After Pressing Start: Sonic Adventure 2
Our patience for entertainment wanes as we get older, leading to plenty of frustration from the inevitable “right in the childhood” moments when we open the ol’ nostalgia box only to discover that Kingdom Hearts wasn’t the narrative masterpiece we thought it was at age thirteen. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better that I don’t find out whether Austin Powers was actually funny or the possibility that Sonic Adventure 2 doesn’t deserve the praise I gave it as a kid. This is a story about the latter.
Please select a story.
After pressing start, Crush 40’s lovably cheesy “Live and Learn” assaults my eardrums as I navigate the menu. I arrive at the story screen with a choice. The schtick of SA2 was that you get to choose between playing both the hero and villain stories. Even though my love for Robotnik as a villain has only increased as I’ve grown up, I choose the Hero story first.
Rollin’ around at the speed of sound.
The Hero storyline begins with the inexplicable use of X-Files text establishing that a helicopter is flying over “the capital city,” and then we are reminded that this is a Sonic game when the pilot mentions a “captured hedgehog.” I get that the world of the Sonic games was never exactly established, but that was only okay when it was a bunch of disconnected jungles and casinos. Thankfully we forget about the lack of world building when Sonic kicks out the door of the helicopter and goes sky boarding using a chunk of the vehicle’s plating that he rips off with his bare hands. Sonic properly greets us with a cocky smile at the camera as he spins towards the city below.
A small degree of control is granted as we steer the hedgehog’s makeshift board through the streets of what looks remarkably like San Francisco. This sequence a bit difficult to control, but made enjoyable with strategically-placed ramps that award you with a fancy trick and some goodies if you time the jump correctly. After derailing an entire cable car by simply running into it (it’s difficult to avoid), Sonic ditches the board and waits patiently for the player to realise that movement is now manual. The rest of the level tries its hardest to make sure you’ve got the new rail-grinding and somersault abilities down, but it never feels like a tutorial. The former actually isn’t needed at all, but there are plenty of rails to try it out on. It’s easy to see the trade off between automated awesomeness and platforming now standard to the series taking shape in this first level. A cool on-rails sequence of Sonic running down a building breaks up the more methodic sections of platforming and taking out robots. The final stretch involves escaping a giant truck with little input beyond “hold the joystick down” required.
“Barely made it,” Sonic comments as I’m graded with a “C.”
I am the Eggman.
Dr. Robotnik “steps” into frame riding a personal mech suit and announces his goal of finding a secret military weapon. Military? Where were they in the previous games? Apparently they weren’t an issue considering that a fat man in an open-topped mech suit can decimate everything they have. As I destroy an enemy robot with a boxing glove on a spring that serves as the mech’s melee attack, I wonder why is this the only game where we get to play as Robotnik. Even if it isn’t what one expects from a Sonic game, blasting through the hilariously incompetent military forces of this undefined world is too much fun. The corridors don’t provide much variety, but this is even better than it was ten years ago now that I’m an adult and understand that it’s okay to love villains, too. At the end of his rampage, we see the “Eggman” find what he was looking for.
“Hmm, smaller than I expected.”
And more Sonic-shaped, too.
Shadow the Hedgehog is revealed as the military’s secret weapon. In spite of how much I loved the character as a kid, I had no memory of this scene. A confident, angst-free Shadow introduces himself to the evil doctor and decides to demonstrate his abilities on the unfortunate military mech that has arrived on the scene. A quick boss fight ensues as we get a handle on how Shadow controls. I was pleased to discover that he actually handles a little differently than Sonic. While he does have Sonic’s homing attack, his acceleration is more smooth than his blue counterpart and he is definitely not as fast. This completely went over my head as a kid since I was so focused on how “cool” Shadow was. He covers the “things little boys think are awesome” checklist admirably with his dark color scheme and radical jet shoes. It’s a laughably easy encounter designed to trigger some nostalgia with its simple “hit the cockpit” strategy, but also a great introduction to Shadow’s baditude.
“I’m the coolest.”
And with that, Shadow runs off after telling Robotnik to “bring more chaos emeralds” to the ARK, a space colony orbiting . . . Earth? Mobius? It was surprising to be reminded that in this story, Robotnik wasn’t the bad guy with the master plan (This was also the case in Sonic Heroes, where Metal Sonic was running the show), but is simply following orders. Shadow is the evil mastermind even though, if memory serves, he later pulls a u-turn by simply more clearly remembering the context of his friend’s dying wish and makes things right before dying a heroic death. I came in to this experience with the expectation of being properly educated that Shadow was never a good character to begin with, but I’m surprised to find my opinion hasn’t changed. I still believe the black hedgehog would have been remembered fondly if he had stayed dead after this game.
Live and learn.
Sonic Adventure 2 starts out with the best kind of bang. Sonic is running from the military, a mysterious new character has Dr. Robotnik on a leash, and Big the cat is nowhere in sight. Things begin to fall apart after that, but moments like this give me the patience to cut SEGA a break when they decide to make Knuckles “gangsta” or have a human princess fall for Sonic’s totally sexy sneakers.