On the last pier of the Sega Dreamcast, Sonic Adventure 2 had a lot to makeup for financially as well as living up to series expectations. Through that lense, I can paint this entire experience positively as the most ambitious Sonic game to ever exist with the deepest, darkest story as well. Sounds cool, yeah?
Going from the first Sonic Adventure to this one immediately feels far more surreal than I was expecting. There are so many subtle differences in levels to complement the huge array of main changes that anyone with eyes can notice. This was an evolution that I remember not particularly hating after an initial run through, but now have come to respect as at least a last-ditch swing for the fences.
This chapter introduces us to the mixed-bag that is Shadow the Hedgehog and his saucy bat thief partner Rogue. She can fill the hole in your heart if you’re missing Carmen Sandiego or even Black Cat from Spider-Man, but mixed in with Big the Cat. Not unlike that fluffy oaf, her introduction to the series is a string of find-it missions that are nearly identical to Knuckles’. The difference is that Knuckles had some character before this awful decision whereas now Rogue is synonymous with tedium and paint-drying fun off the bat (teehee).
Shadow has, by a hedgehog and a half, the deepest story ever seen in a Sonic game. This game could’ve been called “Shadow the Hedgehog” with how much of it is informed by him and his experiences as a chaos-controlling clone. Sonic is a secondary character in his own game, oddly, even at the big, bad climax which actually still holds up as an awesome spectacle.
Gameplay here shares nearly the same system of all 3D Sonic games set within the poor level design of Sonic Adventure 2. Seriously poor; Sega was in love with the rail grinding aspect to an extreme here to where they are way overutilized while the other sections lack so many coherent structures to making this a kinetic experience. Your momentum will halt on a dime dozens of times in longer levels while those exploration levels with Knuckles and Rogue may as well be point-and-click adventures.
There is certainly variation if nothing else between speed, absolute sloth, and the weapon-focused Tails and Eggman levels that are plodding but at least have a sense of pace. My gripe with all the levels combined are the damn tutorials that take away from obscure puzzles. Yep, you heard me: I’d rather have obscure one-step puzzles than have tutorials constantly reminding me about the simplest of my physics lessons from high school.
Sonic Adventure 2 features, I kid you not, the worst amount of Crush 40, which ends up being some at all. Crush has been the official hedgehog band since the OG Adventure and their popularity with Sega peaked here to the point that the very first zone is all Crush 40, all the time. There’s been no escaping them since, and it’s immediately off putting to hear lyrics in zone OST. Why not leave them for the final boss like in the first Adventure or the credits? It doesn’t help that the rest of the score is among the worst there is too, creating a package that begs to be turned all the way down.
What I do genuinely like about the game is the beefed up, nonsensical story that allows for Sonic and Shadow to go nuts at different points. Again, most of the positives deal with Shadow since he’s apparently the crazy pill the designers collectively swallowed but I’ll take it. His and Sonic’s levels are the closest to thrilling as you’re allowed to get, and they thankfully make up a huge part of the game from either side. The secret boss is also probably the best of the 3D baddies as far as impact and scale so kudos there.
There’s a certain heart of darkness inside Sonic Adventure 2 that, while not as badass as it sounds, does give the series some much-needed tragedy. Sonic is pretty much unfazed by anything. A cancer diagnosis in his feet wouldn’t garner even a sad glance downward. Shadow is the complete opposite as an angsty little sh*t, but that does open the door for loss and more grey morality. The story does go pretty dark in a slightly more real way than the “bullets and b*tches” Gamecube Shadow the Hedgehog.
Which leaves Sonic Adventure 2 as a fairly decent swan song of a flawed concept that has yet to really bare fruit in a three-dimensional environment. There’s lots of game to have and most of it does what Sonic can do in 3D, including the slips with the successes. My mind may be tempered by time and expectation, but it’s also now full of context around this hailmary too. Respect is due for going all out while Sega could, even if they very obviously missed by a longshot.
Sonic Adventure 2 Score: