Had a whole spiel written out really in-depth and about my experiences and then backloggd deleted it so dammit.
Regardless, even if I find the controls to be very aged (though not as exaggeratedly so as some may say), the story to be a simple hero's journey as compared to a lot of the later entries, and that the game doesn't truly get to be great until Shadow Temple imo (the stuff before is good, but the end game stuff is the truly spectacular), I cannot deny that this is by far one the most important games ever made. And to neglect that fact would be doing everyone a massive disservice.
And it's absolutely magical that on an emotional and cinematic level, this game holds up very very well. Everything surrounding Ganon's Tower is pitch perfect, and completely shifted my opinion on this game from being "this is overrated and slow" to "I finally get it."
It changed everything, and without this game, who knows where we'd be with the games industry? You think we'd only be at PS2/Gamecube era rn narratives, cinematics, and level progression if it wasn't for this? Idk. But honestly, I'm just thankful for finally experiencing this in full and getting to see why it DESERVED that "Best Game of All Time" label that it held for so long.
This review contains spoilers
(Note: In this review I will section off each of the different playable characters and talk in-depth about my general thoughts on each of them, with an overall story summary for hero, dark, and final acts. I wrote it as I was playing, so please excuse the more casual prose and structure).
Sonic- it’s a very interesting contrast to how Sonic’s levels were constructed in the previous game. For the most part, Sonic controls almost exactly like how he does in the previous game, yet with a much greater emphasis on top speed and acrobatics. This is where his extra moves come in: the somersault, bounce ball, enhanced light speed dash, and (most importantly) grinding. All of which are used very frequently throughout the levels as well as are meant to allow for more freedom of movement, attacking, and cool factor. And despite the somersault is the least worthy of the bunch (halting all momentum and only really being used to pass arbitrary barriers), I believe that these moves add a lot to Sonic’s core gameplay as his levels are less about open stages with alternate paths and true platforming that reward attentive players with goodies and shortcuts, and more focused on tight, linear race tracks that ask you to get to the end as quickly as possible and with as much flare as you can muster. It’s quite the evolution I’d say, and in some regards it’s the true birth of the boost games’ design philosophy. I can understand the frustration with how much it dilutes the original design philosophy, and a part of me does miss the exploitability of stages like Speed Highway and Red Mountain because of their more open design; however, I cannot deny that SA2’s stages just feel so satisfying to blast through. I can’t think of a single one of Sonic’s levels that I dislike entirely (Pyramid Cave and Crazy Gadget are the closest but still are a lot of fun to replay), and I think that’s mainly due to again just how focused they feel. None of them feel like they overstay they’re welcome and make great use of their respective settings. It also helps that each stage has fantastic music and truly memorable visuals. I’d also like to add that the ranking system was probably the most genius move they could’ve pulled, as it brings worth to the points system and adds so much more depth to these levels than just wanting to go fast. It’s not just about the speed, you have to make sure that you also chain together homing attacks, perform flips and tricks off grinds and out of somersaults, keep your momentum with light speed dashes, and frankly just master a level to get that A. And there’s nothing more satisfying to me. So while I can’t say that Sonic’s gameplay here is better considering how much of a drastic shift it is from SA1, I can say that I believe his stages are of a much higher quality here because of their better sense of focus and polish. (Also side note but the opening cutscene and lead-in to City Escape could be my favorite moment in the entire franchise. It’s perfect in establishing Sonic’s character as well as how far the team has come in terms of presentation and cinematics, I love it). P.S. Egg Golem and the final Shadow fight are better than any non-Perfect Chaos boss from the previous game. Metal Harbor > City Escape > Final Rush > Green Forest > Pyramid Cave > Crazy Gadget.
