Hot on the heels of Sega becoming a third party developer (agreeing to develop games for non-Sega hardware), we have Sonic Advance, a surprisingly great 2D Sonic title that has a lot of content for a GBA game. While the Game Boy Advance might not have been capable of the Sega Genesis’s “blast processing,” Sonic Advance goes for a more cartoon-y look, playing to the strengths of the hardware. It doesn’t feel like a Genesis Sonic, but that’s kind of the appeal. Dimps made a Sonic that works for the Game Boy Advance, which was more powerful than a Super Nintendo albeit with a lower screen resolution. Though the whole experience can be finished in four hours, it’s a meaty amount of content for an all new 2D side-scroller. While not as good as the best Sega platform equivalent, Sonic Advance is a fun high-speed adventure that can be played on the go.
Those familiar with the Genesis Sonic games, especially Sonic 2 and up, know what to expect in terms of gameplay. The objective is to make it from the start of a stage to the end in as little time as possible. Along the way, you collect rings, which act as a one-time shield against an enemy hit, and also serve as a points multiplier at the end of a stage. Points also multiply for finishing a stage in less time. The stages contain a fair number of puzzles. Expect to complete a lot of perfectly timed jumps, as well as hitting very high speeds. Now you can play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy Rose. Although playing as Sonic is the most fun in my eyes, the ability to play as other characters is a huge plus and makes for a longer game. Finally, levels have Special Stages which give points to your overall score. If you complete the challenge of a Special Stage, you get a Chaos Emerald, just like in the Genesis Sonic games.
As mentioned earlier, the game goes for a cartoon-y look, and does it to great success. I have to imagine the very experienced developers at Sonic Team said “What would the best looking Sonic game we can make look like if it existed on Game Boy Advance?” Far and away, the biggest downside to this game’s visuals is the low screen resolution, only 240 x 160 pixels. As a result, the screen could only round an edge so well before it looks jagged. The whole game is colorful and the frame-rate never really hiccups. It’s interesting that now we have a truly Genesis style Sonic game for a portable on Nintendo Switch with Sonic Mania. Sonic Mania was born out of the Sonic 2 ROM hacking community, but the Game Boy Advance simply wasn’t capable of a one-to-one Genesis look and feel in 2001.
Aside from the main game, there’s a Time Trial mode, which might satisfy those looking to beat their best time, but I got no use out of it. Despite the name, you can play cooperatively in “Vs.” mode, which harkens back to the Genesis games, where one player was Sonic and one was Tails. You can also play “Vs.” mode competitively (as the name suggests) where you compete with friends to see who finishes a stage first. It’s really nice that they threw in multiplayer, as it wasn’t necessary to add. Finally, the “Chao Garden” is back from the Sonic Adventure series, but it’s hard to recommend. It’s something of a Tamagotchi clone, but probably not as much fun as the real Tamagotchi. Unless you’re really into these virtual pets or are a huge Sonic fan, it’s not remarkable.
The game Sonic Advance proves Sega could still put together a great Sonic more than five years after the Genesis games had their run. The Sonic Advance series ended up being a trilogy, and probably gets overlooked as far as great platformers go. The level design isn’t as good as that of, say, Sonic 2, however the game offers something for those who wish to achieve mastery. It’s a shame the 3D games went off the deep end, but if you’re looking for a great Sonic from the decade after the one the Genesis games arrived in, here you go.