Gaming Retro Sega

Sonic Adveture 2: A Terrible, Awful, Awkward, Glitchy, Overrated, Infuriating Masterpiece

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An Andrew Stokely Rant

When I crave a nostalgic overload, one of my first thoughts is to pop in Sonic Adventure 2. This game was central to my childhood in so many ways. It was one of the first video games I can consciously remember, and it was really the only one I remember being thoroughly impressed by. I had played Starfox and Mario on the N64. I knew what to expect from a 3D game at the time, and SA2 completely shattered all of my expectations, as limited as they were for my gaming experience. The speed was palpable, the music was sensational, and the mood was absolutely killer. When I finally got my hands on the Gamecube port some three years later, after experiencing Mario Sunshine, Smash Bros. Melee, and the like, I still loved it. I think I loved it even more, in fact, since I was getting to an age where the instant-gratification gamer impulse of “shut up and let me play” was beginning to slow down. It was one of the first times that I actively appreciated a story in a video game, and it felt like something bigger than what it was. Maybe it wasn’t quite cinematic, but it certainly had more weight to it than your average kid-pandering Saturday morning cartoon show. (Ahem… Sonic X.)

Years later, while browsing the interwebz, I was wandering the gaming corner in search of bit-sized video entertainment when I came across a video review of Sonic Adventure 2. I cannot remember the name of the Youtuber who put up the video, nor can I remember its exact title, but, overcome by a wave of warm memories of rolling around at the speed of sound, I clicked on it. I watched it. I listened closely to every word the man had to say, deeply and carefully. And, you know what? I didn’t agree with a word he said. Not at all. How could this man trash my childhood treasure so? After all, he put way too much time and criticism and hate into the mech sections and the treasure hunting levels and Knuckles’ rap lyrics are supposed to be cheesy and how could you not like Sonic Adventure 2?!?

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Immature, yes I know, but at least I kept it all to myself. I wasn’t stupid enough to leave a comment calling this critic unjustified, hideous names just because we didn’t have the same taste in video games. I just let it go, found a more positive review, and let differences in opinion be. Eventually, as a result of this and other similar browsing sessions, I ended up buying a Sega Dreamcast, which started me on the path of retro-collecting geekdom. I explored its library with games I was unfamiliar with beforehand: Soul Reaver, Skies of Arcadia, Armada, Grandia II and so on and so forth. I had almost forgotten about the experience entirely, until, inevitably, I got around to playing Sonic Adventure 2 in its original Dreamcast glory.

That’s when the memories of that night came flooding back. Why? I’ll tell you why! Because Eggman has to get through the Sand Ocean stage without using his hover ability! Because the radar for Knckles and Rouge only detects one emerald shard at a time instead of all three simultaneously! Because there aren’t enough platforming stages! Because the boss fights are way too easy! Because that one battle against King Boom Boo takes entirely too long! Because of the lame karting mini-game! Because of the terrible sound production quality! Because…Because…

I think I finally pinpointed the reason why that video made me so angry. It was not because this guy somehow retroactively ruined glittering, golden childhood memories with this game, but because many if not most of the problems he had with it were completely legitimate. I know that now. Hell, I knew it then. I always struggled with the treasure hunting stages and completing all those unnecessary extra missions. I always had a part of me that cringed whenever the lamest attempt at rapping ever came on during one of Knuckle’s stages. I knew all of this and I always did. Why was I so angry then? Was it really because I didn’t want to disturb the pristine, rosy reverie of my youthful joy? Perhaps, but not quite as much. I believe it was more so the fact that because I enjoyed such a flawed and frustrating piece of work, that I was somehow less intelligent, less dignified, less of a person, in a way, for appreciating something that had so many glaringly obvious problems. And, what’s more, I didn’t have any idea how to express my true feelings on the game. Namely, that in spite of all of its issues, I still very much enjoyed (and still do enjoy) Sonic Adventure 2.

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I knew, ultimately, that somehow, some way, all of the flaws and problems and rage quits in moments of sheer frustration were all worth it in the grand scheme of things. Yet, I had no idea why. I could not explain the reasons that SA2 was such a fun game for me, and I knew that I couldn’t write it all off as just a nostalgic blur. I had had fun replaying the game. I still have fun replaying the game, and the more I pondered the reasons why, the more I began to come to those realizations. I would like to share them here, of course, but first I see it fitting and fair to list out in detail some of the problems that gave me such powerful doubt in the first place.

