Sonic Adventure 2 is the end of an era for the franchise. Since the Dreamcast’s untimely demise, the series took a decade of strange twists and turns to find its place in the gaming landscape, but there was never any confusion before that: Sonic was Sega’s standard-bearer. As such, it was the high-budget franchise used to show off the system’s special features and generally be the long, full game you can get lost in if you have nothing else to play.
This HD re-release follows the first Sonic Adventure to the service. Unlike that game, SA2 has the benefit of more refined controls and general comfort with the engine and what works best. Also, since it didn’t have to release on launch day, it could be much larger in scope. The result now is a game that feels like a much better value as a $10 downloadable. Similar to that first game’s re-release, though, the extra content from the GameCube version is held back as DLC.
Since it was trying to be everything to everyone, Sonic Adventure 2 has a lot of strange and disparate elements. The most prominent of these are the four level types. Sonic and Shadow roll around through stages at the speed of sound, in the style most reminiscent of the series’ modern incarnation. It’s not quite as blazing-fast, though; you’ll stop to hit enemies, break boxes and collect power-ups and other items. Knuckles and Rouge sense emerald pieces with their feet and explore areas to uncover them. These levels are sort of a relaxing fun, at least until the late game starts imposing rough time constraints on you. Tails and Eggman are in mechs, and these levels… don’t work very well. The platforming is more methodical, and the shooting relies heavily on a lock-on feature to take out multiple targets at once.
Once you beat the main challenges of these levels, there are four other objectives to complete for each, ranging from speed runs to specific tasks. Each nets you an emblem, and collecting all the emblems is a gargantuan task for those who want to attempt it.
The fourth type of level is the boss battle. These come in two flavors: the match against your rival and the set-piece battle. The actually-designed ones work rather well, in that Sonic boss way, learning patterns and hitting them about three times. The rival matches aren’t so great, because it’s just an A.I. trying to use your abilities against you and it devolves into something decidedly not skill-based.
Besides these, there’s the inexplicably-wonderful Chao Garden, where you use items found in levels to boost stats of your pet Chao and use them in competitions. Originally conceived as a Tamagotchi-like activity for VMUs, here it’s stripped of all those trappings and somehow holds up anyway. (We’d love to see a fully fleshed-out Chao Garden make a return in a modern game.) If you want, there’s a two-player battle mode, much of which is locked as part of that DLC. Racing through the Sonic and Shadow challenges is definitely the most fun here, but silly fun can be had with any of them as long as you don’t expect much.
The new version of the game features widescreen support, which feels generally natural, and the upscaled visuals are helped by the original game’s crisp, simple aesthetic. The character models are still a bit blocky, but for the most part you don’t notice it, which is the best outcome with these ports. The soundtrack is still as amazingly campy as ever, and for its fans (us included), it’s fun enough to revisit the sometimes-silly, sometimes-cool tunes. There are also leaderboards to challenge friends and the world, an addition that makes a lot of sense integrated into the original design.
HD remasters of games are never intended to fix the original’s problems, and there are certainly some rough points in Sonic Adventure 2 that are just frustrating. Still, there’s a lot here to love, and unlike some recent revivals, it’s exactly as fun in today’s context as it was then.
Pros: Slick port, new leaderboards, original design holds up well
Cons: Mech levels still not great, Chao experience limited without VMU