While I'll always be a Mario kid at heart, I do enjoy the original Sonic games for the Megadrive. Despite Sonic's recent games having a mixed reception and wavering quality, it's hard to deny that Sonic games work best when they simply stick to the classic 2D formula. One of the best examples of this is the “Sonic Advance” series for the Game Boy Advance. Today we'll be looking at the first game in this series, a brilliant title that refines and updates the signature game-play of Sonic for a solid experience.
While the plot is typically minimal - go stop Dr Eggman (or Robotnik for all us retro purists) – where the game really shines is in level design. Some familiar Sonic settings make an appearance, such as the casino, the ice world, a typical factory and of course a riff on the Green Hill Zone. These offer a sense of familiarity to the game whilst offering a fresh challenge to players. The level design finds an equal balance between jumping across tricky terrains and platforms, and of course there are the sprinting sections with the famous half-pipes and loop-de-loops. The boss fights against Dr Eggman are inventive and challenging (without giving away too much, at one point there are a couple of welcome throwbacks to the classic games). There are plenty of multiple paths and secrets to discover, some of which you'll only find as one of the four playable characters – Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy Rose. The main game is quite short in retrospect, but since each character has a unique move-set, multiple playthroughs feel refreshing. There's also a mode called Time Attack, where players have to complete levels as fast a possible, a mode that fits in with the fast-paced nature of Sonic games flawlessly.
While the graphics are 2D and sprite-based, both the characters and backgrounds are visually impressive, making the most of the GBA's 32-bit capabilities. The playable characters have lively animation cycles that provide them with a sense of personality. The backgrounds and foregrounds are given a fine amount of detail that make them stand out. As for the soundtrack, the background music is thankfully reminiscent of the original Megadrive games (rather than the “modern” games) with memorable melodies that compliment the visual design of each world.
Sonic Advance is highly recommended for those looking for a fresh twist on the classic Sonic formula, or those just looking for a quality old-school platform game. It can be purchased here.