Tails- I feel semi-mixed on Tails’ gameplay. There’s many factors to this that make it controversial, primarily the fact that you take out Tails’ gameplay in SA1 (which I’m mostly okay with considering how that was basically playing through Sonic’s stages on easy mode) and plopping him into a mech suit for a copy of Gamma’s gameplay. From a narrative perspective, it makes total sense as it shows how Tails’ character arc in the first game allows him to be independent from Sonic entirely. And focusing on his techie-gadget brained side with the Tornado 2 is a great way to implement that. And going off that, I’m glad that Tails (and the entire cast for that matter) has his own levels that make full use of his move set. Possibly my biggest issue with SA1 was how it reused the same levels for each character with very minor tweaking to fit all six play styles. It felt awkward at its worst, and I’m so happy they threw that concept out in this game. Because now, we have mech stages that are specifically built for slower, more precise shooting gameplay, what with the mostly hallway like design and heavy emphasis on racking up combos. Plus the separate health bar aside from the ring counter really helps. HOWEVER, the main drawback comes in just how slow and clunky the Tornado feels to control. ESPECIALLY when tight platforming is involved (looking right at Hidden Base for its god awful sand pits). I get that it’s a bigger, bulkier machine, so it can’t have the same physics has Gamma, but god I feel as though if it were just a little lighter and the turning was heavily smoothened out, there wouldn’t nearly be as many complaints for Tails in this game. Because I legitimately do think that his stages are more fleshed out and interesting than Gamma’s especially with the upgraded arsenal (the bazooka and close combat punch are such great additions), but it’s all down to the controls for me on this one. And sadly because of that Gamma has just a hair of an edge in this department. Eternal Engine > Prison Lane > Mission Street > Hidden Base
Knuckles- Yes it’s annoying that the radar only activates one at a time. Do I care tho. No. Because his gameplay and level design got the biggest blowup out of any of the other styles. Completely ditching that sense of claustrophobia with such terribly small/condensed levels in SA1 and opting for stages that more closely resemble sandboxes. Large open areas that force you to explore every general area and understand the layout to find the emeralds as efficiently as possible. Not every level is as open as I’d like, Aquatic Mine has an annoying water level gimmick and Death Chamber feels like a step back with its mostly hallway design. But then you got Wild Canyon, Pumpkin Hill, and Meteor Herd all standing high with such a great sense of freedom yet still establishing very distinct landmarks each section of the level so as to keep the player from getting lost. These 3 stages alone completely justify Knuckles’ gameplay, and I couldn’t be happier with ‘em. Side note: I also just love how Knuckles feels in this game. Way faster, way tighter, and way more useful with his digging and punching capabilities. And if you don’t like the rap songs then you just hate fun and are dumb I’m sorry. Pumpkin Hill > Meteor Herd > Wild Canyon > Aquatic Mine > Death Chamber
Hero Story (general)- It’s sad to see the overworld and multiple intersecting stories go, but in a lot of regards I’m happy that their removal allowed for the devs and writers to create something way more focused and constantly fresh as we never have to wonder where to go or repeat the same stages 5 times over or watch the same cutscene for the nth time. The fat has been cut, and now we can let the story take us along the ride. A less immersive experience yes, but a way more focused and easily digestible one for sure. And as for the story, I’m not the biggest fan of how that hyped focus kinda leads to something much faster and almost more rushed than it deserves. Plot points and character moments fly from left to right at the blink of an eye and even though I do believe that the writing, performances, and animation are a significant improvement over SA1, I kinda wish that the whole of the Hero Story felt as complete as each character’s story did previously. Because as it is, it’s fun and interesting with how Sonic is on the run from the cops and Eggman is more of a threat than ever, but it just leaves especially with Shadow and Rouge and the role of the ARK. But, that is, in essence, the point of this story. To be HALF a story, one side’s very limited perspective on a much larger narrative. So I can’t exactly knock it as is.
