Wednesday, 09 February 2005
Let’s be honest with ourselves. The Sonic style of gameplay just does not lend itself to the realms of 3D gaming. I mean, how many people can honestly say that the Sonic Adventure titles offer a step up from the Mega Drive era titles in gameplay terms? Not many of you that’s for sure. But, with the GBA still offering all the 2D gaming joys that we still crave time and time again, Sonic Advance 3 makes an appearance. But after the first two were decidedly average at best, have THQ brought us a superior title this time?
The gameplay itself this time relies much less on newly introduced gimmicks, and more on the speed, and sense of timing needed to progress that made Sonics first appearances so much adored. We now find ourselves with a rudimentary hub system which gives your chosen characters (more on that later) the ability to choose the level to play through before tackling the nicely designed bosses. This little system doesn’t exactly add anything to the game as a whole, but it’s just one of those additions that make it much nicer to actually go choose a level rather than simply flicking along a menu screen. Which would you rather see, Sonic flying along a short level, bouncing and jumping his way along, or pressing down on the d-pad to select level 2? No contest really is it.
Before you start, you have to choose not one, but two characters to play with. The first you’ll be under control of, and the other will follow close behind, much akin to Sonic 2. However, this time you make use of “tag actions” by pressing the R button. The action given here will obviously differ depending on which characters your playing with. Although to start with your stuck with the traditional Sonic and Tails, as you progress you’ll unlock another 3 characters from Sonics past. Each offer differing helpful abilities and drawbacks. Surprisingly, with the fantastically designed levels, and the differences between each character’s being quite immense, its not uncommon to find yourself playing through a single level over and over again trying to improve your best overall completion time, and seeing if a combination of two other characters improves your chances of finishing the level with a larger collection of rings to show off. Plus there’s the fact that finding all the various Chao unlocks all the Chaos Emerald stages, allowing you to fully complete the game. It’s always nice to have some replay ability in there somewhere.
Being a GBA title, we’re obviously not expected to be dazzled aesthetically. Compared to most recent 2D platformers, Sonic Advance 3 comes off quite well, if not showing itself to be a wild improvement over the Sonic’s of old. Unfortunately, sometimes levels can be a little too colourful, leaving you with a bit of a mess to look at. Fortunately there’s not too much wrong in this way, but it does crop up from time to time.
The gameplay is exactly as you’d expect from a Sonic platform game. Progress through each of the game’s 21 levels as quickly as possible, defeating the 8 (well designed) bosses along the way, and collecting all the Chaos Emeralds. It’s the simple ideal that will draw quite a few admires, sick of the complicated nature of the vast majority of today’s big behemoth games. Each level has multiple paths to get to your finishing goal, giving yet another reason to play through the game more than once. Whereas one direction could send you high up on the air, needing you to make precise jumps in order to move along, the other could send you underwater, requiring you to come up for air every so often. Simple? Yes. Effective? Most definitely.
Sonic Advance 3 doesn’t have it all completely it’s own way of course. As mentioned before, the colour scheme can be a bit of a strain on the old eyes. That’s not all however. The game is a touch on the easy side, with a well trained gamer easily progressing through the game in a mere weekend. Obviously this is counter acted by the high replayability factor, but some gamers do flatly refuse to play through games again, and to those, it is a touch on the short side. There’s a rudimentary multiplayer mode included, leaving you able to compete against a buddy to see who can progress through levels you’ve unlocked in the single player mode the quickest. Not the most ingenious and well though out multiplayer mode ever, but definitely something that will keep you busy for a while.
Whereas the previous Sonic Advance titles have seemed to miss that little bit of soul that made the series’ first appearance’s on the humble Sega Mega Drive, Sonic Advance 3 has it in abundance. The speed, the gorgeous level design, and pure playability of it all makes Sonic Advance 3 one of those essential purchases on the GBA. The added strategy of having two characters on the screen to help you out (in admittedly obscenely basic ways) is always a plus point, and it also manages to not get overly complicated as to turn off the Sonic fan who wants the series to hark back to the simpler 16-bit era. One thing must be said though, it’s still oh so weird to be playing Sonic on a Nintendo machine. How times have changed….