Released: October 2012
Originally Released: June 2001
Developer: Sonic Team USA
Also Available For: Dreamcast, GameCube, PC, PlayStation 3
After Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998) finally brought Sonic into the third dimension and proved to be a rousing success, despite a few flaws, Sonic Team passed development of the sequel over to their US branch. Drawing inspiration from their surroundings, the team infused the sequel with a much greater focus on action, speed, and realism than before, making the game feel decidedly more “Western” than its predecessor. Ironically, Sonic Adventure 2 actually dialled down on the “adventure” aspects of its predecessor but featured, perhaps, the darkest and most science-fiction-orientated story in the series thus far, a decision that would impact the franchise, for better or for worse, for years to come.
I’ve talked about Sonic Adventure more than once in the past but, despite it being one of my favourites in the Sonic the Hedgehog (1991 to present) franchise, I actually played its sequel first. I never owned a Dreamcast as a kid as I hedged my bets on the Nintendo 64 so, when I decided to get a GameCube, one of the first two games I got was Sonic Adventure 2: Battle (Sonic Team USA, 2002) and it actually took me a while to acclimatise to Sonic Adventure’s radically different gameplay and presentation when I bought Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut (Sonic Team, 2003). However, while Sonic fans (notoriously one of the worst fanbases in all of fandom) have recently turned on this game in favour of, of all things, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (ibid, 2006), it’s always been a favourite of mine, to the point where I’ve bought it on GameCube, PlayStation 3, and, now, the Xbox 360 version for Xbox One.
Sonic the Hedgehog finds himself a fugitive on the run from the Guardian Units of Nations (G.U.N.) after security footage appears to show him stealing a Chaos Emerald from a G.U.N. facility. In actuality, the culprit is the mysterious Shadow the Hedgehog, the self-proclaimed “ultimate lifeform” who has been released by Sonic’s long-term nemesis, Doctor Eggman, to help the mad scientist harness the power of the long-defunct Space Colony ARK and hold the world the ransom.
Sonic Adventure 2 is a 3D action platformer first and foremost that, like its predecessor, divides its core gameplay into a series of distinct gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, while Sonic Adventure offered six unique playable characters, each with their own distinct style of play, Sonic Adventure 2 features six playable characters who share gameplay styles with their counterparts.
As soon as you begin the game, you’re given the option not to select a character but to select a story; if you pick the “Hero” story, you’ll play through the game’s story from the perspective of Sonic, Miles “Tails” Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, and Amy Rose but, when you pick the “Dark” story, you’ll witness the events from the perspective of newcomers Shadow and Rouge the Bat and, for the first time in the series, Dr. Eggman! Whichever story you pick, you’ll play through the narrative, switching back and forth between the hero- and dark-side characters as the narrative directs.
If you’ve played Sonic Adventure, you’ll be immediately familiar with the three playstyles of this sequel: Sonic and Shadow play at high speeds, racing through stages that are designed like fast-paced rollercoasters, Knuckles and Rouge glide, climb, and dig as they explore for shards of the Master Emerald, and Tails and Eggman stomp around in massive mechs, blasting robots with their weaponry. The developers lost the slower pace of Amy and Big’s gameplay and the races that Tails had to complete in the original and focused on these three distinct playstyles, which was good for those who disliked the slower, less exciting gameplay of the last game, but not so good when it comes to character variety.
Essentially, there’s very little difference between Sonic and Shadow, Knuckles and Rouge, or Tails and Eggman; they get to explore different stages (or, at least, different versions of stages) and obviously look and sound different, with different objectives, but they share the same basic move set. Both Sonic and Shadow can fly along rows of Golden Rings using the Light Speed Dash (which, thankfully, no longer needs to be charged) and use the Homing Attack to smash robots, Knuckles and Rouge explore their stages in the same way and attack enemies with either punches or kicks, and Tails and Eggman can both hover and lock on to multiple enemies at once. It’s fun experiencing the story from the bad guys’ perspective for a change but it’s a bit of a shame that the characters don’t have more to distinguish them from their counterparts.