Eggman- I’m not necessarily sure if I can describe it properly, but Eggman’s gameplay is so much better than Tails’ it’s not even funny. I want to say it’s because Eggman just miraculously controls better than Tails, but I’m fairly certain that it’s more nuanced than that. I think the biggest factor is in how each level is constructed with a much larger sense of freedom and forgiveness than in Tails’. I talked about how the hallway type design works for the shooter gameplay as a concept yet fails apart when factoring in how stiff and clunky the mech is. And while Eggman’s stages still promote that same kind of hallway design, those hallways are rarely literal and cramped. Each stage is vastly more open and it works so well as it allows for the mech to not have to be so precise in its movement without making the game any easier. I also think that these stages make much better use out of its mechanics and subsequent upgrades (especially with Cosmic Wall and the hover ability). And on top of that, these levels tend to convey such a richly dark and mysterious atmosphere through the lighting and impeccable music. I’ll talk more about the music in general later, but I just have to mention that Lost Colony is definitely one of my favorite tracks in the game for just how brilliantly it captures that level’s intended aura. Love it, and love Eggman’s stages all together. Cosmic Wall > Iron Gate > Weapon’s Bed > Lost Colony > Sand Ocean
Shadow- Nearly the exact same as Sonic’s but with less of an emphasis on the speed and style system I talked about previously, and moreso on atmosphere and somewhat gimmicky level designs. All of his levels are fun in their own right, some being legitimately fantastic. But my main irl comes from not just how Shadow has only 4 levels to his name unfortunately, but that the best of his stages still don’t hit the highs of Sonic’s stages. Which, to an extent, I understand considering that you want to make sure that Sonic has the best of the best stages in the game, the ones with the most flare and polish so people don’t get skimped out. But I feel like there could’ve been more to Shadow than just being a less equipped Sonic clone with fairly simple levels. Cuz even though the speed stages in this game round out to 10 (more than either the treasure hunting or mech stages), I wish they could’ve given out a bit more. But a lot of that is just nitpicking considering that Shadow’s levels are still mostly great (Final Chase being the outlier). Sky Rail > Radical Highway > White Jungle > Final Chase
Rouge- Pretty much exactly how I feel about Shadow’s stages in comparison to Sonic’s, but now with Knuckles and the quality difference is much more drastic. You see because Rouge doesn’t have many drawbacks in her move set when compared to him (outside of the air necklace), and some of her stages can still be seen as okay considering that they don’t stray too far from the design philosophy established for these treasure hunting stages. But my main issue comes from the fact that her levels are just simply boring. Sure a lot of them have annoying gimmicks (Mad Space being the worst offender in the game), but the core problem problem with Rouge’s levels is just that none of them come even close to how good Knuckles’ stages are. Frankly, I’d put them on a similar plane to Knuckles’ stages in SA1, not in terms of design, but just in pure enjoyment. Which is honestly unfortunate. Security Hall > Dry Lagoon > Egg Quarters > Mad Space.
Dark Story (general)- While not as consistently great as the Hero Story in gameplay, I feel as though it’s totally made up with the driving narrative and cutscenes all throughout. I find it actually really clever how they guide you towards playing the Hero Story first, raise way too many questions for you to ponder over, and then offer up the dark story to start addressing those questions without fully giving everything out at once akin to boring exposition dumps. I also believe that the narrative on its own climbs out of the certain pacing issues present in the hero story, whether that just be because of the context already laid out before hand or a more noticeable abundance of cutscenes, but it’s definitely nice to see. It’s very clear to me that while the dev team mostly focused on the gameplay polish in the Hero side, they 100% placed most of their cards into narrative on the Dark side, ESPECIALLY with Shadow and his mysterious past. You get bits and pieces, but it’s very easy to understand that something traumatic happened to him long ago, and that his motives for working with Eggman may be more sinister than initially thought. And it’s captured beautifully in the introduction to his first level, Radical Highway, as he reflects on his last moments with Maria and vows revenge. Amazing stuff.
