Like the franchise? Maybe you should consider getting a Sonic the Hedgehog Art Book?