An Xbox 360 review copy of the game and Battle DLC was provided for the purposes of this review. This is a mirror (with some readability edits) of the review held here: http://www.push-start.co.uk/game-review/game-review-sonic-adventure-2-xbox-360ps3pc/
Sonic has had a very varied past. From the highest highs of Sonic 3 + Knuckles to the lowest lows of Sonic 2006. On the Dreamcast, the Sonic franchise gained a new dimension, and the two Adventure games came out to critical acclaim. Does Sonic Adventure 2 still hold up today? Eh. Sort of.
After Adventure, Sonic Team were looking to mix it up a bit, taking the six different playstyles on offer from that game and condensing them down to three more substantial play modes. The game runs in two seperate but concurrent stories, designated as Hero Team and Dark Team. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles make up the heroes, with Robotnik, Shadow (the self-appointed ‘ultimate life form’, wannabe badass and resident emo kid) and Rouge (a bat famous for being a jewel thief and, er, voluptuousess) making up the dark team.
The cutscenes in this game are quite special. Not because they’re good. Oh no. They are so bad that they loop all the way back to amazing. And if I said otherwise, Sonic would interrupt me and make me eat these words. They will, however, jump in and out of widescreen, as it seems they couldn’t convert any scenes that weren’t played from inside the game’s engine. Understandable if they were never made for the format.
As you can tell from the character list, the three defined archetypes are Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. Classic Sonic/Shadow action stages are in the vein of running fast, bouncing from enemy to enemy and… grinding rails, apparently. You see, Sonic became a corporate shill for Soap shoes in this game - not that you'd know as the adverts for Soap no longer exist in this digital version. They flow fairly well for the most part and are the most entertaining part of the package with some real moments of exhilirating movement and occasionally perfectly executed precision, although you may have to be patient with both the camera and the Homing Attack’s object detection, as both are liable to abandon you just when you need them. However, it’s hard to fault the level design.
After this comes Tails and Robotnik (who I should really be calling Eggman, as it is what he is referred to as in this game, but I just can’t bear it), who are now Mech Pilots, with hover capabilities, a standard shot and an Afterburner-style lock-on mechanism. The main focus of their stages is shooting lots of things, mainly doors as a means of opening them. Essentially, they’re just intent on barging into places, destroying anything that moves (and if you’re looking to max your lock-on counter, many things that don’t move) and taking whatever they need. Standard behaviour for the evil Doctor, you might say, but not so much for the eight year old boy who constantly cries for his daddy Sonic whenever things go wrong. These stages are fine. Not mindblowing by any means, but rarely overlong and often engaging enough to keep you interested.
Finally, you have Knuckles and Rouge, who are both hunting down pieces of the Master Emerald. Their levels are essentially treasure hunts. This is as enthralling or as mind-numbing as it sounds, depending on your mindset. I’m on the latter side, mainly because some of the pieces are so maddeningly well-placed that it will take you minutes to find them, even with the hints you can obtain from floating screens. Just as an example, in my run-through of the game for this review, Mad Space took me 15 minutes. 15 minutes to find three things. Ludicrous. Luckily, you at least get a radar which blinks from green to red whenever you get within a certain radius of the emerald piece (or key) you are looking for. Knuckles and Rouge also control well, with the gliding feeling natural and their digging abilities being simple to use. Thanks to the wonders of twin-sticks, you can now control the camera too, which makes navigation a damn sight easier.
There’s a diversion halfway through where, to catch up with the President, you get into a kart and race down the most dangerous road you’ve ever seen, which seems to float of its own volition and has holes to the deep nothingness below. Needless to say, vigilance is required, and the handling just about copes. The preferred method is to drift the whole course, as you can keep better speed in drifting mode, as well as turning better. There’s also a Kart racing mode unlocked once you complete this segment, if you wish to compete with your friends. In addition, there are multiplayer versions of each different gameplay style available, with races for Sonic and Knuckles stages and fights for Tails stages. The choices available are quite limited, though, unless you buy the Battle DLC, which offers many more stages to compete on.
When you need a break from the action, Sonic Adventure 2 will offer you a trip to the Chao Garden. Chao are basically Tamagochi, but powered by the A-Life AI system first made for NiGHTS into Dreams. Tamagochi in a more literal sense when combined with the Dreamcast’s VMU, but sadly that feature is unavailable for obvious reasons. What’s left however is still an absorbing second life of nurturing, breeding and competing with your new little pets. You can level them up by feeding them various objects you find in action stages and playing with them, then use their new skills to compete in Races which require the chao to be fast as well as good swimmers and sometimes fliers, as well as Karate if you have the Battle DLC. Winning these is necessary to claim Emblems, so if you’re a completionist, expect to spend some time here.
For all its foibles, in the end, Sonic Adventure 2 is very likely to charm you with its quirks and flaws. I will understand if you don’t make it through, but you will be rewarded if you do.