Last Story- where it all comes together in one grand finale. I truly adore this section of the game. A majority of it is taken up by cutscenes that allow for the 3rd act to go into full effect. We get to unravel all the context for the events of the game, and it gets truly dark. Like with how Gerald Robotnik is revealed to be the mastermind behind everything, announcing to the world that he loathes humanity for Maria’s death, and has programmed the ARK to crash into Earth as an act of revenge. And to see that this was Shadow’s plan all along is pretty disturbing in a way. Yet to see everyone but him come together for the final level, Cannon’s Core (which I find to be fittingly the hardest level of the game even if it’s not my favorite), is honestly a very satisfying way of conveying the severity of the circumstances through gameplay. However, after that we get one of the best moments in the entire franchise, where Amy reminds Shadow of what he truly promised to Maria, to forgive the world and let the people live and be happy. He has an immediate change of heart, cries, and then immediately leaves to help out the gang. He defeats the prototype of the ultimate life form, the Biolizard (who is actually a pretty fun and hard boss fight despite some annoyances). And Knuckles tries to stop the collision course with the Master Emerald, but to no avail as the Biolizard has merged with the ARK and can’t be stopped... until, in a moment that has stuck itself to my brain ever since I watched it for the first time nearly 20 years ago, Sonic and Shadow finally come together to become Super Sonic and Super Shadow. With 4 minutes on the clock, Sonic and Shadow fight the Finalhazard in the vast regions of space as Live and Learn blasts through the speakers. And despite it being an arguably worse boss fight than Perfect Chaos (the weird hit detection with the lasers really don’t help), I can’t help but love everything here. Again, it’s a moment that has stuck with me for nearly my entire life and I couldn’t be more thankful. The game then ends with Shadow using the last of his power to use Chaos control and save everyone, falling down to earth as he talks to Maria one last time. The other characters, upon realizing what happened, mourn Shadow’s death and reflect on the journey they’ve been on, including Eggman who has a truly heartfelt and introspective talk with Tails. It’s heartbreaking to say the least, and it’s the best implementation of a more serious and somber tone in any Sonic game to-date. And we end off the perfect message from Sonic, “Sayonara, Shadow the Hedgehog”.
Overall- Sonic Adventure 2 Battle is still one of my favorite, if not my favorite game ever. I have a total of over 600 hours on this game across many different save files and ports. I have been playing it longer and more consistently than any game I’ve ever owned. Do I have a strong nostalgic bias towards this game? Of course. Does that matter tho? No. Because at the end of the day, this game still means more to me than nearly any other piece of media I’ve consumed. I’d like to say that it and the character of Sonic have shaped me in part to become the man I am today: fun-loving, stubborn, and most of all, compassionate. Despite any flaws I can see, despite the noticeable age, despite anyone telling me that I’m just blinded by nostalgia, I know that how I feel about this game isn’t a lie. And the time I spent with it over the years is time that I am so grateful to have given. And going off that, I’d just like to thank my older brother, who was the one to ask for it at GameStop all those years ago, and brought me into not only the game, but also the Sonic franchise altogether. Thank you, Chris. Thank you for bonding with me over the multiplayer and especially Chao Garden. You don’t know what gift you gave me.
- Much more vibrant and appealing in its visuals and soundtrack
- Spin dash was a genius add
- Most of the levels are way better designed, but still have plenty of that staple Sonic bullshit
- Metropolis Zone is one of the most frustrating Sonic levels ever, but I can’t hate it
- Final boss(es) are cool thematically but I think the sentiment of “no rings” makes them more frustrating than needed imo. Tho they’re more fun to get down than the previous one
- Addicting as all hell
- The special stages are pure bullshit and I hate them
Chemical Plant > Casino Night > Emerald Hill > Oil Ocean > Wing Fortress > Aquatic Ruin > Mystic Cave > Metropolis > Hill Top
- Green Hill Zone is unfortunately the best level in the game
- Ironically slow
- Chaos emeralds give you nothing
- Music is fine
- Looks okay but too cold
- Green Hill > Starlight > Spring Yard > Scrap Brain > Marble Garden > Labyrinth