One of the best games ever
Okay, I'm going to admit this right up front: I'm biased. I first played Sonic Adventure 2 (the Battle version for Nintendo Gamecube) back in 2002, and it has always been one of my favorite games ever since. I've logged nearly 100 hours on my original, decade-old file. But! Tastes do change. I'm not blindly in love with everything from my youth. I now look at many games I loved as a kid and see their flaws. Yet, I just picked up Playstation Network's HD version, at the far smarter age of 17, and I still can't find a single damn thing that's wrong with Sonic Adventure 2.
It's undeniable that the game starts off on exactly the right foot- regardless of whether you pick the "Hero" side or the "Dark" side first (yes, you can play as the bad guys!). If you pick Dark, we begin with Dr. Robotnik blasting through a top-secret military base, destroying everything in his path, as the security system becomes more and more freaked out. If you pick Hero, we begin with Sonic an escaped prisoner, who tears off a piece of a plane, jumps out of it, and starts careening through an entire city. In fact, that first level - "City Escape" - is easily one of the best levels in Sonic the Hedgehog history. It hits all the right marks: action-packed and thrilling, visually beautiful, a fun challenge but never really difficult, several well-hidden secrets to find, and an awesome musical score- the kitschy but catchy "Escape from the City".
"Escape from the City" isn't the only part of Sonic Adventure 2 that's lovably corny, though- in fact, that's arguably the tone of the entire game. Though the game's story eventually delves into some pretty heavy subject matter, like death, loss, insanity, obsession, and identity crises, it never loses a sense of tongue-in-cheek fun. That's a good thing, because in any other game, there would be some pretty glaring flaws. For one thing, the dialogue is often ridiculous, and is clearly translated directly from Japanese: the lips almost NEVER sync up, oftentimes having characters continue to move their mouths long after they've stopped speaking, and they're always awkwardly talking over each other- or sometimes even themselves ("Hey! It's not his speeHe must be using the Chaos Emerald to warp!"). In any other game, this would be considered an issue (and some people would probably find it an issue here, too), but I think it just adds to the game's charm. The voice actors speak all the lines with such endearing honesty that they actually work. This is mainly the result of hiring a few actors that are very talented - in particular, Deem Bristow and Ryan Drummond are basically perfect for the roles of Robotnik and Sonic, respectively - but even the lousy actors are fun to listen to. The ensemble cast, for instance, is quite blatantly made up of only two actors (one man and one woman) doing a lot of different voices, most of which fail hilariously. It's basically like watching an old, poorly-dubbed anime from the 80s, and it's just as much fun.
You don't play a video game for the story anyway, even if it's a story as lovably dumb as SA2's. The real meat of the game is the levels, and what phenomenal levels they are. There are three types of "Action Stages": Sonic and Shadow's levels, Tails and Robotnik's levels, and Knuckles and Rouge's levels.
Sonic and Shadow levels are the kind you expect in a Sonic game: lots of lightning-quick running, cool tricks, and bashings of bad guys. To get A ranks here, you're going to have to beat the level as fast as possible, perform tons of tricks, and collect a lot of rings. These levels are easily the best part of the game. They're fast, fun, and endlessly replayable. I've played City Escape alone over 100 times, and it still doesn't get old.
Tails and Robotnik's levels are a little slower, revolving around shooting down enemies and obstacles. For A ranks, you need to string together tons of enemy-blasting combos. Though they're of a different sort than Sonic and Shadow levels, there's still a lot of speed and skill to these stages, and there's nothing more satisfying than knocking out a huge swarm of baddies (a few areas allow you to kill over 30 apiece) all at once.
Knuckles and Rouge's levels are whole different beasts, taking place in a free-roaming environment with the goal of finding 3 treasures in the level- usually pieces of the Master Emerald, but occasionally keys or Chaos Emeralds. Speed, once again, is the name of the game if you want an A rank- find all the treasures as soon as you possibly can. These are way more cerebral than the other two types of levels, and they can be a little disconcerting when they come right after one of the faster levels, but on their own, they're incredibly fun. They can be frustrating at times, however: searching blindly for that last Emerald, the radar beeping quickly and flashing red yet you can't seem to find it, can be a little anger-inducing.
