It's fair to say that Sonic the Hedgehog fell on hard times when the industry moved out of the 16bit era. Despite a few glimmers of hope, the once-beloved mascot never truly coped with the evolution of videogames and has become, for all intents and purposes, one of the industry's saddest jokes.
That said, the progression of handhelds proved to be a different story altogether. While horrible 3D efforts such as Sonic Heroes or the more recent Sonic The Hedgehog on PS3/360 have consistently lowered his stock, Sonic at least found a way to recapture his glory days on Nintendo's portable consoles with the decent-if-not-amazing Sonic Rush and the subject of today's Bargain Bin Laden feature, Sonic Advance.
Sonic Advance was a true return to form for Sonic, bringing him back to his roots on the Gameboy Advance with a 2D platformer that featured everything great about his original run -- simple platforming gameplay, traditional boss fights and awesome music. Able to be bought on the cheap or not-downloaded on not-emulators, Sonic Advance is a true bargain bin classic, so let's get on with it.
Sonic Advance (Gameboy Advance)
Developed by: Dimps and Sonic Team
Released: February 4, 2002
Bargain Binned: $0.00 - $7.50 on Ebay, 100 Goozex points
With Sonic failing to succeed in the third dimension, the release of Nintendo's Gameboy Advance proved to be a great opportunity for 2D gaming to make a comeback, an opportunity that Sonic Team took with both hands, releasing Sonic Advance in 2002. The game still stands up today and, in my opinion, deserves to be counted with the original Sonic classics as a true title in the series.
In Sonic Advance, little has changed from the Genesis titles of old. You run from left to right, spin dash up hills and jump on the heads of badniks. There are loop-the-loops, springs and plenty of spikes placed at prime locations to make your life Hell. In terms of gameplay, it fits snugly right in with Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2 and Sonic & Knuckles. The game doesn't strive to do anything revolutionary, which is a good thing, because Sonic Team always fails when it tries to bypass the tried-and-tested formula.
There are a few minor tweaks, but they are indeed only minor. Characters get another action despite just spinning and jumping (Knuckles, for instance, gets a little three-punch combo to accompany his flying) and there are brand new bonus stages, but they are confusing and horrible and not worth attempting. I still, after all these years, haven't worked out either what I'm meant to be doing or how anyone thought they were good.
As well as the familiar trio of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, Sonic Team does that other thing it's absolutely horrible at -- giving you new playable characters. Amy Rose makes the cut and, like all characters introduced in the post-Knuckles era, she needs to go die in a swamp. Each of the four characters have their own unique abilities, and anybody with even a passing recollection of Sonic games will know what they are. Sonic's fast, Tails can fly and Knuckles glides, climbs and punches. Oh yeah, and Amy has a hammer. She can go hammer stuff. Good for Amy. Good for hammer. Good for everyone.
While the game is essentially the same for all four characters, there are parts of levels that only certain ones can reach, Completists will want to discover all the hidden areas and take the different routes, but there's not much of a bonus for finishing it four times, other than the fact that it's one of those games you could easily play many times over anyway.
Mostly though, this is the Sonic you grew up loving. A number of Zones made up of two Acts, with a boss fight at the end of each Act 2 and plenty of Chaos Emeralds to collect in the aforementioned horrible bonus stages.
As well as the main game, there are a few other modes of play to keep one interested. There is some classic time attack for those who like to rush through a stage, as well as a versus mode if you and a friend both own a GBA and a copy of the game each. You also need to want to play some ridiculous minigames as well. Finally, Sonic Advance also comes with its own virtual pet in the form of a Chao. Chaos are weird blue creatures that Sonic Team included in modern games because they're Japanese, and Japanese people need to make Pokémon out of everything. You can stroke it, play games with it, and earn rings to buy it stuff. You can even connect your GBA to your dusty old GameCube and use your Chao to interact with the Sonic Adventure remake. Nobody wants to do that, though.
When it comes to Sonic games, music is very important -- or at least it was, once. All of the original titles had amazing soundtracks before whiny faux-rock became the norm, and Sonic Advance definitely revives the tradition of inspired musical backdrops. While not quite reaching the pretty melody of the Starlight Hill Zone, or the classic Casino Zone, Sonic Advance's soundtrack is, in my opinion, at least stronger than Sonic 3's and provides its own set of memorable tunes. Naturally, the classic sound effects are all in place too. While the game looks great, it suffers a little from the awful redesigns that have been inflicted on the characters in recent years so they look more anime than adorable, a move Sonic Team must have made to try and make the aging Sonic still look cool. It failed.
Sonic Advance was a very solid return of the speedy hedgehog to the genre that made his name. It was a return that would not be followed with any degree of skill, since Sonic Advance 2 and 3 were both terrible by comparison, sacrificing gameplay for pure speed and nothing else. However, the first Sonic Advance is still a very worthy addition to the franchise and needs to be checked out by any Sonic the Hedgehog fan. This game was the last time, in my humble estimation, that the hedgehog was ever truly great.