The Bad

The Glitches:

Though certainly not as offensive as they are in the infamous 2006 Sonic reboot, there are still a number of prominent bugs which can kill the good vibes: Sonic can fall through rails, enemies can deal unfair hits, and walls can be phased through to bottomless pits. If you’re not careful, these may wreck your whole experience, but they are mostly avoidable. When they do show up, however, it always seems to be at the worst possible times.

The Shooting:

A very common complaint with this game is the shooting/mech sections. They are slow, the are clunky, and the often lack any real challenge in terms of shooting or platforming. However, these stages can still end in multiple deaths thanks the bottomless pits that you swear you dodged but somehow the game cheated and this is bullshit and!…

The Treasure Hunting:

Aside from the aforementioned one-at-a-time detection issues (that, interestingly enough was a non-problem in the original Sonic Adventure) the stages that these levels take place in are often entirely too big. As a result, the simple task of finding three different things often takes way longer than it needs to. But, you aren’t completely up the creek yet even if you are stuck. Just find a floating television screen to attain one of a limited number of vague and usually pointless clues that tend to either refer to a wide-sweeping general area or a very specific detail within the stage you almost certainly overlooked.

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The (Lack Of) Platforming:

Sonic and Shadow’s stages all together make up about a third of the game. For as fast-paced and as fun as they are, wading through the other parts, especially with their respective issues, can sometimes seem like it’s not worth it. A perfect example is Shadow’s Final Chase stage which follows the ungodly massive Mad Space, a treasure hunting stage truly epic in scale with backwards or intentionally misleading clues just for added aggravation. Mad Space is likely to leave you drained and rather uninterested in whatever else the game may have in store.

The Rapping:

Knuckles’ stages have background music that is clearly rap. It’s not good rap, either. It’s trying way too hard without being conscious of its own cheesyness, which, some say makes it more enjoyable and some say makes it worse. You can definitely count me in the former camp, but I still feel like this was something worth mentioning.

The Mixing:

A minor nitpick many seem to have with the game is that the sound in cut scenes often drowns out the voice actors. There are subtitles on the screen by default, but the voice actors do such a good job that it’s kind of disappointing to see their work overshadowed like that.

The Plot Holes:

Why does Shadow need to pursue Tails after Rouge already caught up to him? Why is Eggman so concerned that the military will find his “secret base” when it has his face plastered all over it? Why do Sonic and friends waste their time hijacking a space shuttle when Eggman’s base already has a teleportation device which already has the destination programmed into it? How the hell does everyone on Earth confuse Sonic the Hedgehog with another creature that clearly looks absolutely nothing like him? How does a science experiment go from giant android lizard to four-foot-tall anthropomorphic hedgehog? All of these questions and more will go completely unanswered by the lazy storytelling of Sonic Adventure 2!

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The Good

The Action:

Sonic Adventure 2 is an action-packed game of epic proportions. Even when the kinetics of the motion could be better or use a little more polish, the feeling is still there. The GUN truck in City Escape, the Giant Drill in Cosmic Wall, and the numerous boss fights scattered throughout all do a great job of getting your heart racing like only Sega can.

The Voice Acting:

Even with the improper mixing, the voice dubbing is great and deserves to be appreciated. To me, this game’s interpretation of the character’s voices are what what the Sonic characters should sound like when they speak. Each voice matches the tone and personality of the character perfectly, and they all blend very well into the overall story and aesthetics.

The Platforming:

For Sonic, 3D platforming never got (and some might say never will get) much better. It was a great balance of speed and jumping precision that largely fixed what needed fixing from the first game and added in a few elements here and there as the game progressed. Between the high-speed chases, the homing attacks over bottomless pits, the grinding, and the stunts, it’s hard not to fall in love with Sonic and Shadow’s 3D platform stages.

The Aesthetics:

Sonic Adventure 2 has some great graphics, especially considering the time period. A lot of this, of course, is due to the fact that Sonic Adventure 2 features hand-drawn artwork instead of polygons to suffice as backgrounds. While some may see this as a cop-out, it’s important to keep in mind that the Dreamcast had a limited storage capacity, even compared to consoles that were slightly younger such as the Gamecube and Original Xbox. What’s more important to me, though, is the fact that the polygonal elements and the drawn elements of a stage’s or cut scene’s environment blend almost seamlessly, resulting in a very nice presentation which is especially noticeable on the recent HD remake.

