After the release of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Team was split in two. One half of the team set up shop in San Francisco to work on a sequel, while the other half stuck with Yuji Naka in Japan to create Phantasy Star Online (i.e. the first Monster Hunter). The story behind the creation of Sonic Adventure 2 is not as interesting as the first one. The first game was a success, so a sequel was needed–and this time much of their inspiration came from where they were at in California. They focused on fine-tuning the gameplay, improving the graphics, and writing a bigger story. And in some ways, Sonic Adventure 2 is a great step forward. But unfortunately in other ways, I feel it’s a big step back as well. In the end, I feel that overall this title is only slightly better than the first, making Sonic’s final game on a Sega console not quite the grand finale it could have been. Indeed, the Dreamcast in general seemed to have gone out with a whimper rather than a bang, since the fine hardware’s discontinuation right around this time was so sudden and (in my opinion) not truly necessary. But I’m not about to open that can of chili dogs.
The highly-unoriginal theme of Sonic Adventure 2 is “hero vs dark,” and in this game you get to play as six different characters–a specific playstyle given for each set of two rivals. I suppose this is the point where I introduce the two new characters made for this game: Rogue the Bat, and the ever so popular and controversial Shadow the Hedgehog. Shadow is the highly-unoriginal “dark Sonic,” as in he’s a black-quilled hedgehog out to destroy the world. I personally find this trope rather tiring, but whatever.
When playing through the story, rather than choose a character, you choose a side (hero or dark). This means you will be alternating what character you play as from level to level, and thus you need to learn all three types of action levels and playstyles that this game focuses on. For levels featuring Sonic or Shadow, you run to the end of the level, no different from Sonic’s levels in Adventure 1. Most of the levels are pretty solid. The second playstyle is modeled loosely after the robot’s shooting levels in Adventure 1, but this time you play as either Tails or Eggman, each stomping about in a mechanical walker armed with laser weaponry. How about that–the chance to finally play as Robotnik! It’s something I had always hoped for, and overall these levels don’t play too bad. I did feel they were a bit dull at times though, and some levels really drag on since you travel quite slowly… Lastly, there are treasure-hunting levels where you play as Knuckles or Rouge, and their playstyle is the same as Knuckles from Adventure 1. Only, a lot more time-consuming. Unfortunately, I found most of these to be a drag.
The levels in this game are designed all right, but overall I felt they were a bit less imaginative than those in its predecessor. At least a third of the game takes place in a space station, and most of the other levels are either at a pyramid or in the city. Overall Adventure 2 ends up feeling a bit monotonous–and in turn the same can be said for its soundtrack. There are some great, rocking songs in this one (most of my favorites being the jammin’ techno/rock tunes for Eggman’s levels), but there’s probably about half of them that I just didn’t care for (e.g. rap and jazz tunes for Knuckles and Rogue). On the plus side, the graphics are definitely a step up from Adventure 1–and really, this can easily be considered one of the top-looking games in the entire Dreamcast library.
The controls for this game are a bit clumsy compared to the first Adventure. Sonic (and Shadow) are given a new somersault move, which unfortunately slows you down practically to a dead stop whenever you use it. Spin dash is used with the same button, so you have to hold down for a second in order to activate it. It just messes with the whole flow of the game unfortunately. On the plus side, the move that has them blast across a trail of rings is now instantaneous, so good on them for improving that. There is another new move added which I feel ambivalent toward: grinding on rails. It is difficult for beginners to pull this off effectively, which means a first playthrough will often have players slow to a stop every time they mess up getting onto a rail. Seasoned veterans will generally be able to manage utilizing these rails speedily, but it is still rather finicky.
As for the rest of the characters–well, I feel like Sonic Team really wanted to make these alternate playstyles more challenging (as indeed, Knuckles and the robot’s levels were way easy in Adventure 1), but the way they went about it all feels a little misguided. Tails and Eggman play all right, but as mentioned before, they’re quite slow. And I never did get why most of their levels involve narrow pathways, since they’re sitting in such bulky machines… I would have preferred something a lot more fast-paced, and in levels with more open spaces.
As for Knuckles and Rouge, it seems they looked at the things that made Knuckles’ levels in the previous game easy, and just did the exact opposite with this game. Levels were too small in the first game; in the second, they’re really huge. Your radar could sense all three emeralds at once in the first game; in the second, you only sense one at a time (UGH). And if you were stuck, you could be guided to an emerald’s general location with a light ball’s assistance in the first game; in the second, you only have monitors that give you cryptic hints. In the end, most of these levels just weren’t all that fun–and again, I would have liked something more along the lines of running and action for Knuckles (and Rogue).
Since story is a big emphasis for this game, I suppose I should give it at least a paragraph. The plot of Adventure 2 is, in one word, bombastic. At times it seems like it’s really trying to be serious, but then Eggman literally blows up the moon. It’s pretty hilarious, and even the voice actors at times seem aware they’re involved in something worthy of an MST3K riff. With that in mind, it’s kind of a “so bad it’s good” situation? On the other hand, this is the game that introduces Shadow… Sigh, what do I say here? Basically, for Adventure 2 I think he was okay. He’s a villain who becomes an “edgy” anti-hero, and in the end he redeems himself when he dies helping Sonic defeat the final space dinosaur boss that’s about to destroy the world. So, yeah. I don’t know why he’s in any more games after this one. (I’m about 100% positive any explanation they give in future games is stupid.) If he had just stayed dead, I would’ve been fine with him, as cheesy as his backstory was–but come on, Knuckles is supposed to be the rival for Sonic! It was Knuckles’ brawn versus Sonic’s speed, and if we really needed a fast hedgehog to fight there was always the robot versions of Sonic. Oh well.
A lot of what I’ve written up is fairly negative, but Adventure 2 still has some fun in it. And the game is redeemed and then some thanks to the greatly-improved chao gardens. I loved the chao in Adventure 1, but in 2 they’re several times better. This time you can create halo-wearing angel chao as well as spiky devil chao, depending on what characters you have take care of them. Customizing the looks of each chao with animals found in the action stages is a lot more in-depth, and there are more ways to interact with the chao and more races for them to participate in. There is an improved Chao Adventure game for the VMU, and some new features such as a “chao kindergarten” to help the chao learn new things to do. All in all, they really made everything better for the chao-raising mini-game. But is it right to call it a mini-game, when I ended up spending way more time on that than the actual game? At any rate, the chao are well-deserving of a full star (or shark) on their own, bumping Sonic Adventure 2 as a whole from a two to a three.
If you have a Dreamcast, definitely look into picking this up. It’s a bit more rare (and thus more expensive) than Adventure 1, since this one came out right at the end of Dreamcast’s all-too-short lifespan. But if you have a Gamecube, you can also go for the enhanced edition titled Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, which features more multiplayer levels to enjoy. (I forgot to even mention that there is 2-player split-screen competition in this game. It’s not bad!) Also worth noting, this version of the game has been ported to PS3, Xbox 360, and Steam.