I firmly believe that Sonic Adventure 2 is actually a good game. Maybe that’s being too generous…but I still really enjoy this game despite all its faults. But what are its faults? How can they be fixed? What would it take for Sonic Adventure 2 to become a masterpiece?
First of all, this game has a lot of positives. Given its cult fanbase, this makes sense. The soundtrack is amazing — it’s my favorite soundtrack in the series. Honestly, it’s probably one of the best rock soundtracks I’ve heard in a game. Its combination of acid jazz, 90s pop rock, and metal works well with the psychedelic style. And although the rap tracks in the Knuckles levels are cheesy as hell, I still nod my head to them constantly.
Overall, I like the characters in Sonic Adventure 2. Sure, they border on being parodies of themselves, but I think characters like Rouge and Shadow are endearing. In fact, I think the depiction of Shadow in this game is better than in any of the other Sonic games. There’s actually some emotional content to his character, and by Dreamcast standards, his voice actor David Humphrey puts on a good performance.
Some of the environments in Sonic Adventure 2 are amazing. City Escape is iconic, and has an awesome theme to boot. Radical Highway has a cool aesthetic, Green Forest is nice and elaborate, and I honestly love Pumpkin Hill. My favorite thing about this game is its overall tone and aesthetic, even if it sometimes borders on absurdity. The feeling I get from this game is the feeling I think all Sonic games should try to give its players.
But I acknowledge that I have a better-than-average tolerance for iffy games, and SA2 is certainly iffy. The levels where you play as Shadow and Sonic are considered pretty solid, but the gameplay of every other character is where things fall apart. Let’s diagnose these other two level types one at a time.
The levels where you play as Dr. Eggman and Tails revolve around using mechs to shoot up enemies. There’s also some simple platforming to reach the end of the level. The more enemies you can lock onto and destroy at once, the better the score you rack up. These levels struggle in part because locking onto enemies at different heights using a straight reticule involves an annoying combination of jumping and spinning an analog stick. Since you’re usually trying to platform at the same time, this doesn’t help. What’s more is that the control of the mechs themselves is clunky. They don’t move at a consistent speed, and turning on a dime is not an option. Combine that with occasionally glitchy surfaces and you have a recipe for disaster. Bonus problem: the targeting beam makes the loudest, most obnoxious beeping sound ever.
The solution: place enemies so that locking onto them requires fewer acrobatics. Locking onto enemies should be faster, and once you lock on, enemies should be destroyed instantly. It might require better processing, so the better option might just be to have fewer enemies. These levels just have to move faster. The next step is to make movement more fluid, give the player more space to maneuver, or both. The player has to feel in control at all times to have a good experience. (Also, just get rid of the beeping noise.)
Next up, we have Rouge and Knuckles treasure hunting levels. In these, you have to navigate a set space with no goal — the mission is to find three hidden objects somewhere in the level. The locations are always set, but there are a lot of different possible locations. Even worse, the locations are random every time you do a level. You have a radar that tells you when you’re near an emerald (sort of like hot-and-cold) and you can get hints from sentries in the level. I didn’t mind these levels quite as much, but they need fixing.
For one thing, bring back the same radar system as the first Sonic Adventure. In Sonic Adventure 2, the radar will only let you track them emeralds in a certain order. This means you can find an emerald by accident but not be able to grab it. The first game never did this, and for good reason. If you got close to any emerald in any order, you could track it.
This is the most concise and fair way of doing things. Beyond that, some of the locations need to be more logical and some of the hints more accurate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a wild goose chase in these levels. Otherwise, some of the level layouts need to be simpler. There are so many levels where you have to go through several steps to reach an area, and half the time there won’t be an emerald and you waste your time. Others are just too darn big and complicated (like Mad Space).
Is that the bottom of the pile? Mostly. There are a lot of issues with this game that deal with the fundamentals, like control and level design. Sometimes the enemy placement or design is unfair, or the controls unreliable. Caddicarus put it pretty well when he said he would lightly flick the control stick and suddenly go “flying off to Mercury.” I can’t really argue with that. Sonic Adventure 2 often isn’t as fun or solid as people might like. The story is often completely ridiculous and contradictory. The voice acting is pretty terrible. But do I think it deserves hate? No, not at all. There are lots of things this game does that I hope more Sonic games do. It may not be a great game, but it will always be in my heart.
Also, the Chao Garden must be its own mobile game. Get on it, Sega.