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The Story and Tone:

I joked before at the storyline in this game, but that’s only because I love it so much. Why? Well, the story itself isn’t all that original and, like I said before, it’s riddled with plot holes. The dialogue, while memorable, is no Hamlet quality drama either for as memorable as it is to its legions of fans. No, what really wins me over in this game more than anything is the tone. It has just the right balance of darkness and light-hardheartedness to it. Each character is treated with dignity, respect, and gravitas. The plot itself ultimately ends on an optimistic note, but one that is dampened slightly by the preceding events. It’s a dark chocolate kind of bittersweet, and it’s a mood I’ve yet to see effectively replicated in any Sonic game since.

The Soundtrack:

Knuckles’ music may not be up to par, but the rest of the soundtrack certainly is. The music adds to the atmosphere in times of quiet and the tension in times of action. Additionally, the music is very memorable and very catchy, epically the City Escape song, perhaps the most iconic piece in Sonic history since the Chemical Plant Zone theme. There are many other memorable tracks too. They are diverse and interesting, yet surprisingly cohesive. It’s an OST worth checking out just by itself in my opinion.

The Replayability:

Missions! Missions everywhere! Missions for days! Weeks! Months! Years! If you love going for completion and you are patient enough with flawed game design, then going through all the bonus missions might just be worth you while. They are mostly the same from stage to stage, but each variation provides just the right amount of challenge. It’s a fun, but more than a little time-consuming and certainly not for the faint of heart. In the Gamecube version of the game, completing all of the missions and mini-games will get you a special secret stage.

The Sense of Accomplishment:

Have you ever worked hard for something? Have you ever put in hundreds or even thousands of hours directed at a single goal? Maybe it was getting your college degree or learning to play the tuba or even slaving over a lengthy piece of writing, but I think we all have experiences like that. Sonic Adventure 2 is like that. Yeah, some parts were hard, yes, some of it even sucked, but, at the end of the day, that melancholic happiness you feel sweeping through you while watching the gang talk in the Space Colony Ark, that’s what it’s all about. For me, in that moment, it’s all worth it. All of the problems and all the joy leading to this one imperfect moment that, despite itself, feels fully complete, even for the most fleeting of moments. For me, that’s what Sonic Adventure 2 is all about. If you don’t get these feelings, you probably don’t find the game worth all the time and effort you put into it. And you know what? That’s okay.

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Last:

The Mini Games:

They’re okay. There’s kart-racing, boss battles, and activities you can do with adorable little pet creatures called Chao. More on them later.

The Multiplayer:

In the GC port, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, the multilayer was greatly improved upon and expanded over the original. The end result is having every single stage that is playable over the course of the main game playable in competition with a friend. Just by that principle alone, some say that qualifies the Sonic Adventure 2 mulitplayer as the best of all time.

The Chao Gardern:

Remember those silly Tomagatchi pets we used to have in the 90s? Well, meet the next logical evolutionary step, the Chao! These adorable little creatures can be fed, pet, and played with. Oh and forced to compete in grueling races and Karate fights. But it’s okay! Because you get to help train them! You get to feed them! You even get to breed them and breed them and breed them until you have the ultimate perfectly balanced Chao in your possession that you can use to sweep away the competition and get all of the emblems in and!…Yeah, it’s a massive time-waster with very little bearing on the overall experience. It’s just addicting and fun as hell to mess around with. They even had some interactivity with the VMU (DC) and the Gameboy Advance (GC), but these were removed from the HD remake.

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One Final Thought:

That’s really all I have to say about the game. If I haven’t convinced of my point of view the Sonic Adventure 2 is worth all of the struggles, then I don’t mind at all. Why? Because I have a deeper knowledge and understanding of what I look for in a game now. And, as you can see, may very well be quite a bit different from yours. And that’s okay. Because we’re all different people. But, before I go, I want to throw in one last statement to help you see things my way just a bit more clearly:

Somehow, the main theme song, Live and Learn, manages to perfectly capture the sensation of the final battle of the secret last story, which is basically a pair of Super-Sayain anthropomorphic hedgehogs flying like mad at a giant lizard with a satellite stuck up its ass hurdling towards Earth from the bleack depths of outer space. How is that not the most awesome thing ever?

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