The game’s narrative is perhaps the most elaborate yet; after releasing Shadow, Eggman teams up with him and Rouge to gather the Chaos Emeralds and power up the long-abandoned Space Colony ARK. Eggman’s grandfather, Professor Gerald Robotnik, created the ARK fifty years ago and designed Shadow to be the ultimate lifeform; using a Chaos Emerald, Shadow can instantly teleport great distances at high speeds, making him more than a match for Sonic, and Eggman uses his abilities to threaten the entire world with the ARK’s Eclipse Cannon. Shadow, in his debut appearance, would go on to become one of the series’ most recognisable characters, for better or for worse, and has, arguably, never been characterised better than he was here: haunted by fractured memories of his time on the ARK, Shadow has his own agenda for revenge against the world but ultimately his story becomes one of redemption.
At the same time, the story is as ridiculous as ever; to stop Eggman from stealing the Master Emerald, Knuckles willingly smashes it into pieces, which is probably the most arbitrary reason to recreate his gameplay from the last game that I could think of. I would have much preferred Knuckles and Rouge’s stages to involve searching for different items or treasures each time rather than search for the pieces of the Master Emerald yet again. Similarly, for some reason I’ll never understand, everyone in the game mistakes Shadow for Sonic and vice versa; even characters like Amy Rose and Eggman think Shadow is Sonic despite the fact that they couldn’t look more different if they tried.
Rather than expanding and refining the hub world concept of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2’s story plays out one scene and stage after another. If you lose all your lives or choose to quit, you can access a stage from a simple map screen; from here, you can replay stages under different criteria in an extension of Sonic Adventure’s “Mission” mode. Completing each mission and successfully obtaining an A-rank on each nets you both an Achievements and a pretty cool unlockable stage…but considering how hard it is to even get an A-rank in the game, it’s going to take a lot of your skill and patience to achieve this goal.
Unlike other Sonic videogames, rankings in Sonic Adventure 2 aren’t just based on how fast you clear a stage; you also need to be holding a certain number of Golden Rings and have accumulated a high enough score to earn the best rank. You can build your score by destroying enemies, jumping through hoops, racking up combination bonuses in the shooter stages, not using hints in the treasure hunting stages, and pulling off tricks in the running stages using the game’s new grinding mechanic.
For the first time in Sonic’s long history, SEGA actually incorporated some prominent product placement into Sonic Adventure 2; billboards for Soap shoes were everywhere in the original and Sonic’s iconic shoes were redesigned in conjunction with this brand to allow him to grind on rails. Shadow can also grind and, while this mechanic is more prevalent in some stages than others, it’s not as obtrusive as you might think. It’s pretty simple to pull off, to; you leap onto a rail, ideally with some momentum behind you, and hold down B to crouch and gain speed; in later stages, you’ll have to pull off jumps to other rails but it’s a very fun, fast-paced experience.
Each stage is filled with multiple paths, some of them only accessible using some of the game’s hidden power-ups. If you want to get the best time, score, and rank when playing, you’ll have to take advantage of these alternate routes, which can be difficult. While the game’s controls are decent and improved for the better over its predecessor, the camera can still be jerky at the worst of times, characters have a tendency to slip off platforms and ledges to their deaths down the game’s many (many!) bottomless pits, annoying stage hazards (floors that fall or crumble beneath you, weights that squash you, and even airlocks that flush you out into space!) crop up in every stage, and enemies just love leaping out in your face at a moment’s notice. While Knuckles and Rouge are limited to finding one Emerald shard at a time (unless you’ve played enough to take an educated guess about where to look) and their later space stages can be frustrating, Eggman and Tails don’t have to worry about racing against a time limit like E-102γ “Gamma” did (though it is odd to see Tails stuck inside a mech). Also, when playing as Sonic and Shadow, you’ll often perform a somersault, usually to your death, when you mean to perform the Light Dash since they’re both mapped to the same button, which can be frustrating at times.
