Title  : Sonic Advance
Platforms  : Game Boy Advance
Publisher  : THQ & Sega
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 6.7
Review by  : Ken Gagne

When I was younger, brand loyalty was strong (or at least more obvious) among my video gaming peers. Our imaginations made constant adversaries of Mario and Sonic, pitting Nintendo's plumber and Sega's hedgehog at each other's virtual throats. We'd dream of the final victory where one company subjugated another, and we'd have all their games on one system. 

That was then; this is now. The first appearance of Sega's mascot on a Nintendo system is Sonic Advance for Game Boy Advance, and we find reality not quite living up to the dreams of our youth. 

Unlike its Dreamcast predecessors, this incarnation of Sonic is a 2D platform game, akin to its Genesis ancestors. As either Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy, players must navigate 12 levels of dastardly devices, ultimately facing off against the evil Dr. Robotnik. To open the final stage, all four characters must conduct themselves through the repetitive task of defeating the same 12 levels. 

For those unfamiliar with our insect-eating protagonist, Sonic's trademark is his speed. Unlike Mario, whose world is filled with hidden items and opportunities to explore, Sonic never fails to blast through enemies with all due haste. Hurrying is the goal of the Time Attack mode, but even in normal gameplay, each level's design will prompt players to not stop and smell the roses. Some characters are more suited to this pace than others, but any hero can probably finish all the levels in an hour or two. 

The gravity in Sonic's world is strong, greatly hampering players' upward mobility. Any item Sonic and friends speed past is troublesome to go back and get, yet may be necessary to unlock all the game's levels. 

If you do choose to race along, you'll find that Sonic Advance makes little distinction between the quick and the dead. The many ramps, curves, and loop-de-loops beckon players to melt the hedgehog's sneakers in a frantic dash. This approach often produces a steady stream of rings, but an unexpected spike pit or errant fireball can scatter the player's golden collection. By holding onto at least one ring, gamers can continue to survive such assaults, but the damage to their score will have already been levied. 

Despite the "Advance" in the title, Sonic's controls are simple. The shoulder buttons are ignored, leaving the 'A' (jump) and 'B' (dash) buttons responsible for the action. Each hero has slightly different abilities, but are no less capable of handling the obstacles they face. 

For comparison purposes, I dusted off the original Sonic the Hedgehog, a 16-bit Sega Genesis game published in 1991. Though the older title is slower and easier by comparison, it has better control and level design than its handheld counterpart. The graphics are roughly equal, but a large, colorful television screen does the series more favors than the small, dark GBA screen. 

Sonic Advance is the first Game Boy Advance game to interact with the Nintendo GameCube. Pet Chaos (the plural of Chao) can be transferred between this game and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, to be raised in virtual pet fashion on either system. Multiple GBAs can also be connected for four-player races using a single Sonic cartridge. 

These connectivity features and multiple playable characters are smart extras for Sega to have added to this venerable franchise. But the old-school gameplay is too frustrating and uninspired to bring much enjoyment. After a disappointing Sonic Adventure 2, and now this game, it seems our speedster series may be going downhill.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 11-Feb-02