And if you're wondering what this "A rank" thing that I keep talking about is, the simple answer is: "Sonic Adventure 2's entire replay value". See, the main Story mode is over really quickly. 32 stages is a lot, but this is a Sonic game- you're guaranteed to beat them all supremely quickly your first time around. Your main goal, once you're done with all that, is to go and beat them all again, but doing it in the most skillful way possible. That will get you a rank of 'A' (as opposed to E, D, C, or B). Lather, rinse, repeat- repeat 180 times. Every level also has 4 extra missions in addition to the story mission, and you'll need an A rank on every one of them if you want to find every last secret. It's bound to be time-consuming, but this is the sort of game that will have you begging for a reason, any reason, to keep playing without repeating yourself, and the bonus missions are that reason.
Well... one reason of two. The other reason ranks among the best minigames in any video game ever. In every stage, there are three baby-blue boxes, visually identical. The first box you open contains a key, and any further boxes contain small animals. They key, when you carry it to the end of the level, opens up a portal- a portal to another world. Chao World! There, the inhabitants are creatures called Chao, AKA the most adorable things in the universe. Chao are meant to resemble real, living beings, and though their programming is very outdated today, you still get a real sense of personality and life coming from them. They don't act alive, per se, but the player is instinctually drawn to care for them. They're only babies, after all. Can't care for themselves!
Chao World and Sonic's world are closely linked. Whenever a character enters Chao World, they bring with them the items that they collected in the stage they came from: Chaos Drives, animals, and rings. The rings are used to buy items for your Chao. The Chaos Drives individually raise a specific stat of a Chao: either Run, Fly, Strength, or Swim. The animals raise (and possibly lower) several stats at once, and also give the Chao the attributes of the animal. Chao evolve differently depending on their stats, how you treat them, and which character(s) are used to care for them. If Hero characters raise a Chao, then the Chao will turn white and angelic, with a little halo atop their heads. If you use Dark characters, then the Chao will instead turn black and menacing, their heads adorned by a spiky ball. When you improve their stats enough in one area, Chao will change in appearance to reflect that stat ("Run"-type Chao, for instance, look like Sonic himself!), and when you're done raising all those stats up, you can have Chao test them in Chao Races or Karate, or even be transferred to another memory device, to battle your buddies!
Chao are a great idea that are executed very well. In 2001, their AI technology was undoubtedly cutting-edge, and even today, they manage to cross the uncanny valley and become lovable little luvvers.
Sonic Adventure 2 has been released on a huge number of platforms by this point, and good on it. The original Dreamcast release is golden, of course, but the one most people have probably played is the Nintendo Gamecube edition, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. Battle is mainly the same as the original release, but it does add a huge number of new multiplayer levels and modes, the Chao Karate minigame, and an expanded Chao mode- they've added the ability to connect to the Sonic Advance games and Sonic Adventure DX, which adds even more depth to the minigame and encourages the purchase of those games in addition to Battle- a great sales pitch! The new HD release of SA2 has the obvious additions (widescreen support and 1080p resolution), but it does has a few slight tweaks. In earlier releases, the Chao Key would disappear and have to be recollected if the player was hit. Not so here! The Key stays with you forever, even if you die, which is a much welcome change. Less positive are what's been done to the connectivity features that the game used to possess. Though the Dreamcast let you place Chao on your memory unit and bring it to your friend's house, and the Gamecube upped the ante by letting you do that and transfer the Chao to completely different games, the HD version completely jettisons all of that, leaving your Chao grounded to a single game and console. Disappointing, but, perhaps, understandable. The graphics are also slightly different on each platform: the Dreamcast original is visibly brighter-toned than the Gamecube version, which looks a little murkier and less vibrant; the HD version obviously trumps both, though the higher resolution sometimes ends up highlighting the game's age (the pixelly water was a lot less obvious on Dreamcast...).
But really, Sonic Adventure 2 looks gorgeous on any platform. Its basic art design is simply beautiful all by itself. The characters are all classic, and their designs are perfect in the way they describe them. You could look at the artwork of any given character in the game, and instantly be able to discern specific aspects of their personality. There are a lot of impressive environmental effects, like the look of the water, flowing sand, explosions... the works. There's also a wide, varied color palette that changes wildly to fit the current level. It puts the modern browny-brown-brown "next-gen" games to shame!
Sonic Adventure 2 is the definition of a fun video game. There's nothing major to complain about and everything to recommend. It's possible to play it on basically every modern console- it's downloadable on PSN and XBLA, the Wii is backwards-compatible with the Gamecube version, and a PC port has been announced- so you absolutely owe it to yourself to pick up this fantastic gaming experience.