Graphics and Sound:
While it looks, feels, and sounds very similar to Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 is quite a step up in terms of graphics. While Sonic and Shadow’s stages aren’t as large or as varied as before, they’re tight, focused, and full of impressive set pieces. In City Escape, for example, you end up being chased by a huge truck that is determined to run you down which is a thrill later surpassed by the excitement of grinding at high speeds through space as you make your way down and through the Space Colony ARK.
You’ll also swing, race, and grind through high-speed jungles, explored flooded mines, haunted mountain tops, and even traverse what is basically a 3D recreation of the Death Egg Zone when racing through Crazy Gadget. Each stage is like a short burst of action-orientated fun, featuring different gameplay gimmicks and little details that make them fun to playthrough regardless of which story you’re playing. While Sonic and Shadow’s stages are all about high-octane speed, Knuckles and Rouge’s emphasise exploration and Tails and Eggman’s are also far slower , allowing you to really take in the little details of your surroundings and encouraging exploration.
Sonic Adventure 2 also has one of the best soundtracks in the entire franchise; while Sonic Adventure remixed, borrowed, or leaned heavily into traditional Sonic themes alongside incorporating punk rock, rap, and other genres for character’s themes, Sonic Adventure 2 doubles down on the rocking tunes and is all the better for it. Featuring three of Crush 40’s best tracks (“Live and Learn”, “Escape from the City”, and a remix of Sonic’s theme song, “It Doesn’t Matter”), each character’s stages is accompanied by a theme befitting that character (Sonic is mostly rock, Rouge is jazz-inspired, Knuckles is rap, Shadow’s is techno-inspired, for example) and helps infuse the stages and the otherwise-similar-playing characters with a real life, energy, and distinctive personality.
Once again, the game features an abundance of voice acting; luckily, the lip synching is vastly improved here, meaning that the cutscenes are far less ridiculous to sit through. Unfortunately, the script and delivery still flounders somewhat and the game’s music tends to drown out the character’s words or the characters often talk over each other due to the translated dialogue taking longer to say than the original Japanese. Despite that, though, many of the voice actors from the last game return here and put in some of their best performances; Ryan Drummond will always be my favourite voice for Sonic and both the late, great Deem Bristow and David Humphrey set the standard for Dr. Eggman and Shadow, respectively, that have continued to be emulated to this day.
Enemies and Bosses:
Sonic Adventure featured some of the most unique designs, and redesigns, of the entire series. Eggman’s Badniks were recreated in all their 3D glory and full of character and quirky personality and Chaos was a breath of fresh air in a series that mostly relied on robotic creatures. Sonic Adventure 2, however, drops the ball quite significantly in this arena; every character battles the same, generic G.U.N. robots throughout every stage.
Some stages do feature a few of Eggman’s Badniks but they don’t crop up often enough. Instead, you’re faced with these dull, lifeless cookie-cutter robots that aren’t really much to write home about. That is, of course, until you make it into outer space and on to the Space Colony ARK. Here, you’ll encounter the most annoying enemies in the game: the Artificial Chaos. These watery monstrosities resemble Chaos and have robotic enhancements and, while they’re easily dispatched with a solid shot to their metallic “head”, they can deal serious damage with their elongated limbs and laser blasts, making them extremely irritating enemies to come up against regardless of which character you’re playing as.
For the most part, Sonic Adventure 2’s boss battles are as lacklustre as the enemies you’ll fight thanks, largely, to them being comprised of G.U.N. mechs. Yet, while none of G.U.N.s creations can match up to the quirkiness of Eggman’s mechs from he previous games or the likes of the gigantic golem that defends his pyramid base, they’re just different enough to show that G.U.N. is capable of putting some effort into their creations.
The rest of the time, you’ll be battling against your rival in fights somewhat similar to the battle between Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles in the last game; the mechanics have been expanded upon somewhat here, though, in that your enemy puts up a bit more of a fight, taking (and dishing out) decidedly more damage as you battle but the real threat in most of these battles will come from the size of the stage you battle on (or in) and how easy it is for you to fall to your death.
Once you defeat Sonic and Shadow for good at the end of both stories, you’ll play through the “Last Story” and battle the game’s most frustrating and annoying boss, the Biolizard. This Shadow-exclusive battle pits you against a massive lizard-like creature that chases you with its gaping mouth or tries to smack you with its tail. When it stops its attack, you can grind up a rail to attack its sole weak point (the life support system on its back) and, as you deal damage, it starts to spit energy blasts at you that you must either try to jump over or somersault under to avoid losing Rings. To make matters worse, you can instantly be sucked to your death if you land in the water between the stage platform and it spawns these really infuriating homing orbs that you must try to avoiding while using the Homing Attack to hit the life support system. Its final attack is easily the worst; this sees you flung helplessly into the air and all you can do is encircle the creature, hope and try to avoid the projectiles, and slowly edge your way closer to deliver the final blow.
Once defeated, the creature uses Chaos Control to attach itself to the ARK and force it towards the Earth, becoming the game’s final boss, the “Finalhazard”. Sonic and Shadow power-up to their Super forms and battle the creature in space in a fight that, fundamentally, resembles that finale against Perfect Chaos. Super Sonic and Super Shadow have to dash into the pulsating boils that act as the creature’s sole weak point but are constantly swatted away by projectiles and erratic laser blasts. Also, like Perfect Chaos, this final boss is more annoying than challenging as you not only have to try and weave through its defences and hope your attack does damage, you’ll also be fighting against two time limits: linger too long and the Finalhazard will successfully drag the ARK to Earth and you also have to land your attack before you run out of Rings. Your allies often shout at you to “switch characters” when your Rings are running low but, even after all these years, the only way I could switch characters was to hit the creature’s weak spot so that advice is basically useless.
As before, you don’t get to play as the Super forms in the main game but this finale does culminate in Shadow giving his life to save the planet, completing his character arc of redemption. Of course, Shadow was too popular to stay dead and SEGA brought him back in the very next game and have bungled fleshing out his character and backstory ever since. But, in this one defining moment, this angst-ridden, haunted little black hedgehog won over a significant portion of the fanbase and still remains a popular character to this day.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
While Sonic Adventure 2 doesn’t feature as many “adventure” elements as its predecessor, you can still acquire power-ups and additional bonuses in each stage: Sonic and Shadow can grab shoes that allow them to Light Speed Dash, rings that let them perform a flaming somersault, bounce, and/or turn enemies into toys that you can throw at other enemies. Knuckles and Rouge grab upgrades that let them dig to find goodies or breathe underwater without fear of drowning, and Tails and Eggman can upgrade their mechs to dish out more damage to enemies and hover across gaps and hazards.
As is standard for Sonic titles, you can also acquire additional Golden Rings, health packs (for Tails and Eggman), extra lives, invincibility, and two types of shields (a regular shield and a Ring-attracting electric variant) by breaking or running into item capsules or passing checkpoints in a fast enough time. Additionally, like in Sonic Adventure, every time you beat a stage, boss, or mini game earns you a Sonic Emblem and collecting all of these and will earn you an Achievement and unlock a bonus stage.
From the game’s “Options” menu, you can choose different character-based themes and backgrounds for the game’s menu screens and even change the spoken dialogue to Japanese if you’re one “those” fans that simply must have the original Japanese dialogue playing during a game. As you might expect, you can also earn a few Achievements when playing the game; unfortunately, there’s not very many on offer here and they’re disappointingly simple to get…for the most part.
As you destroy robots and explore the stages, you’ll find “Chaos Drives” and small animals; when you find a Chao box and smash it open, you’ll obtain a key and, after clearing the stage, will be warped to the Chao World where you can use the Chaos Drives and animals to raise and breed Chao to use in other mini games. The Chao Garden has been expanded somewhat; when you visit from the stage select screen, you can take your Chao to the Chao Kindergarten to purchase new items from the Black Market, leave them in the school to learn songs and tricks, rename them, or get review stats and health. Feeding them Chaos Drives, animals, and different fruits will raise their stats and, eventually, allow them to evolve into a stronger, more adult form. If you primarily used Hero characters when caring for your Chao, you’ll get an Angel Chao, while Dark characters birth a Devil Chao; both unlock an additional Chao Garden themed after Heaven or Hell, respectively.
As your Chao’s stats increase, you can have them take part in the Chao Games, a series of races, fights, and mini games to earn you more Sonic Emblems and Achievements. However, as these mini games can be largely luck-based and involve you putting a lot of time and energy into grinding and search for more Chaos Drives, animals, and collecting Golden Rings to buy new items, it can be a very time-consuming process but it’s a nice break from the game’s fast-paced action. Just don’t expect a lot of depth from this mode.
Unlike Sonic Adventure, which featured numerous mini games to break up each character’s story and provide a distraction from the main game, Sonic Adventure 2 only features two other playstyles: a boss rush and a janky little kart racer. In the Hero story, you (as Tails) have to race towards the President’s limo to track Eggman’s broadcast and, in the Dark story, you (as Rouge) chase after Tails to intercept him instead. Once you beat one of these stages, you’ll unlock the Kart Race mini game, where you can play as any of the six main characters in short races made incredibly difficult by the game’s stiff, unresponsive controls.
After clearing both stories, you’ll unlock the “Last Story” mode when you play as each of the six playable characters and race to stop the ARK from destroying the world. This culminates in a space battle where you switch between Super Sonic and Super Shadow and take it in turns to ram head-first into the gigantic lizard-like creature known as the Biohazard. Defeating it earns you the game’s true earning, and an Achievement, but not much else; however, if you manage to complete each of the game’s stages with an A-rank, you’ll unlock one of the coolest rewards in the series: a fully 3D recreation of Green Hill Zone! Unfortunately, you can only play this stage as Sonic and I’ve never actually experienced this as it is way too hard to earn those A-ranks and I just couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried.
Also new to the game is the multiplayer mode where you and one friend can pick between the game’s playable characters and race or battle against them in a series of stages from the main story. If you purchase the game’s downloadable content, you’ll unlock extra stages and characters for use in this mode; these were all available by default in the GameCube port but it’s still fun to play as Metal Sonic, Tikal, and Chaos in the game’s multiplayer. It’s just a shame that, like in the Sonic Adventure ports, Sonic Team decided to leave out certain playable characters and features from the original Dreamcast version (meaning Big the Cat is relegated to mere blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos in each stage and certain cutscenes, which is a real shame and a massive downgrade from his last appearance).
Sonic Adventure 2 takes everything that worked in Sonic Adventure and improves upon it; it trims out a lot of the fat and extraneous elements and focuses on the three, distinct, most enjoyable playstyles of the last game, expanding upon them and improving them to make for a much tighter, more responsive and action-orientated experience.
While I do miss some of the things this game dropped (the hub worlds and the diverse characters), I do enjoy the many improvements and innovations that debuted in this game. Making the Light Speed Dash a one-button action was a must, expanding Sonic’s world and lore to include more sci-fi elements helped take the series in a different direction and allowed SEGA to actually tell pretty complex and mature stories in their videogames. While I like the simplicity of the early Sonic titles, I expect a bit more bang for my buck with Sonic’s 3D adventures and Sonic Adventure 2 definitely delivers in that regard, introducing one of the more multifaceted and edgy characters to the series and allowing us to experience events from the bad guys’ perspective for the first time.
For many years, Sonic Adventure 2 was the gold standard for the series for many; as SEGA experimenting with different genres and tossed more and more characters and roadblocks into their most popular franchise, fans were clamouring for a return to the Adventure-style formula and the type of gameplay and story of Sonic Adventure 2. While Sonic fans may have lost their mind and turned against this game in recent years, it still holds a special place in my heart; it’s not perfect, obviously, but it’s still fast-paced, high-octane fun and I never fail to have a good time every time I fire it up.
What did you think about Sonic Adventure 2? Which of the two Adventure games is your favourite? Which console did you first play Sonic Adventure 2 on? What did you think about the game’s Light and Dark story options, and playing as the villains for the first time? What are your thoughts on Shadow the Hedgehog, his debut, characterisation, and legacy? Does Sonic Adventure 2 still hold up in your view or do you prefer a different Sonic title? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Adventure 2, and the Sonic series and characters in general, drop your thoughts below and share them with me.